Go Ahead and Dance

A cloak of heaviness hung over my house.

There had been one thing after another after another for a few weeks now, and I felt like I couldn't keep my head above water before the riptide of my life dragged me down again. Working two jobs, trying to start my own business, attempting to flip my first house with my mother, trying to get everything in order to leave town for 2 weeks, and my 97 year old grandmother being taken to the emergency room after repeated falls left me weary and worn thin.

My boyfriend was under intense stress of his own, having quit his job to start his own business and trying to juggle a long distance relationship with me amidst the pressure of a start-up. Every time him and I felt we were seeing a break in the clouds and that we may finally may be able to move in the direction of him being able to move and us finally be in the same location after being long distance for a year, the proverbial rug would get pulled out from underneath of us. Again. We were both exhausted and drained after months of intense pressure and stress.

These stresses led to poor communication between my boyfriend and I. We simply weren't hearing each other, and our hearts were lost somewhere in the shuffle. What would typically be easy, light conversation between us felt like led. Both of us felt our needs weren't being met. Instead of gazing into each other's eyes, it felt like we were turning our backs to each other and walking away in defeat.

The weight of everything heaped upon my shoulders, I went about my day wearing a black cloak of heaviness.

My mom was cooking dinner and her pandora mix blared from her bluetooth speaker. I found myself exclaiming, "Oh! I love this song!" when Hall & Oates "You Make My Dreams" came on. The flash mob dance to this song in the movie "500 days of Summer" pierced my mind, and I suddenly began to silly dance in the middle of the kitchen. My Mom, who had been battling heaviness too, joined me. The music blared, and we danced. We danced like no one was watching, and the heaviness broke. The dark clouds rolled away and the sun began to shine through. The black cloak I had been wearing slinked to the floor.

The entire atmosphere shifted by choosing to step into joy for just a moment. Once the moment had passed God reminded me of the passage in Isaiah 61:3: "To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." It is the garment of praise that breaks the spirit of heaviness. God has created it this way- that praise should cast off the heaviness that intended to keep you bound. When life's burdens are dragging you down one of the best things you can do is put on worship music and sing praises to the God in whom there is no lack. Perhaps when you start worshipping God you won't feel like it, and you'll barely be able to mouth the words to the song while tears are streaming down your face. I encourage you to praise out of obedience to who God is, and not based on your circumstances or how you feel. Most of the time when I offer this sacrifice of

praise in the moments I don't feel like it, and I continue to press into His presence, my emotions will eventually follow my obedience, and my body will eventually follow my heart. What began as me being able to barely mouth the words to a worship song will end in me kneeling before a most Holy God, undone at His beauty, grace, and goodness, raising my hands to the One who paid it all for me.

God used this simple example in my life to remind me that the garment of praise truly breaks the spirit of heaviness. Next time the heaviness is weighing us down, let's choose to praise Him and cast it off!

The Journey

Feet on the dash, I sat in the passenger seat with the windows down and the wind blowing through my hair as my boyfriend drove us through the Adirondacks in New York on our way to his annual family vacation in Vermont. Lord Huron blared on the radio as I peered outside at the lush green surroundings. The five hour drive was largely on the back winding roads through small towns filled with local mountain stores to stock up on smores supplies and lakeside campgrounds with the smell of wood fires burning. Although it was the end of July there was a crispness in the air that to my Virginia blood felt like fall. With the family canoe strapped to the roof of the Civic, we rambled toward Vermont after stopping for beef jerky to snack on the rest of the drive.

A large, red bridge came into view and I begged my boyfriend to pull over and stop so we could enjoy the perfect blue sky and rolling stream beneath the bridge. He gladly obliged, as he had just bough a drone and saw a perfect opportunity to test it out. I laid beside the bridge, listening to the stream and watching the sparrows flitting back and forth in the sky beneath the fluffy clouds. We seemed to be the only people within miles radius. A strange emotion crept up on me and settled deep in the pit of my stomach: contentment. There was a deep abiding peace in my soul that very moment despite knowing that we were delaying our arrival at the vacation house--I was finally at peace on the journey. Contentment has never been my forte. Every personality type has it's strengths and weaknesses, and dare I say that your greatest strength is probably also something that when it is turned on its head is also your greatest weakness. I have always been someone in search of the next adventure, seeking to arrive at my destination as quickly as possible so I can cram in the maximum amount of experiences into every trip. This has many benefits, but savoring the moments like this one on the journey is not one of them.

Laying beside the bridge with my boyfriend in the silence felt like I had finally arrived right where I was supposed to be all along: being able to enjoy life on it's own terms and time table.

We will get there eventually. I'm just finally enjoying the journey.

