Monthly Archives: October 2010

Prophet and Poet, Part III

I’m still musing on parts one and two of this series — and apparently some of you are too — so I thought I’d go ahead and write a part III.

Let’s talk about calling.

First, there are those of us who feel as though a calling or callings have been revealed to us and we are fighting against the direction God is asking us to go. We’re either doubting him or doubting ourselves (or both) and we’re dragging our feet because we just can’t reconcile the demands of the process with our own resources. This is the case with the story I shared about Kathleen Norris in Part I. She was confessing a real dissonance with what God was revealing in her life and the implications of this revelation.

I feel like a lot of us can relate to that. The “calling” is typically far less sexy than we’d like it to be, far less pre-packaged than we were hoping or expecting. Often the calling is about God’s larger values for our life: having courage, exploring mysteries, choosing healing, contributing uniquely.

Right now, I’m “called” to be a mother. There are days when I resist this call, days when I don’t submit to it. And I’m left desolate as a result. Instead of asking God to give me the resources I need to walk into each moment of my day, I buck. And it turns out badly for everyone.

As one reader said (this is a paraphrase), sometimes (maybe even most often) the call is about accepting where God has you right now — as he was trying to get the prophets to do — and facing the moments of your current day with courage.

Some of us are chasing after this revered and mystical sunset that keeps us from having to actually live presently in our lives. The calling is so woo-ing but so elusive that we are ever-chasing after something that may or may not truly exist. We can tend to neglect our spiritual and emotional health because we are “wearing out our shoes.”

The call is always, live today to the fullest, loving and healing and becoming. Often, this process happens in a strange and mysterious unfolding. And less in a lightening bolt from the sky.

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Prophet and Poet, Part II

I keep thinking about my post from Monday, so I thought I’d listen to the resonance and provide a second installment of the post, perhaps more personal this time.

Maybe this is me commenting on my own post. Hmmmmm . . . that’s interesting.

I confess to being a shoe wearer-outer (Jeremiah 2:25). I spend a lot of sideways energy emotionally scampering, ducking, dodging, jetting, dragging . . . all of which is exhausting. I wear out my soul’s soles on a regular basis, trying to out maneuver my self-doubt.

I so relate to Norris, and her fear of truly embracing her calling because of what it might require of her. I have spent quite a few months (probably more than I’d like to admit) in fits and starts over becoming and being an author, having to confront one perceived inadequacy after another.

Right now, I’m thinking back to my post about Twitter last week and how this process of writing and authoring really does force me to have to confront my deepest demons. In that way, I know the calling is from God. It’s about more than producing a commercial product. It’s about my own personal transformation.

What was true for the prophets and what was true for Norris and what is true for me today is that God beckons me into something bigger than myself because that is the place where I will experience the beautiful (and scare-the-crap-out-of-you scary) confluence of my need and his great love.

This is the exact spot where we actually have something worthwhile to share with the world. Not our shining competence. But our authentic formation.

May I learn to be still.

Are you scampering or still today? How did you get to where you are?

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Prophet and Poet

Last night, I read a beautiful chapter from Kathleen Norris’ (poet turned memoirist) The Cloister Walk, a memoir of her time in residence at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota, living thoroughly within the monastic tradition.

In the piece I was reading, Norris had been listening to a reading of the book of Jeremiah (lectio continua), and she was beginning to feel a bit of kinship with Jeremiah: the calling of a prophet much like the calling of a poet.

For years, Norris felt condemned by her “otherness” or strangeness as the calling of poet stirred within her. Jeremiah, too, laments how he is missed and misunderstood by his contemporaries. God even tells Jeremiah, “You shall speak to them and they will not listen; you shall call and they shall not answer (7:27).

Ever feel that way? Norris sure did. She was feeling insecure and out of place in her calling, even a bit condemned for her lack of credentials and audacity to think herself an artist.

But throughout this chapter, she begins to come to terms with her call–with the help of Jeremiah—realizing that others have also labored over their calling and distrusted it and scorned it. Like the prophets did, lamenting as they went. And yet, she could begin to see that perhaps the role of the poet wasn’t that much different than the role of prophet.

