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March 17th 2014 / 5 comments

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The best gift my mom ever gave me was the gift of silence. Not that she was a quiet person to live with. She wasn’t. She still isn’t. She currently lives alone on 17 acres of land down a long dirt driveway, but even the birds and horses know when she comes home. If mom needs a set of listening ears, any ol’ bird will do. I find great solace in the fact that Francis of Assissi talked to birds too. He ended up a Saint, so there is complete hope for my mom. She processes life with whatever human, animal or tree that is nearby. I like this about her. But she also processes much of life in silence. She taught my sisters and I this gift of silence at an early age.

Now that I am a mom, I know unwaveringly that some of this silence-teaching was for her own sanity.

“Everybody go to your room and create something with toilet paper and scotch tape or read a book or take a nap. I don’t care what you do in there. Go! Now! One hour! Don’t bother your sisters!”

They were moments for her to decompress and find rest amidst the chaos of raising three girls that were only five years a part. But beyond those moments of sanity-silence there were also moments of purposeful silence. I remember them as far back as five-years-old. Hiking on trails, wandering aimlessly in the woods behind our house, being quiet to listen for small animals, or laying in bed at night. Mom intentionally created (forced) moments of silence so that we could listen.

We weren’t always sure what we were supposed to be listening for.

A big booming voice, a whisper, an answer, a condemnation, a challenge, a bird?

But we did know this: God talked to mom. And if we would just shut-up, we might hear God too.

My earliest memories of purposeful silence are at the beach in Florida for youth camp. My mom, a youth minister for a large church, would start each day with something she created called “Silent Sounds.” She wrote short devotionals for the students that ended with an invitation to reflect on a passage of scripture and questions that could be spoken out to the ocean, where presumably God vacationed. Teenagers would spread out all over the beach. I watched them as a little girl and wondered what God would say to them. Undoubtedly there were students who just built sand castles and carved curse words into the sand with sticks. But others were brave enough to look out into the unknown forever and speak out questions to this mysterious God of the universe and wait for answers to wash ashore.

For years my mom led students through this practice. She did so when I was five-years-old and was still doing so when I was fifteen-years-old and she was my youth pastor and I was sitting along the shore, reading her words, contemplating whether I was brave enough to listen for God’s voice. Brave enough to ask for answers.

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At some point in the day we had a chance to talk about the moments on the beach if we wanted to. And ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been struck with how many different types of people will speak up, longing to share their experience during those silent moments. The thing is, people who are brave enough to sit on the beach in silence and ask the questions are often desperate for an answer. And they usually get an answer. Only it’s not usually the answer they were looking for. And they are so taken back by what they do hear that they want to speak it out loud- to verify it, validate it, gift it to others, to know they are not alone.

We are usually tempted to sit in silence and ask for answers. During times of sharing, people often started by saying they were looking for answers about their job, their boyfriend, their cheerleading tryouts, their family, their shame, their education and the ubiquitous ‘what am I supposed to do with my life?’ And those questions aren’t bad.

Only, God never really seemed to answer them for people.

What usually turned up in the washing waves, salty air and scratchy sand looked less like specific answers to our most burning questions and more like platitudes of peace, purpose and power.

I am here.
I am holy.
You are loved.

People always seemed surprised and relieved. There was a sense that they had seen God’s  holiness and kindness as they dug their toes deep into the sand and their eyes scanned the horizon to see where their help would come from. They may not have walked away knowing whether they should ask for a raise, quit a job, or pursue a new relationship, but they knew all over again that God was present and Holy and they were loved…

and somehow that was enough.

Today, I am (yet again) at a crossroads in my life looking for answers. And everything in me wants Jesus to write out an itinerary, hand it off to a dove and send it to me down here on earth in a tiny scroll decorated with ribbons and cupcake stickers, “Jenny’s Scroll of Answers Straight From God!,” it would say.