The Undoing

The evening started out fine: dinner and drinks out with a few friends and my boyfriend at our favorite Mexican joint in upstate New York. After dinner we migrated towards a local bar to meet up with a different group of friends for a few drinks.

I'm typically quite good at pacing myself and feeling how much I've had to drink and when I need to stop. I'm way past the stage of life where I am seeking to have more than enough alcoholic beverages. That evening, though, apparently my inner radar was off, because I was fine, I was fine, and then suddenly a line was crossed and I was decidedly not fine very quickly. I vaguely remember my boyfriend's face spinning as he said to his friends that he had never seen me this way before and that he needed to take me home.

By the time we got home I was yelling that I needed to throw up. My boyfriend swarmed around me, putting a trash can in front of me and trying to get me comfortable. I told him I didn't want him to see me that way and asked that he leave the room. After I had thrown up I screamed for him and he took the trash can away. I felt better for a few seconds, and then I immediately needed to throw up again as the room spun around me and tilted on it's axis.

Guilt and shame washed over me, and hot tears began to stream down my face as my boyfriend hugged me. My crying became increasingly more intense, to the point where I could no longer speak. My boyfriend stroked my hair as I cried on his shoulder, my body heaving with my heavy sobs. This was way past the "cute cry" stage; snot was running down my face and my eyes were swollen shut. What began as a sting of shame for my boyfriend seeing me in such a vulnerable position that I was ashamed of turned into a release. I'm not quite sure when it switched from being gentle tears of shame for being drunk when I had not intended to drink too much to every thing I ever felt guilty for, and everything I felt ashamed of breaking off me.

For an hour I sobbed on my boyfriend's shoulder and allowed everything to break off me: every last bit of guilt, shame, fear, and every heavy load I have carried throughout my life. Memories from my childhood, family drug addictions, my parents divorce- every last bit of false responsibility I had carried broke off with each loud sob. There was a shift from feeling ashamed to a deep inner knowing of how unconditionally loved I am by this man of mine, and I was undone. My boyfriend embodied the love of the Father to me that night in flesh and bone beside me and fear, guilt, shame and regret cannot stand in light of that Love.

For the first time in my life I felt like I could finally let go. Experiencing this unconditional love wrapped in skin and holding me tight allowed me to shake off my weary past and finally see and feel myself as beloved. There was an urgent nature to my sobs: a shrugging off of all that entangled, a setting free. There's a mysterious nature to what broke inside me that night, but I know it was deeply spiritual, necessary, and good.

The deep mystery is I am beloved by God sins, faults, and all. And I'm beloved by this man of mine sins, faults, and all. There's nothing more life changing than that. There's nothing more freeing than that.

**please note I am not condoning drunkenness in this post in any way. I'm simply trying to praise the God who turns everything around for good, even our faults and shortcomings.**

Responding in the Opposite Spirit

My first home health appointment earlier this week was a woman only 4 years older than me that had undergone a below knee amputation, multiple toe amputations, and had already had a stroke causing hemiparesis all before the age of 40.

She stumbled to the door groggy, and ushered me in. Her breasts hung out of her low cut skinny top and she made no move to cover herself. My job that day was to do a re-assessment visit and recertify her after her most recent hospital stay. I thought to myself "OK, this is how it's gonna get done-breasts hanging out and all," and began the paperwork, unphased.

I began by asking her how she was feeling and taking her vitals. I started asking her some questions about her health history and her previously groggy and apathetic apparence snapped and her eyes cut into mine as she screamed, "I will NOT go through all that again. I won't. I've been through that a million times. I don't feel like doing that!" Her sudden shift in demeanor caught me off guard and I attempted to explain how even though she may have gone over that information with other clinicians before, I didn't have that information available to me at the time.

Before becoming a home health physical therapist where I regularly encounter individuals and situations like this my knee jerk reaction to such a situation would be to be rude in return. I felt someone's anger or frustration pointed towards me completely justified me to point it right back towards them and deal right back to them the same hand that they delt. This inevitably would lead to an escalation of anger and frustration being thrown back and forth between the two of us.

It sounds so incredibly simple, but I've learned to respond to people who are being rude to me in the opposite spirit; I've learned to respond in love. Nearly every time an amazing thing happens when I respond in love no matter how someone treats me: there's an inevitable softening, a de escalation of the situation, and the person snaps back to being their pleasant self. Responding in a like manner the situation escalates, and responding in the opposite spirit almost always has the power to change the situation for good.

I should know this. Isn't this the way of Jesus? Turn the other cheek. Forgive not seven times but seven times seventy. The teachings of Jesus are remarkably simple and incredibly difficult to live. And I'm convinced He will always give us these difficult people, these ones who are hard to love, to give us practice in the way of Jesus and allow us to become more like Him.

When we accept the invitation to love those who are difficult to love we become more like Him and allow ourselves to become His hands and feet to a hurting world.

