For a moment, as the sunlight filters through our red paisley curtains casting a warm glow across the tile floor, I forget. It’s just a split second though before the sounds of the city pierce the morning and I am plunged into the day ahead. I remember that I am simultaneously home and 8000 miles from home.
We’ve lived in South Asia four months now and our flat has a warmth to it that feels like a haven when we walk in from the crowded streets. It is home. But the teeming masses outside our door, the culture that surrounds us, and the language that engulfs us—it all still feels so far away. Our brains live on overdrive, trying to process all the newness and the words we know we have heard before but can’t place. Studying a complex and hauntingly beautiful language simply makes me tired…all the time.
For the first few months, I held onto everything I could because I’d let go of so much already—frequent calls to family and friends, TV, anything familiar. And I especially wanted to keep up my blog and writing commitments. It was my tie to home, to who I had been and wanted to still be. A couple months into full-time school there was a tugging at the back of my heart that I didn’t want to face. I was stress and overwhelmed. Instead of finding joy in what awaited me in the day ahead just managing normal life felt daunting. Writing deadlines on top of that felt like torture.
The tug wouldn’t go away. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to let go of something tethering me to a place that I wanted to be but was no longer. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I spent the last three years building my passion for writing into something that defined me. For a long time, I didn’t dare call myself a “real writer.” Each published piece gave me more confidence. Seeing my name on essays published in several books, I finally boldly claimed the title author, writer, editor. It is my writing that opened the doors for us to move to this particular job overseas and I will be working in communications down the road once we get some grasp on language. But it’s my personal writing, the places I show up every month and the communities I love (Mudroom, SheLoves, Ready Magazine, Redbud Writer’s Guild) that I didn’t want to loosen my grasp on.
In the middle of a particularly low week when I could barely lift my eyes to heaven, one of those online communities I love posted this blessing by Jan Richardson:
That each step
may be a shedding.
That you will let yourself
That when it looks
like you’re going backwards
you may be making progress.
That progress is not the goal anyway,
to the feel of the path on your skin,
to the way it reshapes you
in each place it makes contact,
to the way you cannot see it
until the moment you have stepped out.
Each word was a knife to my heart and a salve to the same wound. Through the tears I typed an email to all my editors and told them I need to take a step back for right now. It feels like a little death, letting go of my writing even for a time. It may be for a couple months. It may need to be longer. It’s another thing that I worked hard to build that I am tearing back down, like the home we sold, the people we left behind. It makes me feel so lost.
But maybe being lost isn’t such a bad thing. Perhaps this shedding of parts of myself is exactly what I need right now, to be fully dependant on God for who I am and what gives me worth. Not deadlines. Not readers. Not even the joy I get from telling stories. For right now, I need to just be present where I am and being obedient to just this one day. Maybe I need to live the story for a while before I have the space to write it.
You may not see my words in the usual places over the next few months. It feels like going backward. I have to believe it isn’t though, that it is progress to wherever it is God wants to take me…and you next. So thank you for showing up, for reading my words. I hope you will stick around and this conversation will continue soon. It will shift and change. Life always does.
But when you are feeling lost, maybe these words that spoke to me will be a comfort to you too. Know that you may not feel like you are accomplishing anything. But if presence is the goal, then be where you are. Be fully there and believe that someday…maybe not soon, maybe not when you expect it…but someday, you’ll step out into something new to realize God was accomplishing something great in you.
I was painfully shy when I was young, unable to even take a bottle from my aunt. She had to leave it for me in an empty room before I would gather up enough courage to go retrieve it. I got over that shyness and most people would call me a “people person.”
Those people never know the fear underneath the surface, the way I struggle with each interaction to fight the desire to please everyone, scared of what others think of me. In the past I have let this fear disable me completely.
But in my writing I can be bold and brave.
There is also this magical thing called editing. I can take back my initially clumsy words, make sure my ideas are fully formed, my prose beautifully expressed.
I wish there was the ability to edit what comes out of my mouth, to hide my fearful eyes behind a screen so people can’t really see.
But then that isn’t really being known, is it?
