Creating Life in the Midst

forest 3Life and writing are not meshing for me right now.

It’s 8:30 and I’m exhausted and I haven’t written a word, I haven’t edited any words and honestly, I don’t have the mental energy to do either one.

Honestly, that’s probably because I’m angry as well as tired – not a good combination for writing or for living my life. And I’m feeling like this because I feel like I *need* to make something happen in my life.

Do you ever feel like that? Like if you don’t do the thing you’ve been dreaming about, if you don’t do that thing that makes you feel like you and that you strongly believe God gave you to do *right now,* you’re going to blow it?

And so I grit my teeth and I snarl at my computer because programs aren’t working correctly and I feel the tension of all this missed opportunity coursing through my veins. And I can feel it there – in the anger and the tears and the fear.

The fear. It’s pulsing through me and it’s chasing my thoughts around; it’s trying to convince me that I’m lost and that this is all there is to my life. Fear wants me to believe that it’s too late and it doesn’t matter and that I’m destined for nothing more than mediocrity and just getting by.

This warped view comes from living in the midst and losing sight of hope and truth.

You see, my days are long, so long and so filled with meeting needs and it’s a constant wrestling match in my heart and my mind, or maybe it’s a wrestling match *between* my heart and my mind.

There’s the side of my heart that knows that pouring into the lives of these two little girls is important, Kingdom-building work. But then there’s the writer and dreamer side of me, or maybe it’s the selfish me, or maybe it’s just the worn out me who feels like I’m missing the mark somehow.

And anger is easy, you know?

If I get angry, I don’t have to address what’s happening here in the midst. I don’t have to address the tension that builds between living and living well; between seeking God’s will and living in God’s will; between creating with words and creating a life.

And there it is: I am wrestling with creating with words and creating a life when, in fact, these two creative pursuits are intimately linked for me. Neither is more important. Neither is more worthy.

Even so, they are not ever on equal footing nor do they hold equal weight at any given moment. These two creative pursuits ebb and flow and tug at me and sometimes, like now, one must be set aside or pursued in the in-between.

Pursued in the midst.

I don’t know exactly what that looks like. But I know that I won’t find the answer with anger and it won’t be something simple; life is too complicated right now for that and the days much too long.

What I do know is that I can only discover it as I draw near to the heart of the One who gave me both creative pursuits. He who created me knows me and I believe He will direct my steps if I let Him.

Only if I let Him.

So, I’m breathing deep and breathing out prayers, prayers spilling over with desperate need for His presence because, yes, I am desperate for what only He can provide.

Writing Sprint: Portals

Writing Sprint Wednesdays & link up

The Writing Sprint prompt appears at the end of this post and offers an opportunity for you to freewrite for 15 to 45 minutes without the so-called help of your inner critic. No overthinking. No stopping. No editing. No worries.

{a quick p.s. If you’re joining the link up, please grab the Writing Sprint logo below and include it on your blog post, along with a link back to this page. Thanks!}

laptopWriting Sprint Prompt: Portals

C. S. Lewis used a wardrobe, J. M. Barrie used the second star to the right, and Lewis Carroll used a rabbit hole—each a gateway to another world. This week, pick an object that is important to you and transform it into a portal to an alternate world. Write a story about someone discovering the portal and adjusting to life where everything is foreign. Take into consideration where this secret passage is located and what it feels like to pass through it. 

To this prompt, I would add that perhaps the Portal is an object – like a ring or a medallion or a pair of glasses that your character finds and puts on or touches (as in Tomorrowland). Be creative & have fun.

{Before I get started, I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 15 to 45 minute time, I have created a playlist on Spotify that allows me to put together songs that come close to 45 minutes. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing}

{start}

The Book of Poems & Legends

“Mia, have you seen the Book of Poems and Legends?” Henry called from the small extra room they both referred to as the library. He began looking over the shelves one more time. “Mia? Mia? Where in the world did she go?” Their apartment was what realtors described as cozy, which translated in Henry’s mind into the square footage of a postage stamp, so the fact that Mia hadn’t answered him meant she must have left without telling him and that’s not how they tended to operate. Henry wandered outside to see if perhaps his sister had taken up her usual garden spot in the hammock, but there were only the growing shadows of dusk.