How can we practice responding in the opposite spirit in our lives together?

The Case for Less

For a little over a year now I haven't worked a full time job. I make far less money than the days I worked 40+ hours a week, but I'm far happier and my bills still manage to get paid. On average I would say I work 25-35 hours a week, depending. Since I am not a full time employee, I don't have to beg for crumbs of vacation time. I tell my employers (most of the time with as little as a week's notice) when I am available to work, and when I'm not, I'm not. This has meant far more freedom, exploration of the world, and more time to drink in the richness of life.

The richness of my life has far made up for my lack of material riches.

I found this quote from an unknown author today that had a deep impact on me:

The American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied: "Only a little while".

The American then asked why he didn't stay out longer to catch more fish.

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

The American then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life."

The American scoffed. "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA, and eventually NYC, where you will run your expanding enterprise."

The Mexican fisherman asked, "But how long will this take?"

To which the American replied, "Fifteen to twenty years."

"But what then?"

The American laughed and said that's the best part. "When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich; you could make millions."

"Millions?" Asked the fisherman. "Then what?"

The American said, "Then you could retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evening, sip wine, and play guitar with your amigos!"

How many of us have bought into the lie of needing the American dream of excess to mark our lives as a success? How many of us, like the Mexican fisherman in the story have "the best part" right now, but we have been drug away and enticed by the American dream into believing the answer is more and we reach retirement alone, or with a broken marriage, or with failing health, only to not be able to enjoy what was there all along if we had been content with enough. How many of us work long, grueling hours at jobs we hate in order to pay the bills of all the things we really don't need and aren't even home to enjoy? Anyone who has traveled to any extent outside of the US knows that we Americans truly have poverty of soul.

Perhaps everything we need is here if only we would be content with enough instead of the American dream of excess. Perhaps we really could have it all: love, experiences, joy, relationships, if we learn to be content with what we have instead of always striving for the insatiable more that growls in our bellies, never satisfied.

What could we give up striving for in order to live in more abundant riches right now?

We are enough. We have enough.

What Your Soul Loves

During a phone conversation with my soon-to-be photographer who is doing my professional headshots for my upcoming new blog, I found myself trying to explain my vision and my style since we had never met in person. "Nature is very important to me", I find myself saying, as I stress the significance of the location of our headshots. I drop words like "free, joyful, authentic, and fully alive" for the feeling I want relayed in the photos. A lavender field in full bloom was decided upon as the optimal location for the shoot, and finding a gray flowy dress to twirl in that lavender field is my next task.

I turned the conversation to asking her if she perhaps had any photos that she would be willing to sell me to use as the header for my new blog, ideally of mountains. Photography is my oldest passion, specifically black and white photos where I can be in charge of the process from start to finish: taking the photos, loading the film in the developing tank in the sealed black bag to block all light, trying desperately to hold the film by the edges so as not to smudge your best photo with your thumb print, pouring in the developing chemicals, hanging the film to dry, making the contact sheets and having those hidden treasures finally revealed, exposing the image in the red glow of the darkroom amidst the pungent smell of developer chemicals, dodging and burning and getting the exposure just right, slipping the blank page into the developing chemicals and gently agitating the tray and watching the image slowly appear before your eyes, and finally, after all the chemical baths are through, having what you envisioned all along staring back at you in black and white, frozen forever. Not having had access to a darkroom for years I hung up my darkroom days for digital photography years ago (but never got as much joy from the craft). My digital SLR camera saw fit to break a few weeks before my around the world trip. Therefore, many of my favorite photos have been taken with the camera that was available to me at the time-my iPhone. The quality of print that I would need for my website needed to be much higher, thus the inquisition if she could help me with high quality photos of mountains (which never fail to make my soul sing).

Just returning from Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park I do have high quality photos of those mountains, I explained to my photographer, but those red rocks fail to make my soul come alive the way lush green mountains do. It's a funny thing, what your soul loves. Some people adore desert and their soul feels free amidst the red dust and turquoise sky. My soul has always felt most alive in lush green mountains with waterfalls, moody fog, moss, and damp earth. Until I explained this to her in a conversation where I was forced to express what my vision was and why I never realized the reason behind my soul gravitating towards the landscapes of the Pacific North West or the Blue Ridge Mountains instead of the red rocks of Arizona or Utah. I had always thought it was as simple as "I prefer this landscape to this one", but it was much deeper than that. Your soul knows what it loves, and it has deep reasons for it-deeper than even your conscious mind may know at times. During that conversation the deeper purpose revealed itself to me much like the latent images of my photography: green, lush mountains with damp earth screams of abundant life. The fog, the mist, the waterfalls, the green moss and leaves and creepy crawly things in the soil are bursting with earth's fullness. "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" John 7:38. The red rocks are dry dust, bones that are no longer amongst the living,

but the dead. From ashes we came and to ashes we will return. It speaks barrenness to my soul, a chewing on sand, mouth dry and unsatisfied in a weary waste land. "You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life" Genesis 3:14 was the curse God gave the serpent.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." John 10:10

The Face of Love

Love stared straight into my eyes this morning, locking it's gaze with mine, transforming me from the inside out. It didn't bring me flowers or gifts. There was no fan fare. There was no sentimentality or rush of heightened emotion to crash down from.