In a year already full of exciting and scary adventures, I am about to embark on another trip that has me equally thrilled and frightened.
A week from today I will be heading out to Grand Rapids, Michigan for The Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. It is a gathering that happens every two years which brings together speakers and writers to discuss issues of “faith, ethics, justice, and the craft of storytelling.”
The over 61-page program I have been perusing highlighting the speakers, workshops, dinners, and networking times with writing industry professions has me reeling. I have a list already two pages long of people I hope to meet in the four-day period of the festival.
Many of these are people who I feel like I have gotten to know over the past couple years. I have read their words and peeked into the deep recesses of their lives, but not seen their faces outside of a photo on a computer screen.
These are people I have let know me as well as I have been vulnerable, poured my deepest feelings out onto the page and sent them out into the world.
There are writers alongside me in the Redbud Writer’s Guild, The Mudroom, and SheLoves Magazine (the three most frequent places I read and write). These ladies have prayed with me, counseled me, spurred me on when I was ready to give up, and shared the dark and scary parts of sharing your faith on the page with me.
Up until now they have been two-dimensional. Now they are going to become flesh. Continue Reading
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. When Julie first shared a piece with us, she mentioned poetry to me saying so much meaning can be conveyed in few words. When I read this poem with tears in my eyes, I couldn't agree more. As a writing mom, I identify with Julie's words. But I think any writer or any parent would find themselves in these words. We are all such souls divided. I am honored to share Julie's words with you today. - Nicole
Her child knocks at her bedroom door:
“Mom, you said we could play cards at four.”
“Oh,” she adjusted her voice and said, “just another minute or two.”
He pushed into the room, stared at her with his eyes of blue.
Her heart tingles with ambivalence; struggling to execute eloquence.
“Can we reschedule and meet in your room at 6?”
Eyes cast down, being nine-year-old-brave is hard enough-
“Sure Mom, I know you when you write sometimes it’s tough”
Relief, sweet freedom, now where was that thought?
The big boy sheepishly peeks in, wearing the shirt Mom bought.
“Mom, I am hungry, can I have a snack and a drink?”
She tries to ignore simply to recapture the idea and think.
She begins to type, the guilt wraps tight.
“Sure, buddy, and by the way that shirt makes your face look bright!”
Returned to her mode, yet worried and wordless.
Surely, it’s there, the Spirit-led trail to a revelation and endless
Imagination that was about to become
A punch for a theme flooded with some fun.
Enter her husband, who wakes after his not-loved nightshift.
“Oh there you are,” he says with pure joy and a spirit-lift.
Her smile widens with genuine glee,
Searching for his eyes to connect and see…..
There it is, her brain pops!
Quick, get to typing before the flash stops.
“You are busy. I will come back.”
His sad, manly voice hits her with a smack.
But she returns to write what God has asked;
To remove the veil and share her past.
Our job for Jesus can tip the scales,
Preparing us with wind for His mighty sails.
May balance lovingly restore
Within your soul to wrap so much love in moments
To Leave your Father and those on Earth yearning for more.
Julie Dibble is a Christian Speaker and Author who resides in Central PA. Her walk with Jesus began in her 40’s, for which she is forever grateful. Julie is married to Jason and mother to their sons, Braedon and Jackson. Julie’s mission is to share the Good News: Let Love and Be a Light.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I am honored to have Amy with us today, a fellow Redbud Writer's Guild Member. Just look at her short twitter bio - "Writer. Professor. Friend. Speaker. Woman. Explorer. Teacher. Wife. Encourager. Hiker. Mentor. Speaker. Mother. Runner. Artist. Theologian." Wow, I don't know how she does it all! She's an incredible woman and writer and I know these words will encourage you to raise your voice with Amy! Be sure to read the whole post for a discount code for her book! - Nicole
Being silenced is terrible.
I know too many who have been silenced by experiences that have taken their voice; some were not allowed to tell their story of abuse, others’ stories were stifled or not believed, and still others were silenced in different ways. And that silencing affects all uses of their voice. In order to regain the use of her voice, a woman’s story must be told and her voice restored to her through empowering prayer and ensuing action.
