When you decide to lay yourself bare (part 1, because it will keep me responsible to give you part 2).

FJkfauanvjfhgiroanvfupsiot! It was the kind of day where you just want to scream and throw up your hands and quit, but you’re too exhausted so you just stuff it down and go through the motions to keep getting by. Who am I kidding, it had been that kind of week, that kind of month, that kind of year. If I’m being totally honest, it felt like that kind of life.

Isn’t that just the world we live in? The non-stop, stress-fractured, regret-riddled, heart-aching kind of reality that is life. Life. Such an ironic word to use to describe what it is we do day in and day out. How sad the word sounds, don’t you just feel the sigh in it? The wilted dejection, the already-surrendered-to-hopelessness last breath. Sometimes that four-letter word feels more offensive than any other.

There’s this empty, flatlined kind of indifference in our voices. Why is life as most of us know it so vanilla? And not Tahitian vanilla or French vanilla, but dollar-fifty, Walmart brand imitation vanilla. Am I the only one who feels that way?

I mean, I’m literally living my dream right now: I’m in Europe, surrounded by a community of incredible people, starting to fill my little life with the things I’ve always longed for. And yet, up until a few days ago (that story is to come in another post!), I still wasn’t satisfied. I had actually grown increasingly aware of how far from satisfied, from happy, I really felt. No matter what I did, what I tried, that deep ache for more just wouldn’t quit nagging. I have searched for that mountaintop experience when *it* just happens and I stop being held hostage by this emptiness. But that place is illusive. I’m realizing that I could see the whole world – gaze upon every beauty and partake in every experience…and miss it all.

I can miss the whole point.

Because what happens to my emptiness and my brokenness when I go to France on a new adventure? What happens to my loneliness and pain or my bitterness and fear? Guess what, they didn’t magically disappear, didn’t go away. Being here didn’t cause them to cease existing. And I came to the realization that this mess won’t ever completely get cleaned up, and the broken won’t ever truly be all fixed. Just as one mess gets cleaned up, another mess gets made. Just as one thing gets fixed, another thing seems to break. Whether it’s the weariness of the day to day and all that comes with it, or the mess and brokenness of my tired heart that beats daily inside my heavy chest…it’s never going to be exactly where or what I want it to be.

What if that was okay?

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There’s this profound revelation about what it means to live. It’s not about trying to stay together or get it together so that no one sees how much of a wreck you are. It’s not about hiding your mess or getting it all cleaned up and presentable. It’s not about hoarding all the good you can and getting by without a scrape. It’s actually about being out there in the dirt, in the wilderness, in the middle of all the messy brokenness – and realizing that the brokenness and the unknown and the lack of control are actually the very things that make life a daring verb, not a boring noun: a great adventure, not a panicked journey.

Why is it that we never seem to understand how great of a miracle life truly is? How crazy and wild and beautiful it should be? Don’t we just love to be inspired to live, to watch people come alive? Think of the Olympics since that is still hopefully rather fresh in our minds. We almost all become captivated by the stories. We love the dedication, the commitment, the pain, the passion, the excitement of it all. We see these people who have given everything they’ve got and more to be there, and when they take their position when it’s about to be their race, their game, their time…you best believe they are going to fight with every last drop of their being. We love to watch it, we long for it ourselves too, at least in our own kind of way, right? So why do we have so much apathy? For the day-to-day lives we live, we live with no excitement, no anticipation, no blood-pumping, game-changing dedication.

Life is not this journey we take, trying to make it to the grave in one pretty piece, unscathed and unbroken. No, life is an invitation to embrace this dirt-laden, storm-making, sun-shining world; embrace the pounding pain and throbbing veins; embrace the heavy heart in your chest, and the heavier hope of glory for your soul. It’s an invitation to run with everything you have and run straight into and straight through the mud and the suffering and the gold. Life is only an adventure if we live it daringly – and to be daring we must embrace dangerous, embrace broken. I want to skid across the finish line, gasping for air, with lungs burning and eyes blinded, with absolutely nothing left but a soul-shattering cry of sweet victory! Victory that screams:

I! MADE! IT!!! I’M DONE!”

