lent: the potter and dry clay.

I am greeted by the season of Lent amidst a week of crumbling, of dustiness, of weakness, need, and more than a couple wit’s ends. It’s arrival leaves me thankful for how soft and vulnerable the hard moments of these past couple of days have left me. I have had to loosen, become malleable as not to break.

It has been the Water of life more than my tears that have moistened and smoothed over the hard edges in and around me. The dusty cracks and crumbles of me are being filled to flowing, and the real work is to come, when He will fold in truths and graces to fill what once were cracks and crevices.

I am reminded of my own frailty; I am parched–in need, as I cannot bend at all, dried up as I am. I taste my own desperation, my own mortality. My foolishness, selfishness, weakness–rough-edged, grainy, brittle. Lord, I need you; every hour, I need you.

And I am also reminded that there is spring ahead, and with spring comes rain for this dry desert of brittle clay, and I will learn to bend and fold again under the pressure of the Potter. I’m reminded of the present, sopping truths of victory and strength, of perseverance and wisdom, of the providence and perfect timing of God the Father, of forgiveness and grace that comes from Christ, that is granted when, in expectation, I hope and wait for him to do work in my life. The dear Christ enters into the cloud of dust and ash around me, see the brittle clay that lies lost in the midst, and he washes away what I don’t need and adds life to what I do need.

I welcome Lent with the bitter, dusty taste of my own silly, struggling, sinful self still on my tongue, the beloved dust and ash of weaknesses, sicknesses, and uncertainties, and I cling to the sweet hope that it can and will be washed away by the Water.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, but beloved all the same; our God is a God who rains down on His people of beloved dust and who then dips His hands into the mire and clay He has created and does the work of the Divine Potter. May I be soft, malleable, ready for His work.

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M I N D F U L N E S S, noun. | happy new year.

M I N D F U L N E S S, noun.
1. the quality or state of being aware or conscious of something.
2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Maintaining moment by moment awareness and acceptance. Paying attention to what is happening here and now, not necessarily what is wrong or right, good or bad.

A descriptive, not prescriptive, way of living.

To reduce stress. To strengthen my mind, body, and soul. To re-evaluate my priorities. To realize and experience the good in me and what’s around me. To acknowledge the bad and be wise enough to know whether or not it’s worth worrying about.

To dig and mine for the diamonds in the rough instead of letting the rough cause me to stumble and lose my way. To treasure those diamonds for being present amidst the rough. And when and if I lose my way, to never stop looking for my way back.

To love well. To live well. Realizing a life more abundant isn’t about abundance of things but of life.

  • read more books. knock out some of that “to read” list.
  • work out at least 3x each week because it makes me feel strong.
  • write at least twice every week—even if it’s a shitty rough draft.
  • spend less time on my phone doing stupid things, wasting time, hiding away from reality.
  • be more intentional with the people i care about.
  • host more get-togethers at the house.
  • read the bible—all of it.
  • journal through my anxiety and darker moments.
  • create more. cosmos in chaos.
  • be more present when it matters.
  • say what i mean, mean what i say.
  • care more; worry less.
  • run a 5K.
  • do more good; no more laziness!
  • envy and jealousy, comparing and contrasting stories, feeling lesser or higher because of where someone else is—NO MORE OF THAT.

mindfulness.
bravery.
presence.
intentionality.

Here’s to the New Year. May it be a mindful one.

M I N D F U L // my one word for 2015

in 2015, i will be M I N D F U L.

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mindful of my worth, of the worth of others. 
of the simple moments–the cup of coffee in the morning, the reading time on a rainy afternoon. and the grand ones–conflicts and pain and sickness and sadness.

of words and stories and the hope and the dark interwoven through it all. of truth and deceit, of good and bad. of struggle and peace. of imperfection and the beauty of it. 
of the things i love about myself–blue eyes, freckles, words and introversion, sarcasm and empathy. of the things i don’t love so much, and whether or not it matters.

mindful of life and living it.
i will think and speak mindfully.
i will work, rest, and play mindfully.

i will seek belonging and love from the right places—the places that love me as imperfect as i am and the places and people that keep me mindful, encourage me to think and and live and love well.