Love unfolded itself before me, quiet, unassuming as I helped my bed bound patient's husband change his wife's diapers. We struggled to hold her body weight up as we rolled her from side to side in her hospital bed removing the soiled linens, diapers, and soaking wet pajama bottoms. The smell of urine pierced my nostrils and was so pungent I could only breath through my mouth. I held my patient up as her husband tenderly cleaned her, returning any sharp word from her with kindness and grace. We worked silently: him wiping his wife down, me laying out supplies and helping lift her legs, roll her from side-to-side, and rubbing her back and making sure she was OK. She cowered in a ball, face to the rails of the hospital bed, allowing herself to be weak, vulnerable, messy, and cared for, just as she was. After cleaning all the linens, changing her diaper, re-dressing the patient and repositioning her in the bed we covered her again with her blankets. My patient's husband typically does this every day of his life, alone. There is no one there to applaud him for doing every act with kindness and great love. There is not a soul present to thank him for his tireless work.

This is love. Love shows up when we reek of urine and can only lie in a heap of our own helplessness. Love is quiet and goes about it's business without the slightest head nod of recognition from others. Love loves for the sake of loving, even those, especially those who have absolutely nothing to give in return. Love recognizes the God-given identity in each living soul and treats them accordingly, no matter their current feeble state.

This is the love that changes the world. This is the way of Jesus: down is up, the first is last. The path to true greatness is in serving and laying down your life. This way doesn't make sense according to the ways of this world, but if you step inside this love, you will find it's the very thing your heart was made to both give and receive.

Praise God for any and every opportunity to allow us to love more like Jesus.

Fighting Against Your True Nature

My hair is naturally curly, and has only gotten progressively more curly over the years. When I was younger, I used to take the time every time I washed my hair to straighten it. I have a LOT of hair, people- that was never a short or easy process. When I was living in Sevilla (the hottest, most humid area of Spain imaginable) there was no air conditioning anywhere and it was 90+ degrees with near 100% humidity. Getting out of the hot shower and then having to blow dry my hair straight with a hot blow dryer in that weather felt like an extremely futile effort. Because of the humidity my hair would immediately frizz and laugh at my efforts to control my curls.

There are so many areas of life where we fight against our own true nature. It could be appearance related, as I just mentioned, or it could be concerning our careers/callings. We may spend our time in a career we hate but we do it anyway because we feel like it's what is expected of us. If you asked my fourteen year old self what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you a National Geographic Photographer. This answer was pure and unadulterated by expectations, fueled only by passion and curiosity, devoid of expectations.

How many things in our life do we fight against our own true nature to please the masses, please our parents, to float pleasantly downstream along with societal expectations and not rock the boat?

My goal is to always live fully alive-true to myself, true to who God made me to be, for it is only then that I can gift that back to the world and make an impact in the way that He created me to. Contemplating our true nature and how we fight that nature in so many areas, the Lord began to highlight to me an even deeper level that we contradict our true nature-deeper than our appearance, deeper than our career, deeper than our calling.

How many of us when we yell at someone in customer service because we are having a bad day and our wait is just a little too long give the excuse, "That's just how I am, I've always had a short fuse". How many of us instead of turning our love outwards and seek to love others with the love of Christ turn it inwards only for selfish gain? How many of us gossip behind a friend's back? How many of us say something to a family member or friend in a tone that is not with love and kindness? (I'm guilty of all of the above, my friends).

Many of these things we can write off as "I'm just naturally X, Y, Z" fill in the blank-I've been that way as long as I can remember. Here's the thing: that's not how you naturally are-not if you're in Christ (have chosen to surrender your life to Him entirely), anyway. Here's the truth of the reality if you're in Christ Jesus: Galatians 2:20 reads "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." To expound on this verse, 2 Corinthians 5:17 states, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" If we are in Christ, the old man, the old nature is dead. It was crucified with Christ. Unfortunately, we keep trying to resurrect the old man instead of living out of our new man!

Life in the new man can only be lived by faith in the Son of God, by His Spirit instead of our own flesh (the old man, that is dead).

