Embrace Your Hike

In May of 2016, my friend Alicia and I drove to the bay area for an Anne Lamott writing workshop. Listening to Anne Lamott speak is like eating a giant platter of noodles. Some are undercooked, some are mushy, some are all tangled up. But underneath piles of noodles are the most amazing meatballs I've ever tasted. And when I get a bite of perfectly cooked pasta with a savory, mouthwatering meatball...I just close my eyes and fall backwards straight into bliss.

Anne dished up a few meatballs during the workshop. Many of her words were about writing. But some of them were about life. A quote I wrote down in my journal was this:

"If you have a phone in your pocket, it's a whole different kind of hike."

Stop.

It reminded me of this picture. Just take 30 seconds and stare at it. Don't keep scrolling.



My phone keeps me connected with everyone I love and issues I care about. Some of my favorite memories are recorded in my phone. My parents are skilled in the emoji arts. My brother can wield a .gif like a superstar. Every morning I scroll through Facebook headlines to see what people are up to. Instagram inspires me. Pinterest tortures me.

But I must admit, I've been wondering lately about the effects of always having a phone in my pocket. Am I so busy capturing moments electronically that I miss the essence of the moment itself? Is my live tweet somehow diminishing my live experience?

I don't know.

A friend recently posted a selfie from her front porch that said, "Enjoying a quiet evening with my love, watching the sunset and focusing on each other".

Hmm.

Are we all so connected that we somehow become disconnected?

Maybe.

We live in an extraordinary time in history. Technology enables us to do things we could barely dream of when I was growing up. But sometimes I long for lazy conversations without a phone on the table.

I want to become as skilled at saving memories in my heart as I am at saving memories in my cloud.

We overload our senses by multitasking our experiences.

Some moments were meant to only be savored once, to live in the deepest parts of our hearts and minds. Sometimes what is seen with our eyes and heard with our ears is meant just for us. It's okay to lean up against the fence and drink in a moment that will never be seen again. It's really okay. Our human hearts were built to store these little gems.

On my deathbed I probably won't say, "Hurry honey, bring me my phone. I want to remember all the good times." 

I hope the good stuff I have buried in my heart will be enough to carry me through to the other side.

When we take our phones out of our pockets, when we silence them and put them away, we let the moment shape us in a different way. Our senses wake up. Our hearts make room for beauty.

In other words, it's a different kind of hike.








My Little Secret

So yeah, my last post was pretty personal. I've been working on my next book and I got a little excited and decided to blog something squidgy. Like an ass, I hit 'publish' before talking to my family about it.

I should have warned them before letting them know my cheese was sliding off my cracker. Well they aren't stupid so I suppose they KNEW, they just didn't realize why. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

Anyway, here we are. Everyone knows I'm struggling to some degree. We may as well talk about it. Eventually we're going to talk about fear and awkward moments and fiddle lessons and PSA scores and cheetas (not Cheetos, which are delicious) and churchyness and depression and chewing with our mouths open. But first let's talk a little about God.

Honestly, I've been wrestling with the whole "God is good all the time" thing. I've been a Christian for as long as I can remember. There really isn't a time in which I have questioned the goodness of God, until now. But lately when I hear the sing-songy chant "God is good, all the time, all the time, God is good" I want to grab someone by their saggy throat skin and pinch. Hard.

I'm sure some people mean what they are saying. But my heart has been stretching and it makes me want to do and say bad things. Some days I'm a honeybadger. And it feels good.

Suffering happens around us every day. It might even happen within us every day. And we try to offer hope in the form of sing-songy chants, or we try to explain why it's for the best, or we might even try to make God look better. Did you hear that? We actually try to defend the actions (or inaction) of the Almighty.

Nice.



We say things like "Everything happens for a reason" or "God is in control" or "He only gives us what we can handle". That's crap. Absolute crap.

Can I tell you a secret?


I don't think God is good.



At least, I don't think God is MY definition of good.





