A Letter to Myself, and Maybe You Too

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I see you there, the one who is dreading the inevitable. The one who is not quite ready, and probably wouldn’t be if you had a choice. It feels like most every other parent is cheering wildly, and there you are with a proverbial lump in your throat. I’m there with you. I understand.

We look at Facebook as a way to not think about it, quickly regretting our decision. Our feed is full of pictures of kids who have already started school and humorous blog posts celebrating mothers’ freedom. It’s not like we don’t’ enjoy, or even want freedom. We aren’t saints. We yell. We lose our temper. We wish we could have 10 minutes of silence. So it feels disingenuous to express just how much we will miss our kids when they go back to school. But as much as we look forward to having some time to ourselves, we can’t escape the grieving.

 

In a week and a few days, I am sending my youngest daughter to school. She will simultaneously be the first child I am sending to Kindergarten, and the last. I homeschooled my oldest kids their first year. I was the one who taught them to read. I was the one who unlocked their learning styles. I was there when my oldest discovered she was passionate about history and books. I was there when my middle daughter unearthed her scientific mind and read book after book about women scientists, explorers, and doctors. I was able to see them succeed, see the look on their face when they did that hard thing they didn’t think they could do. I was also there to see their disappointments. I held their hand when they cried and grew frustrated. Each morning I stood at the counter, drinking coffee, watching them write their name. And each week it became neater.

Now I send my baby to school, where she will learn to read. Where someone else will discover her learning style. Maybe it will be in the library, or in music class, but somewhere she will find something she is passionate about. Someone else will watch her hold her pencil each day. Someone else will be there to watch her both fail and succeed. I’ll be drinking my coffee at home alone.

 

They tell us this is good, that it is a part of parenting. We give our children the freedom to succeed and experience independence and we give ourselves that same opportunity. Now we have options – go back to work, focus on writing, get those projects in the house done that you’ve always wanted to, volunteer……you get the idea. We are supposed to be excited about the possibility. For those stay at home mothers, this is something that we haven’t experienced in a very long time. But in the early morning hours, when everyone is still sleeping, I look at the pile of school supplies and the brand new backpack just waiting to sit on the shoulders of a five-year-old, and I cry.

So grieve, mama. When you watch your babies walk in the doors of the school and you feel your heart break into a million pieces, don’t rush to put them back together. Give yourself the time you need. It’s okay to miss them. It’s okay to not quite know what your next step is. Drop them off at school. Pray for them as you head home. Drink your cup of coffee in the quiet of the house. They’ll be home soon.

Lessons Learned Through Revision

revision

 

Last winter I mustered up the courage to query an agent in New York about a novel I’ve been working on. I sent him the first fifty pages of it. It’s a big fat fantasy love story that just so happens to hold the keys to my heart. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever written – a 150,000 words (550 pages). I wrote it as a gift to myself. After months of suffering from acute writer’s block, I finally decided to write the story I’ve always wanted to write even if it got rejected or wasn’t what people expected of me.

After I was finished with a few rewrites, I moved countries, and filed for divorce. Major life change. Then my current agent said he didn’t do fantasy. I’d have to shop for someone else to represent me. After a bit of thinking and networking, a friend of a friend recommended me to an incredible agent in New York.

At the time, I was suffering from a mild degree of anxiety and depression, moving countries and getting divorced and all … the last thing I wanted was to query a bunch of agents to hear that my novel was not what they were looking for. But as an act of faith, I sent it out to this one agent. Low and behold, he asked to read the full manuscript. (Which in the fiction world, is monumental.)

While I was waiting for him to read it, I told myself, if he thought the book had potential, I’d do whatever he suggested in order to get the thing published. Which is my way of trying to honor the work.

Long story short – I heard back from him a few weeks ago and he loves a lot of things about it. But, he wants me to cut about 40,000 words from the entire book. Oh. My. Gosh.  

I read the email and shoved it aside, completely unable to even fathom cutting that many words from it. The thought of mustering up the energy to do that kind of a revision overwhelmed me. What if I do the revision and he still doesn’t like it? What if I cut the wrong things out? What if I’m wasting my time as a novelist? Perhaps I should go into plumbing. Blah. blah. blah.

Anyways, this is part of what he wrote:

Here’s what I’d suggest before we talk again:  Cut the book.  Be ruthless and excise anything that slows the story’s forward momentum. I don’t think that this novel needs to be much over 100,000 words (~400 pages)  and I think that you’ll be able to see the improvement as you cut.  Look at how the story breaks down into separate acts, look at how each of those develops and then cut to the essential action so that we understand how our primary characters develop and change.  

In an objective sense, he’s spot on. The book has excess that gets in the way of the plot. But subjectively, as the writer, it’s horribly frustrating. How do I cut the very words I’ve bled over? How do I take out whole scenes that mean the world to me? I like my words.

What the agent is trying to help me see is that by cutting things out, I strengthen the real storyline. It’s about me having the guts and grit to recognize that while I might love something, it may not be vital to the story. I need the courage to look at my book and ask myself what it’s really about. What is the theme? What is the plot of the novel? What am I trying to say? Then … with all the chutzpa of Napolean, I need to cut everything out that is superfluous. This the real work of writing a novel. It’s also the real work of living a good and fruitful life.