Jesus did not come to this earth to make our lives just a little bit better. He didn't come to make us better people. He came to completely transform us, from the inside out. He came to make us an entirely new creation-one completely dependent on Him and the life of the Spirit within us. The Christian life isn't just difficult-it's downright impossible without complete dependence on God and transformation by His Holy Spirit. I don't know about you, but instead of just trying to make my own life and my own plans "a little bit better" and continuing to live out of my old nature, my own flesh, and giving excuses for my old sin nature, I want to live out of my new man in radical dependence of the Father to live a completely transformed life. When we live in dependence on Him what will flow naturally is His life within us, and the fruits of the Spirit will abound: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" Galatians 5:22-23. This is our true nature if we are in Christ. Anything else is a lie; anything else is not who we truly are in Christ.

May He give us to the power by His Spirit to live a radically transformed life as the new creation that we are in Him, dead to our old nature, and refusing to resurrect it! May we quit fighting our true nature-and be as loving, kind, patient, gentle and joyful as we really are in Him.

Lordship

On the four hour drive back from Bryce Canyon National Park my best friend and I took a break from the heavy rotation of Lord Huron on the radio to listen to a sermon by Bill Johnson on Lordship (do yourself a favor and listen to it if you want your socks to be blown off way more than I'm going to do in this post. It's entitled "Kingdom Abundance 1-True Lordship" under Bethel sermons of the week podcast).

Per usual, Bill said some things that made me look at well known stories in the Bible in a different light and brought clarity and illumination to some areas of current struggle in my life. Bill referenced the story of the rich young ruler in the Bible (in the book of Matthew) that came to Jesus asking how he could obtain eternal life. Jesus went on to give him a few commands, to which he responded "I already do those" (my paraphrase). Jesus went on to tell him that there was one thing he lacked-to give all he had to the poor and come and follow Him. As we know, the rich young ruler walked away from Jesus sad because he had many possessions. He was unwilling to give it all away to follow Jesus.

Many times in our Christian walk we look for a formula to obtain eternal life or to obtain more of God. It's very easy for us to take this story of the Bible, which is good and true no doubt, and make it the formula for what God is calling ALL of us to do ALL the time. If we want to follow God we have to give all we have away to the poor. This is what it means to be a "good" Christian.

However, we see in the story of Zacchaeus a completely different requirement from Jesus. Being the chief tax collector and having been very corrupt all his life until he met Jesus, like the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus was an extremely wealthy man. Zacchaeus had an entire empire built upon dishonesty and manipulation and stealing from others, and yet Jesus did not give this same command to him. While Zacchaeus was walking with Jesus, he told Him that he was going to give half of everything he owed to the poor (recall Jesus told the rich young ruler to give ALL of it) and he goes on to say that he is going to return four times as much to everyone that he has stolen from.

There was not the same requirement for each person from Jesus. No mention was ever made of commanding Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to give all they had away to the poor despite their wealth either. The issue is not a formula, as we would probably want it to be. The issue is lordship. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you, which means all Kingdom issues are heart issues. They are all issues of lordship, the yieldedness of your heart to the One who is absolutely Lord.

Jesus says that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Mark's Gospel clarifies this point and adds to it. Mark says how hard it is for a rich man who trusts in riches to enter the Kingdom. The clarification is where the rich man's trust is. When the lordship issue is settled then the trust is in the Lord only. When your trust is in your resources, your possessions, your skill, your own intelligence then the lordship issue is not settled in your heart.

All throughout Jesus' life and ministry we see Him cut directly to the heart of the matter. We want a formula for eternal life, while He is after being Lord of our life in every area. He had different requirements of the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus because He could see into their hearts and see what area was obstructing His absolute lordship in each of their individual lives. He will not allow anything to stand in the way in your heart of your absolute surrender and yieldedness of His Lordship. He will always put his finger on that area of your heart and ask you to give that thing up to Him. Many of us, like the rich young ruler walk away sad, because we would rather trust in our own riches (whatever riches they may be) instead of trust in Jesus and His Lordship in our lives.

There are many areas of my life that I haven't understood why God hasn't given me certain things that have seemed so easy to come by for my friends. It is always about lordship. All the issues of the Kingdom are issues of the heart and issues of lordship. There is no formula, there's only absolute surrender to Jesus in all areas of your life. It's time to unclench my fist of the things I have held the most dear and yield unreservedly to my Lord, my God.

Begin

Every amazing writer I know who teaches about the craft says the same thing: no matter what, just sit down and write. Stare at a blank screen until something pours out of you and onto the page. A la Hemingway, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Most advise writing at the same time everyday, teaching your creativity to kick in and know that it has a safe and consistent place to express itself daily. In the past there would be long stretches of me not writing because, well, I didn't feel that I had anything to say. Or at least I didn't have anything good or inspired to say. I would wait until the moment of inspiration hit me, which could be as little as once a month, and then I'd write. Forcing myself to write consistently I have found not only bolsters my creativity, but it forces me to pay attention, forces me to observe the things in my daily life that I would otherwise overlook going about my day in a haze of routine, numb to the beauty that is present if we just open our eyes.