…and now mindful doesn’t sound like a word anymore because i have been saying it too many times in my head.

Take it all down; Christmas is over.

Oh, no more lights glistening, no more carols to sing.

This is for the ones who hate Christmas, and for good reason. You, for whom the Christmas season and all that comes a long with it is a hard, difficult time. For those of you that say, Finally, when calendar shows December 26th.

This is for you, who breathe a sigh of relief when the focus on family, fellowship, busyness, gift-giving, and general holiday hustle fades away. You, who sit in a gently lit room and retreat after holiday company leaves. You, who cry alone and unplug the Christmas lights. You, who lament your losses of loved ones and grieves the pain you’ve suffered this time of year, time and time again. For you, who spend Decembers saving face: beloved, let that weary smile fall from your lips.

To those of you who spend Christmas fighting back tears and choking back grief or guilt, I say: Take a deep breath. This season of night after longest night is on its way out the door.

I also say: rest and remember that Advent–and every season that precedes or follows–has room enough for your pain and grief. The world may tell you to stifle your sadness, to grin and bear it; you see, the world does not know what to do with the heavy truth of your pain or suffering, so pay the world no mind.

Look instead to the Christ Child.

Even amidst the Rejoice, rejoice! and the comfort and joys of Christmas, the Lord Himself has made room for your story–yes, even a story of sorrow and sadness. You see, the babe whose birth we celebrate each year will grow into the Man of Sorrows, one well acquainted with grief.

The hearts of man are bitter in winter, as cold as the snow that falls from above.

Praise the Lord that he has heard your cry, that the Christ Child becomes our Mighty Counselor, Emmanuel, and knows of your pain and grieves with you, for you. He has borne your griefs as well as your gladness, your sorrows and your celebrations alike.

Oh, no more lights glistening, and no more carols to sing. But Christmas makes way for spring.

It is because of the advent of Christ that there is room enough for your cold, biting hurt, the subtle stabbings of sorrow and grief. With the passing of the Christmas season, take comfort that in the midst of your darkness and that of the world’s, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace enters in, born to die that he might reach down into our cold, lifeless, painful winters and bring about healing and life.

Christmas makes way for spring in the midst of winter, bitter and weathered as our hearts have become. As Christmas passes, let pass with it your pain and bitterness, your sorrow and grief. The hopes and fears of all your years of silent suffering are met in Christ, and he carries all of that dankness and dark to the Cross for you.

As December fades away, let the Son of God, Man of Sorrows, comfort, warm, and envelop you. His Advent brings with it the good news that He is able.

We’ve had a good year; let’s have another.


*Lyrics in italics are from Relient K’s “Boxing Day.”

friendsgiving.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I am terrible at initiating quality time with people I care about. “I’m an introvert!” I cry out. “It’s not my natural posture to think of leaving my home to go talk to another human being!” And while that is true, it is quite the cop-out. I’m an introvert who loves people, and yet finds it so hard to initiate showing my love for people.

I am well aware of my propensity for isolation and solitude, so when my friends suggested an annual (or biannual, as it’s become) Friendsgiving, I thought, YES. This is exactly what I and my equally introverted husband need: a tradition that ensures that we spend some quality time with some of our favorite people.

And thus, our Friendsgiving tradition was born.

Friendsgiving II (our second one) took place yesterday, and it was full of food, laughter, and of course, a watching of the movie “Elf.” The living room was full of friends and warmth, and I was reminded what the mere presence of friends can do for my heart and soul.

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I love having a room full of people–especially these people. They fill a room with good things: laughter, love, memories, hope for the future. When they are in the room, too, there is unspoken history that blankets us, softening the time that has gone by since we last were together. It’s a history chock-full of fights and forgiving of faults, of coffee dates and crying on shoulders, of leaning on one another and falling together, of picking each other up and brushing each other off, of holding hands and doing the brave things, of getting angry together, of chickening out and choosing the easy way out, of God’s grace being experienced and extended to and through one another. And on Friendsgiving, we say, “Wow, it’s been too long, but it’s okay, because we’re here now,” and we make a promise that we will keep the lines of communication open. We will keep caring. We choose to be friends, even though time has made it harder.