“Mia, is that you,” Sophia called when she heard the sliding door open next door. She laughed to herself because it was really Henry that she hoped to see, but she almost always asked for Mia rather than Henry. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy Mia’s company. In fact the two had become quite close in the two years that they’d lived next door to each other. But she felt such a deep connection to Henry that she couldn’t quite explain, and she was going to miss him terribly.

“It’s Henry,” he called over. He peeked his head over the fence. “You haven’t seen Mia have you? Maybe heard her go out?”

Sophia shook her head. “But I’ve only been out here for about five minutes or so,” she said.

“So unlike her,” Henry said.

“I can keep you company while you wait for her,” Sophia offered and Henry smiled at her.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“Where do you suppose she is,” Sophia asked once the two were nestled in the cushions of the garden swing. Henry shrugged. With Sophia so near, his worry about where Mia had disappeared to was overshadowed by the anticipated loss of this closeness and connection he shared with Sophia.

***

In the library, on the shelf where Henry kept his favorite books, Mia stood, hands on hips and just half the size of the spine of the worn out NIV translation of The Bible. She knew she’d left the Book of Poems and Legends on the back of the shelf behind the line of Henry’s most-read books because she knew it was the one place that he wouldn’t look for it. Other than The Bible, Henry has cycled through each of these books recently and had moved on to some newer selections from the public library. Still, she couldn’t imagine where the heavy volume had gotten to in the short time she’d been gone. And why was Henry looking for the book anyway, she wondered. But that wasn’t nearly as important right now because without the book, she was stuck as she was, the size of a pen and a great distance from the floor without some ingenuity and perhaps some assistance. She walked the length of the shelf once more, acknowledging the gap where she’d removed the volume and moved behind the line of books that stacked like steps from tallest to shortest until they reached The Bible laid upon its side.

A shadow passed through the room and Mia hugged her arms around herself against a strange and sudden chill that started in her bones and moved up through her spine. She crouched behind the copy of the old worn Bible and held her breath for with Henry and Sophia swinging in the garden, and no other way into the apartment, there was only one other being she could imagine in the library at this moment. One being who could pass through time and space and realms and visions as he pleased and without detections or opposition. She whispered a familiar chant of verse for strength and protection and waited in silence.

The shadow grew darker and closer to the shelves and she was certain she felt the cold air of his breath and fought against trembling that he might not detect her presence. Further along the shelf came a thump and then a sliding and shifting of books and then the shadow lightened and seemed to evaporate. Even so, Mia stayed crouched behind the NIV Bible for several minutes before venturing back along the shelf toward the row of Henry’s favorite stories. Sure enough, just as she had suspected, the thump and the rearranging of books was the returning of The Book of Poems and Legends. Although she hadn’t seen him, Mia felt sure that the One had taken the old volume, but for what reason, she wondered, if he could pass through visions and dreams and time without the help of a portal?

As she pondered this, she wrestled the old, thick volume from its hiding place upon the shelf and let it fall open to the story about the Legend of the Faerie of the Isle and then, as quickly as she was able, she jumped into the painted print of a meadow that bordered a shadowy wood on one side and a cozy cottage on the other. In the cottage the illustrator had drawn with painstaking detail a woman at a piano looking out at the meadow while the blue and gold lights of several faeries danced and played under the falling dusk. As her toe touched the feathery grass, sketched with such vivid strokes, Mia disappeared.

{Stop}

This Week’s Writing Sprint: Portals

C. S. Lewis used a wardrobe, J. M. Barrie used the second star to the right, and Lewis Carroll used a rabbit hole—each a gateway to another world. This week, pick an object that is important to you and transform it into a portal to an alternate world. Write a story about someone discovering the portal and adjusting to life where everything is foreign. Take into consideration where this secret passage is located and what it feels like to pass through it.

Give us what you’ve got with as much detail and dialog as you can muster in 15 to 45 minutes. Most of all, have fun. Free your writer from your inner critic. When you’re done, come back and link up what you’ve got! And remember to give some encouragement to at least one other person in the link up community. You can post to the link up party until next Tuesday night. Hope to read you there!

The Ebb and Flow of Dreams

IMG_6476God-given dreams and purposes will ebb and flow. Their rhythms will include rests among the beats of building and refining and tinkering.

Consider the moment when Jesus comes upon Simon (Peter) and his brother, Andrew and the building rhythm as Jesus prepares them for what He is about to do.