I want to be able to say, “I have nothing else I could have given, I put all I have into this, and I am SO PROUD: I have no regrets!! I lived my life broken, and it was beautiful, because I chose to let the pain show me what it means to live! And I gave all of myself, and it was worth it, because I can’t go back and I can’t take anything with me.”

That’s what the swan song eludes to. The legend was that the swan, unable to sing its whole life, would let out one, single, stunning note as it took its final breath. It dies with beauty and life, with amazing grace, it dies with everything it has. It’s not actually true, but the imagery is beautiful. Don’t you want to know what it would be like to live, and even die, with everything you have?

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I saw that the fulfillment of life is actually hidden in the pain.

For quite some time, I’ve been on the edge of this, and all around me is this dark, mysterious substance: vulnerability. It’s not bad, but it’s scary because I don’t know what will happen. But Brené Brown taught me that vulnerability is “not about fear and grief and disappointment: it is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for” – vulnerability is where the miracle is born. For a long time, I wondered what exactly it meant, how vulnerability was a birthplace. But now I see. Vulnerability is where you choose to be seen, be exposed, and say, “This is me.” You take a great risk, but you invite a greater reward. Because in that place, you can be seen and known and loved for who you are, and not only that, you invite others into a safe place to be seen and known and loved for who they are also. You invite others to be real with you as you are real with them, and it is there that we find deep healing and deep loving and “everything we’re hungry for.” Because if we go through life only holding up masks then how can anyone truly be loved?

I think I’m ready. I’m ready to jump and find out. I am ready for the risk, for the exposure – whoever said that would kill me? It’s like letting your skin feel the sunlight for the first time in months, it is good.

I want to feel that adrenaline, that hot-blood in my cheeks, heart pounding through my chest. I want to take risks with people and be seen and feel alive. I want to come out of hiding! I have this crazy love to offer you, and I can’t hold it back anymore. I can’t hold it back because my brother just lost a best friend to suicide, and we all are suffering a deep loss. I grew up watching this kid grow into an adult, I saw his potential, and watched him care for my brother and my whole family. I can’t hold myself back anymore because I’d seen his struggles before, saw his heart through his eyes, and I could have met him there, but now it’s too late. I could have offered him the unfailing hope I know, I could have offered him my peace and joy, my care. Even if only in small ways, or the smallest of ways. I can’t hold back, because when I hide myself and my strength and my love, who knows how many miracles I am missing? Miracles in the palm of my own hand. Miracles that the world has missed because of my own fear. The very thing we withhold from each other is the very thing we all need.

So, yes, I’m doing this: I’m stepping out into the open. I’m offering myself and I’m risking exposure. Some may reject me, hurt me, laugh at me, but I’m doing it anyway, because I know that the world needs it – I need it. We need people to usher the broken world into the healing, life-giving place of vulnerability and honest relationship. People who can show that love really is a choice and it’s a war that we fight for with weapons of self-sacrifice and submission, not selfish pride and dominance. I’ve been waiting for this day to come all my life. This day where it actually does become more painful to stay tight like a bud than to bloom like a flower.

It’s here! I made the dive, and it changed everything. I’ll share it with you as soon as I can.

 

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Lower still

A week ago today I was hiking to the top of the beautiful Hanging Lake in Colorado. A week from today I’ll be arriving at my new home in France.

This week is the in-between, and beauty holds on both sides.

All the way up to the spot where the lake hangs and the waters blaze emerald, I passed the water rushing downward. Up and up we climbed to see the source. The destination was to find the birthplace of this water: a truly breathtaking sight…

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Above the lake, the water bursts through a rocky hole and spews white wonder out into the world, crashing down with mighty weight. The air becomes mist and the observers become mystified. I sit and watch the water rage, follow it upward over the top of the mountain, watch the clouds drift past the tree tops. I watch it trickle down the rocky walls, spill over formations of mossy stone. I watch it on its way down, on its way lower.