Suffice it to say, I did nothing for days. I brewed over his email, overwhelmed by how to follow through. Until, I woke up and decided to be brave.

I’ve promised myself I’ll work on it a little bit every day. My plan is to read a chapter, a paragraph, a sentence and decide if it’s vital to the story. If it’s not, I cut it out. I let it go … maybe it’ll fit for another novel at another season in my life. But it’s not for right now. So far, I’ve cut 25,000 words.

The strategy I’m applying for my novel, could also be applied to our lives. It’s difficult to cut the excess, to take a long hard look at what is bearing fruit in our lives, and what is not. It can be scary to let go of parts of our narrative we’ve grown accustomed to, like our inner dialogue of shame and condemnation, or the relationship that bleeds us of our identity and gives nothing back. However, in order to move toward life, to move toward wholeness and a true authentic story that brings us to joy and fullness….Sometimes, the only way to strengthen the heart of the narrative is by letting things go.

Simply Starting

The more I get to know You

I focus on less on trivial matters;

In fact, the clatter of everyday parade

seems to barricade itself

as I seek to just stare at Your face.

When I stare at Your face,

I am completely displaced

from anything that would try to chase my affections away from You,

from the sensation of just knowing You

of just knowing You.

I want to know the architecture of Your eyes,

the architecture of Your nose,

the makeup of Your mouth,

the formation of Your cheeks,

so I stare at You and every time I’m amazed.

I find me in Your pupil.

I see me in Your smile.

I sense my life in Yours.

Can I just stare at You?

Can I just gaze in Your eyes?

Can I feel Your breath as You tilt back and gaze at me?

Can I stay in Your lap and stare at You?

When I stare at Your face,

I am completely displaced

from anything, no everything that would try to chase my affections away from You,

from the sensation of just knowing You,

of just knowing You.

Simply Love

Simply Love by Amanda Taylor at The Mudroom

It’s easy to get caught up in the next, latest, and best thing when it comes to your kids. It’s something I didn’t even realize I’d done for two decades (my daughter just started college), until a foster child came to my home for respite care. She’s a three-year old toddler who has already, in her few years, seen more pain and felt more heartache than anyone should be put through. She’s beautiful. Her oval eyes look back up at you brimming with  wonder.

It had been so long since I had small child staying for any length of time at my house I rushed around trying to childproof a house full of three adults, two dogs, a cat, a giant fish tank and two guinea pigs. I started to see every cord that was dangling from the couch. I saw the electrical plugs that were empty and begging for something to be shoved into them by small fingers. I saw the lack of anything age appropriate! I had no toys, no game, no safe seating!

As soon as she got to my house, I was ready to shower her with things. I turned on the TV right away and queued up Netflix kids for her. I had already purchased several different drink options and honestly, about ten different snacks. Truth be told, I wanted to give her so much more. I thought, “Would she like a new doll? Maybe I should get her a new outfit. Would she like it if I took her to see a movie?”

Not long into our week-long adventure I sat down on the couch as I watched her take everything out of our makeshift toy box. There were puzzles, barbies, stuffed animals and balls spread out across the floor and I thought this must be making her happy. She didn’t need to fight for attention or spirit her toys away quickly so they wouldn’t get taken by other kids. Surely this was good for her. I continued to watch her as she would pick up something and turn it over in her tiny hands. She would study it, put it down and look at it on the ground. She sat staring at the toys. She was surrounded.  Yet the look on her face hadn’t changed. She was lost and a little confused.

She stopped playing and looked at me. She would lay motionless and quiet. Her eyes firmly closed as if willing herself to not be seen by me or anyone else who should happen across her. My heart broke when I saw her like this. I could only assume this was her “self-defense”. What she had learned or taught herself to do when it was all too much for her.

I spoke quietly to her, stroking her back and trying to coax her back to me. I didn’t want to force her or make things worse so I just sat down near her and waited.

She watched me, seemingly studying everything about me. Perhaps she was trying to figure out what my next move was or maybe she was just taking a moment to take it all in. She came tottering over to me and said, “I hold you” as she reached out to me. I scooped her up and she quickly arranged herself on my lap. The TV was still playing but she wasn’t looking at it — she was looking at me.

We began to earnestly talk to each other. I would ask her a silly random question respond with a profound detailed answer. She would repeat whatever I said or ask me something. We went back and forth like this for a solid half-hour. I stopped to ask her if she would like a snack. She said no as she snuggled deeper into my lap. She wouldn’t let me move. If I got up I had to be holding her.

Later that day she had a full PTSD meltdown, kicking and screaming and then she shut down completely. I was in horror, unsure how to console her. I gently picked her up in my arms and carried her back over to the couch. I sat there and quietly rocked her as I hummed a tune, more to calm myself than her at that point. Then, like before, she slowly looked up at me.

Recognition flashed across her face. She was in my arms. She was safe. She whispered, “I hold you?”, so I turned her around and she wrapped her arms around my neck and buried her face in my shoulder.