Simon and Andrew are exhausted; they are cleaning their equipment so they can get some rest. But Jesus has other plans for them in this moment:

“He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.” (Luke 5:3, The Message)

Things start small. They are in the shallow waters and close to the shore. Simon’s role is simply to keep the boat steady and a safe distance from the crowd on the shore that was probably creeping into the waters to their ankles, their shins, their waists, wanting to be close to Jesus.

We don’t know what Simon is thinking, but given that he’d been fishing all night, he may simply have been lulled into restfulness with the rocking boat and the sound of Jesus’ voice.

And then Jesus steps things up, turning His attention to Simon:

“When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.” (Luke 5:4, The Message)

It’s time to move out to deeper waters. I’m guessing that this is the last thing Simon is expecting and the last thing he wants to do. At this point, if I’m him, I’m ready to head home and have some breakfast and maybe even get a nap.

But that’s not what Jesus wants from him. And Simon gets to choose: put out into the deeper waters or refuse:

“Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” (Luke 5:5, The Message)

Have you ever thought anything like this? Lord, I’m tired. I don’t really want to. Do I have to? Can’t I just get a break? Haven’t you seen how hard I’ve been working?

Maybe Simon thought similarly. Even so, he relents. It’s Jesus and there’s something about Him, so Simon does what He asks.

“It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.” (Luke 5:6-7, The Message)

Though Simon and Andrew fished all night, they caught nothing. Their efforts brought no reward. But when Simon follows Jesus’ advice, when he heeds what Jesus tell him to do, Simon reaps a catch greater than anything he and his brother hauled in.

Simon and his friends were awed by what happened. And who wouldn’t be. What had just happened? Who was this man and how had they reaped such an overflowing bounty?

Eventually, they return to the shore. Eventually, Jesus calls them to follow Him. Eventually, they are no longer ordinary fishermen; they are disciples.

And their lives as His disciples will ebb and flow with the same rhythm of work and rests.

We are not meant to work tirelessly always everyday.

We are meant to rest. To sabbath. To get away with Jesus to be renewed and readied for the next task.

Sometimes we will be on the shore.

Sometimes we will be in the shallow waters, keeping the boat steady.

Sometimes we will put out to the deep waters where the bounty of blessing is overflowing.

And we will always need to return to the shore to rest and to fellowship with Jesus over a meal as we look out over the sea and discuss what comes next.

Where are you today? Me? I’m on the shore for some much-needed time with my Savior.

Desperate Measures Bring Great Delight

IMG_6464One of the things I love about a good story is the ability to take me out of my here and now and put me into the events facing the protagonist. Even more, I like to step into the hero’s shoes, identifying with her and seeing myself in the story, sharing a sense of camaraderie with the main character.

I solved mysteries with Sherlock Holmes. I started a revolution with Katniss Everdeen. I stood in the galley with Scout and watched Atticus Finch’s closing argument. I learned the magic of words with Liesel in a basement in Germany.

And I betrayed Jesus by a fire outside the high priest’s house in Jerusalem.

That last one is Peter, one of Jesus’ inner circle disciples and one of the people I so often closely identify with when I read about Jesus’ three-year ministry in the gospels. Peter was bold, impetuous, outspoken and sometimes acted without thinking things through.

But there are days like today when I feel like I’m stuck behind the crowd struggling to be heard or to see what’s coming or to do something bold. There are days when I feel more like Zacchaeus than Peter; but usually only the part where he can’t see. That’s too often where I stop the story: feeling desperate and feeling defeated.

But that’s not where Zacchaeus’ story ends.

Zacchaeus’ story is one of tenacity and ingenuity and delight.

1-4 Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.

5-7 When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. (Luke 19:1-7, The Message)

I love the way The Message describes Zacchaeus: He wanted desperately to see Jesus.

But there’s a large crowd separating Zacchaeus from the thing he desperately desires. Even so, Zacchaeus isn’t stymied. He runs ahead on Jesus’ route and climbs a tree so that he’ll catch a glimpse of this man about whom Zacchaeus has heard so much. And I’m betting that he would have been satisfied with that brief glimpse.

But Jesus gives Zacchaeus so much more than he could have possibly imagined; He invited Himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’ home.

Can you even imagine? An audience with the King of Kings when all you were hoping for was a glimpse of Him as he passed by the crowd beneath your sycamore tree?