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This lake rests fragile upon delicate edges and so do I, so does the world. When boundaries are fine and our hearts are a delicate ecosystem, what happens when people and circumstances pound down on us with surprisingly strong force? If we stop it all up, harden our walls, build up our edges, will we be able to carry the load? Without releasing, the weight of the constant rising water becomes too powerful for even the most robust. It will break. We will break. Our attempts to shut off, keep out, grow thicker…they don’t work. In the end, they break us.

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What makes this lake so stunning is that the water is always passing through: it doesn’t have to sit stagnant like the others. Life constantly moves through it, and the flowing in and flowing over may make it seem like it dances on a fine line, but it’s less breakable than we think. It is exposed and bare and that makes it beautiful. It stays clear because it runs clear. Water pours in, fills, and then oozes out. But not just water – debris, dirt, dead tree leaves, trash – it all finds its way in sometimes. But because it lets go, it all can find its way back out.

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We weren’t meant to hold onto anything, truly. Good, bad, beautiful, ugly…we must receive it, and release it. Even the good things, even the beautiful things. If we hold on for too long, even the most wonderful things can become rotten. So don’t dam up the good or the bad: pour the good back out and let go of the trash.

Life comes with surrender. Freedom comes when we let go of what we got, and what we didn’t.

And here’s the other thing about water: it always wants to go lower. We can learn a lesson from this. Lay bare, be exposed, crack those walls and let them break…and head lower, sprint lower. Seep deeper and deeper and what you’ll find there is unlike anything you could ever imagine. Don’t waste any time. Always be seeking out a deeper place of worship. Always be bending knees and folding yourself further down, because it is in that place that we become lifted up again. That we become the rising mist, the forming dew, the humble love to behold.

So if you, like me, have been dammed up for a long time, let’s let that last blow crack open our stony walls and open up our glorious release. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of holding back, for the freedom set before me already tastes so much sweeter than all the weight behind these walls.

 

 

It’s those wild sunflowers that grow on the side of the road…

They always get me. They just beam at me.

And I smile as I drive because I love those summertime sunshine flowers and I love that they’re always there.

Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

And it’s those halos of yellow and orange and gold that sprout up like wildfire all over the roadside – the boring roadside – that remind me to put on my miracle shades and roll down the windows.

They strike me with their brightness. I can’t help but light up a little myself and I try not to stare too long as I drive. Yes, there is beauty everywhere. Yes, it is easy to miss all these little miracles in the busyness of life. Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to see the wheat rippling in the breeze or a thousand sunny flowers on your way to work, and stop for a moment and admire. It takes discipline to keep looking and stopping to see with more than just your eyes on a daily basis.

But more importantly, when you make this a habit and you practice it with gratitude, those miracle shades start to change other things too: ugly things, broken things, painful things. We see the cycles of the seasons, we watch the faithful rising sun each morning and evening, we laugh at the squirrels chasing and climbing their way through life. We follow the bees to the flowers and they dip their legs in and fly home. We learn to not just appreciate the beauty but to see it as miracle.

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When you see a little, you start to see more.

They say that a miracle is something that cannot be explained by scientific or natural law. So maybe science can explain what’s happening when the Northern Lights come to play, but can it really? Is that not still a miracle of light that inspires awe and wonder? So we learn to see the simple, the natural, as miracle too. And then we see that there are miracles all around – everywhere you turn.

The miracle shades become even more vibrant and maybe we look in the rear view mirror and we see some bright dots in that dark patch we went through. We start searching for more. We start hunting for the stars in the blackness. But is it the stars alone that make the night sky such a majesty? Stars shine day and night but it’s the night that allows us to see.

So when we can’t explain the suffering, could we dare to call it a miracle too? What of this whole world can we truly explain? We name based on feelings and understanding, but the truth is, we simply don’t know. We are limited.

