Tuesday, October 27, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 27

I have it written on my mirror. These four words: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given. These are the words that Henri Nouwen says describe us our life as the Beloved. We are taken, chosen, received, embraced by God as His child. Then we are blessed by Him, given a hope for our future growth and redemption, made aware of the gifts He has given us and our potential to be used as instruments of change in the lives of those around us. Then we are broken, made aware of our smallness, our insufficiency, our deep need for Him. Then we are given in love, in service, in creative contribution, in worship. It is a beautiful idea, but the beauty has been hard for me to see lately.

So I take the marker and I circle the last two words: Broken, Given. The I draw and arrow: I am here. Then I circle the first two words: Taken, Blessed. Another arrow and the words: I want to get back here. Then I circle all four words and I write a final set of words: Wholeness is found here.

Wholeness is found when we live taken, blessed, broken, and given. I have been focused on the last two. I have been feeling the brokenness and I have been giving nonstop, but I have not taken the time to soak in the miracle of being taken and blessed. I'm not really sure what I want to say about this, except that I can force myself to live broken and given. I can clench the fists and squeeze every last drop of myself out. But then I only end up empty and worn. But to live taken and blessed requires the opening of the hands to receive. Once those hands are open, they don't close again. They overflow through all the cracks and give life. And that is the way to living whole. Opening the hands and then overflowing, rather than clenching the fists and pushing through. The try-harder life cannot be sustained. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 26

I run to the grocery store to pick up that one ingredient we need for supper that I left off the list when I went yesterday. It's been such a hard day. The pain in my jaw is my witness. I have been clenching so tightly these days. So I walk in, head down, focused on getting that one thing and getting on with life, but they draw me in like a magnet. There are gladiolas in the flower section today. Tall and bright red pushing through the green leaves and opening. Always pushing through. Always opening. I look for the bunch that reminds me of me, the one that wants to open but isn't quite there yet, the one that is just pushing through looking for space to open up. And I find it, this one bunch of orange blooms, and I take them home. I hold the stalks close, like a beacon of hope that will teach my heart how to beat again, teach my eyes how to see again. And I tell him when he looks at them - They're just because. Just because the world feels heavy and dark and hard and broken and ugly and I need just one thing to remind me that at the end of it all, there is beauty. I need just one thing to remind me that life is beautiful, no mater how I feel. I need just one thing to remind me to let the openness be what helps me push through. And orange is such a brave color.

And here's what I've learned today. I've learned to choose the breakthroughs that come in the little things. I've learned that while I want to push through so I can find the space to open, it is actually the very act of opening that creates the space for which I long. Life is still beautiful. And orange is a brave color.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 25

This weekend has been good. A much needed extra day of rest. Rain. Moments of deep connection and reconciliation. Laughter. Words that fill the soul. Paradigm shifts that can change everything. There have been moments over the last few days where I have felt genuinely free for the first time in a long time. Where I have felt like my heart is whole and the weight on my shoulders has been lifted. I've felt like I could breathe. I'm learning to whisper it to myself in the moments when I want to criticize or perform or demand... Enjoy. And it changes everything.

But the hours of the weekend tick away and as Monday morning draws closer, the fear and the anxiety rise within me. The cry of "Not enough!" bubbles to the surface. They will demand of me tomorrow. I will feel pulled in a million different directions. I will go back to feeling fragmented and worn. So here's my question and I'm not sure I have an answer - How do I keep living whole-heartedly in a world that demands pieces of me left and right? I want nothing more than to live whole and live free. But how?

I read it once and I used to live it. Thanksgiving turns what we have into enough. Singing the song of Eucharisteo is easy when there is space and time and the gifts are obvious. But when it is hard to even draw breath, will I still sing? I keep wishing that life would slow down, just for awhile, that it would let me rest and catch up. But it's not going to, not for awhile at least. Can I learn contentment here? Can I still enjoy even as swiftly as life is moving past? It is hard. It is so hard to live present and to enjoy the moment. But I want to. So can I do just one more day?

Friday, October 23, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 23

Not many words today because I'm still processing, and I feel like it's something that can change everything. I read this quote a year ago and it resonated deep, but here's the thing... I have been killing myself for months. I have been living into this need to make everything perfect and it has been driving me insane. At work. Within myself. In my relationship with my fiance. In my relationship with God. Perfectionism has been killing me. And there is one word that I think might set me free - Enjoy. It keeps coming up over and over. Enjoy God. Enjoy these months leading to your marriage. Enjoy the man you love and who loves you. Enjoy getting to do what you love. Enjoy those children. Just open your hands and enjoy. Stop trying to fix. Stop trying to find all the things that could go wrong. Just stop and enjoy. I'm tired of dying on the inside. I want to live. We'll see where this goes.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 22

I step out on the balcony and sit in the old rocker, just so I can hear it. It started coming down in earnest just as I approached the stairwell leading to my door, cool and soothing on my skin. I just want to hear it. Just watch it come down and flow in rivulets on the concrete. How long have I needed the rain to fall? That chorus rings in my head, I believe You will come like the rain... I believe You will come like the rain. I sing it to myself. And all the pent up stress and tension and fear and anxiety rises to the surface and runs down my cheeks. Release. I believe You will come like the rain. I can hear the planes, but I can't see them through the gray. The whole world looks like that, gray. I used to think it a terrible color. Now I've learned to savor it, the way it soothes and breathes, and makes the grass look a little greener and the red of the curb stand out a little brighter. My senses have been on overload. I breathe thanks for the grays. I leave the sliding door open so I can keep listening.