She writes, “A prophets task is to reveal the fault lines hidden beneath the comfortable surface of the worlds we invent for ourselves, the national myths as well as the little lies and delusions of control and security that get us through the day. . . . As the carrier of hope through disastrous times, prophets are a necessary other. And we reject them because they make us look at the way things really are; they don’t allow us to deny our pain” (34, 45).

How many of us struggle with what we’ve been called to do? Whether it’s motherhood or writing or pastoring or teaching or ?????, our calling can produce as much angst as anything. Why did God think I could do this?

I truly loved Norris’ quoting of Jeremiah 2:25, “Stop wearing out your shoes.”

Are you running from God’s voice today? Wearing out your shoes trying to get away from his work in your life?

Perhaps we could all benefit from stopping. Breathing. Embracing the given call even with all its incongruence and questions.

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A Blog, a Video, a Column

In addition to my own blog, I guest blog for a couple of military support sites that provide amazing resources for military families and spouses. I always like to provide a link when one of my piece’s posts because I want you to know sites like these exist in case you have a military spouse in your life that needs some support and encouragement. This month, my post is about hope and peace even in the midst of chaotic circumstances, drawing on one of my last nights in Bahrain. Enjoy: http://www.wivesoffaith.org/calm-in-the-chaos

A couple of months ago, I posted a video clip of me talking about “The Woman at the Mosque,” a story I first told in Found Art. That piece came from a longer interview with Craig Spinks of recycleyourfaith.com. Craig mined some other points from that interview and put together a second video, “Bring Me Your Questions.” I like the video because it just reminds me that it is OK to approach my faith as a process and to give myself grace as I live in the gray fray of believing. Enjoy: http://www.recycleyourfaith.com/2010/10/18/bring-me-your-questions/

At my church on Sunday, one of our pastors, Andy, talked about evangelism. A word that causes cringes worldwide. He did a masterful job. Perhaps this video might be a way you could reach out to someone who has dismissed Christianity as a black and white proposition. Perhaps this could create some dialogue.

Lastly, I was at a writing conference last month, and I started talking with a woman who writes a column for a local paper here in San Diego. We realized that we had something in common: her son is at the Naval Academy presently and my husband is a 1996 Naval Academy grad. We talked a bit about Steve’s job, and then she asked me if she could do a column about me in her paper. I agreed, and then was really moved when I read the article today. Thank you, Suzy, for such an encouraging tribute. Enjoy: http://www.nctimes.com/news/opinion/columnists/ryan/article_8475ca89-52ee-5568-aa69-57cc786ac727.html

All three of these posted today, so I just wanted to share. Pass along to someone who might need to hear one of these messages.

Love upon love.

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Tweeter-Tottering OR How Twitter Is Healing Me

I began tweeting this week. On Tuesday, to be exact. After months and months of tweeter-tottering, I jumped into the madness.

For too long, I’ve been methodically rehearsing all the reasons why Twitter just isn’t something I can commit to, isn’t something I can sustain, and isn’t something I can be good at. Like a toxic loop.

At first, I thought my Twitter-woe was just good, healthy boundaries. But through a series of events, I began to see that my growing aversion to Twitter was about something much deeper.

So what changed?

First, I went to a writing conference and found myself getting angry at Twitter. And especially getting angry at all those writers who have the luxury of time to spend 6 hours a day on it. How dare they. And how dare Twitter. (Anger, as we all know, is a secondary emotion, so this was my first clue something was up.)

Second, I had a conversation with a woman I really respect and she (without really realizing it) caused me to see that I spend a lot of time regretting how little time I have. Get the irony there? Perhaps that emotional energy could be better spent actually using the time I do have to move forward and get something done. (Hmmm, indecision and paralysis have nothing to do with Twitter, either.)

Third, I had another conversation with another woman I really respect, and she assured me that the whole Twitter business wasn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. So you’re saying I could be on Twitter without becoming one of those full-fledged Twitter Whores? In other words, the 6 hours-or-nothing construct might not be a helpful or accurate way of thinking about things. (Well, well, well . . . if it isn’t my good friend polar extremes that keep me from having to live in the difficult fray of taking each day as it comes.)

