In Praise of ‘I Can’t’

For the next few weeks, I can’t do more than I can. It’s not something I like to admit to myself. 

I can’t drive. I can’t stand for long. All my chairs require pillows. I need sleep. I need to eat more. I am a version of a baby. In need of slowness and gentleness, from others, and mostly from myself. 

The baby lays on my chest and I can barely feel his breathing. I have to stop my thoughts to check in with him. Is he alive? He is, but his slow and quiet ways force me to adopt the same. Grow slow and quiet. I have no choice. 

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I am not good at being gentle with myself. I am compulsive. I am harsh. I have high standards. No, impossible standards. I want to do more, be more. 

But for now, I can’t. I am not independent. I cannot lift more than 20 pounds. I cannot workout or stay up late. My strongest act to date, bringing human life into the world, rendered me helpless in many ways. 

Yet all the Cannots are good for me. They have become the walls around a sacred place where I can only do the few little things that matter. 

And so I make peace with my smallness. I let myself sink into the moment because there is truly nothing else to be done. 

They’re like magic, slowness and smallness are. I see all the things I’ve been missing. I can’t help but notice the baby’s tiny fingernails, his exquisitely soft head, his smiles and grimaces.

He charms me. I enjoy him. 

Because I can’t do anything else.

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What We Do Not Celebrate, We Often Scorn

Maybe you didn’t realize it, but someone else told you what to believe is beautiful. And you probably bought it.

We are told by those in power, whether in religion, economics, government, education or media, whether or not we are free to like and enjoy a type of person or thing, or not. Usually only what is mainstream is acceptable to celebrate, while everything else is shoved in the back bedroom, or made to “Sit down and shut up.”

There is currently a great emphasis in US culture on diversity, which in theory gives most of us permission to appreciate the quirky oddness in ourselves and everyone else. But differences and variations, especially when they cross into our worlds and force a response, will inevitably force a squirm from the lot of us.

My sister and uncle are developmentally disabled. My uncle lives on his own in an assisted living setting while my sister still lives at home. Our extended family holds a treasure trove of the bizarre and hilarious antics performed by each of them over the years.

20131201-145814.jpg [You might notice one person is not smiling in this picture, our wedding party photo, where you’re supposed to smile, even if you don’t feel like it. But the rules don’t apply to Holly. Photo credit: Sarah Tafoya Photography]

While it’s fun to tell the stories, it’s hard to appreciate the differences in real life. Especially when we are related to The Different Ones. I often find myself apologizing before I do anything else. Here’s why:

– My sister will unabashedly chide a smoker for smoking, complete with a fake cough.

– She offers hugs and kisses to practical strangers – once they’ve been introduced, she sees them as a friends.

– She shares her life details with others almost immediately as well, especially noting, “I have a boyfriend and a paying job”. Ever the networker, after you’ve expressed appropriate admiration at her achievements, she will run upstairs to retrieve a small Ziploc bag with business cards in them, offering you one.

– If she sees a boy and girl together, she often assumes, to everyone’s uneasiness, that they are dating. And she will ask them about it. If they say they are married, she’ll express joy and excitement by making subtle remarks about the man being “hot for” his wife, which isn’t sexual innuendo at all, but merely a statement that the boy or a girl is attractive for his or her partner.

– She’s going to the birthday party of a 100 year old relative of ours today. One of our family friends died this week at 95, and my sister is pretty upset about it. It’s possible she might mention at the party she’s glad my relative is still with us. (Doh.)

Most of the time, I can laugh, but when it comes to all the boundary crossing, the hugs and kisses for strangers, the assumptions that people are dating, I realize I’m always holding my breath, trying to measure everyone else’s discomfort and when I should jump in to smooth things over. It can all feel like a giant apology waiting to happen.

I want to celebrate different, but I don’t know many people who do it well. Fortunately, photographer Kelle Hampton (http://www.kellehampton.com/) provides a generous example. Kelle enjoys her daughter with Down Syndrome, working to capture the beauty of their family dynamic and the joy her daughter brings to her and their family.

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Most of us don’t celebrate different well, but we can learn how. I highly recommend you follow Kelle on Instagram (search for ETST) so you can see what I’m talking about.

And pay attention to where you are scorning the strange, unusual or different, rather than enjoying them, and ask God to show you what he thinks of these people, his beautiful creations.

Live big and brave with me. Subscribe to the blog for free updates and the first copies of my book, Dream or Die, at its release early next year. And stay connected on Facebook or Twitter.

