A journey through old photos of my life will quickly reveal something most people who know me could tell you—I am a restless soul.
I have a hard time staying in one place too long without at least an adventure or two. I love exciting, new beginnings and want to be a life-long learner. I guess my passport would tell you that, too. I am most at home in cultures not my own and love venturing out into the world to learn all I can about a new people, a new place.
It’s evident in those photos of me through the years that I love change—just look at the constant evolution of my hair.
When I was a kid all the adults in my life loved my stick straight, bright red hair. Other kids would hurl the typical “carrot top” insult my way though. While other nicknames cut me deeply, this one bounced right off. I didn’t mind that other kids teased me for my unusual hair. Every adult in my life adored it because it was so unique, and so I, too, loved my fiery hair.
But my restlessness kicked in early and I begged to cut my hair that was long enough to sit on by the time I was ten years old. I don’t know how long I had to beg to wear my mom down, but the photos tell the truth. My formerly curled or crimped locks gave way to a pixie cut that made me resemble Peter Pan. I hated it with a passion. (But I never told my mom that. Remember the years of begging? I couldn’t admit I had been so wrong!)
Flat-ironed straight. Layered with side-swept bangs. Permed (so big!). Short and spiky. A stacked bob. Every couple years there has been a new look. A reinvention. I couldn’t stand my hair to be the same style for too long. I get bored with it after a while. My husband learned this quickly when I chopped off the curls he loved so much the very day we returned from our honeymoon and replaced them with a short-spiky look. I am not sure he knew what he was getting himself into!
My life has often been a reflection of this reinvention. I lived in only two homes during my entire childhood, in the same area my whole young life. As soon as I was on my own, I set out to explore. In the six years between graduation and marriage I lived in six different homes, spent significant time in five different cities and visited my first three countries. Then there was marriage, an international move, a move back home, and all the changes starting a family brings.
Not much has stayed constant in my life. But as much as I like new beginnings, I love stability, too — something I can count on in this wild and ever-changing world. That has always been my family...
Today I am over at SheLoves reflecting on the changes in my life and the constants that anchor me to home. This month's theme is "hair." Come see how old photos and memories are speaking to me of what is constant in this world.
I have a secret addiction.
It started out as this little thing. Everyone else swears it is harmless, even helpful. But its influence grew stronger in my life. It became indispensable . It’s my smartphone and I want to throw it out the window!
I was pretty late to the whole world of being connected to the Internet 24 hours a day via an electronic device that makes you prefer chewing off your arm over forgetting it at home. I swore I was sticking to a paper calendar, to checking my email only at my computer.
I only caved two years ago. Now, like everyone else – I am hooked on something I both need and despise. I see a room full of people mindlessly checking social media instead of talking to those next to them and I want to burn every last phone in the room. But then I find myself sneaking my phone into the bathroom so I can just check that one email I need to get to.
Technology is supposed to make our lives simpler, right? A smartphone is a minimalist's dream. You can have your contacts, books, calendar, directions, work, shows, and even your Bible all in one place. So much in one little device. Right at your fingertips.
It may have everything I think I need in one shiny little computer that tucks neatly into my purse, but I find that it creates more chaos than it eases in my life. My phone may save me space for all the functions it does for me, but it is my mind that has become a tangled mess of more junk than I need. The clutter in my soul has become overwhelming.
The voices I let into my head have been magnified and are just one little swipe away. There are really only a few voices I need to listen to every day.
I have this pretty little print by Lysa TerKeurst on my mirror that reminds me of the voice I need to seek first: “We must exchange whispers with God before shouts with the world.”
I don’t look at those words often. I usually glance past them to the phone sitting on the counter. It’s this little portal to all the to-do lists screaming for my attention, the dings from my calendar telling me I better get moving or I’ll be late, the opinions waiting to shove their way through all the noise to assert themselves as the right ones.
Then there are those little voices that don’t shout above all the noise. They just quietly try to edge their way into all my mental chaos, the million things running through my mind that I have to attend to. They are the voices that ask, “Mommy, look?” or “Honey, how was your day?”
Being connected to the world all the time is easy, but it is anything but simple. It’s complicated and tiring. We are not designed for constant connection. I know this but I am ever so slowly learning to live it...
