One Month and the Beauty of Ordinary Days

One month. One month until the little blue book that is the story of the dress releases into the wild. And I could not be more excited.

A week ago, I stood in front of a group of Trevecca students and talked about the project and the book and all the things in between. I held the bound pages in my hands, read aloud the words that Susanna and I agonized over. But even then, I couldn’t really believe it.

March first closes in and yet life carries on, every bit as beautiful and monotonous as ever. Book talk days are also laundry days and homework days and Craigslist deal days and cooking days and reading days.

With the release looming, I feel like I should be kicking into high gear, writing things and doing things and running around making sure that everybody knows that the book is coming and they can buy it. (By the way, have I mentioned that it's up for preorder?)

And I am doing some of those things, writing a few guests posts and getting ready for a couple of interviews. But the day-in and day-out of this season is slow—slower than I expected. There are moments when I wish for a little more excitement, but as I’m settling back into life at school, I’m learning to see how rich the quiet can be.

When I rush, I feel fragmented, like I’m leaving pieces of myself all over the place. The rhythms of these days are putting me back together again, teaching me what it is to become whole. Yoga and bedtime routines and cooking and reading and homework and class and coffee dates and bright yellow tea kettles, all of it so ordinary and yet so beautiful.

I get lost in my own life sometimes, wanting everything except the moments in front of me. Somehow, in this big, wonderful world, I get bored. I scroll through miles of social media posts, always on the lookout for something new. Something fancy. Something to shake me from my apathy.

In all the mess and the noise, I forget to open my eyes and see the things around me.

Perhaps that is the greatest gift of this change of place, eyes open to see the goodness that feels so new. These days are different, yes. There is a book coming into the world that has shaped me in ways I can’t even begin to explain, and I’m so excited for you to read it.

But in the midst of all of that, I’m doing my very best to pay attention to the gifts these days are full of. Not just the big, obvious ones, but the little ones. Snippets of Wendell Berry poetry on my desk, dancing in the kitchen, the relief of a made bed and a folded basket of laundry.

I’m trying to listen to the things that make me come alive, learning to be present to this life I’ve been given. I’m not very good at it, but I want to get better, to see these days as meaningful not because they offer important things, but because they are.

So here we are, a month away. And I suppose what I really want to say is that I don’t have much to say right now. These days seem unremarkable. But I am so grateful for them, for four more quiet weeks of sinking into my place before this story finds its way into your hands.

And I hope this little book sparks a few conversations about the places God has called each of us. Because sometimes they are big and dramatic places (see: wearing a dress for a year), but sometimes they are places of quiet faithfulness, places that seem mundane.

May we learn to see the beauty in both.

Home

I’ve been counting down for months now. December rolled into January and the move back to school loomed ever-closer. Nine days. Eight. Seven. Six. Little by little I packed my life into bags and bins and suitcases. Tape screeched as I stretched it across the cardboard boxes of books I was sending ahead. I loaded the car, hoping against hope that everything would fit. When I shut the hatch for the last time on Friday night, I could finally breathe again.

And then I woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning and pulled out of the driveway with most of my earthly possessions in tow. Tiny towns interrupted stretches of field and forest as I followed the interstate north. By Saturday evening, I was back in the mountains.

The next afternoon I got back in the car, hundreds of miles under my tires by then. I wound through valleys and around ridges right into Tennessee. And as I crossed the state line, I wept.  

Ten months.

I’d been gone for ten months.

Never did I imagine when I left that it’d be so long. But after all that time, after all the things that should have been but weren’t, all the sorrows and joys that have marked this year, my heart has come home. Nashville is teaching me what it means to belong to a place, to know deep in my bones that this is where I’m supposed to be. The mountains and the trees and the coffee shops and the cityscape and even the rush-hour traffic—all of it feels like home.

I’ve spent the last week unpacking, settling in, and putting up a few decorations. Most of the work is done, but I’m still hunting for the perfect table. And a few chairs. And a rug. And . . . Well, maybe it’s not as done as I’d like. So in spite of all the settling, I’m still feeling a bit unsettled, running around, trying to put all the pieces in place.

It’s part of my perfectionistic bent, I suppose. I want things to be right, but I also want them right now. If I’ve learned anything this year, though, it’s that good things take time. Healing, beauty, belonging—all of these things take time.