Just Apply Compassion {A Guest Post}

{Today we hear from journalist and blogger Tiffany Roney on the topic of forgiveness and a little secret she learned to let go of pain and hurt. When she sent this post to me a few weeks ago, I had no idea it would powerfully work its way into my life with perfect timing. Tomorrow I will talk about the impact of this post and the surprising things I learned, as well as some exciting turnarounds in one of my most estranged relationships. This is great stuff so grab a cup of coffee with me and let’s listen.}

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There are songs about it. The Bible says to do it. In fact, it’s the basis of our faith, but what does it really mean, and how do we really do it?

I interned with a counseling program for about a year – a program that emphasizes forgiveness – but I recently realized I hadn’t really known how to truly forgive.

In a forgiveness struggle this year, my dad gave me a book about forgiveness that suggested giving up your rights to whatever was hurt or stolen. While this method can be very helpful for some people and has helped me in some ways, it didn’t do much for me in this struggle.

Other times I aimed to conquer strife, I followed the technique of saying aloud, “I forgive [name] for [action],” but I was generally just listing through offenses, feeling all the anger and self-pity all over again. When I was “done,” I once again suppressed the issue – only to find it return at a later time.

Friends and family would suggest “just letting it go,” but most of the attempts simply turned into suppression as well. What wasn’t I getting over anything?

On Saturday in California, I found the key: compassion!

How did I miss that?

I was searching on the computer in my aunt’s loft for forgiveness advice and came across this website. What I gleaned from the article: to look at the situation with compassion for the other person.

A couple of tactics I found helpful: think of what the person was going through in that moment, and remember the reality that sin is not abundant life. Thus, that person was not experiencing abundant life during that situation.

This method of looking at “what they were going through” is not equal to trying to “understand” it per se, which can lead to thinking you’re justifying their actions. In my experience, that only causes a person to be more tempted to justify their resentment. Justifying begets justifying. Rather, it’s about caring.

Result: awesome. I feel so free.

As a bonus – or a part of this freedom? – I find myself being more open-minded and creative. If you want a mind and heart at peace, go ahead. It’s available.

Find your freedom.

How do you forgive? What benefits of forgiveness have you received or found in your own life? Let us know in the comments below.
Tiff
Tiffany Roney enjoys beauty, writing, and cycling. She is better at starting projects than finishing them. Her day job and free-time “jobs” are pretty much the same: writing and photography. Tiffany believes stories are more powerful than facts, fiction can ring as true as reality, and mercy triumphs over judgment. Want to hear more from Tiffany? Check out her blog at: http://tiffanyroney.blogspot.com/. 

Isn’t It Supposed To Happen More Than Once?

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Sometimes Christian music is so flat and depressing. Is it okay if I say that? 

It’s because it’s so entry-level, so absorbed in “that one time Jesus saved me”. And then the story never progresses.

I heard a song today with the lyrics “My chains were broken…when your loved washed over me.”

Really? All your chains were broken? At once? Well, a lot of mine have been hanging on. They break off moment by moment, year by year, monumental moment by monumental moment. I’m freer than when I got here, but not all free.

The love of God didn’t come up from behind and tackle me one day, leaving me without fear and problems and hangups. I’m still a mess. But I’m less mess.

I’m becoming who I am. 

And that’s the Gospel, folks. It’s transformation. Sanctification. God in the dishes, God in the fighting, God in the the dirty clothes, God in the hugs from my son, God in the highway breakdown.

The washing-over of love is supposed to happen every day, like a lot of times. Because that’s how much I need it. Not one time, a long time ago.

And slowly, like a rock in a riverbed, the edges wear off. I get shinier and smoother, but it’s just so, so, slow.

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I need a lot of love washes.

So Christian music, and Christian people, please remember the real Gospel. Please stop acting like salvation saves everything at once with glorious visible manifestation. It doesn’t. (Cause God knows we couldn’t handle that much freedom at once.)

But everything will be made new. Everything is being made new. The promise is a guarantee. Future history. As long as we stay in the river.

What’s one hangup you’ve gotten cleaned off, or at least a little cleaned up? Leave it in the comments, then let’s put it in the river together so it can get washed off.

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These stories pump water

I love brand new ideas, really good ones I wish I thought of. Don’t you?

Well, here’s one for you. Have you heard of CausePub yet? If you haven’t, you’re about to.

I just wrote a story for CausePub, an organization creating books for a cause through group-publishing. [Click here to read the story and vote]. [Their current book project is called Couch Rebels, a collection of stories about folks who rebelled against horizontal life and got up to do something, to change something, even if the thing they changed was themselves. The concept is genius. Here’s how it works.