I owe much of who I am to these people. I have been forgiven and have had to forgive. I have been loved and have loved. I have learned what true, real friendship is: hard work that is well worth it. Our relationships are no longer as effortless as they were in childhood or in college. I cannot simply walk down the hall and jump onto my roommate’s bed and catch up on the day. Adulthood doesn’t allow for the weekly sleepovers and all-nighters with the girls. We have had to adjust to new people and new life stages. We’ve learned the grace of making room for the new important people in one another’s lives, inviting change instead of resisting it, knowing that if we are to keep walking the road of life together as friends, we should accept the gifts Time gives us along the way.

Years have passed and will continue to pass, and God-willing, these people will be there. Things will continue to change, and perhaps that’s what Friendsgiving teaches me: that change is normal and natural, and I’m growing up, and they’re growing up, but that doesn’t mean our love for one another fades. As everything in each of our individual worlds morphs and evolves, we will make time to come together, to meet one another where we are, and to invite one another in once again with open arms. Friendsgiving is choosing to continue to give of ourselves for the sake of friendship.

It’s a reminder to me, too–a challenge–that a friend gives of herself over and over again, even when it is hard. I realize where I have fallen short. I tell myself, Be a friend. Love better.

These people have seen me at my best and at my worst, and it does my heart good to see them sitting in my living room, still choosing friendship with me, and I with them. What a beautiful, pure thing it is to love and be loved.

To those in my life whom I am blessed to call a friend: thank you for the things you give–of yourself, of your heart, of your soul–to be good friends to me. I am unworthy, but I am so blessed.

as we wait: thoughts on advent

Advent is here.

And so we wait.

It wasn’t until last year that I understood what Advent means, the arrival or the coming of. The only time I’d ever heard the word advent before last year was in the phrase advent calendar.

Jesus was born. Yes. The wise men, the shepherds. Yes. But spending a month waiting, praying, pondering, and preparing for the celebration of his birth? Huh?

I am so glad my perspective on Advent has changed. I am learning the beauty and grace found in waiting. In the waiting, I find a greater appreciation for the awaited.

John explains that Jesus “was life, and the life was the light of men.” The light Jesus brought to the world shone brightly against a dark world that was not ready for him, but was in such dire need of him. They heard, but did not believe. They saw, but chose to turn away.

Is our world now any different?

The Son of God, this Messiah, borne of Mary but conceived of the Holy Spirit, came to his own world and was rejected.

John explains in his gospel that the world did not know Jesus (v. 10). They were not ready. God’s people waited for His arrival; when he arrived, they did not accept him. They were told of his coming. They were expecting Him, yet they weren’t prepared. Jesus was born into darkness, pain, and he was greeted by an anxious, wary people. He was not born into a world at its best behavior. It was at its worst. His adventus comes in the pitch blackness of sin, pain, confusion, chaos.

Cosmos in chaos. Jesus, meet World. World, meet Jesus. Dirty and Destitute, meet the Savior for whom you’ve been waiting. Divine, meet the Dirty and Destitute who need you but won’t accept you.

May we be different.

Long before He sent His Son, God spoke to his people through the prophet Isaiah, crying, “Israel does not know! My people don’t get it!”

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [. . .] When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

Written some 730 or so years before the birth of Jesus, the book of Isaiah paints a grim picture of God’s relationship with His people. 300 years or so later, the prophet Malachi speaks similar words of frustration and doom.

And then, nada. The world hears not from the Lord for the next 430 years.

In this darkness–the hopelessness, the weariness, the anxiety, the silence–Jesus enters. John says the darkness of the world cannot overcome the light Jesus brings to the world–hope, peace, love, joy, truth, expectation, grace, mercy, and glory, glory, Alleluia.

Many of His people still did not get it. After all that, and they do not understand that Jesus was the Hope they were waiting for.

And what have we learned? The world is still dark, still doubting, still denying.

My thoughts fall on Ferguson and the narratives that so many brothers and sisters have that I will never have. Fear, anxiety, frustration. The things they have to teach their sons and daughters that my husband and I have never had to think about.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

My thoughts fall on my parents, who live daily with pain, depression, stress, and discrimination because of their socioeconomic status coupled with the fact that they take prescription pain medication.