Do you feel overwhelmed with all the voices shouting for your attention, find yourself hating the chaos and longing for peace and rest? Join me in the Mudroom for a look at cleaning out the clutter in your soul. Join me there?
I was impressed by the monumental size of the stones, the mystery of how the ancients could build something so incredible. The sheer novelty of being next to such famous structures. But I tried to play it cool. We weren’t tourists; we had come to plant our lives in the Middle East.
We moved to Cairo at the end of summer with the heat still blazing down on us. We trekked through the unfamiliar streets to find grocery stores and vegetable stands, bakeries and shawarma stalls. We made at least four stops to get everything we needed for the week. Just running normal errands took every bit of effort my husband and I had as we explored our new city. Between the exhaustion from the heat and the mental strain of navigating life in a strange city, in a language we couldn’t yet understand — we were spent.
When friends offered to take us to the Pyramids, about half an hour from our new home, we welcomed the break from all of the practicalities.
Every photo I’d ever seen of the Pyramids showed these mammoth wonders of the world against a backdrop of breathtaking desert and not much else. Perhaps a camel or tourists looking like they were the size of ants would dot the base. But in pictures you get the impression that the Pyramids sit in the middle of an endless desert.
When we first spotted the famous landmarks, the peaks coming into view through the haze that seemed to hang in the air, every notion I had about the Pyramids changed.
Our car wove in and out of traffic. The honks were just friendly reminders that each car had to fight for space on the bumpy roads that transported twenty million people through the city. We rounded a bend and there they were—not in the middle of the desert but right in the heart of the bustling city. All those magnificent photos that are so famous are shot from the front of the Pyramids, with the Sphinx at the base.
But look from another angle and you will glimpse the complexities of life in this land—the ancient and the modern side by side. Wonders of the ancient world sit right next to the Pizza Hut…
I stared into the tiny flame that danced in brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds. Everyone else had gone back to the bus, ready to move onto the next site in our pilgrimage through the Holy Land, but I stayed behind. I knew there wasn’t anything more holy about this place, that I wasn’t any closer to God’s presence on this mountain than anywhere else on earth. But I stayed anyway.
It was on this very mountain that Elijah called down fire from heaven. On Mt. Carmel God showed up in the fire, consuming everything. The Lord’s power was so visible for a moment, proving God was real and cared about the prayers of the people. Now a monastery stands in the place of that fire, a little chapel that serves to remind people of the God who answers prayer.
There was a heavy burden on my heart that day. Someone I loved back home was hurting and I felt compelled in that place to kneel before the little altar and light a candle—calling out light in the darkness. It was just a tiny reflection of the fire all those years ago but it was a visible representation to me that God hears when we call.
So I lit a little flame in the darkness and I cried, believing that the God of Elijah could still rain down fire and show up in mighty ways.
In the quiet of the morning before my family awakens, downstairs in my living room, my mind wanders to my to-do lists for the day. I try to focus on a word to center me, bring me back to what I am trying to find—the Presence of God that I felt on that mountain. I grasp for it like a parched traveler in the desert. I can see it up ahead. Like a mirage in that scorching desert, it remains just out of my grasp.
I can remember the way an aching need called me to prayer, the way I found God there. I try to muster concentration, grasping for stillness in my mind to match the silence of the house before all the noise begins. It’s like a flame I try to light with no matches, trying to will it into existence. I can’t find the spark, and my attempts at waiting quietly before the Lord sputter out. I sigh and get up to start the day.
There are moments I have grasped the holiness of God, felt the Presence so strongly. It was like a fire in my soul burning orange and hot, and my prayers the incense that rose from the flames. I remember those moments with longing.
More often than not these days, prayer is work...
Do you ever feel like you can't find the presence of God, like sometimes prayer is work? I am over at SheLoves Magazine today sharing what God is teaching me about contemplation and prayer, even when the presence of God feels elusive.
Join me there.
The lock clicks as it slides open, a loud pop announcing the beginning of the day. I had already been waiting a few minutes outside the door for the restaurant to open, rubbing my tired eyes and stretching my muscles that weren’t yet aware they were supposed to be working this early.