  • CausePub identifies a charity or cause they want their book to support
  • CausePub solicits stories from adventurers and story-tellers
  • After stories are submitted, they approve the stories and post them to their site
  • Story-writers solicit votes from friends and strangers
  • CausePub selects great stories they love with the most votes
  • The Couch Rebel book will be published as a Kindle eBook on August 14. So soon!
  • When anyone purchases the book, the proceeds are divided between the cause, the writers and basic overhead costs.
  • For Couch Rebel, 50% of the proceeds will benefit Blood: Water Mission. The breakdown is in the graphic below.

[Follow CausePub on Twitter here and find them on Facebook here.]

Here’s where I need your help: I wrote a story for CausePub, and I need your vote.

The story is below. It’s a story about a time when God met me and my seatmate on a plane to Atlanta. I didn’t see it coming. I love this story because it makes me like God even more. Please read and take a second to click VOTE. Thank you so much.

What God Thinks About You

“So, where are you headed?” I asked the young brunette next to me to end the awkward silence. She smiled the stranger smile, as if wondering how long this conversation might take. “Somewhere tropical. With friends.” She needed a little prodding, and I wondered if I should just lay off. Instead, I offered my own less glamorous destination: Atlanta.

I attempted to stir the conversation with more questions about her destination, responding with appropriate amounts of awe and jealousy. I hoped we would catch a common thread in our lives and the chatter would take off, giving me an opportunity to eventually talk with her about Jesus.

But no such luck. The conversation flailed, and we politely took up our books. I leaned into the window, pretending to read, but inside I argued with myself, knowing God might have bigger plans for this three-hour plane ride.

Eventually, my discomfort with silence grew larger than my desire to be well-mannered company. “What are you reading?” I finally inquired. She stammered a bit. “It’s a little unconventional. I’m not sure I want to say.” She tucked the pink book cover down toward her lap. I attempted to reassure her I didn’t have plans to judge, but I wasn’t going to push it. But what was she reading?

“I’m reading about artificial insemination,” she offered hesitantly, waiting for the verdict to read on my face as she turned the cover toward me. “I’m not married yet, but I’m 35. And I want to have a baby.”

Oh.

Click the button below to keep reading and vote.

Vote

The God of Self-Help

If you’ve been in church, or been around churchy people, you’ve heard people talk about God. Mostly he sounds like a philanthropic celebrity, but kind of religiousy. The hazy God-descriptions based on scriptural references don’t help.

“He’s the God of the oppressed.”
“He’s the Father to the fatherless.”
“He’s a friend to those in need.”
“He is a refuge for those who seek him.”

While these might be true, why the archaic language to describe someone who is supposed to be “closer than a brother”? These antiquities of speech only widen the gap between confused little me and a God who already feels far away.

I grew up in church, and for those of us who did, at some point we decided if we wanted to interact with God or not. If he was really there and worth our time. The general malaise present in many North American churches serves only to sedate and even quench the passion for the divine with which children are born.

Eventually, if you stay in the shades-of-slate suburbia long enough, you’ll be introduced to The God of Self-Help. This God wants you to “be good”. With only rare head nods to a nicely tanned, smiling Jesus, DIY spirituality is the flavor of the millennium. The mantra: “I can do it myself, with a little help from Jesus.”

Needing help is reserved for only special occasions, like praying for orphans in Africa or the parent with a rare form of cancer. People who really need it. Otherwise, we rarely have to bother God. After all, he hath bestowed on us Deepak Chopra and Oprah and Dr. Oz. What more do we need? A full life awaits us.

I’m a Christian, and I follow Jesus. Self-help affirmations and feel-good quotations give me the willies, but if I’m honest, I will usually pick The God of Self-Help over Real Jesus. Why? Four main reasons:

1. I can do it on my own.
2. I should do it on my own.
3. I owe Jesus to get my crap together after all he’s done for me.
4. I don’t want to bother with all this relationship stuff. It’s too unpredictable.

Self-help offers the thing we all want so desperately: a formula for success with little mess. How do I get to heaven? How can I make the boss like me? How can I have one more baby? How can I get the things I’ve been wanting, tangible or intangible?

I want to achieve. I want to check boxes. I want to feel good. I want to make a difference because I want my name on something. I want people to be impressed with me. And I don’t want anyone questioning my motives or giving me a hard time. Get out of my way. I am trying to get rich and famous, or at least be decently oblivious and happy over here.

And it sure seems like Real Jesus wants to come in and mess it all up.