Silencing ourselves is also an injustice.
Even if we have gotten beyond past silencing or have never struggled with it, most women still face difficulties in finding our voice and using it. Some are afraid of having a weak voice or no voice at all. Others are afraid of having a shrill, annoying, or bossy voice. This is not simply about tone, but also about the deep inner perspective that is shown as we speak. So often, rather than risking an unliked or unaccepted voice, we silence ourselves.
As a professor, I speak a lot, and I know what it feels like to fully find my voice as I speak in front of people. It happens when I am unencumbered by self-doubt, I have a platform, and I am able to flow from thought to thought. It’s as if there’s a river from God flowing through me and out to others. Everything is aligned, all is in sync, and it feels amazingly anointed with Holy Spirit power!
I also find my voice in personal conversation, often when I orally process an event or thought, not knowing the outcome but following the process freely to wherever it takes me.
I wish I could have this voice at all times, but I don’t.
Most sermons that I hear are based on relatively short scriptural passages, have one “big idea,” three points, and a specific application. Preachers are taught this format in seminary, and it has proven to be an effective way of communicating. This, then, is often the way I preach, especially when assigned a biblical passage.
My best voice, however, comes across in first-person narrative sermons. I research a character of scripture deeply and tell the story as if it were my own. When I write the manuscript and when I preach, I feel the same way I’ve described above—it flows so easily.
When invited as a guest preacher, however, I always wonder whether it will be accepted, even though Jesus used stories all the time to teach. Should I do what everyone else does or should I be different? How will the difference be viewed?
I have to keep encouraging myself by the truth that my voice is neither better nor worse. It is simply different, and all voices are necessary. When we choose to emulate someone else’s voice, when we choose not to use our voices, we are depriving the world of our true voice and calling.
Everyone misses out when we are silent. Continue Reading
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I discovered Amy's writing last October when we were both involved in Write 31 Days. I have devoured her work over at Sun Steeped Days since and am honored to have her words here. Whether you write or not, I know you will relate to the tension she describes, as we are all such torn souls, heirs to both the Fall and the Covenant. - Nicole
I once read about a woman who approached Elisabeth Elliot and said, "It must be wonderful to be able to read your own writings!"
To which the inimitable author replied, "It is like chewing on stewed Kleenex."
On many days, reading my own words feels exactly that way.
When I set out to find my voice as a writer nearly two years ago, I ended up with two. One arose from my exposure to writers who cultivate their faith through contemplation, who approach word-craft like a pursuit of beauty; the other, from living in a world that craves life-in-the-trenches anecdotes and honest truth for survival. They have always pulled me in different directions, and I never enjoy the struggle.
I want to be gentle; I want to be firm.
I ought to paint a thoughtful picture; I should just drive the point home.
Do I encourage by illustration, or say it plain?
Each time I sit down with this ill-fitting pair, my tones and words clash like building blocks in the frustrated hands of my toddler, and I struggle to find the space where they'll finally click.
But after living in the tension between them for over a year, I'm beginning, at long last, to make my peace with this position.
For I’ve begun to see how deeply both voices are rooted in me.
I am spirit and flesh. I need talk of beauty and of God's high country, and then, too, I need someone to tell me she's also had a cart full of groceries when a small voice says, “I need to go potty.” Even in my soul alone, the division is strong:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. . . . [I]n my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Rom. 7:14, 22-23).
I nod along to Paul's words, because I feel urgency pulling me in both directions. If it is true for both of us, then perhaps the dissonance I feel in how and what I write exists because I come of a people who are, by their very nature, torn.
The story of mankind is a story of pairs: soul and body, sanctification and sin, and -- from its very beginnings -- a high and humble lineage.
"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth." (Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis)
As heirs of both the Fall and the covenant, we hunger for holy things even as we battle our burdens. When we read stories and listen to songs, we search for lines that look us in the eye and acknowledge our current realities, and we also look for ones that point out of our spheres and tell us that there are things beyond.