This morning, I wasn't sure I would make it. I went to bed early last night. Body weary and eye lids heavy before nine o'clock. Still I woke up exhausted. The list of things I had to do slapped me in the face and kept getting longer. My anxiety level was through the roof. The corners of my mouth too weighted down by my heavy heart to smile. My feet felt like lead. Not enough time! I wanted to cry. Too much weight! And then the digging of the pit began... Why can't I handle this? Why can't I control how I feel? What is wrong with me? Why is everything fine but I feel like everything is wrong? Why am I the only one crumbling under the weight of it all? Lies.

He tells me he's let himself run late so he could stop and pray for me. He says that rain always represents God's providence and that he prays that I'll see Him today, not just all the things that need to be taken care of, not just a bunch of rowdy children. I can hear him singing it when I can't... I believe He will come like the rain. This man... He is believing for me. And this is the duet we will sing together for the rest of our lives, trading parts and switching harmonies with the seasons.

My soul longs for You. My soul longs for You. Nothing else will do. Nothing else will do.

I believe You will come like the rain. I believe You will come like the rain. 

The cry and the answer. The falling on the knees and the lifting of the head. The deep need and the deep trust. My man has been strong in my weakness. He has shown me saving grace in the desert. He will need me to do the same soon. Someday all he will feel is the longing and it will be my turn to sing the other part. For now, I let him embrace me and offer grace and forgiveness, until I can join him to sing it in unison, I believe You will come like the rain. And He does. I don't know what tomorrow will look like, but today, I have seen prayers answered in changes of heart and in simple practical ways like an extra 45 minutes to work due to an unexpected field trip. And I have listened to the rain. And it is enough for today, and a bright hope for tomorrow... Great is His faithfulness.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 21

I don't have much to say today. Honestly, I'm facing a major mental block... toward lesson plans, this blog, lots of things. So I'm just going to leave this here, because I need to soak in this truth today rather than try to come up with words. He's a good, good Father.  It's who He is. I am loved by Him. It's who I am. Plain and simple and yet mind blowing. I'll just rest here for tonight.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 20

I started the list years ago. This list of gifts, of little things I saw that I could count as grace and for which I could give thanks. I believed deeply in the power of the list, in the power of thanksgiving. I believed that giving thanks was the highest form of praise, the truest form of worship. I believed that looking for ways to be thankful brought joy into my life and opened my eyes.

Another sunrise
Wind in the trees
Hot chocolate and blankets in October
The first sip of coffee in the morning
Children laughing
Cold water on my face in the morning
Hot water for the shower at night
Sore muscles after a run
A tiny hand in mine
Hibiscus flowers opening to the sun
Late night phone calls
Blue skies
Rain storms
Newly tuned pianos

Choir music

But lately, making the list has become tedious, forced, dry... Dare I say, useless? It became just another thing to check off, nothing more than scratching words on a page. So I've stopped for a little while. I've stopped making the list until I can remember why I started in the first place. These are not just observations or notes about the world around me. These are evidences of the love of the Father. Each time I write something down, I whisper my thanks, and I feel the depth of His love. Each time I put pen to page, I make it a point to enjoy His presence. If that is not why I'm doing it, then there is no reason to keep the list. Eucharisteo does nothing if it does not open my heart up to the Father. But if giving thanks in the face of brokenness opens my eyes to see in a very real and practical way that God is present in each moment, that He loves in each moment, and that I can taste His goodness in each moment... Then Eucharisteo precedes miracles. Because when I know that He is deeply good and I am deeply loved, there is a power unleashed of which I can only dream. Everything I believed about the list is still true, but it's not about the list. It's about where the list takes me... To a place where I can enjoy God.

Monday, October 19, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 19

I woke up hurting today, and it has not subsided in the last fourteen hours. There is this deep ache in my soul. More than a weariness, though it is that. It's more like the pain of someone who is be stretched too far. I feel like I'm drowning these days. I feel like nothing I do is good enough. It's like I've got a million moving parts that I am trying so hard to hold in place and if anyone comes up and makes me feel like they are asking one more thing from me I will either come out swinging or I will simply collapse into a puddle... or both. Because I have nothing left to give. I spend every moment of every day trying so hard! And these are all the thoughts I went to bed thinking last night and woke up with this morning. Another day of trying to hold it all together. Another day of a thousand cups that need to be filled and me running back and forth with a bucket full of holes.