That’s what miracle shades are: a way of seeing despite our limitations. They are not just bright or optimistic or positive. They are vibrant. You see the contrast. You see the color. You see the radiance of it all together, and how the miracle isn’t just the blinking stars but the whole experience in full.

So, I name it all miracle. I call it all good. Sometimes I see, sometimes I don’t. And a lot of the time I wait. I wait – and look – to see because I know I will. I believe it, somewhere deep down, that no matter how much life hurts at times, no matter what I see now, no matter what I feel…there is always more. And it is going to be stunning.

 

Inhale, exhale.

In less than a month and a half, I’ll be in France. What??? That’s so exciting! Sometimes I can’t believe the moment. How is it that I’m already a college graduate? I feel old, yet at the same time I know just how young I still am. And each day, though my physiological clock ticks away another 24 hours, my soul does not. The person inside me, she only grows younger and more vibrant; wiser but all the more childlike; stronger and all the more secure.

I have this great gift stretched out before me. The chance to go and reshape my life. Wipe away every way in which I’ve defined myself by what once was.  Paint a new scene across this new page. Let the strokes of this new life sear beauty into the ugliness, seep moisture into the dryness, contrast the darkness in radiance. It’s hard to really put to words what this trip means to me or how important it is.

Leaving all that is familiar behind gives you the chance to reinvent. That’s what I seek. Not start over, not bury the past in denial, but reform the way in which I live, love, and interact. Three months of daily intentionality. Three months of learning the Word that never dies. Three months of peeling off the rest of this dead skin and laying bare my true heart. Soaking up everything He has for me and taking the risk of being known. I’ve been made a promise about this journey, and I know it won’t be broken.

I can see the future for the first time and it looks like love. Freedom is painted across the dawn and I’m willing to do all the hard work of looking at the truth and accepting what I’ve turned away from.

As much of a blessing this is going to be, it will also be a sacrifice. But it’s the sacrifice that makes everything possible. It’s the sacrifice that is going to allow me to take it all in so that I can wholly pour out. When we lay down, we find life. And when we find life and become alive, we give life in return. That’s the dream. That’s what I was born for.

God gave us these beautiful things called mirror neurons. When we look at someone who is smiling, for example, these neurons mirror that smile, and our brain lights up as if we ourselves were smiling. How cool is that? That’s probably why we love being around happy people so much. In a way then, we’re all contagious. What will the world catch from me?

The life that has been given to me, the joy, the love…lungs revived and flooded with sweet air, dead heart jolted awake…I have to testify.  I have to be a vessel carrying this living water, a vessel through which other people come to taste the same thick, golden truth that is honey on the lips.

So on the surface, it looks like three months in, three months out. But really it’s me, diving completely in, for a lifetime of this, of inhale and exhale. Glory to glory. Inhale life, exhale life. Love in, love out. Breathe Jesus in, breathe Jesus out. He is worthy of it all.

 

And, believe me, it was divine.

The smoke from the fire traveled far, and the normally clear Colorado air was hazy that day. I didn’t think much of it until the sun began to set, and, believe me, it was divine. This picture can’t capture the radiance. It’s funny how the eye can see fuller than the camera, and yet somehow still, we do not see in full.

We can dive deep into the waters of always looking, and still be always missing. This blurry fire-soaked sky with its consuming ball of fury sinking low – this was easy to see. Really, how could you miss it?

But everything isn’t always like that. Just because something is not displayed so overtly beautiful, does not mean that it isn’t stunning nonetheless. Behind-the-veil stunning must be sought out by the hunters with adrenaline-hearts soaked through with the aroma of life. It must be beheld in the inner eye and caught as the breath catches in the throat and the looker renders breathless.

There’s something in it, don’t you think? I think it’s called the breath of life for a reason. When something takes our breath away, what does that speak? Too much for me to hold, too much for me to live sowing and reaping the life of lungs, when there is something so much more worthy of that very breath, that very life. It says surrender, give it back, worship what I cannot comprehend by giving that which I cannot live without.