This is what she needed. Not the toys. Not more snack options. She didn’t need to me run to the store for more THINGS or take her to a movie. She needed me. She needed to feel safe and loved. She wanted to know that I was going to be there. She learned that I was a safe place for her to turn. It started to click for me. My niece and nephew found joy and delight in the things I gave them because they already had love, safety and peace in spades. They didn’t want for that; they had the important things they needed already from all of us who love and care for them. This little girl had none of that! So the toys and games and movies gave her nothing. They were all hollow to her because she was missing something larger. These things had been so hard for her to come by but so simple for me to give them to her.

As the week went on her meltdowns came less frequently. By the end of the week we made it an entire day with not a single meltdown. A few times she would look sad and I would ask her if she needed a hug. I would embrace her for a few moments and then she was off again playing or singing. At the beginning of the week I was worried I wasn’t going to have enough to give her. By the end of the week I knew I had more than enough of what she needed. She only wanted a safe place to be loved.

Soul Bare Interview: How an Affair Laid My Soul Bare with Serena Woods

I hope you’ve been paying attention to some of the fabulous writers we’re featuring in a few Saturday interviews this month! Today, Serena Woods is sharing with us about her essay in Soul Bare. (If you missed out, make sure you catch up and read our interview with Cara Sexton and Jennifer Camp). Serena tells a powerful story about adoption,legalism, an affair, and finding grace. Read on for more and make sure you grab a copy of Soul Bare. –AH

Soul Bare

You write about your troubled childhood, adoption into a legalistic family, and an affair in your essay in Soul Bare. It’s a powerful story of loss and redemption. How did these events lay your soul bare? Where are you today?

In order for something to be bared, it has to first be covered. My childhood and my experience with the legalistic side of religion necessitated the creation of a cocoon. It was in an attempt to protect myself from the environmental dangers of being a neglected child, and later to shield me from the constant disapproval of religion. My childhood engrained a deep and lingering distrust for people. It also lent the opportunity to hone a sharp sense of discernment. Legalism felt like being a chained animal under a relentless spotlight. For an extreme introvert, the inability to find solitude was torture. But, the mind is resourceful. I learned how to create my own mental world and carve spaces of peace deep within myself.

Adopting the Christian lifestyle was my attempt to find hope. I think that becoming part of a body of people who are all doing the same thing, looking in the same direction, and relish a great conversion story was good for me at that particular time in my life. I was nineteen, homeless, and pregnant. I enjoyed the structure, the social aspect, and the personal challenge of changing my life. I didn’t realize that my belief system was built on the foundation of my own ability to not mess up. I felt like I entered the scene with a clean slate and all I had to do was maintain it. I wasn’t scared of God’s disapproval; I had a very sweet relationship with Him. I believed that He saw me as innocent and all I wanted was to make Him proud of me. I never let Him into the spaces of peace deep within, and I rarely visited them myself. My past was buried and I was a new creation.

My affair is what bared my soul. I can’t begin to describe how terrifying it was to be broken open like that. All my pieces unprotected and out in the open… My childhood, the feelings of disapproval… Only this time the disapproval was warranted. I was led to believe that you have one shot with God and you’re on your own if you ruin that. As I was coming to terms with the reality of a future without God, I made a first and last attempt to hear from Him. I hadn’t spoken to Him since my affair began. There I was, roughly three months post destruction and about ten weeks pregnant, praying: “God, I know what your people say about me, and I know what I say about me, but I need to know what you say about me.”

I was expecting His disapproval and dismissal, but I found the exact opposite. As I searched the scriptures and opened myself up for the death sentence, He taught me the Gospel. I was looking for the scriptures to back up the condemnation and I never found them. I couldn’t understand why His people were guarding His cross from those who needed to be washed by His blood. It was confusing to me, but I was spiritually waking up. Their behavior was clearly an act of unbelief and misunderstanding. This realization was an invitation to purpose. I thought that if people knew the “scandal” of the Gospel, that they would find freedom, know how to forgive, and know how to lead others to the open spaces of grace.

I wasn’t prepared for the resistance I met. People, especially when they think they’ve got it figured out, don’t like to question themselves. It’s been eleven years and my purpose remains. I continue to work on my ability to articulate the mysteries of grace as they’re revealed. I’m very private, and still have spaces of peace deep within, but I am no longer alone in them.

soul bare

You write that the “towers of joy” are dependent on the “canyons of sorrow” in the Christian life. Can you walk us through this a bit? 

I don’t think this philosophy is isolated to the Christian life. I think that the capacity for joy directly correlates with the capacity for sorrow in any life. When you open yourself with the intent of filling your heart with love, you are also opening yourself to the unintended possibility of filling your heart with hurt. When pain carves grooves into your soul as it scratches canyons down the corridors of your life, it’s creating space that wasn’t already there. When love burrows into your depths and stretches out in the hammock of your soul, it’s also creating the hollows that pain fills when love leaves. Towers of joy are dependent on the canyons of sorrow because they’re different sides of the same coin.

 

You write I believed in Jesus in general, but not that he was for me. What advice would you have for those who share that same view?