We are creatures whose feet grit into the earth even as our inward selves strain for clearer air.
So then, how does one write — both to and from — these realities?
I'm still asking this question, finding my way one sentence at a time, trying to light match after match against the darkness even if I don't know how useful it will be for anyone else's path ahead. I am broken, too; we are all stories half-told, and halved by our very living.
But what I try to remember, each time I unfold my secretary desk, is this:
If there is tension in all of us, then that shared struggle is precisely what gives our split voices purpose, and what transforms our struggles into the birthplaces of our best art.
The accounts I write from my life don't flow together magically. Sometimes a mess is an unspoken sermon for me about God's mercy in my family's growth; sometimes it's simply a pile of elastic bands, receipts, and picture books that I need to pick up with a cheerful heart. But no matter which perspective prevails on a given day, I can’t deny that they do both speak of the same trajectory: a ransomed life that's traveling Home to walk with and know joy perfected -- mine as well as His.
I want the space I create for others, then, to be a place of inspiration, of microscopic views of God's creative elegance and sweeping vistas of His grandeur -- but also a place of bare-headed confession. The One for whom I write knows what it is to be mortal and eternal, after all, and by some mysterious means, He's also working the dross out of me through that very struggle of scribbling.
I still wonder, on many days, if my stewed Kleenex doesn't extinguish the tiny flames of truth it tries to relay. But as I so deftly brew my next batch, I often stumble across a fine read somewhere that reminds me that the Kingdom's coming, and is even now here. So I take up my soggy, flickering words and hold them out beside others' blazing torches, because we are all weary travelers stumbling up the avenue in search of a gracious refuge.
In such a place, even a tiny, split-wicked candle may make a difference for a solitary soul.
And together, with our reflections and depictions of Him who cannot be overcome by darkness, we are lighting the way Home.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I think you will love these words of Nancy Roe, that speak of a faith that has grown over the years and through many struggles. Nancy speaks of hearing God's voice in a way that makes me turn to His Word with an expectancy. - Nicole
It is not easy to be me.
My life of 65 years has been a patchwork of light and dark, though the dark has ravaged deep from a young age into the present. Those holds and chains pervade hard, immovable, unyielding, and stubborn. I am too familiar with the lies and nuances, and they hide in the habitual. “The what has always been and what will always be” are insinuated into my psyche. The lies insist they are stronger now that I am older, that I am too weak, too fragile, too broken, too damaged.
I was 18 when my drug addled hedonism and atheism gave way to idealism, discovery, and faith in Jesus. The Great I AM showed Himself to me and I was utterly taken. All and everything, He was my desire. I swooned for Him, floated in Him. Such bliss in those days, heaven pulsated in and through me. The sheer intoxication of Him filled me with the ecstasy of joy, peace passing understanding, laughter, purity, and the warm palpable healing oil of His Spirit.
Heaven came to me on earth for a while. But I was young and had much living and learning in store.
The damage done by legalism and condemnation was far more heinous than I could have ever realized. No wonder Paul wrote so repeatedly, passionately and emphatically in his letter to the Galatians “see what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11)
Paul urged the Galatians to listen:
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8)
“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)
Now, I get it.
But then? I was years in a “Christian” mind control cult. Though prior to this at my faith’s inception, the wolves in sheep’s clothing subtlety held sway. All those cunning, cruel, and wicked cords wove through my belief experience, tying me, locking me down, imprisoning me deep. This was new bondage, this religious dread and panic that wove itself into the older tapestry of my childhood guilt and shame.
Fear sets us out as fugitives on the run from God. So run I did, trying to find my way to what was real. But, God... Continue Reading
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. Julie Dibble writes beautifully both about her entry into and struggle with fitting the mold of the online writing world but also about hearing God's voice. Her piece is a reminder of the power of God's word and the way it breaks into our lives. Please welcome Julie's words in this space. - Nicole
I am full of words. As a young girl, I wanted to be an author. Eagerly, I wrote and illustrated my own fiction. I remember one story about a lion that had no mane that I dreamed of publishing. As I got older, I placed words into poems and began to journal. By the hands that created me, I am blessed with the ability to decorate this life with glorious words.