This is the cloak of perfectionism, screaming at us to not begin. Perfectionism keeps us stalled, robs us of the life we could have if we just got comfortable in the mess of it, rolled up our sleeves, and began. Perfectionism tells me that I shouldn't start writing until I have something profound to say, that I shouldn't start my own blog until I am able to write consistently amazing posts, that I shouldn't start my own business until I have built a solid platform, blah, blah, blah. I shouldn't begin until everything is perfect. We forget that the only way to get good at something is by first being very bad at something. The only way to make progress is to start slowly, meagerly, and daily build momentum. Dare I say it? Perfectionism is about protecting our own vulnerable, child-like egos (and I think it's well past time for us to grow up). Our childish ego cowers in the corner, rocking back and forth repeating to itself, "But what if I put out that crappy first draft and no one likes it? What if I try to start a business and it fails? What if I risk it and go for my dream job and land flat on my face? What if I take a leap and go for it in my relationship, only to be rejected?" If you fail, so what? Then you learn what doesn't work and you are able to perform better next time. But when all you do is hide and never begin, you never learn and you never advance. Your precious ego stays in tact, though, and you don't have to risk rejection.

There are two planes to everything in life: the horizontal and the vertical, and one always directly affects the other. Our relationship with God (the vertical) will always bleed into our relationship with the horizontal (ourselves and others). How we view God will always be how we treat ourselves and how we treat others. If your God is sitting on the throne, distant, uninvolved and judging every move you make and hitting you with thunderbolts each time you make a wrong move, you may very well be paralyzed to even begin. How much of us feeling like we need to have everything perfect, all our ducks in a row before we ever begin is related to the way we view God? I'm willing to bet it has more to do with it than we think.

On a mission trip to Costa Rica once I was talking to a man about Jesus and His insurmountable love for him. The man said he had heard about this Jesus, and tears formed in his eyes as he told me His love was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard of. When I asked the man if he would like to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and turn his life over to His care, he rejected the offer. When I asked him why, he said there were things he needed to do in his life, things he needed to tidy up and clean up before he could present himself to Jesus. I tried to explain to the

man that this was the very reason Jesus came, that he could never be "clean enough" before coming to Jesus, but he still walked away without accepting Christ.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus' morality and integrity was consistently questioned by the law-abiding, "good" citizens of the day because He chose to hang out with such unsavory people. He hung out with tax-collectors, adulterers, harlots, and generally the worst of the worst sinners. I don't see one example of them "cleaning themselves up" before coming to Him. In fact, what I see are these people being sought out by Jesus, in the midst of their mess. It's their encounter with His unconditional love that changes the course of their life. The direction of their life is radically different after encountering His radical love, mercy, and grace. I never see Jesus condemning these beloved children for coming to Him ragged and worn, but I do see Him condemning those who come to Him thinking they had "cleaned themselves up" for Him already. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For you pay the tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also." Matthew 23:23-25, emphasis mine. Coming to Jesus with all our shortcomings and failings, pouring our heart out to Him and accepting His grace allows the inside of the heart to be cleansed, which in turn cleans the outside. When we present a white-washed exterior and come to Him with our noses in the air thinking we have no need of Him, no internal cleansing can happen. And when no internal cleansing happens, the weightier matters of the law such as justice, mercy, and faith don't get extended to others. We have checked off the boxes of our doctrine, but forgotten to love our God and our neighbor. We have strained out a gnat and swallowed a whole camel.

What areas of our lives are we stalled, refusing to begin, refusing to move forward because we are insistent on being "cleaned up" enough before we do? Coming to the Lord just as we are and encountering His grace for ourselves allows the inner transformation to take place that empowers us to live out a new and different life. Instead of protecting our own egos and cowering in fear, beginning where we are allows His grace to infuse us, by His Spirit, with what we need to proceed forward. Anything else is just blind self-dependence and self-effort. We must be humble enough to show up, just as we are, to offer up what little we have, and watch as Jesus turns it into more than enough. How can we show up just as we are with both God and man right now? How can we trust Him enough to start something that's been on your heart, believing that it doesn't have to be perfect, but that His transforming grace will show up and enable you every step of the way instead of depending on your own gumption, know-how, and perfectionism? Can we trust Him enough to begin where we are, far from perfect, but trusting in His perfection for us, trusting His Spirit to provide whatever we need along the journey?

Write. Start your business. Take a sick friend a meal. Help an elderly woman with her groceries. Listen to a friends current struggles without trying to fix it. Be present. Love radically, even in the small things, right where you are. Begin.