It’s our memory that’s the problem. We know how we justified our behavior. We know our own blatant disregard for right so that we could selfishly and consciously choose what we knew was wrong. That’s the aspect that keeps us from believing that Jesus would forgive us. You have to dump your bag of beliefs out on the table and sift through them every once in a while. For whatever reason, we carry around this cheap belief that God only forgives the innocent and the grace of Jesus is reserved for those who don’t need it.

My advice is to actually consider the life of Jesus, the people He spent His time with, the people He actually got frustrated with, and the barbaric way in which he allowed Himself to die. Nothing about Him is congruent with the disapproving and exclusive light He’s often cast in. If it is, it’s in favor of the outsiders. He’s the refuge of the shunned and the friend of the hated. If you’re sitting in your own aftermath and feeling like you’ve done the unforgivable, hear Him tell you what He told me. “This is why I came.”

“Your failure is not an accident. God planned for it. The plan’s name is Jesus.” You write how in your failure you experienced the scandalizing message of grace and it turned off people because it seemed too good. For those with a pretty clean-looking story, how can they experience the same grace in their failure as you have? 

Grace is a highly misunderstood concept and it doesn’t help when the word is as loosely used as it is. I wrote my best answer to this question in my book, Grace Is For Sinners. When someone messes up, to whatever degree, there is never a question of fault. Each person is responsible for his or her own behavior. I need to make this clear because a dichotomy exists that flips this inside out and confuses some. It is when you, through faith, submit yourself, sin and all, to God, that you enter the reality of grace. Grace gives purpose to the failure that was previously unknown. The sinner cannot take credit for the good, but is a recipient of the good. When they grasp this directional pivot they are experiencing repentance, and then freedom (2 Corinthians 7:10).

The best illustration for this is what Joseph’s brothers experienced. What they intended for evil, God used for good. By grace, they entered into a reality where their sin was used to save their lives. They can’t take credit for the good and if they don’t accept that change of direction, they will forever live in fear and guilt, even to the point of denying themselves the good. They won’t be free. Repentance is a change of direction; it’s the pivot to freedom.

Nobody’s story is clean enough. Law is Law and sin is sin. If you live by any of the Law, you have to live by all of the Law. Read Galantians 3. No one is justified by his or her own cleanliness. As a matter of fact, a life lived apart from grace is a life cursed. It is clearly established that this is impossible to get it right, proven by the necessity of Jesus. He didn’t come for just the morally weak. He came for everybody. Some of the ugliest pride hides under the prettiest façade, but the veneer doesn’t hold up under the heat. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking someone has it more together than you. It’s better to know your sin than to have pride dressed up as righteousness.

 

What is your hope for your words, your story, and ultimately for Soul Bare? 

My hope for my words is to offer a different perspective and stir a curiosity in someone to the point of them doing a little digging into the scriptures on their own. Reading the Bible was never as exciting to me as when I tried to find evidence for my condemnation. Exciting is a weird word, but what I mean is that I found the complete opposite and much, much more. I think coming at it form that angle removed the glaze of religious monotony enough for me to find the craziest stuff.

As for my hope for my story, I just don’t want anyone in a similar situation to feel alone. Sharing my story is the equivalent of leaving little notes along a lonely hiking trail for whoever comes behind me. Things like, “this is the hardest part of this path”, or “look in this tree, there’s usually some fruit growing” …things like that.

My hope for Soul Bare is for there to be enough diversity in experience, perspective, and style for pretty much anyone to be able to connect and find something helpful. I’m happy to be a part of filling this gap on the bookstore shelves. People are looking for a Godly perspective for their confusing and painful situations. This is an easy choice because it’s 31 different stories pointing in the same direction.

 

Serena Woods // Soul BareA bit more about Serena: 

Serena is a thinker who writes for various publications, on and offline. Her book, Grace Is For Sinners, is an uncensored glimpse of her experience with God’s grace. Since publishing her first book, she has earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, become an occasional and somewhat reluctant domestic and international public speaker, and started a few more books that she’ll finish eventually. Serena is a homebody who lives in Southern Missouri where she and her husband, Justin, are raising their four daughters. Their beloved Boxers, Nigel and Oscar, are the reason they don’t have nice furniture. Serena is an eternal advocate for the broken, rejected, and ugly. She writes her argument for the gospel at graceisforsinners.com.

Being A Witness – A Review of Assimilate or Go Home

Assimilate Or Go Home

 

What does it mean to be a witness?

Do we know what it’s like to ‘look into the wounds of Christ and not feel them’? How do we make the pain real, the burden heavy enough that we can’t lift it alone?

A lot of us around the Mudroom are huge fans of D.L. Mayfield’s work and words, and her book that released this week combines both of them.

Danielle writes about moving out of that super-evangelical need to convert others, discovering that we are actually all in need of being converted over and over again, and in places and by people we wouldn’t expect. She places this discovery in the context of ‘downward mobility’, as she lives and works with Somali refugees.

“I know it is too hard, too uncertain, too messy to view everyone, no matter how old and how broken, as a child of God, not just the tiny fragile ones. But my neighbors taught me this, and I could not forget it.”

