Monday, April 24, 2017

Being Myself

I have this little game I play. I collect loose change that I find on countertops, dressers, in pants pockets, on the floor when it fell out of said pockets. When I reach $2.41, I take a little trip to Starbucks and purchase my favorite food item there: dark chocolate graham crackers. The milk chocolate version will do in a pinch, but I've been known to walk away without purchasing any, rather than settle.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I was having difficulty allowing myself this purchase. As I sat with this for the day, I came to the conclusion that the struggle was deeper than whether I should indulge myself this small purchase. I was having trouble justifying ANY purchases. The thought of buying groceries paralyzed me, but knowing I needed to assess my wardrobe (since spring began here WAY WAY WAY too early) in order to make some needed additions was debilitating.

This was not a new recognition for me. For as long as I can remember, I've made an effort not to be a burden to anyone. I don't know if I was influenced by the frugal, conservative culture of the Midwest or if I overheard a conversation that created a misperception about the amount of money my family had (we were solidly middle class and I never had a financial crisis of any kind). Whatever the reason, I internalized very early that it was bad to have needs or desires. So I tried very hard not to ask for things.

I'm not good at being good to myself. What other women have no problem doing--buying a new outfit, getting a mani pedi, going out for lunch, or picking up the latest book by their favorite author--I have never been able to do without justifying it first. As a result, it has just become easier not to, rather than to go through the analysis.

In the end, I usually don't think I'm worth what it costs.

I want to backpedal from that last sentence and explain that I don't struggle with self-esteem issues. I think my words betray something else, though. Lately, I am more aware that I am not as self-confident as I used to be. I'm more fragile than I'd like to admit. Those who are fragile are burdens.

When this has surfaced before, I've denied it was even a struggle, spinning it instead as a badge of honor even as I secretly judged as frivolous those who could spend freely. Other times, though, I wished I could be as carefree, mindless.

I don't know how to get to the root of my issue. It seems so multi-faceted, so complicated. When I've talked about it with friends, they tell me I'm overthinking it and that the solution is to begin practicing a new way of thinking by spending. My husband has told me that all of the earnings from my most recent freelance project are available for me to spend however I want. The very thought strikes fear in my heart. I have bought things before and had buyer's remorse. I'm afraid of making more mistakes, even though undoing them is as simple as returning the purchases. I don't know what I'm even looking for, since I don't have a good sense of style or what would be good foundational pieces to have in my closet. Ack! Deliver me!

That day when I didn't think I could, I bought the graham crackers. They were a quiet declaration of war--my way of saying NO to the lies I've believed, even though I couldn't name them all in the moment. I am going to get to the bottom of this dysfunction, and I am going to be free.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How to Associate

A few weeks ago, I began volunteering with a local food pantry. I wanted to put myself in a place where I could rub shoulders with people who live in my town that I wouldn't normally run into or have occasion to meet.

Two weeks ago, one of the other volunteers wondered aloud how the pantry's upcoming relocation to another part of town would impact those who live in the tent city.

Excuse me? There's a tent city in my town?

When I asked where it was, she casually mentioned that a group of people live in the woods behind the Walmart on Marketplace Blvd, just a mile from the pantry.

My town does not have a homeless shelter. From what I can gather from some online research, efforts to bring one to the city have been the work of a coalition of churches, not the county.

They have not, as yet, been successful.

Now that I know about these people, I can't pretend I don't know they're there. When it rained buckets in the wee hours of the morning earlier this week, I thought about them. As night fell yesterday and I knew the temperature would drop to 25 degrees for the first time since January, I thought of them.

My problem? I don't know how to engage them or help them. I don't want to throw money or a meal or a blanket at them in order to ease my discomfort.

As I wrestle with this, it is Lent. I didn't grow up giving up something or having ashes placed on my head to remind me of my humanity. I decided that I would participate this year. Today, part of The Lent Project experience involved reading Scripture and listening to a song.

From Romans 12:16:
Live in harmony with one another. 
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. 
Never be wise in your own sight.

And from Humble by Audrey Assad, Jesus' example was on display.:
Not too proud to dwell with us, to live in us, to die for us

God didn't pretend not to know about the situation humanity was in. He began making a plan--as soon as our circumstances separated us from Him--to come for us, to dwell with us, to associate with us. To die for us. 

God's inviting me to follow His example. Can I set aside my discomfort, my desire to have all the details worked out ahead of time, and just seek a way to enter into their world?  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hidden or Hiding?

Original book
I saw Hidden Figures this past weekend and sat enthralled by the adversities and achievements of Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson, three African American women who, among many others like them, contributed to NASA's space program in the early 60s. As I marveled at their perseverance during a period of well-documented social injustices, several thoughts crossed my mind:

Too bad it took 50 years for their stories to be told to acclaim and accolades.

Too bad it took years working in a system with incredibly smart people before they could be seen as intellectual equals.

Too bad people are still referring to people by the color of their skin or by their ethnicity instead of seeing them for their character.