And yet if history is any indicator of what happens next it is this: God’s will for me right now is very broad. It could be accomplished through any number of jobs, living in any number of cities, pursuing any number of passions. And that type of freedom scares me. No wonder we have created a rather unbiblical theology that imagines God telling us exactly what to do, exactly how to do it, and exactly when to act on every single decision in our lives. I wish it were that easy. Except that then we would never, as my friend says, run wild through the river Jordan laughing and smiling as we bravely, nervously, beautifully pursue a dream concocted deep in our hearts that only makes sense in light of our love for Jesus.

The truth is, some moments in life God seems to have a specific will for us but other times (the majority it seems) He stands alongside of us and says, “What would you like to do? What do you dream it looking like? Ok! Let’s go then!”

If history is any indicator of how this all plays out it is this: When I am silent before the Lord looking for answers, more times than not the answer given to me is no answer at all.

Because in the sacred silence I find something else and it is better than the specific answers I so desperately longed for.

In the silence there is a reshaping of my perspective, a reshaping of my fears, a reshaping of my questions. My answer-crazed heart is steadied and I find God at the edge of the ocean dancing in the clouds, rushing in the tides of clear water, pushing against the back of my legs, running fierce back to sea, inviting me to look at a broader pallet painted wild and free, declaring the only answer I need-

I am here.
I am holy.
You are loved.

At the waters edge I am invited to partake in a new kind of answer. An answer that is really no answer at all. A reminder of God’s holiness, my belovedness, and a sea of freedom in-between.

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March 8th 2014 / 11 comments

I totally failed at life yesterday.

I stepped in dog poop, my book manuscript was officially rejected from a publishing house, I cussed and hollered at an invading army of ants in my kitchen as if they could understand me, I lusted over everybody else’s life, and narrated (in my mind) a citizens revolt and takeover of the Department of Motor Vehicles. I may have, in my mind, also killed off some of Jesus’ family-lineage in a coup takeover too. I blame that on Margaret Feinberg.

Margaret’s books have been life-giving to me, but more so, the way she lives her life and treats people at events has awed me from afar. Her faith is rich and welcoming. And it seems to spill out and fall on everyone she touches. But I blame this entire story on her.

Well, some of it anyways.

It all started at the Department of Motor Vehicle. The birthplace of every negative connotation that surrounds the word bureaucracy. All I wanted was to become an official citizen of the State of Tennessee and leave with my peace and sanity intact. I walked into that DMV fully armed. I had every form of identification they could possibly want from me, a granola bar, soothing music, headphones and my Margaret Feinberg 40 Day Lent Challenge loaded and ready to read on YouVersion. Margaret invited some friends and I to join her in reading the entire New Testament during lent. And by ‘invited’ I mean ‘she doesn’t know me and invited millions of us.’  But hey- I took it as a personal invitation from the Lord and Margs. She lets me call her that.

Lent is often associated with what we give up. But giving up something during lent isn’t actually the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of lent is giving something up in order that we might take something else on.  And that something else we take on is the special invitation to join believers in Christ all around the world in a season of preparing our hearts to deeply abide in, remember, reflect and react to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So Margs says this year, in order to reflect on the life of Christ in a unique way, she is sitting down each day to read the redemptive narrative that is the New Testament. And she is reading the entire narrative in 40 days and I can join her. And I say thanks M-Feiny (another name she lets me call her). I’d love to join you. And I am a day late to the lent party, but I go to the Department of Motor Vehicle with every intention of catching up by reading the first 14 chapters of the book of Matthew. Reading the redemptive narrative of Jesus on my iPhone while I wait in the long DMV line to get my license. A duel lenten challenge of sorts.

Oh the DMV. Oh. Oh. Oh.