And that's just it. I can't do this. I can't accept him and support him and love him and serve him and see them and hear them and teach them and inspire them and love them and receive her and pray for her and be selfless and joyful and faithful and gracious and forgiving and compassionate and be an exceptional teacher and plan a wedding and keep a home and prepare to be a wife and conduct the best choir in the district... I can't do it all! And she looks at me from across the table after only a portion of that rant and says, "That is a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders, girl." And it is.

And if anyone else were to say all those things to me, I would tell her to breathe. I would tell her to be still and to hear His voice say that she is beloved before she even gets out of bed in the morning. I would tell her that she doesn't need to do it all and certainly not do it all perfectly. I would tell her that the more she focuses on her own performance the more selfish and self-centered and self-hating she becomes and that no one can love from that place. I would tell her that she is putting those expectations on herself, that the people around her are much more gracious towards her than she is to the mirror and that she is so much more gracious to others than she is to herself.

I would tell her that if she would stop running for just a moment and go to Him with that broken bucket, He would seal it for her. I would tell her that she can stop being afraid that He's going to demand more of her, because He promises that if the weary will come to Him, He will give them rest. I would tell her that He is the only place to find true rest. I would tell her that she doesn't need to dig through scripture, she just needs to open it. She doesn't need to bake the Bread of Life, she just needs to come and eat. She doesn't need to go to the well with her broken bucket, she just needs to sit at His feet and drink in His love.

I would tell her that she does not have to stay in this cycle. I would tell her that there is an enemy to her soul who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy and he is hitting her hard and pinning her down, but Jesus will lift her up. I would tell her that she doesn't have to force herself to believe that. I would tell her that a mustard seed is enough, because she is deeply loved. I would tell her that it is not her beloved who is causing her pain, so she can feel safe enough to just close her eyes, throw her head back and open her heart. I would tell her all of this. So I do. And then I walk away from the mirror.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 18

There are lyrics from a song by The Gray Havens that are resonating in my heart tonight. "Hold on. Hold on, my heart. You once were full and sang of Grace. Hold on. Hold on, my heart. You've tasted Joy that's more than this."

I don't really know what to say about those lyrics except that they seem to express some deep stirring in my soul. She asks me over coffee, the first time we've seen each other in months, if my cup is sealed on the bottom. She tells me that if it's not, I will never overflow. I will always feel like I'm running dry. But the quiet times and the scripture reading feels so empty and powerless. I can't seem to find the words to string into prayers. So maybe this is a season of holding on and remembering the songs I sang of Grace, remembering the Joy I have tasted and keep going back to Him even when it feels empty and He is silent. Because I can't sustain this life on my own. And nothing that He offers me, longs to give me, has changed. The place as His beloved daughter. The abundant life. The intimacy with Him. It is all still there. And if I will hold on, even when it feels awkward and forced and empty, I will be filled and sing and taste joy and grace once again. Because the purpose of my life is to enjoy God and dive deeper into His love for me and for His people. So hold on, my heart.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 17

I didn't write yesterday because I quite simply didn't have the time. We all have those days. And that's okay. I'm back at it today on a borrowed laptop from my second mother. I'm spending the weekend back in that little town where I spent years 18-24 of my life. It's a strange feeling. I've only been gone since August, a little over two months. It feels like no time at all, and yet it feels like forever. Driving these streets is somewhat surreal. It's not like going back to my hometown. Yes, I grew up there and I drove those roads and I had some independence, but here? I built an entire life for myself here. I was fully independent. This was truly a home that I made for myself, or rather that God graciously provided for me. It feels like nothing has changed, even though so much has. Part of me feels like I'm supposed to stay here, like that new apartment and that new job were the real break from my life here. The rest of me is just thankful. Thankful for the memories I made here and the way the good memories miraculously outweigh the hard ones. Thankful for somewhere to return to, a place where I can breathe the peace and quiet. It is a gift, this little town. It was home. And it will always hold part of my heart.

A friend asked me the other day what I thought about nostalgia, if I thought it was dangerous. I think sometimes it can be. Nostalgia gets dangerous when we start pining after a romanticized version of memories and compare those to where we are now. Because our memories are the end result. Our memories are the final product of waiting and struggling and a whole lot of mediocre days. And when I expect the beginning of this season to look and feel like the end of that last season, I will be broken-hearted and disappointed. 

But when I allow nostalgia to remind me of who God made me, of all the ways that He provided for me, of all the ways He filled me and met me and sanctified me and walked with me, and allow it to fuel my faith for what He will do in my new place and my new season... Then it is a wonderful thing. Because the center of change can be a lonely place to live. It can be painful, and it often is for me right now. But I'm not going to run away from it and pine for what used to be. I'm going to take a moment in this old place and remember what God gave me and what it was like at the beginning. I'm going to visit this altar I built and declare that He is faithful and He is good and I am loved and He is at work. Then I will go home, and I will build another altar. I will open my hands in surrender, whether things are exciting and beautiful or painful and lonely. I will walk this journey with him like I have all the others. And at all times, I will declare that He is faithful and He is good and I am loved and He is at work... still.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 15

There's this kid in one of my classes. He is a hot mess. Can't sit still to save his life. Too smart (and smart-mouthed) for his own good. Always wanting to be the center of attention and willing to fight me for it in the middle of lessons. Defiant at times. He is a challenge. But honest truth? I really like him. I mean, yes, he drove me crazy for the first few weeks. He dragged me into a couple of power struggles. But something happened today that changed everything.

