Love Wins

If you were raised in the church, you probably remember the passage in Ephesians that talks about the armor of God. Maybe you even labeled a medieval style knight with the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith in Vacation Bible School. I remember studying those verses a lot as a child, but it wasn’t until I was older that I gained a little context into the armor of the Christian.

Before Paul even begins to describe the various pieces of armor, he warns that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).

This war is not a war that I have been taught to fight. Because somewhere along the way, the belt of truth became the belt of opinion. The breastplate of righteousness the breastplate of legalism. The shoes of peace turned into shoes that are all too ready to run into judgement. The shield of faith stopped being a defense against Satan’s arrows, instead being used as a weapon in theological debate. That helmet of salvation has been all but tossed aside, leaving minds vulnerable to corruption. And what of the sword, which is supposed to point towards the very words of God himself? All I see is Scripture taken out of context or twisted so much that it retains little of its original meaning.

And I don’t know how to fight anymore. Because I see so much darkness in the Christianity I have aligned myself with my entire life. I love Jesus with all my heart, but seeing his followers do and say horrific things in his name is too hard to watch. I was taught that the spiritual forces of darkness resided in the secular, the liberals – those who would take the lives of the unborn or participate in a love that defies tradition. But when I look at this world today, I see that Satan’s real foothold on this earth in conservatism. In people who are so worried about rules, they forgot about souls. Where judgement and opinion outweigh empathy and mercy.

I hate conflict. I hate that this war is something that we all have to arm ourselves for. That it’s something that will continue until Christ returns. But I’m done sitting in the shadows of the conservatism I was raised in. Tired of looking behind me and seeing a string of legalistic Baptist churches that hurt me and turned me away from God more than towards Him. Tired of refraining from speaking up because heaven forbid I have ideals that align with anything outside the Republican party.

But more than anything I am determined. Because I believe that it is the purpose of every believer to love. Fully and authentically, without holding back. So I will align myself with those Christians who still take God at his word, not just the words of His that support their opinion. With those Christians who fight against sexism and homophobia and racism. With those Christians who aren’t so preoccupied with standards of modesty that they turn a blind eye on the hurting people in this world who need to be loved and understood.

I beg of you, Christian – the path that so many in our faith have chosen to take is not the only way. Look at the behavior of the believers around you, and look at the heart of God. Recognize when things just don’t line up.

And I beg of you all, do not assume that every believer you encounter will behave the way that so many do. Give us a chance. Because there are many like me who still want to use the label of Christian, but hate all of the baggage that has become attached to it.

Speak up, my friends. And do it with so much love, because that is the only way this war will be won.

 

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Me, Myself & Food

Well, it would seem I’ve taken a small summer hiatus from blogging, but here I am again – as the nights grow cooler and more things begin to stir up in my mind now that the busyness of the last couple months has begun to fade.

And as that busyness fades, a window of opportunity is created. To reflect on the things that might need to be changed during this new season. And this reflection led me staring down the most unhealthy relationship I have in my life: me & food.

I could say that this relationship grew unhealthy when I began college, and diet became centered around efficiency and caffeine, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Honestly, my relationship with food has been less than ideal for as long as I can remember. From a small child being diagnosed with food allergy after food allergy to a girl who binge ate whatever cookies were in sight when the parental eye was turned. All of these habits led to where I’ve found myself in my teen and adult years: treating food as a source of comfort, trying to use overeating to reach an unattainable high.

This simple statement has taken me a long time to admit. There is so much shame that rises within me when I realize that I struggle with the same addiction that I hated in my mother. That the extra weight I’ve been carrying around, physically and emotionally, was preventable and unnecessary. And sitting in that shame just made me want to drown the feeling in soda and potato chips.

Somehow, this summer, I’ve been able to rise above the frustration I’d aimed at myself like a loaded gun for so long. But overeating and unhealthy diet habits are so engrained into my life routine, that I knew something drastic would be needed to break the cycle. So, I’ve decided to participate in the Whole30 program this month in an attempt to reset my relationship with what goes into my mouth.

Although it’s anything but easy to eliminate more foods when I’m already allergic to so many, I’m excited – to challenge my culinary creativity and take time off some of the foods I always find myself reaching for in times of stress (yes, you heard me affordable bags of Aldi tortilla chips). But most importantly, I love that this food plan isn’t about losing weight or counting calories; it’s about challenging habits and your entire outlook on your diet. And that’s exactly what I need to make lasting changes.

Although I’ve only gotten through day one, and can’t speak to the challenges I’m sure to encounter, I hope that by the end of this month I won’t be where I was. And instead of relying on excess amounts of food to comfort me at the end of the day, I can confidently reach for a conversation with a friend, a yoga routine, or time spent in prayer to ease my mind when troubles arise.

So here’s to fall, and to creating the healthiest of relationships with food and with myself. And I hope that as I continue on this journey, you’re encouraged to identify the unhealthy relationships in your life – because this world is difficult enough without them. And you have been given the freedom to live the way Christ has offered: to the fullest.