Every Friday that we can work it out, we meet at the same table. I don’t wait for her to order anymore because I know just what she will want and even which side of the booth she will choose. We always say we will be done talking at eight but never are. We know that we’ll be late to the rest of the day waiting for us, but that’s okay. It’s these early morning breakfasts with my friend — the prayers said in this place — that sustain the rest of my week.
There is this aching need to sit with someone who understands that this moment is more important than the next appointment.
This friend and I met eight years ago through a small group in our church. She showed up at my house with a meal each time my babies were born. Her story of living overseas and coming back earlier than expected mirrors my own international journey. I wept with her when her dreams were literally crumbling around her, as earthquake after earthquake shook the fabric of her family’s home.
There are things we understand about the pain each of us carries that allows us to pray for each other in a way others just can’t. There are things we say in this space that we wouldn’t dream of repeating to others, but it is the words we don’t have to say that bind us together. We understand the loss and the hope behind our words without having to speak them into existence.
In a world of superficial connections, I can’t go long without hearing these prayers. Spoken out loud, passionate and raw — not polished and perfected. It’s these words that carry me to the Father when others just ring of hollow spirituality. It’s these early mornings that fuel my life….
Today I am over at the Mudroom sharing about the places in my life–the fringe hours–where I make room for the connections that fuel me and sustain me. Join me there?
A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps – Proverbs 16.9
Our little suburb is undergoing some serious growing pains lately. We have had an influx of new businesses and homes and that means a lot of delays in getting where you need to go. As roadwork has become a normal occurrence and traffic has increased, you have to leave earlier to get where you’re going than you used to. I’ve just become accustomed to expecting delays.
This week as I came to yet another halt near my home there were flashing signs warning of a detour, a road up ahead closed for the day. It wasn’t just a delay but a complete change of direction. The way ahead wasn’t clear anymore. If you wanted to get where you were headed, you had to follow the signs guiding you, trusting they would take you to your destination eventually.
The delays and diversions all around me have me thinking about how I am no stranger to changes of course in my life.
In college I changed my major three times as God continued to narrow down the dreams He had for me to pursue. Each new dream meant the death of an old one.
Expect delays up ahead.
I left relationships behind to follow what He was saying, moved away from home, pursued more school, and readied myself for the job overseas I thought was the fulfillment of my dream.
Then this handsome face from my past who had previously just been a friend reappeared.
Warning: Detour Ahead.
We started a life together and God gave us a new dream. Our roots as a family had barely begun to settle into the earth when we pulled them up and moved to the Middle East. We felt like we were thriving there, coasting ahead. Then, we started to see red lights ahead of us again.
Within six months we found ourselves back in our old apartment in the states. Family issues had arisen and we knew our place was back home for this season.
I won’t lie and say each change of direction was easy, that all roads are equal. Some left me reeling, questioning if I’d heard God correctly. It took years before I understood why we had to give up our dreams after such a short time and return home.
When our course is abruptly redirected or stopped altogether, it can be jarring. But we aren’t left alone. If we will keep our eyes on the path ahead we will see that there are signs leading us on...
I don't even know what I was doing when I burst into tears. I was busying myself with yet another task that needed to be done right then. Maybe I was washing the dishes that inevitably pile up in the sink. I swear, no one else was in the kitchen when I washed the last one and another cup appeared out of thin air. Perhaps I was sweeping the crumbs off the kitchen floor - again. All I know is I was frantically cleaning so I could get to the other endless tasks waiting for me - writing deadlines, bills to pay, or emails to answer.
In an effort to get it all done I was rushing around the kitchen when the scent of Georgia summer invaded my senses. I stopped near the bowl of gardenias I had brought into the house earlier that day.
If you haven't lived below the Mason-Dixon line, you won't understand how the aroma of this flower signals the coming of summer in the mind of a child of the South. The Gardenia is a staple of the southern garden. The plant itself is a bush, it's leathery leaves shiny and thick. One day there will be tight green buds, nothing more than the promise of a flower waiting to unfurl. The very next day there is an explosion of white, the smell of the Cape Jasmine flowers thick in the air.