We wait, Jesus.

My thoughts fall on church corruption, anger and hate-mongering amidst believers, selfishness, bigotry, and false teachings flying from pompous pulpits.

How have we not learned? We are Israel, and our princes our rebels, our offerings empty.

And this is why we spend Advent preparing ourselves. So we might be ready. So we might understand. So we get it.

We spend a month acknowledging our great need so we can better understand how our needs are met in the person of Jesus. These are indeed tidings of great joy. The people who once walked in darkness have seen a great light!

The Word became flesh. The Light is here, and the darkness will not overcome Him. I read the words of John the Baptist said so long ago: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!'” His voice reaches from then to now, and I realize:

This is the preparation, the getting-ready for Advent. We see the dark; we feel it; we walk through it. We live it.

And we also prepare; we make straight the way. We wash our hands, seek to do good. We correct oppression, and bring justice. We lift our hands, knowing we are not worthy. We offer all we have at the Lord’s feet. Our uttered prayers come from the deepest parts of us, heart-cries. We ready ourselves to truly, wholly grasp the significance of Emmanuel, God with us in a dark, doubting, denying wilderness of a world.

The birth of Jesus is the Light of the World descending to dwell in a dark, lost, and confused world–cosmos meeting chaos. It’s a reality that is happening now just as it was at his birth years ago.

And so each Advent, we wait, expect, and prepare to experience anew and again the hope, peace, love, joy, expectation, grace, mercy, and glory, glory, Alleluia of Jesus. And we pray we are changed.

The prophet Isaiah prophesies in chapter 9, verses 2-3 the very thing we celebrate today, years after the birth of the Light of the World:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when the divide the spoil.

As people who have once walked in darkness but have now seen the light, may we experience His glory this Advent season–the glory of glories that can only be of the Son from the Father, full of beauty and grace and truth, the great Light that alone increases our joy and celebration.

gratitude in all manner of thing.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Melody Beattie

A lot of good comes out of being thankful.

Meditating on all the good things you have going for you–from the simple pleasures like a warm cup of coffee to the necessities, like a house or a comfy bed–gives you more than just warm, fuzzy feelings. It gives you perspective.

When I take a survey of my life and look at it through a critical lens, as I am prone to do, I see all the things that have gone wrong, all the things that could go wrong, and subsequently all the ways things could be better. When I compare what I have now to what I used to have or what I could have, I am left sad and disappointed. But if I look at my life through the lens of gratitude, the scenery changes.

Gratitude turns everything you have into everything you’ve ever wanted. Gratitude makes enough more than enough. True gratitude changes your perspective. Reality stays the same, but you do not.

Every year, I tell myself I’m going to be more grateful, that I’m going to live a life of gratitude. And I inevitably fail every time and grow bitter. Why is it so hard?

Because I confuse gratitude with pretending everything is a-okay, and that only leaves me bitter.

I would find gratitude more accessible if I realized that a life of gratitude acknowledges the messy, sad, yucky parts of life. A grateful person experiences and deals with pain and suffering. True gratitude leaves room for mourning and grief, for honesty and hurt, for disappointment and dirge.

In our haste to be grateful and optimistic, we forget that we need to make room for sadness and pain. The world is a beautiful place full of beautiful blessings, but it is also a place of pain, sickness, and loss. Gratitude is an artful, honest way of living that acknowledges the good with the bad and expresses honest appreciation, acceptance, and graciousness about the present reality. Perhaps the reason I’ve become so bitter in my attempts to be grateful is that I thought I needed to sweep the bad under the rug in order to be grateful when it’s really about living and appreciating the balance between both.

Gratitude isn’t acknowledging that life could be worse or be better. It’s acknowledging life as it is now–present tense–and being grateful for it.

It’s not as simple as saying, “Well, at least we’re not broke,” or “It could be worse.” Is it really gratitude when I’m only thankful for what my life isn’t rather than for what my life is? True, it is a step in the right direction to look at my backyard and think, “Well, it’s small, but at least I have a backyard!”