The Lost Art of Leisure

My computer takes too long to turn on.

Hulu takes too long to load the next episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Traffic is painfully slow.

I can never get ready for work fast enough.

Piles of books to read, laundry to fold, priorities to be chosen.

And all I am is tired – of always feeling behind, of never truly letting time move on without me.

Last month, I had the pleasure of hearing author Patricia Hampl speak. She has a passion for going against the modern idolization of our fast-paced environment. I was entranced. She spoke of a world I longed for; a world where rushing from one thing to the next isn’t important. Leisure takes priority.

 

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In her memoir Blue Arabesque, Patricia explores this word, leisure. And I must admit that although I’m only a couple chapters in, I’m hanging on every word. Because with every affirmation that leisure can indeed replace busyness, I can feel a tiny bit of peace replace my frustration at the endless piles and dueling priorities.

So I’m challenging myself to truly live this out. To relax. To make self-care not just something on my to do list. And for every item I add to that all-powerful to do list, start making a mental note of something I won’t be doing so that leisure can take its place.

And when that video buffers, or the cars on the highway can’t break 5 mph, I want to see it as a reminder – a reminder that this world can only go so fast for so long before it just needs to take a break. Much like myself.

Of Coffee Shops and New Plans

The current header image on my blog was taken at a locally owned coffee shop that’s just a mile down the road from my house. A cozy, aesthetically pleasing coffee shop with delicious Italian soda and tables perfectly situated in the sunshine. A coffee shop that closed it’s doors permanently at the end of April.

And even though I only visited this coffee shop a few times, it was nice just knowing it was there. I had plans to spend the summer writing within those walls, while trying new blends of tea. But plans change.

This isn’t the only plan that’s changed in my life – a much bigger change looms on the horizon. This fall, I’m going to be moving from Minneapolis to Kansas City. I want to be closer to my boyfriend and the other friends I have down there. I need a change of scenery, a place to start fresh. And as much as I love my people here in Minnesota, there are a lot of memories I want to distance myself from.

But I’ve never done something this drastic and adventurous before. I keep seeing myself in front of that coffee shop I loved – now empty, with the doors locked. I can’t get back in. And if I leave behind the life I’ve built for myself here, it’s going to alter my destiny forever. There won’t be any going back. Of course, I’m excited to start on a new path, but the voice of the familiar is a seductive one.

Even though I still have many months left to emotionally prepare, downsize my belongings, and find a new job, the fact that I’ve made the decision to move is a jarring experience. And although I’ve been afraid of a great many things in the past year, this is the first thing that I’m equally afraid of and excited for. At the same time. It isn’t a roller coaster of emotions as much as it’s the seemingly contradictory emotions fused together.

Will I miss my coffee shop? Desperately. But God has opened so many doors for me – relationally, spiritually, financially. And if my next life chapter requires closing some doors to receive the joy He has in store for me elsewhere…well, then I think that’s something I can do.

The Weight of Glory 

At 11:54 pm on March 31st – six minutes before the early bird deadline- I registered for the 2017 One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop. But almost immediately afterwards, I felt discouraged, and not just due to the significant dip in my bank account. Attending this workshop means I’ll have to spend the next two months actually writing things. Things that I can read aloud and receive feedback on. Things I can possibly be a little proud of. Things I might just not have the energy to create.

Then, the day after I returned from a wonderful week down in Texas visiting my boyfriend and his family, my beloved laptop of three years decided to bite the dust. More money would be required to replace her, and my discouragement grew. I spent that night biting every single one of my nails and hating that stress still drives me to self destructive habits.

But that’s the thing about growing up – the good things, the things we really want, start to require a lot of work. Being a writer demands so much sacrifice, from finances to time to energy. Being in a relationship with someone who lives on the opposite side of the country is incredibly challenging and a lot of effort is needed to maintain healthy intimacy. Just being an adult in this world who goes through the motions and survives is hard enough. But to require more of oneself – is it really worth the stress?

I’m trying to remind myself that it is. Because amidst those taxes I have to file and the work clients I have to email, I need to have something that makes me truly feel alive. Something like a few hours alone in a coffee shop, typing a story out on the new laptop I’ll hopefully have soon. Something like the look on my boyfriend’s face when he sees me for the first time in six months.

Sure, sometimes the bare minimum is all I can do sometimes. But I can’t stay that way for long. My heart starts to long for beauty, and that longing will breed just enough determination to get me through the challenges. Because I truly believe that if God calls you to something, He will give you the resources you need. Even when you’re tired, and your laptop breaks, and you just had to say goodbye to your boyfriend yet again.

So this week I’m going to fan the flames of my determination. And judging by the fact that I just typed up this whole post on my phone, I’d say I’m off to a great start.