Even the title, Assimilate or Go Home, speaks to the inclinations many people have, as Christians and as Americans. Believe and act like us or we don’t want you. Set as it is in the context of refugees, with the global refugee crisis (and American history) in the unspoken background, it takes on a very pointed meaning. Because as Danielle shows us, these refugees by and large do not appear to be assimilating. And she shows us the pain in that, but also the beauty of it. Respecting and learning from other cultures – learning how to honor them, even – is a much better alternative to assimilation and loss. It’s a lesson both church and country could stand to learn.

“That people prefer themselves and all others like them is no surprise to any of us, but I am consistently taken aback at how often we refuse to acknowledge that our systems might have the same kind of problem.”

The story of refugees in America comes hand in hand with poverty and the overwhelming complexity that that issue alone brings up. And as the book goes on, there is a growing awareness of just how insistently American and Christian society refuses to acknowledge and engage with it. It is easy to feel Danielle’s frustration with that, but also her invitation to enter in.

What part of the world are you a witness to? What brokenness are you looking at, desperate to find the holy in? Are we a witness to our power and privilege? Do we see the way it comes at the expense of others? Do we see the ways in which we benefit, or the ways in which we don’t? Are we witness to the ways sexism, racism, and classism play out in our little spheres?

There is power in being a witness. There is a validation that comes when we see a person or a situation. We know this, and yet it is so hard to do in any kind of sustainable way. It’s hard. It’s weary. It’s work. Even if it’s in a volunteer capacity and not a lifestyle change like the Mayfields, it’s still emotional work.

“I realized that I was tired of being comfortable with sickness and death and inequality; so, too, was I tired of being overwhelmed with all of the places where it seemed that God was absent.”

When you read Assimilate or Go Home, you realize you are only seeing the tip of the issues surrounding poverty, trauma, and education. But we are reminded, over and over, that getting involved is worth doing, because there are people at the end of it. People who need to be loved, validated, and seen, and people who need the unjust systems fixed. The problems facing the most unwanted people in our society are not unsolvable. They just need people to see them and to work for change. And what I find utterly compelling about Danielle repeatedly choosing to remain involved, is that she always manages to find hope.

She ends her book by saying that God is calling her to “live in proximity to pain and suffering and injustice instead of high-tailing it to a more calm and isolated life. To live with eyes wide open on the edges of our world, the margins of our society. To taste the diaspora, the longing, the suffering, the joy.”

Maybe we all won’t surround our lives with refugees (although probably more of us should), but all of us can live in proximity to pain in some way. We can all find something, someone, who is calling us to be a witness.

Simply Beautiful

woman-591576_1280I’ve longed to be one of those women who can throw on a plain white t-shirt and jeans and look effortlessly stunning. They gather their hair in an “I can’t be bothered” pony tail; their unadorned skin glows, flawless. They travel light through this world, floating serenely with one chic carry-on while the rest of us struggle, juggle and strain under the weight of so much baggage. They are simply beautiful.

For a long time, I believed it was because they were beautiful that they could be simple. With no need for adornment or correctives, their attitude toward appearances could be a dismissive “whatever.”

Not so for me. I could never pull off that stripped down, unselfconscious basics look. No, camouflage is my watchword, and camouflage requires strategy and complexity. I wear jackets over my t-shirts to create the illusion of a waist. Scarves draw attention to my face and away from “problem” areas. The right shoes make my legs look longer and leaner. My hair is colored, cut, sprayed, and fussed-with to hide the fact that it is not naturally dark, thick or made for insouciant pony tails. Makeup maximizes my eyes, minimizes my nose and takes away my natural, deathly pallor.    

Camouflage is the opposite of simple.

It is intricacy and indirection. It shades truth just enough to hide your flaws (physical and otherwise) from the world. It is the little white lie that allows me to believe all the things I’m trying to hide aren’t even there at all.

One day I decided to try on simplicity and truth. It was Lent, and I wanted to offer God a costly gift, something that would shake up my safe and comfortable life.

At first I decided to give up non-essential shopping. The thought of such a fast horrified me- shopping is my art form and my opiate. After the first week, I realized even if I didn’t shop for 40 days, I could still look good, thanks to my ample wardrobe, jewelry box and makeup table. Just as I was thinking this fast was going to be easy I knew I had given up the wrong thing. If I really wanted fast to be meaningful and sacrificial, I was going to have to trade in my camouflage for simplicity.

So I did the unthinkable. I went the rest of Lent without any makeup, jewelry or complicated, elaborately accessorized outfits. It was just as hard as I thought it would be. Every time I left the house it felt like that nightmare where you are in Times Square naked, except for fuzzy bunny slippers. I was certain behind people’s polite hello-how-are-yous, they were shocked at my unmasking. I was sure they were whispering, tsk-tsking and just generally thinking less of me. I discovered people didn’t focus on my appearance nearly as much as I thought.  In fact, they didn’t even notice my lack of adornment.  It was an important lesson in humility.

While social interactions were fraught with anxiety, my interactions with God became calmer and more peaceful. There was something about abandoning pretense — even in God’s presence — that was pure relief. Giving up the gilding made it easier to recognize all the ways I had tried to pretty up the not-so-pretty parts of my soul.

