His chocolate-brown eyes glitter with such an innocent joy that I can’t help but scoop him up in my arms. At four, my son still has a touch of baby in him that allows him to come running to me when hurt and lets me lie next to him until he falls asleep. But he’s a little boy in most ways and, as with most little boys, the first signs of spring are like rain after a drought to him.
After we had the mildest of winters the lizards and roly polies are out early this year. We spend most of the day after school outside as he scours the backyard for his favorite critters.
Daily he comes to me with offerings of love found beneath the trees that tower overhead. I hear his sweet voice cry out “for you, Mommy.” He presents me with a tiny yellow flower.
It’s not really even a flower, as my husband is quick to point out. It is a weed.
I can hear him groan every time one of the kids bends down to blow the dandelion seeds into the wind. The child in me loves to see the cottony white seeds take flight on the breeze, spinning like little ballerinas, tutus twirling in the sun.
My husband sees the resulting stubborn yellow flowers sprouting up in the yard, making more yard-work for him.
But my son sees something precious – a gift for his mommy.
I see a priceless offering from a son who wants to pour out love in the only way he knows how...
This week I am sharing about what my son is teaching me about offering, love, and joy at the Mudroom. Join me there?
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. Brian Sooy discovered my work through a shared hashtag on twitter and then we discovered we shared much in the world of non-profits and discipleship and traveling. When I read his encouragement to find what space in our lives, I was challenged to search out more space for God to move, more room for Him to breathe into my life. I know you will be challenged by these words, too. - Nicole
Before you continue reading, do this one thing. Go ahead, nobody’s watching, I promise.
Reading will wait. First, close your eyes, and breathe deep.
Breathing deeply is the prelude to a pause that calms your heart and focuses your mind. Breathing deeply gives way to silence, which makes it possible to listen. Not only to listen, but to hear.
One thing to remember: God never shouts to make himself heard. When we fill our lives with noise, as if to kill the silence, we miss the whisper that speaks life and says “You are mine.”
Not only do we try to kill the silence, we fill our lives with the white noise of activity: a ceaseless din of work, exercise, church, meetings, shopping, travel, and more.
It all piles up. Why does it seem as if time compresses and the pace of life quickens at year’s end? Why do we feel weary and exhausted at the dawn of a new year? We become frantic; deadlines of our own making threatening to undo us. The urgent supplants the important; everything seems as if it needs done at the same time; there is no room for white space. When do we rest?
White space is a design principle. It’s the space around the objects on a page or in an environment. White space ultimately serves to draw attention to what matters, or to separate what matters from the visual and spatial noise surrounding it.
In music, it’s the quiet between movements; in journaling it’s the pause of your pen before you commit your thoughts to paper; it’s the space between the paragraphs on this page.
When applied to living, white space is the time you allow for reflection, for dreaming, for thinking, for prayer and meditation. White space appears when you simply stop, and when you say no.
Jesus found white space. More than once, the gospel of Mark shows us how: he went into the hills; he found “isolated places” where he could pray, early and late in the day. Why would Jesus, who had the fullness of God dwelling within him, need to find quiet places to surround himself with solitude?
He was fully God, yet he was fully human. It wasn’t his deity that needed to find white space, it was his humanity. He was like us in every way, with the same spiritual resources and physical limitations we have. Like Jesus, we need to find quiet places to pray and to seek clear direction from our heavenly father.
Our culture places an emphasis on doing. Activity and results are valued over reflection and solitude.
What we desperately need is more white space. Space for prayers and dreamers and thinkers who are also doers.
In this new year, will you allow yourself to be enslaved to the tyranny of the urgent? Or will you allow yourself to sit back, close your eyes, and breathe deeply?
Your work, your family, your school or church is just one part of your life. It is not who you are; it should not define who you are. God calls you to be his child and become more like Christ. Your entire life is a glorious opportunity to fulfill and express your calling in a way that in uniquely yours, and unique to his call upon your life. You’re more likely to discover your calling when you separate yourself from noise and distractions, and listen in the quiet for the voice of God.
God entered this world as a child. Mary held Jesus close, felt his breath on her skin, let his breath mingle with hers. The time for doing would be later. The time for being present was now. At that moment, there was white space.
Jesus spent 30 years in preparation for 3 years of intense and intentional living. He worked, he studied, he learned. He knew his purpose, he understood his calling. He saw the end; yet throughout his last three years left room for white space—to breathe, to pray, to rest—and to remind himself of what matters.
Jesus spent time alone, intentionally. Will you spend time alone, intentionally? Will you say no, will you listen, will you breathe deeply? Let Jesus hold you close, let your breath mingle with his. Be present.
Find your white space.
It wasn't any secret when we met that I have a mind of my own and a will that is as strong as iron. We had barely begun when you said goodbye to me at the gate and trusted in our new love to carry us through months spent continents apart. A year into our marriage there was another month spent in which I said my "I love yous" through emails sent from internet cafes a world away.
You never once complained but rather gave wings to my dreams. I couldn't have gone had I not known you were the home I would return to.
My love for the big wide world is as much a part of me as my love for you. I cannot separate the two any more than bone and marrow. There is nothing I love more than when we get to explore it together.
My hair has faded over the years from a fiery red to more muted tones but the stereotypical fire of a redhead in me hasn't faded one bit. I walk the fine line between wanting so badly to please everyone and being just rebellious enough to let others know I won't fit into a mold they have defined for me. And you never seem to mind, either my stubbornness and strong will or my anxiety over what others think. I don't know how you do it, but you always make me feel like I am doing just the right thing and that you will love me no matter what.