Because in my world, a 'good' father doesn't stand idly by and watch scalding water melt away his baby daughter's flesh. In my world, a 'good' God doesn't allow humans to be sold by the hour. In my world, when we say YES to him he pours blessing and joy and abundance into our life. He doesn't allow things to actually get excruciatingly hard when we surrender and step out in faith, does he? In my world, a good God prevents heartless bullying, he brings us decent presidential candidates, people on Christian Mingle don't lie, and at the very least he keeps raisins out of any and every baked good.

Suffering. It takes many forms. It's universal. It drains us and leaves us feeling alone and helpless.

Should a good God allow suffering? I remember when my boys were little I did everything I could to keep suffering far from them. I like to think I was a good mother. (Hey, they survived didn't they?)

Here's the thing, my friend. When it comes to God, I don't think "good" means what we think it means. For a long time I told myself "God wouldn't act THAT way" or "God wouldn't say THAT" or "God wouldn't allow THAT unless he had a good reason". This way of thinking is safe and comfortable.

And it's just not working for me anymore.

Here's the thing: If I want to know God--like, REALLY KNOW HIM--I have to stop this way of thinking. I have to stop this way of living. I have to dive into truth. I have to choose between the red pill or the blue pill.

God is good. He is. But he is HIS DEFINITION of good, not mine. And I want to know Him. Would you like to come along?


"For everyone who listens with an open heart will receive progressively more revelation until he has more than enough. But those who don't listen with an open, teachable heart, even the understanding that they think they have will be taken from them."  Matthew 13:12-13, The Passion Translation


Lord, help me have an open, teachable heart. Amen.





WHAT I KNOW



(This is an excerpt from the Intro to my next book, coming in 2017)

I’ve told the story my whole life.

My baby sister and I went with my Dad to pick up his paycheck. I was six, Rachel had just began toddling around on her chubby pink legs. We walked into an office and my dad stopped at a woman’s desk to chat.  Rachel and I headed straight for the box of toys in the corner and dug around, looking for treasures. There was a coffee machine on the shelf above our heads.
Rachel tugged on a cord and the coffee pot clattered down. She screamed while scalding dark liquid soaked her clothes. My dad was by our side in an instant. He scooped her up, ran to his truck and drove madly to the emergency room.
My sister spent months in a burn center about an hour from our home. My parents found a place to stay near the hospital, and spent every moment caring for her.
Eventually, the doctors told my parents they would need to do a procedure to pull back the damaged skin and see what was underneath. If he found more damaged and dead tissue underneath it would mean more surgeries, and her frail little body would not survive. If he found new skin underneath there was good chance for recovery. The doctor warned he would likely find more damaged tissue underneath. It would be a miracle if he saw pink.
My parents had recently converted to Christianity, and everyone we knew began praying for pink skin. After the procedure the doctor came out of surgery with tears in his eyes and told my parents he found new skin. Pink! It was a miracle, and we all rejoiced.
Eventually, my sister was sent home wearing a ‘jobst’ garment. It basically looked like a brown leotard that covered the damaged areas. My parents were under strict instructions to keep vitamin E on the burns and to keep her out of the sun and away from anything that could infect her skin. They expected her to be scarred for life; the burns covered her back and one arm and one leg. Little Rach began the long road of healing.
Today, my sister is a beautiful, strong woman. You cannot even tell she was burned. She has no memory of the incident, and every summer she turns golden brown from the sun. God completely healed her. My family will forever point to this healing as God’s provision and goodness to us.
That’s how I’ve always remembered the story. It’s how I’ve always told it. I’ve repeated it over and over, since I was six. I love telling it. We all love happy endings, right? God is good, all the time, all the time, God is good.

Until…

One day I remembered what actually happened that day. One day my story was dismantled, and my six-year-old self woke up and whispered secrets to my comfortable, confused heart.

That day something broke loose, like someone popped their finger out of a hole in my dammed-up chest and water sprayed out, thin streams at first and then a fire hose, brutally dousing every corner of my life with sticks and mud and jagged rocks.