Because that’s how God works, isn’t it?

Maybe you’ve forgotten that recently as you’ve faced one setback after another. Maybe you’ve forgotten that as you’ve struggled and fought to save your marriage or you’ve faced past due bills and a negative bank account. Maybe you’ve forgotten that as you’ve lost sight of the God-given vision for your life, your marriage, your relationships, your finances, your purpose.

But He hasn’t forgotten you. When you are desperate for Him – desperate to see Him, to feel Him, to hear from Him, know that He hasn’t forgotten you.

What’s in your way? What’s keeping you from seeing Him? Take your lead from Zacchaeus and get to a place where you can see Him even just a little bit. Watch for Him. Anticipate Him. That’s all Zacchaeus did. He put himself in a place where he could see Jesus. Jesus did the rest.

Jesus looks up and declares, Today is my day to be with you.

Don’t ever doubt that Jesus speaks these words to you every day. We may not always hear them because the crowd of our fear or our doubt or our worry or our troubles or our struggles have cut us off from Him. But take heart. When we are desperate for Him, He is eager to find us and to give us more of Him than we can ask or imagine.

May your story today be one that provides you the kind of delight that brought Zacchaeus scrambling down from his perch in the tree hardly believing his good fortune.

Five Steps to Better Choices

I watch my five-year-old weather the storm of her emotions in the wake of her choices, choices that bring unwanted consequences. Her tears mix readily with her anger and confusion and all of it wrenches my heart. I want to step in and take away the circumstances that are causing her so much upset.

I won’t. But I want to.

Instead, I draw near and offer comfort for her tears and empathy for her anger and whispers of assurance for her disappointment. I make sure she doesn’t confuse what she did with who she is. I want her to understand that choices will always have consequences, be they good or not-so-good.

It takes a several minutes, but eventually she calms enough to reconnect with me and I welcome her into my arms. I know this won’t be the only time we’ll go through this today and that’s okay.

And as I sit with her in my arms I wonder, is this how God feels about me? Is this what He does every time I mess up? I won’t open my closet of skeletons, but trust me, it’s packed pretty full. God and I have gone through our share of my tantrums and my railing against Him and against the natural consequences of my choices.

Screwing up comes too easily sometimes: the lure of the easy out or the temptation of the right now, the immediate gratification, the world’s rewards. Even though I know the heartache I’ve endured as a result of my bad choices and even though I know what I ought to do, I am prone to repeat my history if I do not guard against it.

Because life is comprised of the choices we make, I must learn – and often relearn – to make good ones. Fortunately, God offers me more than enough wisdom to help me in this process. In two simple, straight-forward verses, He provides a step-by-step plan for how to approach each day, each moment, each decision.

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.

(1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NLT)

1. Be on guard: From the moment you wake up, you need to be ready to face the day with wisdom. Take time to meet with God before you head into your day. He created you, He planned the good works you’re meant to do and He knows what’s coming. Trust Him with your plans and your calendar and seek His priorities for your day.

2. Stand firm in the faith: When you face difficult decisions or take on ventures that don’t make sense to the world or create a ministry to meet the needs of the least of these or seek to give away more of your income than you keep, if you aren’t firmly rooted in wisdom and truth, you may lose your way or become too easily distracted by things that are not a part of your vision. Stay on guard and seek Him often.

3. Be courageous: Big dreams, big visions, big plans stir up big fears and a lot of doubts as well as plenty of nay-sayers. You may find yourself standing in the midst of doubters who assure you loudly that what you’re doing – that ministry, that book, that school for kids with special needs, that speaking engagement you’re seeking – isn’t possible. Except that it is. Because God assures us that nothing is impossible when He is part of it. Stay alert and stay connected to Him.

4. Be strong: There will be times when you feel like you just can’t do it. You’ll want to quit, just give up, let someone else do the thing you’re meant to do: visit prisoners, become a foster parent for wayward teens, speak truth in local or state or national politics, make that documentary. But don’t give up. Press on and push through. Pray. You know the bumps are coming and so does God. Trust Him and lean into Him and take Him up on His promises.