When I was growing up we would find the biggest white blossoms, the velvety soft petals -- thicker and smoother than the rose and more fragrant than even the honeysuckle that grew wild in the woods -- and pluck them from the bush outside our back door. We would place a bowl full of the blooms floating in water somewhere in our house. Before the thermometer reached 100, before we broke out the bathing suits and sprinklers -- this scent floating gently through the house told us summer had arrived.
That night in all of my busyness, the captivating aroma caught in the air for a moment and took me back in time. All at once the memories of so many summer nights spent on the back porch came flooding in. I would sit for hours talking on the phone (yes, the kind that you actually had to dial a real number to call and that either had a chord or a battery that would beep incessantly if the cordless phone had been away from the base too long).
I can't tell you what drama was unfolding on any given night as there were so many -- from friend to boy dramas, school or parent problems. But it always seemed like the problem of the hour meant the world as we knew it caving in on us. Everything seemed to be life or death, so urgent. I think now, with regret, how I missed so many little moments caught up in all the things that never really mattered at all.
And here I am -- years later and supposedly so much wiser. I am doing it all again. That pile of dishes has to be conquered or I will go insane. If I don't meet that deadline my writing career will certainly come crashing down all around me. The lie of scarcity says there is never enough time. I must get it all done - today!
Meanwhile, the love of my life -- the one I could only have dreamed of as the boy-crazy, headstrong teen that I was back then -- he is sitting in the other room, waiting for just a few minutes with me before the day ends. My two little ones are upstairs sleeping peacefully, replicas of another child that wanted nothing more than to catch just some fireflies in a mason jar before summer's end.
I can teach them the joys of a Georgia summer - of gardenia blooms and fireworks set against the backdrop of Stone Mountain, of whippoorwill calls and rootbeer floats. Or I can miss it all by being caught up in all the tasks marking up my overly full agenda, even the necessary and good things that distract me from what really matters.
The sobs caught in my chest and I dropped what I was doing in the kitchen and, before I knew it, I was sitting on my front porch surrounded by gardenia blossoms. Some were in full-bloom and others were waiting to spring into the world tomorrow. The clean, tropical smell mixed with the humid night air and enveloped me like the sultry voice of Billie Holiday, who used to wear a gardenia in her hair whenever she performed. I don't know how long I sat out there, stroking the velvety side of a flower until I had rubbed a hole in the petal. Memory mixed with prayer, tears with laughter. Continue Reading
The day was winding down and I was spending a few minutes scrolling through my Twitter feed, just looking for some mindless conversation. The name of a place in a headline caught my attention, startling me awake out of my end of the day fog.
140 characters woke me—shook me.
I was startled because I have stood on the streets of Taiz. I met some of those residents.
I was startled because I hadn’t heard the truth of how horrendous things have become in Yemen.
I followed the links to the video Frontline News had just released. If you don’t know (which is likely because I didn’t know either), the situation in Yemen has progressed to a point that is a full-on siege in many of the cities. People are fleeing and those who are staying cannot get the medical care or food they need. After the 2015 civil war most news of Yemen stopped flowing into the West but the fighting continues daily, especially in Taiz.
The people of Yemen are being killed by groups we consider terrorists (Houthi rebels, Al Qaeda and ISIS are all terrorizing this country), but these stories rarely show up in our news feeds. Yemen is a tiny country in the Arabian Peninsula, not often newsworthy in the West.
I sat down next to my husband and watched the thirty-minute video on my iPhone, in shock as I watched a nightmare unfold in my living room. I felt the breath catch in my chest and tears sting my eyes.
There are horrors happening in more countries than we can count these days. We can hardly keep up with the news. More often than not, I turn a blind eye when it all becomes too much.
But this night the news hit me square in the heart because I had been there.
My visit to Taiz was years before the situation escalated to the current Hell on Earth it has become, but terror was nothing foreign to this land that is in the middle of a boiling cauldron of hatred in the Middle East. A few friends and I spent only a couple days touring with an expat friend who lived there. On one attempt to visit a city in the north our car was turned around at a checkpoint.
We were uncertain why we were denied entry until hours in a government building in the capital gave us the answer we sought: There was currently Al Qaeda activity in the north.