It's easy to believe, from what I read, that our country seems to be repeating history even as we celebrate its heroines. Saturday I read about four young men in Rocky Mount, NC, and wondered again what I am supposed to do about what continues to happen in my country.

I thought about what I should do, how I could get involved, for most of 2016. I have been influenced by thought leaders I read online, yet I wonder if I am responding emotionally or intellectually to what I can no longer pretend I don't see.

Do I want to align myself with those thought leaders or walk with those who are hidden? It's hard to know.

Having just admitted that, I want to exonerate myself from the guilt of inaction I feel by sharing with you the different opportunities that are presenting themselves and those that I'm investigating. Still, my privilege feels like a shield I'm hiding behind because I know getting involved will get messy. I don't like messes.

Just because I don't like mess doesn't mean our country isn't one, and doing nothing won't change anything. I am going to do something this year. There are people like Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary worth knowing, and I don't want to hear about their lives 50 years from now through some story on the silver screen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Writing with Four Legs: Wonder upon Wonder

Author's Note: Dakota, my 3.5-year-old yellow lab, is guest blogging today. She was a 2014 April Fool's joke that quickly turned into a foster situation. Her peaceful, honey-colored eyes and sweet, quiet temperament ultimately won us over and she became a permanent member of the family.

Occasionally she has things to share. Here are her thoughts...from under the Blue Table.

Today is Bob’s birthday. I’m excited because I’m guaranteed there’ll be wrapping paper on the floor at some point during the day. Michael and Sarah are home and they’ll be available for petting and playing. Jenn will cook, so there’ll be tasty spills on the floor for me too. I'm excited about "wonder upon wonder" just like it’s written in Isaiah 29:14. 

I hear Jenn say “praise upon praise” sometimes. I’ve heard “blessing upon blessing” said once or twice before too. "Wonder upon wonder" is my favorite. It describes my life.

Most days, Jenn throws the ball for me. Each and every time, that fuzzy, green ball flies across the sky and then tries to hide from me. It dives into the leaves or under a bush. Sometimes it even goes over a fence or bounces off a big tree. Once it hit a car. Over and over it flies. Over and over I chase. 

Wonder upon wonder.

Jenn and Bob give me mysterious presents all the time. It’s one of my favorite things about them. There’s something about a present that’s magical, yet mysterious at the same time. There’s this wonderful mystery about what’s inside.

I take my present and shake it.
Toss it up. 
Squeeze it. 
Bite it. 
Carry it around the house. 

It’s all part of the wonder.  

And then, when I can’t stand not knowing what’s inside, I joyfully rip open my wonderful present. My joyfulness is so great that Jenn and Bob often confuse it with destruction. Joy is powerful that way. Wonder upon wonder. 

I see people doing a lot of goofy things this time of year that look more like "stress upon stress" or "cat upon cat." I want to teach you a new trick. Fill your holidays with wonder upon wonder instead. Start with just one, like a ball.  I’ve learned that, most of the time, every wonder quickly leads to another wonder. You may have to sit first and possibly even lay down, but wonders will come. Although bones may show up a week or two apart, some of the best wonders will appear from someone who loves you and has a ball chucker in their hand. 

If you will hunt for them, you will find them. Wonder upon wonder.
Merry Christmas from by the tree (instead of under the table),


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Let there be Light

Sunrise at Browns Bridge Church.
It begins before I'm actually coherent--an awareness of a new beginning, the slow dawn of comprehension.

Here we go again.

I lean hard into bliss, trying to retain my hold on the fleeting moment of innocence--when I was ignorant to the light. But placing my head under my pillow or turning my back to the window only delays, but does not deter, the inevitable.

I have to face what I would like to pretend doesn't exist.

I could hang blackout curtains but I don't.

In my first house, I had blinds, vinyl shades I'd pull down to deter the light's gentle, yet persistent advance against the night. But the light did what light always does--it invaded the darkness, streamed in around the edges, and made its presence known, undeniable.

Light can only be what it is, and all it represents is a choice. It or darkness.

Some feel our country has seen the light; others believe we are entering a time of unprecedented darkness. And it's Christmastime, supposedly a season to celebrate the coming of the Light. Instead, friends experience heartache and pain, and strangers in Aleppo, Mosul, brothels, and forgotten neighborhoods are trapped by darkness that seems to be looming large.

I open my Book to the words of Isaiah, seeking enlightenment, and I'm blinded by the declaration of the ancient prophet:

"The people living in darkness have seen a great light; 
on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned." 

He speaks as though it has already happened. The people were living in darkness. The perpetual shadow of death had cast its gloom over them. Then a great light dawned, and they saw it.

But the advent of this prophesied Light hadn't already occurred when Isaiah spoke about it. In fact, the people he referred to continued to live and die in darkness. God was silent for 400 years. 

Four hundred years.
Then, when the fullness of time had come, Zechariah, another holy man, echoed Isaiah's words about the Light Incarnate:

"...the Rising Sun 
will come to us from heaven 
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

And the Rising Sun came, just a few months later. The Light Incarnate was Jesus and He burst forth into a dark, cold night. His life was the Light that showed mankind the way out of darkness and ushered in the reality of everlasting peace. He offered all a simple choice: Light instead of darkness. Life instead of death.