This morning at breakfast I stopped by his table while making my rounds in the cafeteria. I asked him how he was doing. He responded with a simple "Good." I got ready to move on. Then he pulls his hat over his face. I asked him what in the world he was doing and he says, "I'm a dinosaur... meow." The girl next to him laughs. I smile and shake my head. "That was actually really funny," I say. The girl asks why I'm not laughing then. I say something about laughing on the inside and she says something that reshaped my entire day...

I like him. He makes me laugh. I have a really sad life, but he makes me happy. 

Now I have no idea what this girl's story is, but this mess of a kid is making a difference in her life. I love that on so many levels. First, it reminds me that every one of these children that I get to work with is a human being. Each one is gifted uniquely and can make a valuable contribution to our world. They are not challenges to be overcome or problems to be controlled. They can't always see their value or believe in their potential... neither can I. But we can try. We can pray for eyes to see more than what is in front of us.

Also, I just love the reminder that no matter how messy we are, we can make a difference in someone's life. No matter how many things we struggle with, we can be a positive influence somewhere for someone. No matter how broken we feel we are, we are still gifted and our lives still have purpose. We may not be able to control our smart mouths all the time, but we can still say things that bring people joy. And that is a good thing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 14

So I write about the three to one ratio. I write about seeking the light in the dark and choosing joy. And then the next day starts and it is hard. The gifts and the grace are so hard to see sometimes. And it is frustrating to say something and struggle with it so much. But that's how it is sometimes. We get a clear vision of who we want to be and how we want to live and then the opposition hits. And sometimes I just need to know that I'm not the only one. I need to know that I'm not the only one who can't seem to live up to everything I would like to be. That I'm not the only one who feels like a hypocrite some days... a lot of days.

So I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I keep counting the gifts, even though the language of thanksgiving feels awkward and forced. I keep hunting for the light out of pure discipline, because I believe in the power that Eucharisteo holds. I believe that the Joy of the Lord is my strength and that if I allow anything to steal my joy (even my own sinful nature) I am letting it steal my strength. And I sit in wonder at the fact that His mercy is new every morning, new every time I fail and there is always hope. There is always, always, always something to be thankful for and my moods do not define me. They do not need to control me. So I press on when I don't want to. I force a smile, and I keep moving forward. Because He is always good. He is always bigger than my feelings. And He is always worth it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 13

The most valuable teaching advice I've gotten in a long time seems simple on the surface, but it has revolutionized my school year - For every time you correct a student, create three positive interactions throughout the day. I know. It sounds impossible. Let's be real. Some of the kids that walk in and out of my classroom are just a hot mess. But I have found that the 3:1 plan is a goal that has changed my perspective not just on my students, but on everyone in my life.

The trick is becoming intentional about hunting for light in the darkness. Doing this helps maintain the humanity of those who challenge me. Because my natural response is one of two things. I either avoid because I don't want to deal with the challenge, or I go on off on some vendetta and consider it my mission to nitpick every detail and fix all the problems (feel free to laugh here!). And it's not just with students that I do this!

But here's the truth. I'm not talking about pop psychology and self-esteem raising. Constructive criticism plays a critical role in our growth and development. But we all reach a saturation point of criticism where we start to feel beaten down. I'm not saying every student needs a trophy, but I am saying that we should celebrate the small victories. We don't need to count every wrong or hold grudges (once again, not just talking about students here!). We can face a problem, forgive, and move on. So I am becoming intentional about creating positive encounters with all my students throughout the day, but especially with those who have been a challenge. And this is how we are called to live, to speak truth in love and wrap hard words in grace. It is a way of creating light in darkness and lightening my load. It has helped change my attitude and the attitudes of my students toward me. I want to build up, not tear down and this is a surprisingly easy way to do that. 3 to 1.

Monday, October 12, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day12

The natural response to the dark moments and dark thoughts in our lives is to shut them up and keep them hidden. We hope that we can stamp out the darkness by suffocating it, letting the walls close in around it, allowing it to slowly die of starvation, but the problem is that we can't isolate the darkness within us, much like radiation trying to kill cancer cells. When we try to kill the darkness this way, the rest of the soul suffers too. We can't drink poison and expect only the dark parts of us to die.

The only way to conquer darkness is to open it up to the light.