Later that night, I started thinking about my real problems with Twitter. And I realized, my real problem is with me. At the heart, I saw Twitter as another thing I was failing at before I even started. Twitter, like so many things in life, was reserved for those people – the better people – who are culturally savvy, tech savvy, clever, and pretty.

And all of a sudden, I realized I had given all this power to Twitter, and the only way to take it back was to actually face the deeper conversation that was going on inside my head. The toxic one. The shame-based one.

“Hiding shame even from ourselves will keep us from becoming healthy. We will continue to reject ourselves and others until we deal with our humanness. We must be willing to accept ourselves each day, and not be discouraged if we fall short of our ideals” (taken from Emotions Anonymous materials).

I was hiding my shame behind the thin Twitter-veil.

Dealing with toxic shame requires that we accept the fact that we are no more than human and no less than human. We are not super-human. And, we are not sub-human.

So, some days, as just a human (no more and no less), I will be amazingly twitter-ific. And other days, I will need to focus on other things. All of this is OK. Because, after all, I’m just a human.

Twitter doesn’t own my soul.

Twitter does not affirm or deny my worth.

Twitter is not about succeeding or failing. To put it in those terms is just a manifestation of shame.

I am loved . . . whether I Tweet or not.

I do not need to feed this Twitter-phobia. It’s not the real issue anyway.

So I started Tweeting. And, I feel good. Triumphant over the darkness.

On the cover of Relevant Magazine this month, there’s a tease – “Is Facebook Killing Your Soul? — for an article by Shane Hipps inside. The article is fascinating, a good read. My follow-on question, the one I am posing to myself as well: “Are You Allowing Facebook/Twitter to Kill Your Soul?”

I let Twitter kill my soul before I ever even picked out my handle. That’s my own issue. Not Twitter’s. I’m coming to terms with that.

Other things I’m coming to terms with . . .

Perhaps Twitter might be a wise move for me as an author who wants to increase her readership.

Perhaps Twitter might be fun.

Perhaps leaning into my areas of shame and fear might actually be healing instead of soul-sucking.

Perhaps, in a really strange way, Twitter is a way for me to practice my humanity. No more. No less.

Ever done this? Ever given something way more power over you than it deserves?

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Remarkable Donald Miller

Two days ago, I got an email in my inbox from Donald Miller. You know, an email newsletter sort of thing from his people. Sometimes I read them. Sometimes I don’t. For some reason, I read this one, and it kind of blew me away.

If you’ve read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, you know that Don was working with some filmmakers to turn Blue Like Jazz into a film. Along the way, Don got better acquainted with the elements of a really compelling story and realized his life didn’t actually contain the points necessary to carry a great plot. So, he went about writing a better story with his life, and then he wrote a book about the whole process. Smart and good. I’ve read the book twice now, and it is an inspirational awakening that sort of stays with you.

Along the way, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years releases and kicks butt, but the movie of Blue Like Jazz keeps stalling due to lack of funds. So on September 16 (here comes the news I read in the email newsletter I received), Don posted on his blog that the movie was dead. After four years of trying to raise the money, the movie wasn’t going to happen after all. Even though they had a great cast and a compelling script.

HOWEVER, the story doesn’t end there. Two fans from Nashville got this news, and decided that they were going to find a way to raise the money so the show could go on. And, as of this week, they’ve done it. They raised something like $150,000 in a matter of days! They just put out a plea and people all over the world responded. Most of them with just a dollar here and a dollar there.

Here’s an excerpt from Don himself on the subject . . .

It’s Saturday (I’ll post this on Monday morning) and football is on television and I’m sitting at my computer, reading pages from the four-year old screenplay that we’ve edited and gone over a thousand times, laughing at scenes and wiping tears away at others, and while I think our screenplay is great, I have to confess it’s not as great as the story you are currently telling about raising money for the film. You are living proof that the telling of the story is even more fun than the story itself, that it’s better to produce than consume.