Legacy

A dark blanket of gloomy clouds hung over the city and drizzled rain today as I got dressed in all black. After my church service I went to a memorial service for one of my high school and college friend's Father's, a man who had a profound impact on my life despite the little I knew him. I considered my friend's Father to be a spiritual Father of sorts, as I went to a weekly Bible study he hosted at his home from the time I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior at age fifteen all the way through high school. I remember him being a man of profound wisdom, kindness, warmth, and generosity. People who have spent a lot of time with the Lord carry a weight on them: the words they speak carry authority, and peace, love and unity seem to follow them wherever they go. He ultimately succumbed to the terrible disease of ALS at too young of an age, but his joy in the Lord never left him despite the undeniable hardship of his disease.

My friend who I met at fifteen years of age, knew all through high school, and remained close with through college now stood before me and hundreds of lives his Father's life had touched as a grown man with three children of his own giving his Father's eulogy. Somehow, at the age of thirty-four, I have arrived at what is likely to be the half way point of my life. Listening to my friend speak of his Father's life and looking out on the audience of so many lives profoundly impacted by one life well lived, I couldn't help but think of the importance of a legacy. We in our westernized culture fear, diminish, and generally try to avoid the topic of death. It's almost as if we think if we just don't talk about it, if we avoid it long enough, maybe death won't happen to us. The reality is that death is certain. What is not certain is if we will live our life well while we still live. I listened to a podcast with Father Richard Rohr once where he described a tribe that as a coming of age ritual would make their children dig their own graves. We may think of this as morbid, but this tribe felt it was the only way the children could come to grips with their own mortality. By digging their own graves, they could come to grips with their certain fate, the fact that they were made from dust, God breathed life into them, and eventually, to dust they would return. From this standpoint of facing their death, they could find their lives purpose and truly live. This approach to life strikes me as more healthy and more balanced than our cultures avoidance of the inevitability of death. Without keeping death and eternity in view, we glide through life never making any definite decisions on how to actually live the one life we've been given, and arrive at death having never accomplished the tasks that God sent us here for.

My friend stood before us and spoke of his Father's life-a life of faith, integrity, and deep character. He explained how his Father had been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis at a very young age which caused him much pain and prevented him from sleeping well. Even with his lack of sleep, he said he never failed to find his Father up reading the Word at 5:30 every morning. He explained how he was a man that used every precious amount of spare time that he had wisely to serve others and with purpose for the Kingdom. My friend explained that even though he was not a Pastor or in the ministry per se (he sold propane for a living), that in every business interaction he worked with such integrity and treated all he encountered with such love that all who encountered him respected him. He turned down job promotions over the years because of his refusal to cut into his time with his family and his insistence to consistently make it home by 5:30 p.m. every day and have family time. I was moved by my friends description of his Father's practices of discipline with him as a child. He explained that he was a very strong-willed child and very hard headed (I laughed under my breath knowing this to be true), and that he got into trouble often. He said that when he got into trouble, even at a very young age, his Father would allow him an opportunity to "make his case", having figured out that his personality worked better when he had the opportunity to defend himself (go figure that he ended up being a lawyer!). After he made his case, he would then state his view point of why his son was wrong. His Father would then ask him which case was correct, stating the obvious that it was really his word against his son's. His Father suggested they base right and wrong on the Word. Once they determined what the Word said on a particular matter, if my friend had violated it he would get a spanking, they would hug afterwards, and then pray together. My friend said that in his household grace and discipline always held hands in harmony. When discipline is over emphasized over grace a child's heart grows hard and rebellious. When grace is over emphasized without discipline a child runs wild and has no standard of behavior. In his household he said he knew without a doubt that he was unconditionally loved and accepted, but also knew that there were standards set for his behavior for his own good and in order to honor God. What a beautiful picture of the heart of the Heavenly Father for us as well.

Listening to the eulogy and feeling the weight of a life so well lived, I tried to reflect on the elements that make a person be able to say at the end of their life that they ran their race well. Looking at my spiritual Father's life a few things were apparent: performing every act, no matter how small with integrity and character, having spiritual discipline and prioritizing God above all things, making fierce boundaries to protect your family, prioritizing family over career, living to serve others, denial of self, and joy in the face of every trial because of an enduring hope in Christ. In every act we perform in our lives, we are either choosing things of temporal or eternal significance. He always chose the eternal.

At the end I think what matters most is how transformed we were by our Heavenly Father's love and grace, how we allow that love to change us, and how we in turn allow that love to flow through us to everyone we have come into contact with, changing them as well. His was a life well lived because his belief wasn't what Western culture has dumbed it down to be: purely a mental assent to a theological belief system. Belief in Biblical terms is something that you stake your whole life on and behave accordingly. The most famous Bible verse that we could all probably quote, John 3:16 states, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life". His life was powerful because he didn't just mentally assent to this belief, he poured his entire life out for it, and all of us in the audience could attest to the impact it makes on a life when you encounter someone who lives truly loving God and their neighbor. This was a man who lived the Gospel. He was transformed by it, and everyone who came into contact with him was transformed by the love that he gave away in turn.