More often than not, I still pressure myself to get it together, whatever it may be. To snap my fingers and turn my life into the one I want. But I’m finding goodness these days in the slowness of becoming.

Over and over I remind myself that right now, my health is more important than my GPA. It’s okay to rest even if all the things on my to-do list aren’t done.

I suppose that’s one of my new year’s resolutions: to slow down and be present where I am, imperfect though it may be. This work of healing, of becoming whole, is long and slow and difficult and beautiful and so full of grace. So for today, I’m doing my best to not rush it.

So here's to you, 2016. May we do the best we can with the days and hours and minutes in front of us this year. 

Photo by Carol VanHook, Creative Commons

The Weary World Rejoices

Faux leather groaned as I stretched back in the recliner. I picked up my advent devotional from the table next to me and, using only my left hand, managed to get it open to Chapter 1. Turning it face-down on my lap, I closed my eyes for a second. Then I opened them again and watched the antibiotics drip-drip-dripping from the IV bag over my head into my right arm.

Only a few of the other eight chairs had occupants, and each of us were absorbed in whatever we’d brought to pass the time. Flipping the book back over, I sighed. It was only December 2, and I was already behind in my devotional.

I fought back another yawn. Even with caffeine, I could barely keep my eyes open. I’d been feeling so much better—better enough that I was planning to head back to Nashville and school in January. But there I was, completely exhausted. Was I getting worse again?

Healing isn’t linear, I reminded myself for the umpteenth time. This isn’t a permanent setback.

Still, I was so tired. And it was Lyme-tired, the kind that I usually can’t sleep through—at least not during the day. The kind of tired I never knew existed before I got sick.

Focus. I dragged my brain back to the task at hand.

Fluorescent light glared off the pages. I read my two chapters, and, closing the book, turned the volume up on my phone so my earbuds would drown out the instrumental CD playing in the background. As I flipped through my music, I thought about bible study the night before and our conversation about God’s presence, about prayer and abiding.

I’d been tired then, too. The thought of trying to approach God felt exhausting. I didn’t have the emotional energy to reach out, especially when he didn’t seem keen on reaching back.

I tapped my dim phone screen awake and pulled up Andrew Osenga’s “Too Far to Walk”—the song that’d been running through my head since the night before. He sang,

Jesus, you’ll have to come get me,
Cause it’s too far to walk tonight.

I swallowed hard, then turned toward the wall so only the plant in the corner would see my silent tears.

For so long I’ve tried to get to God. I’m Type-A, strong, independent, stubborn. I like boxes, and I like checking them off. I like doing things myself. And I base my perception of God’s nearness and pleasure on how well I’m performing.

Only that isn’t working anymore. This illness brings me to the end of my strength again and again, and I keep finding myself too tired and hurt and angry to check off all the boxes.

And I don’t know where God is in the midst of all of this.

Advent has seemed different this year. It’s a season that makes me think about joy and peace and hope, but those things have been hard to muster up lately. I don’t know how to prepare my messy heart for the coming of Christ.

But maybe that’s the point.

These weeks aren’t just about how well we can prepare for Jesus. They’re about the God who bends low, who comes for us when we are too tired to crawl to him. The one who makes his home with us and in us—even when we haven’t had the strength or the energy or the time to get ready for him.   

He comes to us in our messy, broken, dark places, and he is Emmanuel. The God who is with us.

The God who, when we are spent, spends himself to bring us back to him.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.


Photo by glasseyesview, Creative Commons

Tired Faith and Advent Promises

For my whole life, I’ve belonged to a people who’ve known how to claim God’s promises. If he said he would do something, we believed it. And more often than not, we saw him come through.

We talked about faith, about being sure of what we hoped for and certain of what we could not see (Heb. 11). What we usually meant by that was if we had faith in the things we couldn’t see, then we’d be able to see them.

This wasn’t the “name it and claim it” of the prosperity gospel. The promises we talked about were based in scripture. They were reasonable things to believe in. And it seemed to work.

I could exchange a promise for a result, something like a divine vending machine.

But then it stopped being that simple.

One of the promises we talked about was healing. Time and again I watched people pray and find physical health, so when my body went south on me, I figured that would work for me, too. Wise people told me that a promise of healing wasn’t necessarily immediate. Still, I was convinced that God’s job was to solve my problems—on my timetable.