Writer’s Block

They say that writer’s block affects us all. That sooner or later, an empty Microsoft Word document will challenge you with it’s cold, blinking cursor and you’ll turn away in defeat. The words won’t come, no matter how hard you try to squeeze them out of the recesses of your brain. The pen in your hand, it only serves to mock you now.

I’ve had plenty such experiences. But these days, the thing that blocks my writing isn’t necessarily a lack of ideas and words as much as it’s a lack of confidence in them. It only takes one stray thought to send my mind tumbling down the chasm of self-loathing. What on earth could I have to say that would truly matter? How could my opinions, at my age and stage of life, count for anything? What reason is there to be vulnerable, when so much of that openness has led to pain?

I can’t pretend that I’ve found all the answers to these questions, nor will I claim to have fixed the many problems that lie inside me. But a conversation with a friend today sparked a twinge of confidence, so here I am. Because I have words. So many words. Sometimes they overflow so fast that I get too overwhelmed to even write them down. And even when there’s just a trickle, there are words inside me that want to get out. I truly desire to give those words a voice to be heard in this world, and I believe that’s why the words were given to me in the first place.

So maybe my posts will be rambling and repetitive at times. Perhaps my novels will have a few plotholes. My articles and short stories and memoirs might fall short of brilliant.

However,  if my story matters, as I’ve claimed it does – then the voice with which I express that story will have to do. It can improve, it can be honed, and I can learn and change and I continue to grow. But imperfections, I refuse to let you silence me for good. And anxiety, you can take a back seat. Because I’ve got many more Word Documents to fill.

Wanderlust

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I have a mug on my desk that’s inscribed with the phrase “never stop exploring.” On the shelves above this mug sit framed photographs from my travels: a postcard from New York City, a landscape of Tennessee mountains, a snapshot of my old truck’s dashboard with the open road before it. I often sit at that desk and daydream – about all the places I’ve been and all the places I’ve yet to explore.

But lately, I’ve been realizing that this exploration doesn’t have to wait for well-funded trips to faraway destinations. Exploration can be as simple as walking a mile down the road to embrace the atmosphere of a small coffee shop on a windy Saturday morning. Or going to the library and becoming engrossed in a world that can’t be reached by car or plane. Even seeking out new things about oneself within the four walls of home is exploration of significance.

A desire to travel, to see places far and wide, is a worthy and beautiful calling – one that I plan to embrace for the rest of my life. But never stop exploring, my friends. Because the journey between journeys has just as much potential to satisfy that wanderlust, if only your heart is open to the adventure.

“Your Story Matters”

“Your story matters.”

We say it, smiling, to the people who write books.
We smash it onto an artsy background and post on Tumblr.
We pat those who feel insignificant on the back and send them on their way with this phrase.

But for as much as we say it, how much do we really believe that the stories we write and the stories we live truly are significant? I don’t – not as I should. But my current project is challenging me to not only believe that my story matters, but to embrace the concept on every level.

When I began writing my first heartfelt work of nonfiction, I was fairly self-skeptical. I’d never written anything nonfiction outside of school projects and personal diaries, and I doubted my skill in the area. But I felt that the events of the past few years, especially the time I’d spent traveling, needed to be expressed through creative nonfiction. I knew I had emotions to process regarding that era of my life, and being a writer, I knew that this was the best way I could. So I began. Because after all, my story matters, right?

I held onto this sentiment strongly as the first paragraph turned into the first page and then as the first trip became fully chronicled. But the further I got, the more I slowed down. I felt like every single word had to be painstakingly forced out of my brain, each emotion tortuously analyzed for interesting content. And I stopped believing that my story mattered. It didn’t matter when it was happening, and it didn’t matter now that I was writing about it.

Yet, I still felt the urge to keep going. This project has been like walking through molasses more often than not, still I trudged along with a sense of duty instead of excitement. But then, while watching the last episode of Gilmore Girls, I realized something: it doesn’t matter if a story isn’t the most exciting, or has the perfect descriptive words. Significance is born out of authenticity. If I live my life and write my stories in a way that is vulnerable and honest, they will matter. The world doesn’t need anything flashy, it just needs something it can relate to and connect with.

But here’s the thing: living and writing with authenticity is hard. It requires work. It means taking the time for introspection instead of binge watching Netflix every spare moment. It means putting forth effort to connect with people and encourage them, instead of staying in your own little corner. Making your story matter requires living intentionally. Writing intentionally. Reading intentionally. Conversing intentionally. Worshiping intentionally. It means bringing a presence of mind to the table that many people have long given up on having.

And that’s why I’m here, on this new blog. Because I want the next years of my life to be filled with intentionality. To be filled with deep thoughts and completed projects. Exciting trips and satisfying victories. This site will be my place of expression and accountability, to tell you of my stories. Stories that matter, just like yours. And it is my prayer that along the way, some tidbit of my story will awaken something in you – will awaken the belief that what you do and who you are is oh so very significant.

You matter, and so does your story. Dare to believe it.