I thought I knew so much about life and about suffering and what makes up my very own story. What I really discovered was this: I don’t know shit.


Just get your caboose out there


I started training for a 5k. WHAT?!




YEP.

One dark, rainy night I downloaded an app on my phone and followed the optimistic, slightly grating female computer voice who told me when to briskly walk and when to jog. For 31 excruciating minutes. I didn't stop, and I didn't die.

Huh.That's weird.

You see, I've told myself my whole life:

  • I'm just not athletic.
  • I hate running.
  • Runners are crazy.
  • I look ridiculous when I run.
  • I'm going to hurt myself and then die a slow, painful death.

But the truth is, I thought I couldn't do it. So I made fun of running. I made fun of myself.

A couple of weeks back, the Lumberjack and I sat down to plan our year. I said I wanted to do some tough things. I wanted to set some goals that have a small chance of being met; I didn't want to just pick things I KNEW I could do. I wanted to write down some things I probably wouldn't be able to do, but chasing them would make me grow.

When I said I wanted to be healthier, I tried to think of one measurable goal that, if met, would mean I was healthier. When I said "5k" out loud I laughed my head off. Because...well...RUNNING. The last time I ran was P.E. class---oh wait. I probably cut class that day.

But then I wrote it down on my list - Run a 5k.

As I got dressed for my first run, I realized something.

I didn't have everything I needed: new clothes, reflective gear, something to hold my phone while I ran, a cool playlist, fast running shoes, new socks, a new beanie, one of those cool headbands that hold your bangs out of your face, those blinky light thingies you clip to your shoes, new lipbalm...you get the idea.

Honestly, at this point, I was thinking I should just go shopping instead of running.

I mean, come on! I would be more successful if I had everything BEFORE I began, right?

The truth is, I could spend most of my life waiting for everything to be perfect before I accomplished anything.

So instead of waiting until I had everything I needed, instead of waiting until conditions were perfect, I set out on my run in 24 degree weather with sweatpants that were missing the string to hold them up. You can imagine. Wait...don't. Sorry about that.

But here's my point: I've learned to stop making excuses, and instead just get my caboose in gear.

Just write the book.
Just plan the menu.
Just make the call.
Just buy the ticket.
Just get my caboose moving.

So I did.

And it felt gooooood.

Will I actually run a 5k? I hope so. I'm training for it. But the point is, I'm not putting it off.

What are you waiting for? Get your caboose out there!






SAYING NOTHING

I sit across from her in a crowded restaurant, listening, watching.

There's a decision to be made today;
not an earth shattering, life-altering decision, but an important decision about stepping into a new position of leadership.

I listen to her recite pro's and con's, and while she lists them I imagine how every fact and detail is written carefully at home in a notebook on her kitchen counter. She gets to the end of her list and takes a sip of her water.

I say nothing. I say nothing for a really. long. time.

She finally clunks her water down on the table and looks at me with tears in her eyes. I know of the grief she is walking through right now. I know that right now it's hard for her to get out of bed; hard to feel anything, hope for anything, see anything but the last few months.

Cancer is a thief, and it stole her Momma. Her young, vibrant, active Momma. 60 days from diagnosis to goodbye.

60 days.

And now my friend is desperate to stumble into something, anything, that will keep her from sitting on the couch with a remote control in her hand. She is looking for something to wake her up.

"Why can't God just tell us what to do at times like this?"

I say nothing, because that's the wrong question.

The truth is, nothing will change the fact that her Momma is gone. Nothing will change the fact that she has to walk through the grief. She can walk through it busy, or she can walk through it barely moving.

But she must walk through it.

There is no list to check through this time. There are no pro's and con's.

This is life. And it's messy and it's beautiful and it's full of color and it's broken and sometimes it sucks.

And sometimes it's our job to just sit across the table and shut our mouths and let the questions come.

Sometimes questions are just questions. And sometimes they lead to more questions.

And somewhere in the asking, we will find what we're looking for.