So I asked.

Again, and again, and again.

And instead of getting better, my symptoms got worse.

My hope was in what God could do for me, in the thing I thought he’d promised—and it was failing me.

I didn’t know what to do with that.

I’ve learned a few things about hope since then. Mostly that it’s hard, but also that it’s what we’re supposed to do, who we’re supposed to be as the people of God. Only it doesn’t look like it used to.

Advent reminds me that my hope is not in results, and it’s not about my timetable. We spend these weeks waiting and expecting and hoping and longing. We feel the brokenness of the world around us, of our own bodies and hearts, and we wonder where the redemption is.

God has promised to make all things new. So why is he taking so long? Has he forgotten us?

For generations, we have asked this question. Christmas rolls around and we talk about promises as though they come to be in four short weeks. We want to be the Annas and the Simeons, the ones who believed in God’s promise and saw it fulfilled in their lifetimes.

We forget just how long the people of God waited for their savior.

Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had Judah, and they cried, How long, O Lord?

The writer of Hebrews tells us about the lives of saints, the ones who were full of faith, the ones who died without receiving the promise (Heb. 11:13). The ones who, even still, believed in a God who redeems.

The truth is, I want to be able to base my faith on results, to know that if I do what I’m supposed to do, God will respond in a particular way. But I’m learning that’s not how this works.

Perhaps we will see the world made new in our lifetimes, but perhaps not.

So this Advent, we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. We look around us at the brokenness, at all the ways God seems absent, and we weep. Redemption is coming, yes. And for that we give thanks. We celebrate with all we have. But we make space for the pain, too, for the places where the newness has not yet come.

And we look for hope, in the small moments and the big. We look for reminders that there is still so much good in the world, for the places where redemption is taking hold.

It is slow work, the fulfilment of this promise. But it comes.


One of the things I want to do this Advent season is look for small reminders of hope. So I’d love to hear, where do you find hope? What things or moments, big or small, have reminded you of all the good in the world, of God’s presence, even when the newness that he’s promised seems so far away?

Photo by Alexander Boden, Creative Commons

A Moment of Peace

I’ve spent so much of this year suspended, caught somewhere between the leap from the cliff and the splash into the water. Appointments, tests, diagnoses, treatment attempts, reactions, and ever this incessant waiting.

Last week I began another treatment attempt—microscopic soldiers drip-drip-dripping into my veins to wage war on the Lyme spirochetes. We’re optimistic about this round, but cautiously so. I haven’t responded well to previous treatments, so we don’t know what, exactly, to expect.

How frantic I get in these in-between places, when I find myself at the mercy of my circumstances and my God. Like if I only work hard enough, check off every box on the healing to-do list, everything will turn out how I want.

I grasp at every bit of control I can and focus on doing, doing, doing, until I am exhausted.

I forget that rest brings healing.

Or I remember, but the bacteria in my nervous system make me restless. I have such a hard time slowing down. Still, that’s what I need most right now, so I’m finding peace where I can—often on the front porch swing, and most truly when I turn off the screens for a few minutes.

I look for the things that bring me back to center and camp out there. This week it’s been a choral arrangement of Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things.”

There is so much uncertainty right now, so much that makes me frenetic, so little peace.

I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief . . .   (Berry)

A deep breath, and then another. A squirrel dashes across the yard, burying nuts in preparation for winter. Fall shadows dapple the lawn, and there is a breeze, thank heaven. Birds call from tree to tree. With each back and forth, the swing creaks and groans.

. . . For a time
I rest in the grace of the world and am free.   (Berry)

Maybe you also know the uncertainty, the frantic running around, the inability to rest. Maybe you’re looking for a few moments of peace. May I suggest this?

If you're interested, the text of the poem is here.

I stumbled across this arrangement when Seth Haines posted it on his facebook page. Speaking of, his book Coming Clean released last week. It’s the story of his journey into sobriety, but it’s also a book for all of us about pain and the ways we try to avoid it.

His words about inner sobriety are hitting particularly close to home right now as it is this restlessness that often keeps me from peace and from prayer.

I’m looking forward to finally sitting down with this book in the next few days. You should check it out too. It’s a story that will challenge you and change you—one that will be well worth your time. You can find it here.  


Photo by coniferconifer, Creative Commons