During that Lent period, I still sat in front of my makeup mirror every morning, only now I looked at my clean-scrubbed face and said, “Here I am, Lord. I am not perfect, but I love You. I am not perfect, but You are. I want to live knowing You love me the way I am.”

I used to think naturally beautiful women could be simple because they didn’t need the complexity of camouflage, but through my fast I realized I had it backwards. My 33 days of exposure showed me that beauty emerges from simplicity, not the other way around. Beauty emerges from the honesty of showing God and the world who I am as I am.

I have gone back to wearing makeup and jewelry and complicated outfits. What can I say? I like pretty things.  But my soul doesn’t need them anymore in the way it used to. The world has seen me unadorned, and it shrugged. God has always seen me plain and simple, and He calls me beautiful.

Sharing: A Practice of the Heart

How do you decide to voluntarily limit the space you occupy in the world?

When I moved to Germany four years ago with my family, I thought we’d live the romantic European life. An apartment instead of a house and garden, string bags for the daily grocery shopping, errands by streetcar, vacations by train, and fresh vegetables from the market square.

First obstacle: the steep streets that led to our apartment were paved with concrete blocks and cobblestones and were too narrow for sidewalks. If you carried a bag of groceries, you scraped your knuckles on the facades of the half-timbered houses. If you walked in the street, someone drove up behind you and you had to hop out of the way. Europe is crowded. Someone always needs something right where you’re standing.

I switched to a bike, but when it was loaded with groceries, I had to push it up the hill. I took my youngest to school in the morning with public transportation but on the way back, the connections were so delayed that I walked. I thought three or four hours of walking a day was healthy. My knees didn’t.

We signed up for car-sharing, but the nearest car we could “share” was in the valley. After we returned it, we still had to walk up the hill. But this was our chance to live like Europeans.

The carsharing company paid for gas, car inspections, and maintenance. We paid for kilometers and time in 1/2 hour units. It’s surprisingly fun to fill up the car with gas when the car-sharing credit card foots the bill.

There was one tricky part to the sharing. If the person after you found a scratch or a dent, you were liable for the repair costs. Even if the car was perfect when you dropped it off. You could buy extra insurance to cover it and we should have. Sharing makes for psychological problems. Unfortunately, it rains a lot in Europe and the combination of inconveniences and my tricky knee action made us buy a used Ford Fusion. Our families were glad we’d regained our sanity. We grieved that it hadn’t worked out. It felt so anti-environment and non-European and against our Vermont values.

We still use public transportation for longer trips and for daily commuting. In exchange for planning ahead, deciding on a departure time, and figuring out how to get to and from the stations on each end, we get the travel time to use as we like. When we hike, we take the train to a trailhead so we don’t have to “go back for the car.” Trains mean no messing with parking or traffic. No dodging race cars on highways without speed limits.

The tradeoff is the interaction with fellow passengers on the train–some of whom don’t want to share their space and would like yours as well, for their suitcase or just for their feet. If you have a bad experience with noise or dirt or pushiness, you feel like a kid in the back of an overcrowded school bus.

Still, though, sharing mostly works better here because people have more practice.

I remember when I first saw the crowdedness of Europe in another light. My husband and I were at our friends’ house for an evening. They had invited one other couple and the six of us sat on simple wooden chairs and propped ourselves up on the sturdy table until late in the night. We were talking about “God and the World” as they say in Germany—in other words, everything. The conversation had that listening rhythm. We said what was on our hearts and left space for each other. A pause. A nod of understanding. A smile. A thoughtful response from someone else. The candles threw shadows on the table; the glassware reflected the flames. I looked up at the flickering ceiling to see if I was really in this place. Beautiful, romantic Europe.

At some point, since I was studying for my German driver’s license written test, I said something about the bike, bus, tractor, and pedestrian traffic on our medieval street. “In the U.S., a street as narrow as ours would be one-way or maybe even closed to all but one kind of traffic.”

My friend and her husband looked at each other, considering the choice in a silent conversation with their eyes. Then he smiled at me. “Then I think I’d rather share.” My friend nodded her agreement.

In that moment, my view of my neighborhood shifted. I still have challenging times, but when I remember this choice, it helps. We can choose to build more life, more joy, and more generosity into our lives. When we practice sharing with graciousness, something changes. Taking turns lets us honor each other and that gives us all dignity. More people get their needs met with the same resources.

I didn’t find the romantic life I was looking for in string shopping bags or streetcars. I found it with friends who listened. Friends who were willing to share.

The life I want turns out to be a practice of the heart.

Dreaming Big, Living Small

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Dreaming Big, Living Small. Photo credit: Suus Wansink

I am a dreamer, and I dream big.

I’ve always wanted to live a dramatic story, to Do Something Big For God! Make an impact! Change the World! Build the Kingdom!!! – and other slogans that require multiple exclamation marks at the end.

So many are writing these days about the finding joy in the everyday, and deciding to celebrate living small. It’s a fashionable theme, and has resonated with many.

Unfortunately, I’m the exception. I confess whenever someone writes something about ‘living small’, my reaction is strong and immediate: I hate it. It feels so parochial, self-indulgent to focus on the here and now and me rather than the others, the world and the future.

