My love quickly turned to a need to please and my feelings of being loved to a fear of failure.
I remember feeling overwhelmed by love when I started following Christ, but the feeling didn’t last long. Like a hamster on a wheel, I started performing. I learned all the right things to say and do, the places and people to avoid, the ways a Christian is “supposed” to look.
I was overtaken with a fear that I wouldn’t measure up. There was a story that was read to us one day in youth group. The gist of the story was a man who found himself in a room full of file cabinets. On the cards in were written every sin, every evil thought and dark place inside of him. Jesus read them all and then canceled them out with his blood, showing the man he was forgiven.
Looking back, I know the intention was to show us that we can be forgiven but all I heard was the part where every horrible thing I ever thought of doing was laid bare before Jesus. I spent so much trying to please him and when I failed, I ran the other way instead.
After years of running from Christ, so tired of that endless race of striving, I found myself sitting again in a room of students. A woman passionate about us wayward college girls was trying desperately to convey God’s love to us. She read us words from the book of Romans telling us that no matter what we had done it was forgotten forever.
“No condemnation,” she said “for those in Christ Jesus. Literally none. Your sins are completely gone, remembered no more.”
Brick by brick the walls I had built up to protect myself came tumbling down and I crumbled before her in tears. I had lived so long in fear of my own failure.
Through my tears, I cried out, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner?”
Fifteen years later, I still struggle to remember this truth, still fighting my tendency to be motivated by fear instead of love.
I sat in another room of students last week, a very different kind. A gathering of writers, we all came to the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing to learn about growing our craft and to connect with other writers. Continue Reading
“When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.” - Madeline L’Engle
I love contemplation – in theory.
The year began for me in the aching beauty of an abbey church. The very architecture spoke to me of stillness. The concrete columns towering into arched rafters above were solid, sturdy, glorious. The scene around me reflected what I want my interior life to look like. That still, solid, steadiness is what I hope to embody.
I know that only comes with the contemplation and prayer that the inhabitants of those very walls live by. I began my year learning from the Benedictine monks that lived within the abbey, wanting to practice more of that kind of stillness in my own spirit.
But away from those warm and inviting walls where a single sound is magnified into echoing responses due to the silence – there is so much noise. Inside my head and heart - noise.
A third of the way into the year, I have been on more planes than in the past few years combined. I have been running so much and that isn’t to say I haven’t had moments of extreme clarity when God’s voice has broken through the noise.
I have heard Him in my journeys and in spite of them.
My scene today is a very different one than the dimly lit monastery. Noises and music rise together inside the coffee shop I sit inside, a shelter from the crisp Chicago day. I can’t pick out a single voice, the sounds more of a symphony of chatter than a single conversation.
It’s full of noise but my heart can still find space to be quiet here. There is something beautiful to me about being still in the middle of the city bustling around me.
Whether I am traveling or at home, in the quiet or in a crowd I can find a place for stillness if I will just stop running. The problem is I don’t often stop long enough to do the very thing I know my heart so desperately needs.
On my way to the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, three days in which I am sure I will find little time for stillness, I am so grateful to have time to stop running if only for a moment.
My journey to FFW is starting with a writer’s retreat in which there will be time for prayer, contemplation, and writing. I think I am most looking forward to and most resistant to this part of the journey, all at the same time.
I have been trying make contemplation part of my daily life but it is so contrary to my evangelical church experience. Though I have often stepped outside of the tradition in which I first discovered Christ and still belong, the tendency to place worship in the neat little boxes I learned there are still so ingrained.
Stillness is still an effort for me. I want it to just feel easy but it is work at the same time. The two seem contrary to each other, so I often throw up my hands and walk away from the very practices I long to explore like centering prayer and examen.
In The Contemplative Writer, Ed Cyzewski (one of the people organizing the retreat tomorrow) talks about contemplative prayer as something that “removes us from the spiritual rat race where we’re always trying to make ourselves worthy of God or proving our mettle as disciples of Jesus.”
The rat race had been my life for so long that as soon as I remove myself from the endless cycles of striving, I find myself wandering right back to it.
Just like it is hard to let myself be known by others, it is so hard for me to be still and know. To be and not do. Everything in me fights against it but all I am longs to know how, too.
In this coffee shop I try to be still in the midst of the noise. Tomorrow I will practice contemplation with others, struggling to love it more in practice than in theory. I know it won’t be easy. Not much that actually brings us closer to truly knowing God is.
So here’s to knowing and being known this week…
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.
My husband noticed it first. As we hiked in the North Georgia mountainside in early spring, he pointed out new life springing up everywhere.
We had stopped to gaze at the waterfall gurgling into a lazy stream below. He pointed to a tree that was broken off at the top, maybe struck by lightning or snapped off by the wind. It looked like it had long since died, yet there were new sprouts all over the trunk, emerging from what had once seemed dead. He said he loved the way nature had a way of renewing itself like that.
I looked at the new green on that once dormant tree and I saw a glimpse of the hope the followers of Christ must have felt the day they discovered that the stone had been rolled away.
With the resurrection in my thoughts, Easter celebrations close at hand, my mind turned to the time Jesus spent with those who loved Him in the days following His return to life. I imagine the wonder they must have felt, hearts so full and light, bursting in their chests. I wonder if they also feared though. Did they keep touching him, afraid of when he would leave again?
God has a way of bringing life from what appears to be the end.
So often new hope requires death first.
My oldest child, taking in all the wonder of the surrounding forest, asked us why so many fallen trees lay over the river. Her dad stopped by a tree that was almost completely decomposed at the base. To show her how it had broken down over time into rich soil, he scooped up the moist, black earth in his hand. A musky smell of disturbed earth filled the air as he told her it was supposed to be this way, that it was how the forest stayed alive.
What had been a life-giving tree, providing oxygen, shade, and shelter was no more. In death nature had done its work and the tree now gave life in a different way. It had fulfilled its purpose in its life and also in its death.
I love new life, the spring, the hope and feeling of renewal. Fresh starts and new beginnings are awe-inspiring.
It’s the death part, which has to come first, that doesn’t come so easily. I tend to hold onto dreams or seasons of my life, not willing to let die that which God requires me to let go of to bring new life. Continue Reading
Their smiles were hidden behind burqas, the black veils covering most of their faces. But there was a glimmer in their eyes as I caught their gazes and returned their shy smiles. They laughed as they worked up the nerve to ask for a photo. The encounter was repeated several more times with other welcoming strangers as we walked through the park.
My friends and I wore brightly colored salwar suits that day and tried to fit in, but we couldn’t hide the white skin that made us the celebrities of the day. We laughed later as we looked through our photos and thought how many family pictures we ended up in, strangers in a sea of lovely brown skin. The boldness of the South Asians who asked for “a photo ma’am” or snuck a selfie with us in the background made us snicker.
But a whispered second thought halted our lighthearted laughter. How do we make foreigners in our midst feel?
When we see people who obviously don’t look like they belong, do we treat them with such adoration? Do we stop to see them at all?...
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.