MY DECISION

Many times the unpublished drafts of this blog are like a private journal; I can see unfinished thoughts and words and lists scattered throughout the past several years and it's like a timeline of my life.

I came across an unpublished draft today that stopped me in my tracks. It was from November of 2012.

My Decision
I will not let awkwardness or fear drive my decisions. I will learn how to love urgently, extravagantly and invisibly.

That was it. I'm not sure why I wrote those words when I did, but I'm pretty sure it was after an epic failure of some sort. I'm feeling a little goosebumpy as I read them again today because somehow after I wrote them, I began to say them to myself and pray them and live them. I don't remember even writing them down, but I know I wanted to live more like Jesus and this was the best way I knew how.

Have you ever written down a goal list or a life statement or something important you wanted to accomplish? Like, really written it down and put it somewhere safe? Once about twenty years ago, the Lumberjack and I wrote down everything we wanted to accomplish by the end of the year. I found the list after the year was up and we both laughed our heads off because we were able to cross every single thing off of the list. (It probably wasn't a very ambitious list, but we were young. Ha!)

'My Decision' was powerful because it summed up what I was learning at the time.

I had been letting fear get in the driver's seat. It took me places I hated.

Was it the only important decision I made at that time? Nope. Have I still found myself making bad decisions? Pssht. Of course. But I'm making them less and less. And I'm focusing on the "I will" in my life more than the "I won't". I think that's progress.

What about you? Think back over the past several months. What are some times you would love a "do over"? What is at the core of the mess? For me it was fear. For you it will be something else.

Write down your own 'My Decision' today; something that you will say to yourself the next time you are faced with a choice. (P.S. I would LOVE to hear about it!) Write it down and pray it and begin to repeat it to yourself. You might just be surprised at how things will change. You might be surprised at how much it changes YOU.




 




ROMANTIC NOTIONS AND PUKE ON MY CARPET


It was a romantic notion, really; this jumping off into a place with no borders. When I decided to follow Jesus and leave behind beige living, I pictured myself doing something in vibrant color: I would be moving to a third world country, or starting a ground breaking non-profit, or maybe even becoming a famous writer. I would learn about fair trade and I would type my manuscripts on a vintage typewriter and I would take my vacations in Iceland or Uruguay, all while saving orphans and freeing slaves from a life of suffering. Oh, and I would have awesome abs. Because duh.

So I started doing things that scared me and I called it 'Jumping Into Awkward' because I thought that sounded compelling and super cool and even a bit risky.

Awkward was a nod to my misfit self; that part of me that doesn't really like to walk into conflict or tension of any kind. I should probably tell you that I'm married to a guy who pulls on his rubber boots and strides boldly into the center of conflict. He just clomps right into stinky, gross tension and says 'I see you and that green stuff between your teeth. Let's be friends'.  And I'm the wife who stands on the edge of the muck, praying no one notices me and calls me out into the swamp and asks me to bring dental floss. Because, ew, I'm not going in there. I just scored these name-brand shoes for $12.99 at Ross and hurry up we have somewhere to be in half an hour. Get the picture?

But I was determined that if I stuck to the plan and embraced Awkward, I would finally arrive. I would arrive with my world traveler's tan and my passport full of stamps and a whole crop of new, interesting friends and stories.

So how's that little plan been working for me? Welp, I'm still living in Southern Oregon, I can't find my passport, my abs are not awesome, I still get pitty when I make myself talk to strangers, I'm whiter than Bill Clinton, I'm working in a beige cubicle every day and lately I've been neglecting this little blog. Say what? Hold up! Call Oprah and Grandma and John Tesh, 'cause that's a whole lot of awesomeness going on right there.

This journey through Awkward has looked nothing like I expected. So what does it really look like?