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It’s easier to dismiss the King James deities, all unrelatable and distant. The Self-Help God offers me a solution to my surface desires, which distracts me with niceties and a busy spiritual life.

Then along comes this Jesus guy, God with flesh on, messing everything up. Touching lepers, playing with kids, drinking wine, sitting in dirt. And dying.

Suddenly it becomes quite clear that Self-Help God is holding out on me. Because why would this other God go to all this trouble to redeem a bunch fully qualified humans? Why the bloody death if we can just read a handbook to pass? Overkill much?

Or perhaps self-help is not enough. Perhaps I am a giant, flailing mess and not even the people around me can toss the tube over cause they’re too busy drowning in it too.

Indeed, self-help is help yourself. Every man and woman for him or herself. There are no extra resources. I need all the points I can get. It’s “I can’t save you so you better work and try to save yourself.”

I’m sorry I’ve been dialing the God of Self-Help while keeping the Real Jesus at arm’s length, suspiciously eyeing him and fearing for what he will ask of me.

I still want to fix myself. I think I need to try harder. But Jesus’ crazy life says I’m desperate, and if I slow down long enough to look around, I can see that I am. I need way more than self-help. I need a rope deep enough to reach into hell and pluck me from the flames seconds from the burn.

God, I’m sorry I drank the Kool-Aid thinking you were gonna help me be a nice person, that you were peddling best-sellers on formulas for a better life. You couldn’t care less about my manicured lawn and nails if my heart is rotting out. You look past skin and landscaping to see the whitewashed tomb inside.

It’s ugly. I need a makeover. This is no DIY project. It’s major surgery. There is nothing worth saving here. I need a life-transplant.

Real Jesus, I’m done with The God of Self-Help. I am really sorry I’ve been one of those friends who only calls when she needs something. And I’m sorry I’ve been a liar, liar, pants on fire about my relationship with you. I’m a novice. A born-yesterday beginner. But I’m aware now.

Help.

When it’s all up to you: the value of legacy

{If you found me through my article on Catalyst, welcome. And if you’re a regular or a visitor, please let me share my news: I had the privilege to be featured on Catalyst this week, talking about the church planting life and the value of raising up the legacy of the next generation of leaders. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to write more on church planting and leadership, something Josh and I are growing intimately familiar with. Thanks for reading. Please leave thoughts in the article comments section. Thanks. Now, without further ado…}

Church planting is like parenting. It’s exhausting, and in the beginning, you’re doing all the work. It’s a good thing you love your new, baby church.

But as it grows, it gains independence. It can tie its own shoes. And eventually, you get to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Yup, this is pretty much what it’s like in the beginning.

Okay, it’s not a direct analogy, but you’d be surprised by the similarities.

If you’re a church planter, you know: the policy writing, program development, volunteer training and recruiting, preaching and teaching, discipleship of new converts, janitorial duties, midnight counseling, Sunday bulletin design, weddings and funerals and hospital visits and baby dedications are simply all part of the job. Your job.

But this is only the infancy of the church, the stage of greatest need and dependence, and in many ways, the highest level of pastoral involvement. But it’s not supposed to stay this way.

After my son was born, we returned home from the hospital and tried to adjust to life without sleep. I remember hearing him cry one day and wondering when his mother was going to come and help him out. It was dreadful to realize I was the mother. Who gave someone with no parenting experience a new child who has no use of the English language?

Like parenting, church planting is a startling thrust into the fire. When we got the 2 AM call from a local hospital that the husband of one of our parishioners passed away suddenly, we searched about wildly. “Someone should call her pastor,” we muttered in our groggy stupor. And then we realized we were the pastors. We left our three week-old infant with my mom, who happened to be in town, and hurried to the hospital to comfort our friend.

Even if you’ve never comforted a new parent, cooked a casserole for a potluck, or provided the homily at a funeral service, suddenly, it’s up to you. You’re up.

Like parenting, it’s almost a given that whatever needs to be done will fall on you in the beginning. But that’s only the beginning.

Continue reading at CatalystConference.com.

I am the opposite of me

I am a paradox. And so are you.

We are clean and shiny in some areas of ourselves, yet disheveled disasters in others. The real estate of our souls and our yards is impeccable from one angle, and painfully unkempt from another.

How is it that we can live with coexisting brilliance and ignorance, with generous nobility and glaring narcissism?

Sometimes, I feel I’m an imposter, like the real me is the messy version, and the times I act right are just glitches, some kind of cosmic error where the light fell just right, and now the world thinks good of me.