Once we've been awakened, once the Light has dawned, it's almost impossible to return to sleep. The light doesn't care if we're not ready to begin another time around the circle. It is immune to our frustration, our desire to believe it hasn't arrived.

Dawn breaks anyway, and we are forced to deal with it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Influence: The Power of Showing Up

On Monday, I wrote the following for QPlace about Showing Up. I'd like to share it with you here today.

Influence. It’s something everyone wants, right? But how someone become a person of influence? According to Reggie Joiner, influence comes when you decide to become “a consistent presence in someone else’s life so that you can earn their trust.” He’d contend it all boils down to showing up.
If you’d ask him how he developed his view on this subject, he’d tell you he learned it from Geneva Bray.
Influence begins with empathy
Geneva Bray was born in 1893. She grew up in rural Georgia and lived most of her life without indoor plumbing.  She never drove, and her dad withdrew her from college because his brother convinced him that he was wasting his money educating a woman. She taught Sunday school in a small Methodist church.
One day, a nine-year-old girl was brought to the Bray family farm. She was the adopted daughter of Geneva’s brother, Herschel, the attending physician at the little girl’s birth to an unwed mother who couldn’t keep her. Herschel had committed suicide the year before, and his wife had also ended her life, leaving their little girl orphaned. A family meeting had been called because the county wanted to know if anyone would take her, even though she wasn’t a blood relative.
No one would. Except Geneva.
It’s Never Too Late
She was 54 when she took Dee Anne into her home. She had no idea when she added on a bedroom to her house, cooked for her, took her to church, made sure she did her homework, screened the boys who wanted to date her, funded her college and her wedding that her decision to show up would have a “ripple effect on the faith of a generation.”
How did Geneva Bray become someone with that level of influence?
Dee Anne was Reggie Joiner’s mother.

And who is Reggie Joiner? Reggie Joiner was the founding executive director of family ministry at North Point Community Church, the largest church in the United States. Reggie now heads up the reThink Group, an organization he founded to create curriculum that helps churches partner with families to cultivate the faith of the next generation.
Is showing up worth it?--does this pull the punch?
Although Geneva lived to be 98, she never knew the enormous impact of her decision. But it didn’t matter to her. She just knew that Dee Anne needed her.
Reggie shared his Aunt Nene’s story recently in a message series at North Point called “Helping the Next Gen Win.” He said, “When you show up, you don’t always know what’s going to happen. You can’t always see the future. But you find out that it’s worth it.”
What kind of influence do you want to have on the next generation, on your family, on your neighbors, your community, your nation? It all begins when you commit to show up.

You can hear Reggie’s complete message about the power of influence, entitled Show Up, at

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How to Know What to Do

Yesterday, Ann Voskamp shared a conversation she had with her husband while he was driving the combine, harvesting soybeans. While he manhandled the combine's steering wheel, she told him about her struggle to know how to respond to the enormous humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

I leaned in and listened closely. When she asked, ”How do you know how to best invest your life? How do you know what’s wisest, and where’s wisest, and who’s neediest, and is any of this even the point?” she took the words I’ve been wrestling with for weeks now right out of my mouth. There they were, on the proverbial table, for deliberation.

I was so relieved to know someone else was struggling too. It's been a few weeks now since we were all holding our collective breath, wondering what kind of havoc Hurricane Matthew was going to wreak on the island. What happened in Haiti is old news to most people, especially compared to the blaring, relentless reality show that is the presidential election.

Like Ann, I feel the need to do something to help the people of Haiti. The question that keeps me from making a donation or applying to go on a work team is simple--

“Is that really what You want me to do?”

--yet so big that it seems risky to answer impulsively, without really weighing the options.

The reality is that, while I wait until I’m sure His answer is “YES!”, I’m secretly hoping He won’t really make me do something that would cost me that much--
that much time,
that much of my comfort,
that much money,
that much risk.

But Ann pointed out that, while she and I are dithering, people are dying. Her husband said, “Sometimes if you wait until you really know what you are doing — means you don’t really know God and what He can do.”

You may not be wrestling with your response to the people of Haiti, but perhaps you’re wrestling with what “something, anything” you could do for the people in your neighbors, for your city, for the good of humanity, if you could just get past yourself. You know people are dying, yet what you have to offer seems so insignificant. But it’s not, because

people are dying.
...and in Haiti.

And, as Ann so eloquently, but pointedly, put it, “Being with Christ as He goes to the lost and the least is always doing the right thing.

For me, this is not just about Haiti. This is about how I do life in my world, my neighborhood. I no longer want to be content with inaction because I’m more interested in protecting myself, my time, my resources, my energy. I want to live like I believe that “something” and “anything” is better than nothing. Because

People are dying.

What question are you wrestling with that's keeping you from doing "something, anything"?