It looks like a 2:00 a.m. drive to a scary neighborhood to pick up someone who's probably lying to me. It looks like having to tell someone she can't get naked or smoke pot in my living room. It looks like sitting across from someone who just lost their mom, or someone who wants to kill herself, or someone who is leaving her drunk husband, or someone who is just pissed at God. It looks like swallowing my self righteous advice and saying "What do you need and how can I help?" It looks like giving up 'me time' so my daughter-in-law can have a break, it looks like endless stacks of dirty dishes that I didn't eat from, it looks like 6 gallons of baby puke on my white carpet. It looks like new wrinkles on my face and ugh-not-so-cute toenails. It looks like shining a flashlight on a path in the deep dark woods and shouting "Come on! I found it! Walk here!" It looks like sitting in my pajamas staring at an old computer screen, hoping my words mean something to you.

There's more, but let's stop for a second. Do you see the beautiful, broken mess? In all of my dysfunction and inadequacies I am following Jesus. It never looks how I think it will look; that's how I know I'm doing something right.

Awkwardness wrecked me for any other way of living.

....aaaaand this is where some of you will stop reading and move on with your day, if you haven't already. Honestly, I don't blame you. Go forth if you must, my friend.

BUT, if you're still reading, there are a few things you need to know before you jump.
I mean, if you're still reading I'm assuming it's because you've been thinking about jumping into Awkward with me. Ready? No? Good. Me neither. Or is it either? GAH!

1. CHASE THE TRUTH: In order to call out the best in people, I have to know who I am and why I'm here. I want to soak in scripture until the day I die because it reveals who I am and more importantly, who God is. Don't underestimate the importance of knowing God's word.

2. PUT FEAR IN THE CORNER WITH BABY: You are going to feel completely clueless and inadequate and stressed out. If you untangle it all, fear is in the center of it. Acknowledge the fear and the tension. Recognize that a healthy amount of fear and tension are needed to help you grow; just don't let them be the loudest voices in the room.  And don't ever EVER let fear steer your decision making. (And by the way, if you grew up in the 80's, you will know that NO ONE puts Baby in a corner. So Fear will just have to sit there alone and pick his nose and sulk. See what I did there? Now go back and read #2 again because I know you were distracted by Baby being in the corner).

3. TRUST THE COUNCIL: Find a small 'council' of people you can share your journey with. My council meets once a week around a dinner table to work through life. The council speaks truth, holds me accountable and helps me dream. If that's not possible for you right now, make sure you have a few healthy friends you can count on. Honestly, I can't stress this one enough. So many of my friends are just treading water because they haven't cultivated a council. (I plan on writing more about how to do this later, because I have recognized this is a huge need around me right now).

Ok that's enough to get you started. May you find your stride today. May you walk in boldness and in all things messy and stinky and beautiful.

And may the God of all things Awkward delight in you today.

Which of the things above are hardest for you? Are there other things that help you live a compelling life? Please share with the class!


**photo courtesy of Natalie Rose Art. Visit her Etsy store and check out her amazing work!

BEAUTIFUL THINGS


It's the phone call every Momma fears the most.




And I ride, shaky and sick, up the elevator to the third floor and turn the corner and stand with my back against the wall outside ICU. I stare up at the cameras and I stare at the doors and I just stand there, staring, dumb and afraid.
And then that Momma, she comes slipping out of those doors carrying her phone and looking like she just swam the entire ocean and back again. And she says to me, "Hi".
And what do I say? What do I say when her boy is laying in that hospital bed with tubes sucking things out and forcing things back into his broken body? Everything that's rolling around in my mouth feels meaningless and  flat. I'm just dumb. Dumb and shaking and afraid.
Me and this sweet Momma, we've poured our tears out over the years; when our boys were doing things they shouldn't, going places they shouldn't, smoking things they shouldn't. And we would just shake our heads at each other and smile through the tears, because no one hopes and dreams for a boy like his Momma. No one sees him like she does. No one aches and worries and prays through the night like her. And no one forgives, over and over, like a Momma. So over the years, Keri and I, we just kept hoping. Hoping and praying. Over and over.
And then one night Keri gets a call that could have just as easily come my way. And now there are things that can't be undone. There will be tough days ahead. Nothing I can say will change it or make it any less brutal.
Jakob's life was spared last night. He woke up today, and his body will eventually heal. Tonight, I pray over his life and his brokenness. I pray for his future. I pray for eyes that will not see just today, but a thousand and ten thousand days from now. I pray for discovery and grace. I pray for a life reborn.
Because no one loves and restores and relentlessly pursues us like our God. No one pours Himself out like He does. No one.
We sang in church tonight about how He makes beautiful things out of dust; about how He makes beautiful things out of us.
And I will keep on singing that. Because it's true.