We all hunger for this kind of life. We hunger to live a life that matters. We can only live for what matters if we live in light of eternity. I am desperate to spend my life beholding His face and declaring His love to every person I come into contact with. I pray at my memorial service that I would have been able to personally encourage each soul in attendance their belovedness by our loving Heavenly Father. I pray that I spend my life pouring myself out for the needs of others and giving away the lavish love and forgiveness that the Father has poured out on me. In the words of Jim Elliot, the Christian missionary who lost his life while spreading the gospel to unreached people groups, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose". Oh, that we may truly live.

I think this is Jesus' major message: there is something essential that you only know by dying. You really don't know what life is until you know what death is. Death, which seems like our ultimate enemy, is actually the doorway. This is how Jesus overcame and even destroyed death.-Father Richard Rohr

Finding My Place

Home health took me to the back country roads of Waverly, Virginia today, which is about a hour south of where I live. I didn't mind the drive, as the sun was shining brightly and all the leaves have officially made their appearance. Along the way there were fields of lavender and bright yellow wild flowers, white-washed barns, old country stores, and towns with not so much as a stop light. When I arrived at my patient's home there was absolute stillness. There was not another living soul within miles, and no cars were passing by. The inside of her home reminded me of my late grandmother's: the painted green cabinets, the white country sink, the curtains around the kitchen window with light pouring in, the green carpet in the living room, and the quilts on the back of the sofa. All I heard was silence. Hearing nothing is quite startling when all you're used to is noise. You never notice how much space something takes up in your soul until it's gone. I imagined myself living in a place like this-washing dishes at that country sink, feeling the breeze through the open kitchen window as it blows the curtains, barefoot on the tile kitchen floor, humming a worship song and feeling at peace with myself and my Maker with no tug of busyness or external push for productivity.

When I asked my patient if she wanted to walk with me, she offered to take me outside to show me her garden. Walking slowly with her, carefully observing her steps to make sure she didn't trip over the uneven ground, she took me into her back yard, past the wood burning stove and the barn. There were rows of carefully tilled soil filled with hearty green vegetables soaking up the sun. She explained how her son lived next door and would plant the garden and check up on her to make sure she was OK. As we walked around the property I asked her how long she had lived in the country, complimenting her on how beautiful and quiet it was. She said she had gotten married here right after high school, and had lived in this town ever since. I explained to her that it felt like my soul was able to exhale here, and how nice it felt to be still and quiet. I saw butterflies touching down on flowers in the front yard as we stepped back inside. She looked up at me and smiled gently, saying, "well, hopefully you'll be able to come back then."

On my drive back home there was a stretch of country road where the trees seemed to bend in toward the road and make the light dance on the pavement. I pulled my car over and stood in the middle of the road for five minutes with my eyes closed listening to the birds, allowing the warm spring breeze to hug me, the light to dance off my skin. No cars passed. I felt peace and stillness inside my soul where there is normally only noise and chaos, an always present, deep hum of forced activity.

God has been reminding me of my place and inviting me to step back into it. I feel a pull towards stillness, quiet, rest, and solitude. It is here that I am remembering my place: my own smallness, my inability to control, my inability to produce the outcome that I want, my own limitations, my own weaknesses. It's here that I'm realizing, like Erin Loechener says, "I used to think the opposite of control is chaos. But it's not. The opposite of control is surrender." So much of the frantic buzz I feel constantly in my soul is my own push and pull to obtain my own plans, procure the outcome that I think is best. But when I open my palms, accept my own smallness, accept my own limitations, and surrender, peace floods in like a river. It's in this space that I find my own belovedness. My frantic performance and pushing and pulling does not secure God's love for me, or man's for that matter. When I sit in the stillness of who I am, flaws and all, I can allow love to flow freely-to give and receive, without forcing anyone to stay. I cannot make God love me. I cannot make man love me. All I can do is be who He created me to be, sit in my own smallness, and allow His love to come to me, and when it does, to give it away.

In my place I feel a profound connection to the earth, to beauty, to others that gets lost in the chaos and the noise of performance, perfection, and planning. My lungs fill deeper. My eyes see richer colors. I find myself being a better listener and more able to empathize with my friends current struggles. Surrender is a beautiful place to live. Here every moment feels pregnant with possibility of the vast goodness of God. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's only here, with my palms upturned instead of clenched tight, that my hands will get filled with exactly what they are meant to hold.