Thirty minutes turned into sixty minutes. Sixty minutes into ninety. Ninety to one-hundred and twenty.  The super pregnant lady who was there with her 3-year-old daughter was uncomfortable, antsy and making sure the agents knew how much discomfort she was in: grunts, holding her belly, and switching butt cheeks to sit on. The 93 year-old-woman who could barely walk was stomping her cane. One man, who was told that he needed to wait outside the building with another fifty people who were in front of him in the line, began to yell “Come on bro. You know this ain’t right for nobody in here. NO. NO I’M NOT YELLING BRO but there is a pregnant woman and senior adult lady who ain’t been seen in over two hours bro and you acting like you can’t even hear us. Like you won’t even look us in the eyes bro. COME ON BRO be cool.”

Still, the supervisor kicked him outside to wait and threatened to call the police.

One hundred and twenty minutes turned into one hundred and eighty minutes. That’s three hours, y’all. My original number in line was spot nine and after three entire hours, I had only moved up to spot number six. Bureau-craaaazzzzzzy taken to an extreme new low.

I made it to the Beatitudes.

Except that’s a total lie. A total lie.

I made it to Amon.

Matthew Chapter 1. Verse 10.

That’s as much Bible reading as I got done at the DMV, Margs. I totally failed.

Amon. That rang a bell. I think people hated him. I googled him and it was as I suspected. Some say say he burned the Torah and let spider webs cover the alter. Others say he was just like his dad, sacrificing children at alters of fire and leading out in witchcraft and sorcery. Others say he was lustful, idolatrous and just plain mean. So mean, in fact, that two short years into his kingdom his servants rallied a revolt, started a coup and took him out in a bloody assassination.

And I am NOT ONE TO BE DRAMATIC BUT…

But I’m telling you…

The supervisor at the DMV LOOKED JUST LIKE AMON.

And everyone in that room started to line up in the lineage of Jesus Christ himself. I saw it in front of my very eyes. There were at least two prostitutes. Two or three kings rolling up in their Land Rovers. Lots of ordinary, everyday faithful types. A shepherd boy (under the custody of department of child services) who wants to fly planes in the Air Force. A few Ruth’s taking care of their elderly mother-in-law’s. One sweet lady who was fanning herself in a corner, God love her, and kept saying for all to hear (including King Amon) “Looorrrrd help me to accept the things I CAN NOT change and courage to change what I can.”

And then there was Amon and his cronies.

Those of us who were nearing the four hour mark of DMV hell-dom began to fraternize. We knew each other’s names and the last four digits of each other’s phone numbers. Those were our call numbers when in line. We cheered when people’s numbers were finally called. Audibly. Cheered, hooted and hollered. I would’ve handed out cupcakes and princess crowns if I had them. We knew where each person was moving from and how long it would take them to get back to their home state. We figured we might just have to move back to where we came from if the State of Tennessee couldn’t figure out a way to give us a new drivers license by the end of the day.

We tried to help translate for our non-English friends, tried calming our tyrannical friends down and made seats available for the elderly and pregnant. And finally, at hour four, I suggested to our friends that we find ole’ Amon and tell him, respectfully: We will be seen now. And we found him. And we were immediately seen. A huge oversight, he assured us. And the revolt was averted. And we passed out comment cards and pens to everyone in the building and I launched my own twitter campaign to try and track down whoever was in charge of that building and swore I would run for public office and reform the DMV system. And we left with our own newly formed anarchy of friends, most of us angry to the bone and completely aware that the DMV beat us.

So yesterday, MFeiny, I failed at day one of Lent. But Lent is the preparation of the soul. And if my soul were fully prepared to celebrate the most holy season of the year, I suppose I wouldn’t need the 40-Day challenge or the act of laying things down and taking things up in order to get myself out of the way. As it stands, I need a lot more soul work. Don’t we all?

Grateful I still have 30-something days. 
And a lifetime.


March 3rd 2014 / 9 comments

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My dear family,

I am bitter. I am trying not to be, but I just can’t shake it. Usually, I’m good at letting my anger and unmet expectations go. You know, the whole ‘Jesus help me to accept the things I cannot change,’ deep breathing and yoga bit. But this morning I’ve spoken- sieved- shouted- more angry curses than I can count. So I need help. What do you do when you are just bitter and can’t seem to let it go?