A LEGACY OF LOVE

Since I was a wee girl I have been a lover of words. I tend to devour a well-crafted plot like a plate of Donna Benton's no-bake cookies. Words have shaped me and challenged me and comforted me over the years.

As important as words are, these days I am learning what it means to speak Love with less words; wild and faithful love, without borders or expectations or rules. As I have slipped into adulthood and crept quietly towards middle age, I've been watching someone expand the boundaries of her love. Simply put, she lives a lifestyle of love.

This person is my Momma. And today is her birthday.

The day she was born, she made the local news. You see, my Momma and her Sissies were the first triplets born in Shasta County, California. 


And as legend goes, every year the local paper would do a story about the Triplets and they would have to get their picture taken.


With a two year old and 3 babies in the house, I can't imagine the chaos and joy and exhaustion that echoed from those walls. We all grew up on stories of the antics of the Triplets and their big Sissie. My favorite story is when the little girls wanted some extra cash so they went door to door in their grandmother's neighborhood selling tickets to a spaghetti dinner. Unfortunately, my Great Grandmother learned of the dinner when a hungry crowd of neighbors showed up on her doorstep.

My Mom's well-worn Bible sits on the coffee table in the living room, a testament to years of soaking in Gods word and petitioning the throne for her children. The Lumberjack swears that he's alive today because she prayed through many nights when, as a young dad, he regularly pushed his limits driving a big rig through icy mountain passes.

Momma, I hope your birthday is fabulous. Thank you for your kindness and loyalty and generosity. Thank you for teaching me about love. Thank you for laughing at my jokes and always encouraging me. Thank you for loving my Dad.

Happy Birthday, Marcie Jane. I love you so much. I'm so privileged to be your daughter.




THE KEY

I have always had a fascination with keys. As a kid I collected old keys like rare coins, stashing them in a little drawer, turning them about in my hand, dreaming of the doors they unlocked. My great grandmother had a big black metal key; a rough heavy thing that hung from a ribbon and felt cool and heavy in my hand. I remember locking and unlocking her front door many times with this beautiful key. There was something spellbinding about hearing the click-click-thunk as I turned it. Even to this day, if you were to rummage around in my junk drawer at home, you would find random keys that I just can't bring myself to throw away. I have no idea what these keys go to. But for me, a key possesses possibilities and mystery.

I found a key last year. Not a shiny metal key or a big lumpy key on a ribbon. This key contains nine words.

This key forces me to put aside my own ideas and step through a doorway of possibilities much more wild and messy and intense than I could ever dream up. It's changing the way I live my life. It's plunged me into trust and bewilderment and awkwardness and even the very heart of God.

My friend Alicia shared this key with me last year, and now I'm going to share it with you. You can read about her story on her blog, but for now just trust me. This girl is legit.

Are you ready? Here's the key.

WHAT DO YOU NEED AND HOW CAN I HELP?

Oh, the magical doors this key will open for us. But we must be willing to use this key properly.

Using this key requires that we put aside everything we think we know. We must toss all of our expectations and 'fixes' and pride. We must abandon all judgment and cynicism and baggage. This key is full of pure humility and is marked with authentic servanthood, and when used properly it will shake foundations and cut new paths in the wilderness.

Say it with me now, What do you need and how can I help?

Doesn't that feel cool and heavy in your hand? Can you feel the possibilities and the mystery? Can you imagine the sound of it turning, and the door swinging wide?

May you travel lightly this year, and may you carry this key close to your heart. And may you never fear to use it where it is needed most.