I tell that story now with a feeling of complete detachment as if I am hearing a story that actually happened to someone else. I didn’t feel the danger in that moment because it didn’t feel like a reality to me. I would move on in a few days, heading to my final destination in another part of the Middle East. The people of Yemen, however, would never be able to escape the reign of terror that was becoming their permanent reality.
My visit to Taiz was the highlight of that week. When I stepped into this beautiful cultural center of Yemen I felt like I had entered another time completely, glimpsing ancient life in the modern world. As the mini-bus climbed the steep cliffs of Sabir Mountain, I held my breath and clenched my eyes closed. If I peeked out of the bus window and tilted slightly, I couldn’t even see the side of the mountain, just the abyss below.
A friend struck up a conversation with a local man as the motor strained under the pressure of the vertical climb. By the time we reached his stop, we found ourselves clamoring off the bus with him—going home with a man we just met. This is the way of Middle Eastern hospitality. It isn’t an odd thing in this land to be invited in after a simple meeting on public transportation.
Hours later as the sun descended over the mountain we were still playing football (soccer) on the rooftops of his home, the entire population of his village on that flat roof or playing below us. Tea and treats of every kind had been brought to us as a kind of offering, meals shared, stories told. We never made it to our destination that day but spent the afternoon overlooking the most breathtaking views I have ever seen and met some of the kindest people that have ever invited me into their home.
I looked out over the level rooftops that jutted out between the puffs of white, so high was our elevation that we were literally above the clouds. I remember feeling like this was a little glimpse of heaven, both because of the beauty and because of the kindness we found in this land that was so completely foreign to everything I had thought to be a possibility in this world.
I haven’t been back to Taiz but after watching the video on the siege there, I am sure it is safe to assume that some of the people we met that week—possibly most of them—have lost everything.
That paradise above the clouds is no more. And until a tweet about a news report, I didn’t know anything about it. A land I briefly visited, and which captured my heart, became a memory and an afterthought. It should have become a prayer, a burden on my heart to carry when others who haven’t even heard of Yemen will not pray. Continue Reading
The party was completely pin-worthy, Pinterest-perfect. Donning my little hand-made hat, I walked around the party watching the kids decorate their tea cups and laughing at the rabbit and queen of hearts costumes. The mad-hatter cake was just tilted enough, the frosting looking too good to cut into.
When a friend commented the next day how wonderful my five-year-old daughter’s party had been, saying “I don’t know how you do it all” I smiled modestly and cheerfully said something about just not sleeping but I was lying through my fake smile, hiding all the cracks underneath the surface.
Inside I was trying to do everything I thought I was expected to do and be something no one asked me to be, least of all my family. Like the slightly chipped teacups I bought at the thrift store for the party, I looked good on the outside but imperceptibly, quietly, I was cracking.
The voices on every side were bombarding me, telling me everything I should be doing. Feed your kids organic food, but live frugally and buy locally. Work out and get that perfect body, but make sure you don’t spend too much time away from your family. You can have that perfect party at little cost when you make it all yourself, but slow down so you don’t miss out on your kid's lives. The contradicting voices cried out, clawed at me, and made me feel inadequate, harried, and always less than enough.
By the end of that year, I was barely keeping the tight anxiety in my chest at bay, fighting exhaustion, and feeling far from God. I couldn’t fit everything into the day. Between my family, work, church, volunteering and everything I believed I had to do, God was relegated to the leftover edges of my life. I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore and I started practicing saying “no” to things.
Committing to live more simply, I pulled back on commitments, tried to let go of all the perfection, and promised to listen to God’s voice instead of all the other ones I had let become my Master that year. I spent more time just being with my family. Parties became small outings and I curled up with my new Bible study and asked God to speak.
The trouble was the voices didn’t stop bombarding me, telling me all the things I should be doing.
They came from authors of books and writers online who promised a more peaceful, spiritual life. They came from the very Bible study I hoped would be the answer to my spiritual dryness. They came from the pulpit on Sunday morning...
Today I am joining my friend, author Tina Osterhouse in her spiritual practices series, writing about the practice of letting go of everything you "should" be doing. Join me there?