Wow. I just wanted to pass this story-about-a-story along . . . and ask a couple of questions for the sake of dialogue because I feel like this is somewhat of a phenomenon.

What is it about Donald Miller that would compel people to give money from their pockets (in these economic times) in order to see a film made (not orphans saved or animals rescued or houses built)?

What is it about Miller’s writing that we love? What it is about him that we feel connected to?

Oh, and if you’d like to join the movement and donate to the cause, you can go to www.savebluelikejazz.com.

I can’t imagine how overwhelmed Don must be feeling today, like the whole struggle mattered, and that is was worth it. I’ll take that with me into my day.

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Longing

On Sunday, my pastor spoke on Ephesians 2:11-22, a beautiful passage about belonging. I think we can all relate to that feeling of outsider-ness, and that deep desire to belong to something, to be included, and known, to have a place.

I’m not sure exactly what you’re longing for today, what group you’re longing to belong to. The “married” group. The “with children” group. The “with more children” group. The “home owner” group. The “following your dreams” group. The “out of debt” group. The “amazing wardrobe” group. The “clear skin” group. The “super cool” group. The “stable job” group. The “non-sucky” group. The “better body” group. The “super achiever” group. The “good cook” group. The “remarkable Christian” group. The “sell a few more books” group. (These are all hypotheticals, of course).

What I realized as I sat in church on Sunday—and it hit me all at once and out of nowhere—is that the answer to everything I long for, at the core, is simply and ultimately Christ. The root of all my longings leads to him. I love this and hate this at the same time.

I love it because it is simple. These deep longings I feel—for freedom and love and hope and space and success and meaning—are ultimately found and completed in him. He is really the only answer. I hate it because I want more tangible solutions that I can control and contrive (if I’m honest). I don’t want to have to wade through the mystery that is Christ.

I recently came across this Lewis quote that I’m trying to chew on and reconcile: “It was when I was happiest that I longed most. . . . The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing. . . . to find the place where all the beauty came from” (Till We Have Faces).

Hmmmmmm . . . what does that mean? I think it means that we long to better understand the source of all beauty, we long to belong to that source, to be deeply connected to it. The longing is sweet, because ultimately, it points us to God.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

We are no longer wandering in exile. We are connected to a deep belonging. And yet, we miss it so much, don’t we? What if we could reframe longing into something beautiful instead of something beguiling?

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Spiritual Writing

IMG_3648I’ve been on-again-off-again reading this great book on writing called, A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art. It’s a compilation of faith-based writers from across the genres, each taking a particular theme and sharing his or her insights and expertise. I appreciate the way you can pick it up and put it down, and I also really enjoy all the different voices of experience and wisdom.

Reading about other writers’ processes is one of my loves. I am always interested in hearing how other people are inspired, how they approach the craft, how their pieces begin and develop, and what gets them through the blocks and self-doubt.

I just read an essay by Richard Foster, and it has been one of my favorites in the collection so far. His piece is titled, “Made Visible and Plain: On Spiritual Writing.”

I was inspired by the following:

“Spiritual writing is formational. Always. It is meant to get inside us, to deal with the whole person—body and mind and will and spirit and heart and soul. It is good if our readers come away knowing more; it is imperative that they come away being more. Knowing truth is good; becoming truth is better.”

“It pains me to say this, but most writing today—even if it is on spiritual themes—is not spiritual writing. It is not spiritual writing because it does not drill down deep into life.”

Foster goes on to recommend reading Augustine, Teresa of Avila, C.S. Lewis, and Kathleen Norris (I hope to start Cloister Walk sometime soon). What other writers have been spiritual writers to you?

For me, Anne Lamott (all of her non-fiction), Kathleen Norris (Acedia and Me), Barbara Brown Taylor (Leaving Church), Phyllis Tickle (The Shaping of a Life), Eugene Peterson, even Mary Karr comes to mind. I love reading writers who bring you through the side-door and show you truth and beauty by letting you come upon it.

What is “spiritual writing” to you? Do you think any of the new generation of Christian writers are pulling it off or is this kind of writing reserved for seasoned souls?

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