Yes, I could be backyard-less, which would be worse. But for gratitude to really change my perspective, I need to look for all the things I really love about my backyard as it is, not just appreciate that it’s not any smaller than it is.

Gratitude starts to shake loose the bitterness when I go sit outside in my backyard and meditate on all the beautiful things it brings me. Suddenly, my small backyard–full of fallen leaves and dead grass and neglected plants–has more than enough room. It’s not merely “bigger than some, smaller than others.” It’s mine, and it is full of potential.

When I express my reality in terms of how it could be worse, I’m not appreciating what it actually is. It also opens the door to dwelling on how reality could be better, too. The moment I witness the way pain affects my dad’s day to day life, and I say, “It could be worse,” is the moment I can turn it around and say, “But hey! It could be a lot better, too, damn it!”

I’m left with my reality and the two things it could be instead and no thankfulness for what it actually is. I grow bitter; on the one hand, I can’t be disappointed or hurt about my reality because other people have it worse. But I can’t be thankful because other people have it better than I do.

What if I learn to look at my reality and express gratitude for exactly what it is? What if I hushed the internal voices that whisper, Things could be worse, or Things could be better and just shouted, Things merely are, and thank God there are slivers of good and bad all in the mix!

Gratitude says: It could be worse, yes. It could be better, yes. But it is what it is, and even so, it is well. All is well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well (words written by Julian of Norwich, whose words have spoken to my soul as of late).

True gratitude expresses a thankfulness for the present reality. It looks not into the realities of others to compare or contrast hardship, happiness, or hurt. It looks not into the manners in which reality might improve or devolve. True gratitude looks at what is and says, It is well with my soul. It does not say what life could or could not be. Gratitude sees what is, and then says, My soul doth magnify the Lord.

So here is my Gratitude List.

Daddy is sick and in constant, crippling pain. He is here, alive, and I laughed and joked with him this morning.
Mommy struggles and is in pain in all ways pain is possible. She is alive, and last night, we cuddled up and watched “As Good as It Gets.”
Food is good, and I have more than I need.
My family loves one another.
My brother makes me laugh, and he is so, so smart and responsible and kind.
Azula is crazy and hard to handle, and she is adorable and cute, and she cheers me up.
Nick and I have a lovely home full of so much potential for personality and color and warmth.
I have friends who love me for who I am. They know me inside and out, and they still stick around.
I put words on a page today, even though the well felt dry.
For all the stupidity and ignorance in this world, there are enough truth-speakers and lovers to cover it all, and I am blessed to know personally some of these truth-speakers and lovers.
For all the darkness in the world, we have our lights and our cities on hills and the True Light to illuminate the truth and guide us.
Jesus became man. He knows of gratitude, of loss, of pain, of death.
Today, I woke up and was able to walk into the kitchen, take a shower, eat good food.
Tomorrow, God-willing, I will do the same.
Homemade margaritas. No, really–they belong on my Gratitude List, for sure.
Endless cups of coffee with cream coupled with laughter and good, real conversation.
A job that feeds my soul rather than takes from it.
Holidays with my family that loves me for who I am and all that comes along with it.
Christmas lights, Christmas trees, carols and hymns of Advent, joy, merriness and brightness, love, generosity, and the expectation of Advent. Oh, what it does to my soul. I am like a child again.

Holidays are not always easy for my family, and there is a part of me that is still mourning the changes that have occurred in my family over the past several years. It is from that experience that I have discovered that gratitude truly means for me. It would be easy for me to be bitter, to look at the families around me that seem to have picture perfect holiday celebrations, or to look back into my past and see how holidays seemed so much better growing up. But that line of thinking doesn’t help me grieve what I’ve lost or appreciate what I have. There are brief moments of reconciliation and redemption, of light and peace. Between the moments that are painful and emotionally charged, there are light moments of pure joy and love and good conversation that shine and sparkle against the dark of the heavy, hard moments.

I live in both present realities–the good and the bad, the pain-staking and the comforting, the heavy and the light, the shining and the dark. So I acknowledge both. I express gratitude for both.

Even so, it is well with my soul, which doth magnify the Lord.