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. This week I have the special treat of swapping places online with my friend, author Tina Osterhouse. She is joining us today sharing how we can attend to the voice of God in Scripture, see his fingerprints in our lives. When I read her words I am challenged and inspired to dig into the Word, eagerly looking for evidence that He is speaking, has always been speaking. I know you will be, too. I will be writing over at her blog on Friday...stay tuned! - Nicole
Last night I was over at my friend John’s house. He’s a spiritual formation professor at a Christian university. He’s recently walked through the valley of the shadow. We have a lot in common: a similar history in ministry, denominational similarities, and now, divorce. He lives on a lake with a big backyard and a long wooden dock. His daughters hung out inside the house and watched a movie. We sat outside and put together his new adirondack chairs. I passed him the screws, held the arm pieces in place, and sipped on Argentinian red wine.
I asked him about hearing from God, what’s important for him when it comes listening. He looked up from his project, reflective. “Oh, I suppose lots of things are important. Early in my youth when I learned to speak in tongues, or when I would spend hours in worship.” He paused and smiled. “I think the foundation for hearing God is when we learn to attend to God’s Spirit as we’re reading scripture.” He shrugged. “A lot of people plow through the Bible and try to read as much of it as possible. But slowing down and attending to God’s voice, to what the Spirit is saying as we read scripture is the best way to learn how to recognize God’s voice.”
* * *
When I was ten, my mom bought me a new NIV Topical Study Bible. Hardback. Beautiful. At ten, I didn’t spend a lot of time reading it. Not yet, anyways, but for some reason, one afternoon I ended up sitting on the living room floor with my Bible open, leafing through the pages. The sun was shining on that particular corner of the living room and the carpet warmed my belly, when I stumbled upon Jeremiah 17:5-8.
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and ever fails to bear fruit.
I read through the verses. I read them again. The imagery was striking. I understood. It made perfect, absolute sense to me. A desert, parched and barren …. a tree planted by streams of water. Roots that went deep into the stream. No fear of the heat. I paused. My little mind overflowed with the beauty and the structure of the passage, and also the overwhelming clarity. This was black and white. Yes or no. Trust in God or Trust in people. Life or death.
I wanted to be a girl who trusted in God. I wanted to be a tree, not a parched bush in the desert.
I’d always loved to read. I read novels all the time. I read every Janette Oke book I could get my hands on. Bodie Thoene was a personal hero. As for reading the Bible, it would take years to love scripture and let it wash me, let it change and transform me, let it feed my deepest parts and call me into the unknown, into the Truth that goes beyond intellect and touches the Eternal. Still, for being ten years old, there were elements in that encounter that went beyond mere reading. Something happened that connected me to that which is Other, and I knew it. I had touched the Mysterious and interacted with something More than myself.
* * *
John has been having some troubles with his work and we’ve spent quite a lot of time talking about it. During one conversation over the phone he expressed worry, doubt, concern – the stuff of life. Out of nowhere, I responded, “Read Jeremiah seventeen,” I told him. “Maybe that will help. Meditate on those verses.”
What seemed to come out of nowhere, wasn’t out of nowhere. It came from the place where my spirit and God’s Spirit had somehow touched, had communed over those gorgeous words so long ago. Twenty-eight years later, I drew them up and handed them to my friend so he might feast on their hope.
On Mother’s day, my son Lucas, gave me my gift. A picture frame with a beautiful tree he had colored. The picture was titled, Blessed. The verses underneath were … Blessed is the one who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
I smiled and caressed the words through the glass frame. Oh, those words … those life-giving words.
I’ve spent my life learning to trust God, learning to turn away from placing my hope in people and putting my hope and cares in God. The words of Jeremiah have been my food, my template, my anchor, the symbol I’ve grasped onto when I needed a frame of reference. There, as my fingers touched the words through the glass frame, I sensed a gentle smile from above, a moment of recognition with the Other, with God, Eternity and Time intersecting.
It’s not magic, it’s certainly not incantation or spells. Of course not.
It’s not mere words, either.
We enter into a mysterious kind of relationship with the Spirit as we engage with God through the scripture. Over time those mere words, ancient and as varied as the geography of our planet, become the story and substance of our lives.