For the past six years, however, I have been forced to live small. An autoimmune illness has rendered me housebound, in bed for for 21 hours a day. For the first eighteen months, I had very little contact with the outside world; sometimes it felt like my Facebook status posts were the only evidence I could give that I was still alive.

When ‘living small’ looks like one beige room, staggering to the toilet and back to bed, it doesn’t sound quite so fun.

***

After I came to terms with the fact that my life had changed, writing and social media became a lifeline for me. I could still dream big, I could still make an impact, I could still campaign and Change the World.

Even though I know (I promise, I do!) that I’m not the Saviour of the Universe, part of me still believes it is still good to dream big, and have a desire to change the world. We need the prophets, the campaigners, the activists, the leaders. There is so much that is wrong with the world, and change only comes through people who have the courage to take a stand. I still want to be that person.

The only trouble is this: living big is exhausting. Campaigning for change feels like an exercise in futility. Some of us have big hearts, but the sorrows of the whole world are too heavy for anyone to carry. If we aren’t careful, we implode from the weight of it all.

This is what I wrestle with: what if our hearts still dream big, when we are forced to live small? If I give up my drive to Make a Difference, will this bring peace to me, or will I lose the essence of my character? Societal change always comes through people being prepared to sacrifice of themselves – but when is it too costly? How much do you sacrifice of yourself to achieve your dream?

***

Last month, I escaped to sunny Greece for two weeks. I lived small. I watched bold pink flowers in the breeze, and down at the beach I slowed my breath down to the rhythm of the waves as they lapped the shore. I focused on my son. We read Enid Blyton books. We watched the ants wrestle, and giggled as we saw them stealing wasps’ eggs, all in their neat rows. I lived small, focusing on my body and its needs, resting and eating, and watching the beautiful world.

I have to admit, it felt marvellous.

***

The biographies of world-changers can be inspiring yet unhelpful. A written story necessarily excludes all the banalities, so we just read one dramatic event, one breakthrough after another. We lose the fact that it takes years to get to that point. We don’t read of the hours they spent sleeping, or preparing meals, working, reading, laughing with friends, walking, fixing broken windows, comforting crying children.

My mind goes to St Paul, preacher extraordinaire, who helped establish the first church and bring Christianity to new nations. I remember that Paul was also a tentmaker. In between those dramatic speeches and visiting churches, his life looked a little boring. He did not spend all his time in travel, speaking, reading, praying, mentoring. A huge bulk of his time was spent in the mundane and routine, in stitching and mending.

I pause and imagine him doing that, day after day. I find my breathing slows, just a little.

I dream big, but I’m learning to live small. Much of the time you’re frustrated at what you’re not doing and not achieving – this is what learning patience feels like.

I’m learning to find meaning in the mundane. Living small is a new discipline for me, to slow down my rhythm to the limits of my body. You discover (again) that you simply can’t produce all you want, and can’t live at the pace you admire in other successful people.

I’m still wrestling with it, but sometimes in the midst of the hours of looking at the ceiling, I remember that I am not the saviour of the universe, and that even the Messiah spent much of his life sanding down timber, wiping the sawdust from His forehead.

Over to you: 

  • Do you live your life in the ‘here and now’ or in the ‘then and there’? 
  • In which ways have you been forced to ‘live small’? 

 

A Soul Bare Interview: Sex, Love, and Belovedness with Jennifer Camp

I hope you’ve been following along with our Soul Bare journey. Our regular writers, Tammy Perlmutter and Tanya Marlow, are featured in the new essay collection, Soul Bare: Stories of Redemption, published by InterVarsity Press. Tammy gave away a copy (hooray! But if you missed it, order one here), and last week we interviewed the editor, Cara Sexton, the woman behind the collection. 

This week, we’re pleased to share with you a gorgeous interview from Jennifer Camp. These questions will give you just a little nibble of all the goodness of Soul Bare. Make sure you grab yourself a copy! Hurry on over to Jennifer Camp’s site, too, because she’s giving away three copies! –AH

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Soul Bare

Q1. How did you get involved with Soul Bare?
 
I met Cara Sexton, the editor of Soul Bare, five years ago at the Allume Conference (it was called Relevant back then). We had each won a scholarship to the conference from Incourage.me. I had loved Cara’s writing–the wisdom of her ideas and the beauty of her words, and it was so fun being able to spend time with her, face-to-face.
 
When Cara sent me an email a few years ago, asking if I would consider writing a story for this book, everything in me said “yes!” I loved the heart of it — the invitation to join with other women to share the real, the brutal, and the beautiful — how desperate we each are for God and how we need Him to show up in our lives.
 
 
Q2. In your essay, you tell the story of using sex to feel in control and loved. What hope can you offer Mudroom readers who turn to substitutes for love? How did you journey towards seeing yourself as beloved?
 