This is the text message I almost sent to my family this morning. And here’s why.

I am an outdoorsy, sun-loving girl. Some people need coffee, some need music or massages- I need sun. That’s the thing that re-charges me and keeps me sane. My world can be falling a part but if the sun is shining, I can cope.  And the thing is, I am sun-deprived.

Anyone in the mid-west or east coast of the United States will tell you that this has been a brutal winter. The kind that can kill a girl like me off. More snow than sun. More clouds than clear skies. More misery than merriment. And quite honestly, I am hanging on by my last little thread of sanity waiting for the God-forsaken winter to be over. No more grey. No more clouds, rain, ice, snow, snow-domes, snow-apocalypses, snow-days. Snow Cones. That’s really the only type of snow I can handle at this point.

I am turning all kinds of ashy. My scalp is flaking off. My fingers have been purple for three months. I’m starting to look like a pasty Mississippi white girl but I am one quarter Hispanic and I want to look that way. I want you to wonder if perhaps I’m from Mexico or Brazil or Texas, at least. I want brown skin and freckles in full bloom and I want to wake up each morning and debate whether or not to wear shorts because I don’t know if the leather seats in my car will burn my butt or not.

Admittedly, I suffer from that seasonal mood disorder that makes the creative-nature-lovers who live in wintery states start twitching by mid-February. I know I have it because I went to my doctor and she asked if I felt generally happy and I told her no. I feel generally pasty and flaky, kind of like a purple crescent roll and I CANNOT keep living.

She suggested I take vitamin D, see a therapist and Google “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

So February has come and gone and winter is still frigging here. I wake up, look out the window, acknowledge the lack of sun and immediately begin searching for job openings in Southern California.  Because I CANNOT anymore. I have moved from twitching to just walking around pissed off and moody, turning on all the lights in the house and sitting under the brightest one like a pee-colored baby under an incubator. I have winter jaundice.

I’ve threatened to get in the car and just drive until I reach sun and warmth. My threats started in October, way before my knuckles and fingertips turned putrid purple. So by November Ryan decided maybe we should plan a trip to a sunshiny state. He was going to be in Los Angeles for a conference and maybe we could extend that trip and go down to San Diego and I could sit like a turtle on a log by the water. Happy and content. Hello Hispanic girl skin. So we sunk all our vacation money to take our first true vacation in years and go to San Diego for some beach time and Don Miller’s Storyline Conference. Ryan used most of his vacation days. We flew his mom to Nashville to be with Annie. And we left on a much needed trip for some good R&R and that West Coast sunshine. And I have been counting down the days until I could escape Nashville and make my way to Sunny San Diego.

Have you actually ever heard San Diego referred to without the Sunny prefix? It’s like Mr. or Mrs. or ‘The’ United States. Sunny San Diego. Sunny is part of the city’s God-given birth name. It’s on the city’s birth certificate. So with every rainy, gloomy, icy, snowy, or generally windy, miserable cold winter day in Nashville the past three months, I focused on Sunny San Diego.  Like a mantra, a mecca, a messiah come to save ashy white girl from winter.

Sunny freaking San Diego.

And the trip finally came. And we went. And it rained.
The entire trip.

Grey skies. Trees down. Flooded roads. And just enough sun to know it was above the clouds but not enough to actually be able to see it or feel it. A cruel trick. It was the first rain in over 70 days and the biggest rain storm the state had experienced in something like 100 years. And California needed the rain and I am happy for them and all their little wine grapes and oranges and avocados and exotic smelling trees. But as I watched the torrents of rain and clouds rolling in, I started feeling bitter.

And this morning when I woke up on my final day of vacation in San Diego, I crept over to the window and was relieved to see that it was still raining. Had the sun come out to bid me farewell (as I head home into an ice storm and winter warning advisory) it would have been too much for me to deal with.

And the Storyline Conference was wonderful- but what my heart really wanted was sun.