For a recovering perfectionist like me, this is hard. I have spent the majority of my life covering up the dark parts of me and molding the good and beautiful parts of me to be put on stage (both literally and metaphorically). I have spent many, many years performing. So many, in fact, that I almost have myself convinced I have it all pretty well together. I've got the bad (one could also substitute "weak" here) parts of me boxed up so no one will ever see, and I've got the good parts ready to go and be shown off. The only problem is that that's exhausting. So there are days when I just can't keep it up anymore. Then toss in a man that I'm preparing to spend the rest of my life with? Well, goodbye hiding! Nobody's got the strength to keep that one up 24/7. And honestly, that's one of the best parts of the adventure on which my man and I are embarking.  Truly, it's one of the best parts of any committed community, not just marriage.

Because when it comes to our darkness there are two different kinds of light. There's the harsh light of interrogation, the one where we feel accused and afraid and worthless. Then there is the much gentler light of the sun. Yeah, that one makes me squint and shield my eyes, but it is also warm and helps me to grow. The difference between the two is the presence of Love. I know that my man loves me. I know he will not run away, no matter how much I may push him (and believe me, I do push him!). So I know that when I inevitably drop the ball and can't hide or hold it together anymore, I am safe to open up to the light. And even better is when I can finally just put it down altogether and say, "I'm not perfect. I have dark and sinful parts of me. Sometimes I hurt others and myself with the choices that I make. But I don't have to shut it down and hope that it won't rise up again. I can open it to the light and receive grace and forgiveness so I can start walking toward redemption and sanctification." And the truth is, at that point, I'm not actually just opening up to my man... I'm opening up to the Holy Spirit. I'm exposing the broken parts of me so Jesus can step in and move.

It's a hard habit to break, this convincing myself that I'm not broken, but opening up is the only way to intimacy with Christ. And I really want that. I really want to be open to that loving kind of light that can bring redemption and healing.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 11

So speaking of generosity and being gracious, there is something about me that has come to the surface recently. Rabbit trail: Committed relationships tend to do that, bring our flaws/the worst parts of us to the surface. It is a terribly beautiful thing.

Anyway, one of the things that has come to the surface for me recently is that I am not an incredibly gracious person. I am generally quick to anger and slow to forgive. I am the type of person who takes offense and runs with it... and runs my mouth about it. I am a ranter. In my natural state, if someone or something hurts me or someone I love, I demonize and make an enemy right away. I don't go to grace. I don't go to compassion or empathy or understanding. I certainly don't jump right to love.

When I feel wronged, I move in with closed fists, ready to start wailing. And it does me no good. It's humbling, really. Because most of the time when I step back from a situation, responding in love would have defused so much, or at least saved me a lot of energy. If I spent as much time praying for a person as I spent ranting over the things that they did or replaying offenses in my head, my heart would change, and I would find joy. I'm still processing this, so it might not make any sense. But what would happen if I stopped being so self-centered and chose grace instead? Because honestly? Anger is so self-indulgent. And self-righteousness? Don't get me started. But compassion and understanding and being slow to speak? Those help move mountains. Those build bridges instead of burning them. Those keep hope alive for restoration and reconciliation and redemption.

I want to be a woman who never stops believing in goodness first.  I want to be a woman who believes that anything and anyone can be redeemed. I want to choose faith and grace and forgiveness and hope over anger and self-righteousness and sharp words. I want to be light. I want my words to give life. I want to open my hands and extend grace.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 10

I almost forgot to write today. I figured it would happen eventually. Today has been full and fast. There have been deep conversations and Ferris wheels and team grocery shopping excursions and great meals shared with friends. It has been good.

As I get ready to call it a day, I am thinking about a sermon I'm halfway through listening to on generosity. Most of it was what I expected to here: nothing we have is ours. All is grace. Therefore we should hold things loosely and give freely. I agree wholeheartedly. But when they started talking about being generous with all the resources and gifts we have been given, I started to squirm a little bit.

Because to be generous in all things means not just money or stuff. It's more than giving to my World Vision or Compassion children. Being generous also involves my time and my energy. And for an introvert, that is hard. Because I have grown very protective of my space and my emotional and social energy. Being around people costs me and a lot of times it is a price I don't want to pay. But I am called to be generous, so I am called to open myself up to those around me, to let them in and to be present.

So this is just something that I'm pondering right now. Living openhanded not just with my stuff but with my time and my energy as well. Being a joyful giver, not a reluctant one. Learning how to give when it actually costs me something, not just out of surplus. How generosity and grace tie in together, and how I can be a more gracious person, freely giving out love and forgiveness and compassion and understanding and expecting nothing in return. It's a lot to think about, but when I live it, like I did today, I never regret it. I never regret living openhanded. It's the clenched fists that ruin me. The clenched fists always ruin me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 9

Five Minute Friday - Trust


We meet in the coffee shop and it's like no time has passed even though we haven't see each other in four years. She tells the amazing stories of how God has opened doors for dreams to come true and fantastic new adventures. And my fiance and I tell the story of how we met and all that God has been doing up to this point. I remember the days we used to walk the trail around campus after dinner, talking about our dreams and our hopes and sometimes our brokenness and our wrestling matches with God and life and I have to smile. This is what life is supposed to look like.