I know how easy it is to forget that we are the beloved of God–or to struggle to believe it is something that is true about our identity at all. I know that it feels better–like the only option sometimes–to search for love in places that are known, familiar. We think we can affect the outcome. We have convinced ourselves that we will be fine if we take action, pursue love, no matter what the cost. We are desperate for love–it is how we are made. The problem we face in pursuing love in ways that God did not mean for us to pursue, in places where we struggle to meet Him, is that we are missing out on knowing God and trusting His love as the only love that truly provides everything we need, the only love that gives from a pure place, and sustains. 
 
It was a hard road to see myself as beloved. I pushed back against God for so many years–decades. Once I went down that road of sin, I believed, with all my heart, that I couldn’t possibly be someone that could be loved by God. You see, I didn’t know God–although I thought I did. But I didn’t know Him–for I believed He was removed, aloof, far away. I believed I had to be deserving of God’s love to receive love. And how could I be loved when I had sinned? I felt there was surely no hope for me anymore. 
 
I was so filled with pride to believe that it was up to me, my own strength and character, to determine what made me “good” or “bad.” It is impossible, you see, to accept one’s self as beloved if one’s heart has not surrendered one’s pride. Pride gets in the way of believing the gospel, believing in Jesus’ amazing love and grace that covers all sin–that He loves us and saves us in the midst of our darkness.
 

Jennifer Camps from Soul Bare

Q3. You also write about your abortion and the hurt and healing that came from that. What would you recommend to women who have made the same choice but are silent about it still?
 
Oh girl, I know this silence. I know how heavy it is. I know it is a weight that will surely pull you down, ever deeper, until you open up your hands, your heart, and trust God more than yourself. You are so loved. You are so loved. I know this sounds strange–but I know how hard it is to admit that this abortion was even a big deal. We push it down. We try to carry the burden of it on our own. We try to convince ourselves that we are okay. But we’re not. We’re just not. Yet.
 
Come out now, sister. Come out and share what you have been hiding. This burden is not for you to carry. Our Father gathers us up with people who can pray for us, listen for us, lead us to our Father’s throne–friends who will help us to see and hear and feel Jesus. And we need to do this. We need to lay down what has happened, what we have done, and ask Jesus to come and show us what He thinks about all this, what He thinks about you.
 
Q4. Where have you seen hope and healing in your own life from not feeling like you have words, that you were unlovable, and from your abortion? How has God brought restoration?
 
All of my healing has involved the hard work of letting God strip me bare–show me the reality of myself without Him. I am grateful, as strange as this sounds, to realize, just a little bit, how horrid I am without the love of God redeeming me and making me new and beautiful and whole. For in Him, despite what I have done, I am beautiful–filled with His light and truth and hope. He is in me, if I let Him be in me. And each step in my healing has been so hard, so difficult, and so beautiful too. There have been so many lies I have believed about myself that I have had to surrender to Him and replace with His truth: lies that I am unlovable; I don’t have a voice; I am not enough. 
 
God has brought restoration in each place of my heart that was not whole in Him. He continues to pursue us until we are whole. He asks us if we want to let Him do the work in us (and it can be painful surrendering lies, adopting truth) to help us be more whole in Him. And He will not stop until our time here on earth is done.
 
 
Q5. Here at The Mudroom, our tagline is “making room in the mess.” How has your messy story allowed you to make room for God and for others?
 
Awesome tagline! If I had it all together–if I believed I had it all together–I would have nothing to write, nothing to say to encourage anyone. My messy story is what I use to testify to the God who loves me and does not let me go. My mess is what leads me to the cross, again and again. It is what makes me desperate to hear God’s voice in my heart, what prompts me to finally listen for Him when I pray. 
 
I choose, finally, to believe He loves me. And believing in His love for me makes me curious to spend time with Him, to want to be with Him, to desire to hear what He thinks and what He has to say. God’s love gives me a voice–and this voice is His voice in me, His love in me. I worship Him in my words, my writing, my ministry. He is my life and my hope, and I pray I honor Him and bring Him glory by using what He has redeemed to be even more beautiful. I do this for the sake of the daughters He don’t yet know Him–who don’t yet know and believe how much they are truly loved.
 
Q6. How have you changed from that 15 year-old girl? What is your mission these days in your writing and life?
 
I pray my words and my life testify to the love of God–the reality of His love that is the only thing that gives hope and joy. I am no longer that fifteen year old girl, and yet I am still her, too. It is my awareness of myself without God (me at 15) that makes me realize the amazing love of a God who does not retreat or turn away or give up on His daughters, no matter what. He is beautiful. He is love.
 
It is my mission in my writing and my life to bring my Father, my King, my Friend glory by loving the people He brings into my life. And He has put it on my heart to pursue His daughters who need to know there is a future for them that is more beautiful than they can imagine. And our God wants to help them imagine it. And believe it. That’s the best.
 
Here’s a bit more about Jenn:
 
Jennifer Camps
 
Jennifer J. Camp knows what it’s like to chase down an identity not her own, and now she listens and writes and speaks to point women to Jesus. Jennifer lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and three kids and is the author of Breathing Eden: Conversations with God on Light, Fresh Air, and New Things and Loop, a free weekly devotional for women. She is the co-founder of Gather Ministries with her husband, Justin. Connect with Jennifer over on her blog: jenniferjcamp.com.
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