I asked Ryan if I could drop him off at the gate and go return the rental car alone. And as soon as I drove away, I let out a great, big AGGGGHHHHHHGGGGGGHHHHHHH at the top of my lungs. And a few other choice words. It felt good to scream. I knew I needed to. I had been trying with every ounce inside of me to make the best of the trip.  And that took a lot of energy.

The city of San Diego, the facilities where the conference were held and the general flow of West Coast life were not made for the kind of rain we were getting. Shuttling 1700 people on and off a college campus during a rain tsunami takes great patience from all parties involved. Arriving wet everywhere you go takes a certain emotional fortitude. Choosing joy when you don’t get what you want takes a good deal of deep breathing and searching for the silver lining. All of which are exhausting. And after I let the rental car have it and yelled my heart out,  I realized that I was bitter because this was not the vacation I so desperately wanted and needed it to be. And there was no way to fix that. And I wanted my money back from the Universe.

I’m not very-well practiced at how to be angry or how to let-go of bitterness. I don’t often get angry or bitter. But as I waited behind 50 people and one, ONE, sweet gate agent at the airport this morning I could feel it settling into my bones. And I didn’t want it- I didn’t want the anger and disappointment or resentment and bitterness. That’s why I screamed in the car. Sometimes punching a pillow or running a mile as fast as you can or screaming into an empty car can begin the decompressing and letting go process. But it didn’t help. I had been in a constant state of muttering and begging the words of the serenity prayer over my heart for days and it worked off and on in tandem with the rain. When there was a break in the clouds the serenity prayer seemed to work. When they billowed back in with their never-ending rivets of rain, the serenity prayer seemed to lose its power. So prayers for transcending peace didn’t seem to do the trick either. As I stood in line, I re-read the notes I took on my phone from the conference.

Redeeming negative turns. Overcoming conflict. Living a good story.

“I want to live a good story!” I told myself.

But myself answered, “I REFUSE! Good stories ONLY happen in sunshine!”

And so, I decided, I needed reinforcement. I would text my two sisters and my parents- our family text chain is absurd- and I would ask them how to stop being angry and bitter. I needed their answers. I needed their advise. I needed some type of divine intervention and they were my last hope. So I typed the text message above. But right before I pressed “send” the divine intervention came.

It came in the form of a 60 year-old lady who was also having a hard time understanding why there was only one ticket agent and why that agent wasn’t helping the entire First Class line before taking care of the lesser-than’s. She was, after all, a first class air citizen entitled to have everything happen the way she wanted it to. And she was about to let everyone know that. She began to yell. Truly yell. From her spot in the line, she yelled at the agent. She yelled at the two men in front of her. She yelled at someone from the lesser-than line who tried to walk up to the counter. She yelled and shook her fists and her anger spilled forth like vile.

And instantly my anger and bitterness were gone. Completely gone.
She was a slap in the face, like cold water dumped over my head.
Because if she is a picture of what anger and bitterness turn a person into, I don’t want any part of it.
Her presence melted my bitterness in a moment.
She was a walking example of what bitterness kept does to a person.
And just like that, my perspective was restored and recovered.

So it was not the vacation of my dreams. And while I can still feel the sting of disappointment, the bitterness has washed away with the rain dripping off my suitcase. We will save money all over again and go on another vacation. The sun will return. And when it does, I will appreciate it all the more. And I will do so as a girl who has learned an important lesson.

One: SUNNY SAN DIEGO is a lie!!!
Two: No amount of bitterness can bring back the sun you feel like you deserve.
But light is always available- whether there is sunshine or not.
So I will keep trying to throw off bitterness and let go of unmet expectations- and if I can’t do it on my own- I will pray for some divine intervention to come and slap me in the face, like it did today, and remind me of who I truly am…
a child of light
whether the sun shines or not.

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full disclosure
*There WERE some moments of sun. I will post those pictures soon.
*StoryLine Conference was AMAZING. I will write out some of the things I experienced later this week.