And, oh, that I would not stop here. That I would not stop ever. That I would always be seeing more, seeing deeper. When you catch just a glimpse of it, you have to catch more. You have to be caught by it, held by it, bowed to it. To live with self bowed low is by far greater than to live with self elevated high.

See through the veil and see through to glory.

 

 

 

From the Dust

I’m a passionate person.

I often do not live the inside outwardly – and I’m eaten alive by the suffocation of self. Fire teases me and tides pull me deeper. Thundering voices drenched in fervor cause my heart to pound and my spirit to soar. Scenes of beauty move me to submission and there is no love like that of the passionate.

Surrender is for the zealous and I know it’s for me.

I listen to her voice as she sings, no it’s more than that. She’s releasing, multiplying, worshiping. Word after word and song after song – impossibly glorious, dripping with the sound of heaven. I want to take the beauty of her voice, the deep passion of her soul cry, and etch it into my skin. I want to fuse it with my bones: make it a part of me. It’s like purity-love made to the artist through his masterpiece, within the bounds of a delicate body, and uncontrollably – gratefully – spilled out for all to see.

That kind of radiance is ecstasy that begs to be participated in.

It is beauty I desire – beauty I resonate with on the deepest of levels. But I don’t have that kind of voice. I can’t strip bare and fill lung and empty out bliss…

Or can’t I?

Maybe my singing voice doesn’t represent the beauty of my soul cry, but God has given me words of striking resemblance. He gave me the gift of words. Words that not everyone has. Words that express the beauty within me, His beauty within me, in a tangible way.

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The patterns of nature encircle me with steadfastness and patterns of thought have enthroned pages throughout time. I speak a native language of laughter but there is a higher passion-language – the mother tongue of my being – that pleads to be heard too.

So give me the chance to express, to create, to love with these oceans at the end of pens and keyboards. When I have wrestled with the tongue and wrangled with the throat, I glide with ink and find belonging in the scrawl of my hand.

Within the symbols that make a language, I find freedom to be. My ability to express self was quenched very early on, but through the pounding of these keys I fight what was lost and I find a voice of wisdom and strength. I am stretched transparent and all is on the line for me to be judged. But it must be worth it – to be heard – when I have stayed silent all my life.

To release this is to release my suffering. To write is to step onto ground that was stolen from me and pour water onto its barrenness.

And that verse says, “Let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior’.” And I stand tall and I wage a war through my words, a war of perseverance with the one who dried up my wells. I fight with honor unseen and grace resilient. I fight for dignity – no matter what I appear to be, what I was told to be, I am more and I will not quit.

So this is part of my battle, and I win this round and lose another, but I always keep going. I write and I bust out of seems, scrape dirt off my past, wash away the shame of my mistakes and the pain of my perpetrators. When I write I am real, and I am strong. All those years of torment at their hands and all those teeth that gnawed me up whole – they fade into the backdrop of my life and become a platform:

A stage for God’s beauty and glory to be pained brilliantly on the canvas of my story, on the canvas that is me.

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And from the dust my words are crowned with holiness as they mature with the fullness of their testimony.

Just Some Thoughts…

 

“Rejecting joy to stand in the solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest light to all the world.” ~Ann Voskamp

I love this woman. Every word that drips from her pen is ripe with sweet truth.

I’ve read words of hers where she talks about how cynicism, despite it’s “supposed sophistication”, is actually simplicity: it’s easier. She points out how it is much more profound to choose to see what is beautiful. Here, she urges the same. We have grown up to learn a message of turning away from the ugly in our world, or drowning in the hysteria of the news. We focus on all things bad, all things evil, all things wrong – and what good does it do? Does it help us to stand in the solidarity with the suffering?

To choose to see beauty in the midst of the marred world and to choose to believe in goodness and see through the ugliness – now that is courageous! In my own life, I know joy heals. The joyous are the ones who light up rooms, lift heavy hearts, draw dark clouded people nearer until clouds lift and sight becomes clear. The joyful are FULL, and they bring life-saving sustenance to the world around them!