Because the only way to really trust is to remember what God has done. And coffee shops are always those places for me. Not because of anything in particular in the coffee but because that is the place where I meet those kindred spirits and it is where the work of God becomes so evident as we tell our stories. Because I need to remember my stories and I need to hear hers, because I don't feel all the time the way I do when I'm in the middle of watching God do something awesome. I don't always feel like I do when things are so clear and the Knowing just takes over and the Spirit is moving swift and beautiful in and through me. But hearing her stories and telling mine, that is how I remember that He is worthy of trust and that is how I get the strength to keep on pressing on.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 8

I really want to write something deep tonight. But honestly, I've got nothing and maybe that's okay. So instead, here are some moments from this week that are making me happy.

-While singing "I know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly" with my littles we got to the part (for like the fourth time) that says "I don't know why she swallowed a fly..." One of my little boys in the back pipes up and says, "I know why! So you could sing to us about it!" Smiles all around.

-My fiance and I just ordered Enchilada mix to be overnighted by Amazon. Yes, it was that important. And what did we do before these things were possible?!

-I have a first grader whose grandmother writes him stories about her cats and puts them in his lunch box every day. I kid you not, I am hooked! It's the highlight of my day! (There are cats and giants and  the giant is in love with one of the cats, but the cat is already married and oh my gosh, y'all, you would just have to be there.)

-My days are better when I start them by playing with Tiny Companion. This is officially a proven fact.

-If you are a Gilmore Girls fan and have not read Jen Hatmaker's musings stop reading my garbage and go read that now!

-Also this video is gold. Just try not to laugh out loud.

-And also this because Julie Andrews and Gene Kelly and tap dancing... try and stay sad.

-I am already a much happier person than I was five minutes ago just from this little exercise.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 7

There are some days when I just want to be done. There are days when the weariness is deep and I just don't want to deal with it all anymore. I get tired of dealing with the brokenness and the things I want to fix but can't. I get tired of feeling like I'm not enough. I get tired of doing the same thing over and over every day and nothing ever changing. The light just gets really hard to see.

And the best way to describe it is deep soul weariness.

Sometimes life can feel like wandering through the wilderness. Walking in circles in the desert. Getting nowhere. And I want to be the kind of faithful Christ-follower who counts it all as gift and faithfully remembers to scoop up the manna each morning and rejoices in His consistent providence. But I'll be real honest... Sometimes I lose my taste for manna. Sometimes I want more. And here's what I look like when I'm in that place:

I am an anxious wreck.
I take everything personally.
I poorly manage my time.
I become hypercritical of everyone around me, especially those I love most.
I am fragile.
I want to cry all the time.
I don't want to get up in the morning.
I can't sleep.
I run away from people, or worse, do all I can to push them away.
I develop a sharp tongue.
I am easily angered.
I am insensitive and selfish.
I am cynical, even in the face of Life-giving truth.
I stop being a good steward of my home, my body, and the other gifts I've been given.

And worst of all, I am completely aware of it and that bugs me and so I start spiraling deeper into the darkness of the pit until I can't see the way out. And I want to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and start climbing my way out. But everything feels so fake and forced and I keep slipping back down and I. Just. Can't.

And that's why I need you, my friend. That's why we need community. And this is crazy for me to say as a self-proclaimed over the top introvert and constant nurturer. I need you. I need you as much as you need me, maybe more. I need you to reach down a hand and lift me up. I need you to come knock on my tent and say "Hey, it's morning. Let's go gather our manna again." And then lead me with a strong hand in the right direction. I need you to remind me of the truth. I need you to lift up my weary arms and put words before God that I can't. Because we both know that the things of this world are not enough and I have got to keep going back to the Source of Living Water and drinking deep or I. Will. Die. But sometimes I'm too weary to take a step. I'm dying of thirst but I'm to tired to lift my head and drink. And I need you. And that is the only way we are going to get through this wilderness... together.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 6

Tuesdays are hard. They are long. They are exhausting. I don't really feel like sitting to write. And yet on day six, it's what I've been thinking about all day. What will I write tonight? What will God and I unearth together today? How will the words move to unlock something in my soul? Because that's exactly what has been happening. I feel like a part of me is being set free, being renewed. And I love it.

And here's what I'm learning - There is a difference between sleep and rest. There is a difference between shutting down and renewal. A lack of activity is not the same as stillness and being alone is not the same as solitude. When I am weary, what I am really longing for is renewal, not escape. Oh how we have made escape seem like the answer! I think I just need a moment to myself. Let me just get away. I'd like to get lost in a book. None of these things are necessarily bad, but none of them are necessarily helpful either. The real question I need to be asking is this - Is this renewing for my soul?

