You've caught glimpses of Michelle Derusha's new book True You and how impactful it has been in my life in my Lifelong Journey of Listening series the past couple weeks (The Movement Toward Stillness and Still).
I never noticed that oak trees are the last to lose their leaves until I began a daily practice of sitting still.
It all began with a whim. One sunny November afternoon while I was walking my dog, I decided to stop and sit on a park bench. As I rested there for a few minutes with Josie sprawled at my feet, I decided I would make this bench-sitting part of my daily routine.
I vowed I would stop at that same spot along our walking route every day, and I would sit for five minutes. I would sit in silence, I determined – without music or a podcast in my ears; without dialing my mother or texting my sister; without snapping photos with my camera phone or scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.
I would simply sit in silence for five minutes. It would be good for me, I reasoned.
Turns out, five minutes on a park bench seems short in principle, but is a surprisingly long time in reality.
The first afternoon I sat on the park bench, I looked at my watch after two minutes and then again after four. The next day I took a cue from Josie, who sat still, ears pricked, nose quivering. I looked at what she looked at; I sniffed, trying to smell what she smelled. When she twitched her ears, I turned my head too, trying to hear what she’d heard.
I noticed a little more of my surroundings that second day, like the fact that the leaves of the burr oak on the edge of the ravine still clung stubborn and tenacious to the branches. Unlike the maples, birches, elms, and ash trees, which had dropped their leaves like colorful confetti more than a month ago, the oaks were still fully dressed, their dry leaves scraping together in the wind like sandpaper.
I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing there, just sitting. All I knew was that I felt compelled to do it, even though I didn’t particularly like it, and even though I knew, after only two days, that I would resist it in the coming weeks.
At the same time, I knew this sitting in stillness was something I had to do. Somehow I knew that the stopping, -- the interruption to my daily routine and my incessant push to get from Point A to Point B -- was important, maybe even imperative.
Turns out, I learned over the weeks and months of sitting in quiet solitude that I am a lot like the oak tree that clings so fiercely to its leaves. In fact, I suspect a lot of us are.
We, too, clutch our camouflage -- the person we present to the world, to our own selves, and even to God.
We, too, are unwilling to shed our false selves, to let go, to live vulnerably and authentically. We are afraid of what might happen if we drop our protective cover, afraid of how we might be seen or perceived, or how we might see or perceive our own selves.
We spend a great deal of our time and energy holding tight-fisted to our leaves, simply because we are too afraid to let go, too afraid of what, or who, we will find underneath.
The thing is, though, even the stubborn oaks have to let go of their leaves eventually. New growth can’t happen until the old, desiccated parts fall away. Spring only comes after winter. There is a rhythm here – relinquishing, stilling, rebirth.
The truth is, God does not wish for us to stand stubborn like the autumn oak tree, cloaked in a façade of protection, our truest, most authentic selves obscured beneath a tangled bramble of false security.
Rather, he desires us to live open and free, our true essence revealed and flourishing, our true self front and center, secure and thriving.
God yearns for us to live wholeheartedly and truthfully as the unique, beautiful, beloved individuals he created us to be. Most of all, God’s deepest desire is for us to know him, to root our whole selves in him like a tree rooted by a stream, and to know his deep, abiding love for us.
God yearns for us to live in the spacious, light-filled freedom of Christ and to know ourselves in him, through him, and with him.
As we slowly begin to let go of our false selves, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, and layer by layer, as we finally begin to relinquish, open up, and allow God to prune us from the inside out, we will grow in ways we never imagined: in our relationships with loved ones; in connection with and love for our neighbors; in our vocation; in our heart, mind, and soul; and in intimacy with God himself.
Our true, essential self, the one beautifully and uniquely created by God, is there, deep inside, hidden beneath layer upon layer of leaves clinging fast. Within each of us is a spacious place, waiting to be revealed.
Letting go is the way in.
This post is adapted from True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created, by Michelle DeRusha, releasing January 1 from Baker Books.
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. 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'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