Not a day goes by that I don't wonder how your quiet strength and my wandering spirit find such a fit in each other. Continue Reading
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
To the Ones I Want to Give the World To,
In just a few days I will have to say goodbye to you. Every time I leave I think it will be easier than the last, but it never is. Just thinking about that parting brings tears to my eyes. I am so used to you being the biggest part of my day. From waking to sleeping, there are so many moments in between in which you need me.
When I am not with you I wonder how I can be apart from someone who feels like an extension of my very being. I can't believe I have only been mother for nearly 7 years and was something else for 28 long years before that. I can't remember what it was like to not be your mom.
These moments of leaving are glimpses into what someday will be more permanent. Right now it is me setting out without you and only for a short time. One day it will be you leaving me for the big world out there and there will be a permanence to your leaving that I can't bear to think of just yet. I hold onto you as long as I can knowing that day will come far sooner than I am prepared for.
As your dad and I get ready to go we talk to you about the places we will visit and show them to you on the map. World travel doesn't seem strange to you as you speak a few words in languages not your own. I laugh at Arabic or Hindi spoken with your little southern American drawls and when you ask if the people in the part of the world we are visiting live in tents like in the Bible.
But I hope you understand more than a couple words of foreign languages or an acceptance of what is outside your own culture. I hope you grasp the reason we do what we do and it seeps deep down into your heart even now. 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
I have become accustomed to doing my writing on the computer but there is still a power that a pen and paper hold over me. I have journaled since I was young, written countless notes to be passed in class, and doodle and jot notes that end up all over my house. After graduating from college continents separated my best friend from me and as she traveled through Europe she sent postcards from every stop.
I remember the joy of seeing those little snatches of words showing up in my mailbox. They were barely a few sentences but it connected me to someone I loved far away and those words were like water to a parched soul. We mostly exchange emails now but every now and then a hand-written note from her will find it's way to my mailbox.
Since I became a mom I have kept journals for and written letters at the end of each year to my kids. I want to remember big and little moments in their lives, things I might forget if I didn't write them down. I want them to know one day what their childhood was like through my eyes, things they'd otherwise only know through photographs or stories forgotten down the years.
As my writing for others online has increased, my time to write for them has decreased. It was the third week of January before I got around to penning my year-end letters for them. I am woefully behind in updating photos I usually commit to a book to have printed for them each year.
Life gets busy with so many things and these important words get pushed aside. The words to the most important people in my life go unsaid.
So, for this month I will be sharing four letters I am writing to some of the most important people in my life. I will be taking some time to remember what I write for to begin with, what is at the core of what I want to say and who I want to say it to. I hope you will see nuggets of truth in these words. Though they are written for special people in my life, I hope they speak into yours.
I start with a letter to the person who needs to hear some hard words and believe them....myself.
There is a knot that has taken up permanent residence in your back, an ache in your arm. Sometimes a tightness comes across your chest and you realize you haven't taken time to breathe deep all day long. There are a thousand thoughts running through your mind. You try to categorize them into manageable to-do lists. You have a place for family, home, work, writing, ministry, that upcoming trip.
Something inevitably falls through the cracks and you feel the weight of guilt fall around you. There is that mom guilt you feel every day. Do you give them enough time? You have to work but you want to be with them more. You are called to write but does it take you away from them too much? You second guess your decisions even after you make them and care so deeply what other people think of you.
You can't keep juggling all these thoughts but still you try. Somehow the people you love get categorized, too. When you have so much going on they fall in with the lists and become nothing more than tasks.
A friend looks at you and says, "You put too much on yourself." You smile and nod but inside you think, "If I don't do it all, who will?" You know she is right but you don't know how to put it all down, all these things you carry in your hands, on your shoulders.
Honey, you can't do it all. You aren't meant to.
Listen to the words of the One Who Sees You, who knows all your neurotic control issues and loves you anyway.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” - Luke 10. 38-42, ESV
You can get so distracted, even by good things. Beautiful things. Things for God. God has a good portion for you though, a light burden He wants you to bear. You know it but can't accept it.
Lots of things need to be done. Absolutely, there is no denying that. But do you have to be the one to do them? Do they have to be done right now?
Please take a step back and open your eyes. There are people all around you that have hands, too. They can carry some of the burden if you will give it to them. They can hold you up when you are weak if you will allow them to. They can rub that knot out of your shoulder when it gets too painful.
There is a reason Jesus left behind a body to be united, to carry the burden together. You can't be the hands, feet, and hands. You can't do it all.
But you know the one who can. So, let Him.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I am thrilled to share these beautiful words with you from Lindsey Hepler on how she heard, and is hearing, God's voice. I hope they challange you to follow, without question, when you hear God speak. - Nicole
"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
- Psalm 95:7-8
A funny thing happened about one year ago.
It is still hard to find the right words to describe the events that unfolded over the days and weeks at the end of January and beginning of February 2015. The simplest and clearest way to describe it is simply to say this:
God spoke to me. I heard His voice.
The first message came, after a period of intense frustration, as a feeling of overwhelming love and security, a deep-rooted sense that everything was and is and would be okay.
Then, a clear statement; a provocation; an invitation.
Next, a serendipitous meeting, followed by advice offered over coffee and heeded, without question. A prayer spoken, asking Jesus to light my path, one step at a time.
Along the way, I moved according to that same deep-rooted feelings of rightness; and my path was revealed, one step at a time. Continue Reading