My surprise was small when God called me to speak and write for Him. Rather, I strongly felt He had prepared me for such a task throughout my life. Humbled, I sought to accurately represent Holy Perfection.
Upon initiating myself into the professional writing world last year, the word requirements seemed low and less than what is comfortable for me. Blog posts are written as if the writer is speaking, so long, lofty sentences are not welcome. Twitter has a cut-off for not only words but also characters, inherently limiting the ability to ramble. Quickly, I realized with the absolute flood of information that exists online, brevity increases a writer’s visibility.
Here I am to state my case in the midst of this fast, busy, changeable world. Despite what we choose to keep to ourselves, God is omniscient. He knows all. Without sharing our thoughts, He hears them. Without baring our emotion, He feels it.
God responded to my mental objection…stumbling in the process of proclaiming His presence with words. God noticed my heart was less than pure. Feeling frustrated, I struggled with the need to cut entire details out of a story written for His glory, in order for it to be accepted.
God told me one night during a one-eye-opening-to-see-what-time-it-is awakening: power of prayer, power of prayer, power of prayer. Not audibly, but clear as day in my sleepy mind, God gave me these three words and repeated them three times. If I posted just those three words on Twitter, one or two people may stop scrolling and wonder about my purpose. Continue Reading
When I started sharing my writing with the world a little over a year ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I still don't. I have some bylines under my belt but I am still just figuring this out one day at a time.
When I sat at my first writer's conference, a small event that I had received a scholarship to based on the first piece of writing I sent out into the world last year, I felt so out of place. I sat next to authors who were pitching manuscripts of their books to editors and agents. I leafed through titles at the book table of others who had been writing for most of their lives, who had a plan and a purpose. I was just beginning.
The dreaded question, "What are you working on?" was asked by every person I met. Sometimes I tried to make myself as small as possible, melt into the background, so I wouldn't get asked again. My answer, "I am just trying to find my voice right now" seemed ridiculous. But it was the truth.
I had silenced my voice for so long that I didn't know how to really use it anymore. I just wanted to be in a place with other writers and learn from them. I left that conference with some great tools and ideas to get started on my brand new blog and submitting writing to others, but I still wasn't sure what it was I wanted to say.
My writing, at fist, felt like that timid answer I gave at the writer's conference. I was scared to raise my voice above a whisper, holding back and trying to sound polished and sure. I felt so lost in the sea of amazing writers online and paralyzed by my lack of knowledge. Did I mention I didn't have a clue what I was doing?
An amazing thing happened when I started sharing my voice with others, though. I found real people on the other side of those words I had read and the pedestals I had placed other writers upon. I don't know how I had made them these untouchable superheroes of faith and vulnerability. I guess we do that with anyone who is living the life we want to live. It makes it all seem so unattainable.
I sent a couple pieces out to collaborative blogs I loved. The first month...cue the crickets chirping. I pulled my courage up around me and sent again. I about fell out of my chair when I received an email from a writer I adored saying my piece needed some editing and asked if I would be willing to work on it with her to get it ready for publication. I won't lie. I went all fan girl but then I played it cool and emailed her back. Continue Reading
It wasn’t a revelatory moment when the heavens opened up. It was pieces of moments, scattered throughout my life like breadcrumbs leading me down the right path.
Pieces of moments – that book I wrote in third grade and a journal entry saying I wanted to be a writer, all those poems that were the language of the heartbreak of my teenage years. There are stacks of journals piled high over the years, most I would be afraid to venture back into with the things I now know.
Then, I put away the pen to live my life.
In my thirties, there came an aching in my soul, an emptiness I couldn’t explain. I had flashes in my memory - the pain in the eyes of a beggar, the slums and the forgotten ones, those without voices. There were stories on my heart that God had let me bear witness to, an obligation to share with those who hadn’t seen.