But it feels like a balancing act, until I wreck it again.

So who am I? Can I be the bad and the good, at the same time?

Am I summed up in my moments of fear, panic and rejection or in my faith and courage?

Am I a scared, helpless child, wordless with shame, or a ferociously brave teacher who lives to inspire?

Am I all the times I hate to be alone, or the times I am frantic to get away?

Am I the girl who can’t find her keys or the idea-generating leader bent on improving her environment?

Am I the friend you can count on for everything, or the friend who will let you down?

Am I the blessings and encouragement I bestow, or the curses I hiss beneath my breath?

Am I the rage and anger I release on my very last nerve with my child, or am I the patient nurturer, singing this same child to sleep?

Am I the forgiveness I extend or the grudges I feed?

Am I all the times I disappoint or the times I keep my word?

Am I the girl who finds showers annoying or the girl who can’t stand dirty feet?

Am I everything I do right or everything I do wrong?

Am I the desperate woman wanting children I don’t have yet or the grateful mother to the one I do have?

It doesn’t seem possible, but I am all these things. It’s the conundrum of me. I can stop covering it up now, stop holding my breath so people will think of me as cleaned up and together.

The truth is, I am holy and I am full of sin. I am a work in progress. But at this exact moment, I am the good and the bad. 

I am all the things I’ve screwed up irreparably, the words I want back, and the genius and generosity in between. I am everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I’m going. I am my failure and my success. I am what I know and what I don’t know. It’s part of me. 

I just need to hit “Accept” on all this stuff, on the easy to love and the impossible to love parts of me. Cause it’s all me, and I’m not going anywhere.

No one notices the pillars

No one notices the pillars.

Take a look at the White House. The facade, the grandeur, the elegance, the sweeping landscape. The protesters in front. You can feel the history. But you probably walk right past the pillars.

They cast a lovely shadow, create an ambience to be experienced, but so often we look right through them while they stand at attention in a thankless work. As we enjoy the view, we forget if these essentials supports cracked, buckled or vanished, the place would topple.

This is true for those who support our organizations, our churches, businesses, non-profits. We take great pride in our out-front leaders, the big personalities, the charismatic types who lead rallies and bring in all the fundraising.

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But what about the pillars, the ones who stand behind, the last to leave, the ones with toilet brushes in hand? These are the pillars we walk right past. We don’t appreciate the pillars who stand beside us, who hold the whole place up with their relentless tenacity, who day in and day out take the sideline view to make the vision a reality.

A few days ago, our church said farewell to a family of pillars. They were rarely in front. Their names weren’t plastered on walls. Some people didn’t know them well. But they propped up our community with prayer, guidance and support. They showed up in the beginning, when there wasn’t much to show for the labor, when pieces were hardly in place. 

And they stayed. Because that’s what pillars do.

When pillars are people, sometimes we have to say goodbye when a new season comes along. But inevitably, within a healthy family of people, whether a business or organization, someone else will step in. Will become the new pillar. Will forsake notoriety and fame to build up and support something greater than themselves.

So here’s to the pillars. I see you. I am so thankful for you. May we all see the pillars in our lives, and give them the praise they are due.

A squishy, floaty, sturdy, heavy thing called Love

Only the things done in love matter.

Only the things done in love weigh enough to stamp eternity. Everything else just floats off the surface as vapor.

It’s not the act. It’s the intent.

Love might wear you out, but it doesn’t get tired that easily.

Love lets you be where you are right now, knowing you won’t always be here. It knows This too shall pass.

Love is lighter than gravity with a terrible memory for the bad stuff people do.

Love is more a grandmother and less a police officer.

Love doesn’t look down in vulnerable moments. It just looks you square in the eye. And it doesn’t flinch at all that you’re uncomfortable.

Love chuckles at the past, beams bright toward the future and sits perfectly content in this moment. Because its a pretty good one.

Love isn’t in a hurry, doesn’t wish it was somewhere else. Love can silence the phone and taste dinner.

Love likes itself, doesn’t wish it was someone else. Love takes good care of itself, but isn’t self-obsessed. Love doesn’t belittle itself because it doesn’t need your compliments. And it’s confident enough to care about you, to really listen, to squat down next to you in the dirt and feel all you feel.

Love looks past sour, crusty shells to warm, squishy insides. And knows just the words to safely let the guts out.

Love listens because the stories are the people, and the people always matter.

Love can tell you you’re wrong so kind you won’t feel the sting. You will just be grateful. 

Indeed, only the things done in love matter.

Jesus is love. If you don’t know him yet, introduce yourself.