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
I'm delighted to share the first guest post of 2016 with you. It's a fitting first as it is this writer's first time guest posting as well. Please welcome writer, photographer, artist Amanda Taylor to A Voice in the Noise today.
I over think everything, and I do mean everything.
Last year I tried to come up with one word to try and meditate on, one word to lead me through the year and recenter me when needed. I would come up with a word that I thought God wanted me to have. Then I would over think it, second guess it and dismiss it. I would think to myself maybe it’s a word I want but not the word that God wants me to have.
I could never settle on a word. Feeling defeated I gave up and let it go. I stopped thinking about the word and what it could have meant for my year, how God could have spoken to me through that word.
This is year I have taken a new approach to it. I started early in December. As I anticipated the birth of Christ I started to ask God to show me a word that he wanted me to focus on. I started softly whispering to God that I was ready to hear what he wanted to tell me. This year I wasn’t going to try and come up with it on my own. I was going to wait however long it took to hear and feel a word that came from Him, not from me.
Shortly after Christmas I took a trip up to one of my favorite places to think, reflect, recenter. I wanted to hear God clearly. This monastery is so dear to my heart that I feel at peace as soon as I drive onto the grounds.
I sat and wrote some notes to myself, some things to remember this coming year and I thought more about my word and then I corrected myself - God’s word. It was God’s word I was asking for that would become mine over the coming year. But first I had to understand it was his word.
During vespers as the monks sang out the feelings rang through my soul and I quietly sang back. I took in all that God was trying to tell me and for once I wasn’t quick to second guess it or jump to conclusions.
I thought maybe, just maybe, he was pointing me in the direction he wished me to go so I asked louder for Him to please show me what it was he had for me. What word would propel me into the new year and closer to what he had in store for me?
It wasn’t until just a couple days later as I was getting up, still feeling heavy from sleep and groggy in my thoughts, that one word shouted out to me as clear as a bell. I could barely focus on pulling myself together and heading to the shower but one word was so clear it sparkled. 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?"
For the past few years I have tried to pick a word in January that I felt would guide my year ahead. It would be a word I hoped would encapsulate my attitudes and actions, what I wanted to do in the next twelve months, as I set resolutions and goals.
Last year I picked more of a thought, a poem that as soon as I heard it - I knew it was exactly where I was in my life:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
"Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!"
And he replied:
"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."
-Minnie Louise Haskins
I felt like I was stepping into something unknown, some darkness that God was lighting a way into. I didn't know what.
Awakening was not the word I picked in 2015 but as the months moved on, I realized that it was the word that best described my life. It kept appearing in my journals, in my heart. I felt like I was awakening from a long slumber, like there were layers of rock being chipped away from around my heart.
Anxiety and worry, perfectionism and feelings of failure had built up these hardened places. Hurry and busyness stifled my creativity and my prayers were all but smoke blown away in the rushing wind of all the things I felt I had to do to live up to some imaginary standard of what God wanted from me.
I began to move again, teaching dance classes to refugee children. I have always hated teaching, never feeling like I was "expert" enough to have anything to offer. These kids bright smiles awakened something in me, reminding me of dance for the pure love it, of how simply creating together connects us beyond borders and differences.
I began to write again, hesitant to call myself "writer." My heart quickly ignited as something dormant in me for so many years found it's way to the forefront, awakening a calling in me I had suppressed for the busyness of life. I had acted like it wasn't there, this dream inside of me. I really just wasn't brave enough to walk into the unknown until I took God's hand and said, "let's go..."
At the end of that year of awakening, I sat in the dim light filtering in through the stained glass windows of the Abbey Church where I always spent my end of the year reflection time. A new word found me. Continue Reading
This year I am not making New Year’s resolutions. I am not jotting down goals and dreams, in hopes of becoming a different version of myself. Instead, I am exploring something new this year—or rather, something very old.
It all began when I visited a local monastery for some quiet reflection. Being a busy working mom, I was feeling out of touch with time for my own spiritual development. Driven by to-do lists, I felt the need to set some spiritual goals instead of just practical ones. The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, sitting on 7,000 acres of untouched Georgia woodlands, became the perfect retreat for New Year’s Day reflections a few years ago.
I was taken by the beauty of the place and intrigued by the life of the forty monks in community there. I attended a retreat at the monastery later in the year, praying and learning alongside the monks. The common prayer and meditative readings were unknown to me as an evangelical, but still sparked a deeper contemplation around God and his gospel truths.
The following year, I returned to the abbey church, listening to monks singing midday prayers while asking God to guide my year ahead. I have always loved how New Year’s puts us in a mindset of reflection and reordering. It’s especially needed as another year comes to an end, and we’re left feeling more defeated than inspired...
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!
I remember the warm glow of that tiny bulb shining down on the mossy cradle that held baby Jesus. My favorite part of Christmas growing up was being the one to rush in each evening and plug the manger in, watching the peaceful scene light up with the warmth that little light brought.