5. And do everything with love: This is perhaps the toughest part of God’s advice. When you face off with haters or defy doubters or take on obstacles. When you run into red tape or problems or difficult people as you file paperwork for your non-profit or the zoning board for modifications to the property for your ministry. When you respond to anonymous Internet bullies who tear apart your words, your art, your music video, you. When you make it. When you win the small victory or the bigger battle. Couch your response, your pain, your celebration, your success in love. Fight back when necessary, but do so in love and with Truth. Enjoy your successes, but do so in love and with humility. Be on guard. Trust Him. Be bold. Believe in your vision. And do all of it with love.

 

Living Abundantly in the Midst

IMG_5976I have a question for you. What will you do today? Will you do what you were designed to do? Or will you do what seems like a million little things that need to be done but that keep you from doing the one thing that tugs on your heart?

Because I don’t know about you, but far too often I never get to that thing I want to do. That thing that speaks to me deep in my soul. It’s there and it calls out to me. But I am distracted.

Or perhaps I am simply in the midst.

In the midst of living out my life. My life that is filled with joy and despair, hope and fear, beauty and chaos, longing and prayer. My life for which I was created, designed and to which I was called by my Creator. My abundant life.

This is my one life. These are the days that I have been given. Today is the day that I have; tomorrow is not promised (Proverbs 27).

How then shall I live?

Shall I live in fear? In despair? In chaos? Or shall I live in pursuit of Him, heeding His call upon my heart?

It can seem that life is a struggle, but really it is simply a living in the midst. It is about the extraordinary in the ordinary. It is about seizing the abundant life we have been promised (John 10:10).

Know that as you live in the midst, you are not alone. We all are sojourners in the midst of a journey, in the midst of a vision, in the midst of God’s creation. And the good news is that even when we miss a beat or we are distracted by the million little things that clamor for our time and attention, we are always but a whisper away from God’s faithfulness to us and to the dream He gave us.

His promises assure us that we are not alone and that the prayers we breathe out in our moments of fear or uncertainty or frustration are welcome. In fact, they are necessary so that we do not fall prey to the lie that life is just a getting by existence. Therefore, when we find ourselves in the midst of the little things, in the midst of life’s circumstances and daily distractions, we do not give up who we are created to be; it is our true north.

When we lose sight of what we’re doing or where we’re trying to go, God guides us. He goes before us and He draws us forward by those whispers in our heart that nudge us toward becoming who He created us to be. He pours over us and into us the abundant life He promised.

That’s why it’s okay to leave the dishes in the sink or the clutter on the living room floor or put aside whatever other daily chores need doing, at least long enough for you to reconnect with your life and with the Giver of life.

Your life is more than the chores and tasks you have to do. Life in the midst includes those seemingly mundane things, but it is not just those things. Take a moment and listen to your heart, to its whispers and to God’s nudging upon it, and it will reveal the whole of your life. The extraordinary, abundant, overflowing-with-blessing whole of your life in the midst.

So, I ask you, what are you going to do today with this day that you’ve been given?

Following the Path of My Dream

sun and cloudsFive-Minute Friday: Follow. And go:

You walk along the shore of my life and stand before me, whispering, Come, Follow Me.

I hesitate for only a moment before moving toward you, eager for the adventure to which you invite me. There is fear beating in my heart, but I choose you nonetheless. Even before your invitation, I knew you; I knew your promises. Even though I knew you not.

Because you knew me and your voice whispered long before I was born into this world. I recognize it in my heart.

Your voice whispers to me, still.

I meet you here on this shore again. And again, and again, and again. Because too often I lose my way. I lose sight of you in the world, harried and hurried and caught up in chaos and daily tasks.

But you bid me, Come. Each morning you bid me, Come. You bid me, Be still.

And so I do.

Some days, you stand on the shore of my life early in the morning, as I wake and then again in the middle of the morning and then again at lunchtime and then again in the afternoon, with the sun shining brightly in my eyes almost blinding me to your presence. But your whisper reaches me and bids me, Come.

If I am going to live out my God-given dream, the vision you planted in my heart long before I came into being, if I am going to do the good works and write the good words that you prepared for me long before I knew you, I must come to this shore often.

Moment by moment, I must come back to this shore and find you.

And when I forget?

You seem to find me where I am along the path. You find me and you hold out your hand and you invite me back to the adventure of a dream I know only in you.

Stop

(This post is part of Kate Motaung’s Five-minute Friday at Heading Home. She gives us a word and we write for five minutes. This week’s word: Follow)