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
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!