In the last few years there were those tell-tale breadcrumbs. Janice Elsheimer’s Creative Call convicted me that God had created in me a gift that I wasn’t using. Other writers encouraged me to share my art with the world. Then there was a journaling retreat at monastery that inspired me to start filling up the pages of my leather notebook with all the words that flowed in my heart.
I just didn’t feel I had anything worthy to give. What could my words create that didn’t already exist? What could I say that would matter?...
This month SheLoves Magazine is asking, "Is there a question that compels you, stirs you, inspires you?"
Thank you for being a part of A Voice in the Noise in 2015. It has been a year of finding my voice and God opening doors I never expected to walk through when this year began. I am so grateful for each and every person who has prayed for me, given me space to write, read my words, and encouraged me when it felt too hard. I am forever in your debt! I can't wait to see what 2016 holds! Here's a little peek into the most read posts of this year and the ones I loved writing, a glimpse into why I wrote them and what they meant to me...
"Maybe my daring moves seem small to you but to me, they mean obedience in the face of great fear, and that feels pretty dangerous."
I wrote this piece when I was getting up the courage to submit a story to SheLoves Magazine, a community I loved to be a part of but wasn't sure I had a place in as a writer. God has allowed me to write for SheLoves four times in 2015.
"God is bringing the nations to us, and I believe so many of our local congregations are missing it."
I wrote this as an entry to a writing contest and later posted it on my blog before the refugee crisis of 2015 became news. I pray that someone somewhere reads it and is challenged to let their fences down. I am so blessed to have a window into the vibrant, beautiful refugee community of America that has so much to teach us, if we will just listen.
"My attitude is brimming with harshness, bitterness. I spew hideous words directed at someone God loves dearly, tearing her down. I can be downright hateful…To myself."
My first full series, The F-Word resonated with more people than I expected. The funny thing about our feelings of failure and shame are that they isolate us, making us think we are the only ones who feel this way. It was a beautiful experience writing about this for a month and allowing God to teach and heal me so much in 2015, to also see others come alongside me and say, "Me, too!"
"In the time I was an explorer I saw God in places I never dreamed to find Him."
I was fortunate to be on the launch team for Sarah Bessey's 2015 book Out of Sorts. I wrote this in response to the themes of wandering and evolving faith in the book, specifically about the time in my life when I walked away from the church and God only to find God in so many places, people, and denominations where I never expected to find Him. I have come to embrace that time in my life, not as something to be ashamed of and run from, but as a time that shaped my faith in deeper ways than ever before.
"I’ve seen it so many times before and it frightens me for the state of my heart. I can sit glued to the news when a disaster strikes, pray fervently for dire circumstances, and feel moved by someone’s plight. Then, I can turn away and forget just as easily, wrapped up in my own daily worries."
One of the things I set out to do in 2015 putting my words on A Voice in the Noise was to highlight needs around the world and help people to pray for what God is doing outside of the American church. This short piece I wrote as a blogger for Gospel for Asia was shared over 500 times as people were inspired to pray for those suffering after the earthquakes in Nepal. This story hit home as one of my best friends lived in Nepal at the time and my heart broke for her family, but it was so easy to get caught up in daily life and forget their needs. I guess others really identified with that tension as well.
This was the hardest piece for me to write this year, interspersing the history of a rich faith tradition with current events in the land that I love so much, as well as my own experiences in the Coptic Church. It felt like a rending of my spirit as I wrote it, but I was so pleased when it was done and that Her.meneutics ran it. I had a couple radio interviews come out of this piece and got to share even more about a place and people that is so dear to me. This was one of those "that is why I do this" moments, being able to share a piece of my life that I feel so fortunate for having experienced.
This story holds a special place in my heart. It is another that I began writing seven years ago and that I just had a deep need to share. It is about a change in my heart that was so hard won, a time in my life I am so grateful for. It is about my best friend and all she has taught me, continues to teach me. I was so happy that this was my first piece published outside of my own blog and my first experience struggling through edits, seeing a story transformed into something so much more beautiful for having worked with an incredible editor, Heather Caliri. The Mudroom has become a place that I love dearly online, read every single post and am proud to be on the support staff for as 2015 comes to a close!