I would sit at the manger in the glow of the Christmas tree and just stare at the picture I knew little about. I didn’t really hear the story behind the manger, growing up in a home that focused more on presents than on the Jesus of Christmas. But still there was just something about sitting at His feet that moved me.
I was hungry for a taste of Jesus, not knowing where to start. I asked my mom for a Bible for my eighth Christmas. I remember the sound of the spine cracking the first time I opened that King James Version Bible with the white lacy cover my mom hand-made for me. I poured over the stories I didn’t understand.
My mom may not have taught me much about the Christmas story growing up. Still there was something in her that guided me towards what it meant to seek after the holy moments, that honored my seeking...
Today I am over at SheLoves Magazine finishing up my December focus on Advent with a recollection of how Jesus came for me in my childhood and Him coming for me again and again. Join me there...
On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be,
“Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid!
For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."
The waiting for my first child seemed to stretch on forever as it was a week past my due date before labor pains began. After laboring all day, I sat in the hospital expecting to be told she would come soon only to be told I needed to wait and walk some more. Each step felt like it made the pain start anew and the end felt nowhere in sight. Even two hours into pushing, my little diva still took her precious time as we found out she was face up, having a hard time coming into the world.
Struggle and joy are never so intertwined as in those moments of labor, when you speak those words and mean them - "I can't do this anymore!" You truly feel like there is not another ounce of strength in you, even though you know the reward is near.
I cried those words and wanted to give up, even after nine months of waiting. Even after hours of labor and pushing. One more anguished push and I couldn't even understand what was happening when this squirming little body was placed on top of mine. I didn't even realize she had arrived until my mouth was gaping open, tears streaming down my face as I held her to my body. Outside my body. In my arms. How did this happen?
There would be time for celebrating, for announcements and laughter, for photos. Oh, so many photos.
But in those moments, there was nothing but me and her. All of my waiting and working had finally come to an end, even after I had stopped believing it was possible. There were only those dark eyes looking into mine, looking like mine. Nothing else mattered. My dream was living and breathing, in my arms.
I have always read the Old Testament prophecies about Christ from the perspective of one who knows they have been fulfilled, like the mother who already holds her newborn. I haven't really felt the waiting in the words, the pain and struggle the people of God must have felt as they waited for the One to come who would change their lives.
'The day will come', says the Lord 'when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them. In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’ - Jeremiah 33.14-15
When I found myself expecting my first child, I was twenty-seven years old but nothing made me feel more unprepared and like a child myself than knowing what lie ahead. No one stops to learn how to be a mother, to care for another human being and all that entails, until they themselves are preparing to have a child. And nothing makes you feel as utterly inadequate as knowing the responsibility that you now carry.
The two blue lines barely had time to appear on that little white stick before I started reading books about pregnancy, birth, and caring for a baby. I suddenly knew how much preparation was needed. I didn't only need a crib and a car seat, diapers and a thousand other gadgets and tools to take care of a child. I also needed the knowledge that mothers before me, doctors, and friends had to offer.
That firstborn of mine now stands next to me, hanging the sparkling silver angel that was her first ornament on the seventh Christmas tree of her little life. All the rush and hurry of this season is upon us again. I look into her sweet blue eyes that still see the magic of all the lights and songs. I want to create with her traditions that speak also of the expectation that should come with this season before us.
Advent, the season beginning four Sundays before Christmas, means "to come" in Latin and its essence, to me, is reminiscent of that very expectation that I felt as a mother-to-be.
Shouldn't it be so? Mary found herself still a child, unprepared and unexpecting when she carried both a great weight and the very One who frees us from every burden. Continue Reading
November blindsided me with its arrival this year. I know everyone says the years go by faster the older you get, but this year has rushed by with startling speed.
By the beginning of November I usually have the kids gather up some of the many branches that have fallen from the sturdy trees in our back yard. We string paper leaves from the branches placed in a vase and take stolen moments around the dinner table to jot down our thanks, to stop in all the hurry and be grateful.
The rain came in sheets this year. Busyness surrounded us, keeping us from our usual project as the month began. As the days passed and our little centerpiece wasn’t in place, I felt the chance to be intentional slipping away.
My heart skipped a beat when I realized a vacation planned in the middle of the month, along with a busy season at work and writing deadlines mean that Thanksgiving would come and go and then Advent would be upon us.
Advent. By definition this season is an expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus. I close my eyes when I think of the word Advent and picture candles lit, ornaments hung, carols sung. I think of a peaceful expectancy, a stirring in your heart that says something wonderful is on the way.
I open my eyes and the image disappears, replaced by parties marked on calendars, shopping lists and presents to wrap. This season that leads up to the celebration of Jesus’ arrival on earth has become for me, as I suspect for most of us, anything but waiting...
This week I start my December focus on Advent over at The Mudroom. Join me there?