What am I doing when I get a moment to myself or I get away or I lose myself in a book (or rather Netflix, because let's be real...)? Am I shutting out my emotions? Am I leaving myself empty? Or worse, am I choosing to replay the lies running through my head? Obsessing over mistakes I've made or ways that I'm worried or frustrated? Am I grabbing my shovel and digging a pit? Or am I opening myself up and breathing deep and drinking stillness like cool water? Am I savoring stories of hope and redemption? Am I reveling in Beauty? Am I being renewed?

That's what it comes down to when I come home at the end of the day. Am I opening up to be refilled and renewed? Or am I shutting down and closing myself off? Some days, closing off and shutting down makes a lot of sense. I want to save what little I have left, but it doesn't work that way. Manna rots when kept over night. So I must lay it out in the open and allow myself to be filled. And that's what this is for me.

Monday, October 5, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 5

So. Prayer. I'll be honest. It's one of those things I've never really gotten. I have all the classic stories of unanswered prayers. Of healings that never came. Of grief and loss in the midst of unshakable faith. Just like everybody else. And so I guess I just wonder sometimes what the point is. But the thing is, I say that without an ounce of cynicism. In all honesty I wonder - If God is sovereign and good and I am loved and His will is always what is best, then why pray? 

Here's what I know. Most everything I've ever heard about prayer is true. It is powerful and it is important and God desires it of us and it is transformational and sanctifying. So maybe the better question isn't "why pray?" Maybe the better question is "how do I pray?" And suddenly the disciples make a lot more sense to me. Maybe I'm late to the party here, but whenever I read about the Lord's Prayer and the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray, I always read it as them asking for some sort of secret. Like they wanted to know the way to unlock some sort of power. I heard "Give us the magic words, Jesus!" But honestly, maybe they were just like me. Maybe they really just wanted to know... This talking to the God of the universe thing makes my mind get all twisted and knotted up. I don't get it. Teach me how. Teach me how to approach God as my Father, as my Lord, as the Ultimate Authority on the direction of my life, and as the Lover of my Soul, and my Friend, and my Healer, and my Provider. Teach me how I'm supposed to bring my puny little words up to such a massively complex and beautiful God! 

And that has been my cry for months. As I have walked through the unfolding of a beautiful new relationship and the mess of broken ones. As I watched a sweet friend battle cancer for the second time and sat astounded by her faith. As I left comfort for a new adventure.  All this time it has been playing constantly in the back of my mind - Lord, teach me how to pray.

I don't really have any secrets. I'm no theologian, though I've heard my fair share of sermons on The Lord's Prayer. But I will share this. As I have used the word "open" as the lens through which I view my life this year, I have learned that prayer is, at its simplest, an opening of the heart to God. It is taking all the thoughts and worries and concerns and fears and joys and gifts and celebrations and instead of holding them tightly in my hands or locking them in the vault of my mind, opening them up and showing them to God. Prayer is a shared attention with God. If I have a problem and no solution, I can open my hands and show it to God. If I have a deep desire for the way I want that problem to be solved, I can show Him that too. If I just want to sit and cry, I can do that, but I do it with God. Every thought that I have can be laid bare before Him. That is prayer. It is a conscious decision to share my life with God, much like I make a conscious decision to share my life with the man I'll marry (and if marriage is a metaphor for the church's relationship with God, this is as it should be). Prayer is letting God in and savoring that intimacy of nothing hidden and never carrying anything alone. It is a beautiful mystery.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 4

So I read this post yesterday and I see a revolution in the making. A new level of openness that is right there for us all. An openness that can lead to freedom. An openness that can shine light into darkness and tear down strongholds of lies. An openness that can unite the hearts of people instead of allowing us to go on living out this sick comparison game. I read this woman's honest words. I see her vulnerability. And all I can think is that I want in! I want to be able to stop hiding behind this Insta-worthy life, putting up hashtags like ramparts to guard my image.

And it's not that I want to go and air my dirty laundry for the world to see, but there is an undeniable power in the opening of our real, authentic selves to one another. There is something sacred in the "Oh! You too? All this time I thought I was alone."

Since choosing the word "open" as my theme for 2015, I have seen a lot. I met the man I will marry, because I couldn't close myself off to a chance at reconnecting with an old friend (another story for another time!). I have met God in a new way as I left the life I knew and had grown comfortable in for something brand new. I am a better teacher because I took a chance at a job in an inconvenient location and I could never imagine wanting to be anywhere else. I have seen redemption at work because I opened my hands to receive whatever came my way, even when it hurt.  And I want the world to know that. In a world where we are surrounded by brokenness, I want my words to show that God is near and He is good and He is at work in all things. I have much to be thankful for and I count the gifts daily.

So here's the thing... The person you see on Facebook and Instagram is not a fake. The twenty-something music teacher enjoying new adventures and counting down the days to her wedding and geeking out over Downton and Star Wars and loving her simple life... That's me. I mean every word. Every smile is genuine. But that's not all there is. There's more to it than that. And maybe that's what this month is about. If I can bring just a few things into the light that are holding me captive, sitting to write each day will be worth my time. If I can shed a little light for you and allow you the opportunity to exhale and say, "Oh! You too?  All this time I thought I was alone!" well, that would be such grace and an answer to prayer. So yeah, I'll open myself up to you a little bit.  I'll let you see a little of the woman who loves Jesus, but has to force herself to open her Bible.  The woman who says she wants to see her prayer life stretched, but cringes when people ask her to pray for them. The woman who played keyboard on the praise team, but isn't really a fan of walking into church. The woman who spends most of her thought energy comparing herself to everyone around her and hoping she can maybe pull off mediocre.  And there will be more. Because this year is about being open, and this month about open grace, so yeah. I'm going to go there.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 3

We sit around the table sipping wine and talking with jazz music playing in the background. Everything has changed. Engagement rings and wedding invitations and baby announcements and new homes. The connection is different tonight than it has ever been. And it is Good. It has taken me years to be able to say that... to call change good. Because change comes with struggle and tears and pain and anxiety. Even the best of things are hard.

And this is the most important thing I am learning - The hard and the beautiful are not at odds with one another. Hard is not the opposite of beautiful. Challenging is not the opposite of good. It is possible for life to be simultaneously hard and painful and beautiful and sweet and scary... and all of these together make life Good.

With something as complex and intricate as living, all of these elements and emotions can be woven together to create a Good work. All is grace, and we can courageously open our hands to receive it. Every single part of it. And it is Good.

Friday, October 2, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 2

It's day 2 and already I have no idea what to write. It is a dry season. Putting thoughts together is hard. Sitting to write is harder. Openness is hard. It is hard because to be open requires that I sit still for at least a little while and listen.  To be open means I need to be okay when the thoughts and the words don't come. To be open means to sit down and let my fingers fly anyway, because maybe it will come together, and maybe it doesn't matter if it does or not.

I am fairly convinced that I have nothing to say worth anyone's time. It has all been said before. But I am opening myself and my world anyway. Because I want to see again.

I want to live the life of an observer again. I want to count moments as gifts and cherish them again. I want to get off the treadmill and step outside and breathe the air. I want to lift my eyes up from the ground and look at the sky.

I want to actually hear the heart behind the incessant chatter of my students in the cafeteria. I want to cherish their excitement over a trip to Chuck-E-Cheese or that mom packed a cheese sandwich for lunch, because that's their favorite.

I want to sip life like fine wine even as I try to pour out my life as the same. I want moments to mean something.  I don't want them to get lost in the shuffle.

I want to hear the whisper - that I am the beloved and you are the beloved. And I want to take time to bless and receive the blessing. I don't want to miss it!

And honestly, I don't think it's as hard as it seems. I think it just takes practice and accountability. I am praying that over the next 31 days my perspective will change and that I will learn to see my entire life differently. I don't know if I have anything to say. But I want to be changed.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

31 Days of Open Grace - Day 1

There's something about October 1st.  The world is abuzz with pumpkin spiced everything and talk of sweaters and boots and changing seasons.  I feel like this doesn't happen at any other time of year.  To me, there is just something about the coming of cooler weather and the changing of colors that soothes the soul and inspires.

I'm out on the stairwell when it occurs to me.  There's a front blowing in and the leaves dance on the trees and there's something about how the breeze makes the stray pieces of hair around my face tickle my brow that makes me smile.  It gives me goosebumps.  I breathe it deep.  And then it hits me... It's been awhile since I've stopped and breathed it deep.  I think about how I took on a challenge this time last year to write every day for the month of October.  I haven't written since then.  At first I laugh.  I couldn't possibly take it on this year.  Writing every day?  I barely have time to breathe.  I'm burning out fast and running ragged.  I feel like I'm on a treadmill that's programmed just a little too fast and I'm about to lose it.  I can't seem to catch up, much less get ahead.  So who in her right mind takes on a writing challenge in the midst of it all?  I could never come up with anything quality when I'm in this state... Certainly not anything anyone would want to read.

But then I remember.  I remember what writing every day for a month did for me last year.  The discipline of sitting and putting thoughts down no matter how tired I felt.  The training myself to open my eyes and look for things worth writing about.  The releasing the expectations and giving myself the freedom to write, whether it turned out to be profound and beautiful or not.  I met one of my best friends last October.  I also reconnected with a friend from high school whom I will marry at the end of this year.  I don't know if that had anything to do with my writing.... but I know that I remember it.  I know that I noticed life that month in a different way.

So yes.  Even as I write this, I am asking myself if I know what I'm doing.  If I can actually do this in the midst of my crazy life.  But I say, why not?  We've got to create space for the things that fill our soul.  That takes discipline, accountability, and intentionality. So that's what this is.  It's more that writing every day.  It is committing myself to walking open once again - with open hands, open heart, and open eyes.  It's about training my eyes to see what God is doing around me and giving myself the freedom to speak.  So this is 31 Days of Open Grace.