how to come home

My oldest daughter (and when I say oldest, I mean by 3 minutes) told me last week that if she ever has two girls and a boy she will name them Chevon, Sabine, and Jeddel. We don’t know anyone with those names and I don’t think she’s read them in any books or seen them on TV, though I could be wrong. But she is eight and loves to read and thinks up stories as easily as she breathes. So for her to think about her someday children’s names is quite perfectly normal, however unique they may be.

We spent five days in Chicago last week – it was the first time our kids have been to a big city. They’ve been to Charlotte countless times, but never uptown or anywhere close to the buildings. I’m sure they have sore necks for all the time they spent looking straight up while we walked. On one hand, it was a gift to be there – to buy birthday gifts for our girls, to stand in line for deep dish pizza, to gaze through windows of four story shops. But there is another hand, one on which I heavily lean, and that is where I noticed how easily I was swept along with the crowd of people. There was no space to make a decision, to turn around, to take a photo or choose to walk more slowly. There is one pace and one direction on those sidewalks. Even I grew impatient when someone compromised it.

I realize these fast-walking people are most likely not the city people at all, but people like me from North Carolina and Pennsylvania and Arkansas. Visitors. And we all arrived in that place from our various pockets of the country and hustled past the blind man on the corner of Michigan and Superior, the kids stared and the grownups pretended not to see. And I wanted to run screaming to the cameras that were surely hidden in the light posts, Okay! We get it! We are all totally and completely messed up down here. I give up. We lose. At the same time, I longed to bring our dog and my curtains to Lincoln Park and move right in. I wanted to embrace the city life and find my own place among these bustling, Starbucks people. I wanted to bring mini hotdogs wrapped in crescents to the brownstone two blocks over on New Years Eve.And while I was there, I was my own Sabine. I imagined myself making different choices in life and this shadow, other-me lived in the city, did city-ish things, had a life that was both mine and not mine. Her children knew how to ride the train, the noise was normal, and life was big. I wonder what that would be like?In a way I don’t have to wonder. 2011 was the sidewalk on Michigan avenue. Thrilling. Heartbreaking. Fast-paced. Both frantically loud and painfully beautiful. This past month has been a gift at the end of that sidewalk. After many months of breathing out, I have taken a deep breath in. I am amazed at how desperately I needed it.

This month marks six years of Chatting at the Sky. Thank you for coming back again. I am tempted to say Welcome to this new year! But that implies a bigness that I’m not comfortable with. So instead, I imagine we are not the ones doing the welcoming. Rather, we are welcomed into the new year, ushered into it, invited forward to a place we have not yet been.

As every introvert, home-body knows, the best part of a trip is coming home. I left my imaginary Sabine-self with the Chicago skyline to live her imaginary life and came home with my family to our quiet cul-de-sac, our white house with the black shutters, and our ridiculous dog. I have come home, in so many real and imaginary ways. I am certain you’ll see more Chicago photos in the coming days and weeks, as I was thrilled with the scenes each ever-loving minute and took way too many photos. It’s as it should be.I’d love to hear from you today. What would you like to see in this space this year? How can I best serve you? Or if not that, what is something you are working on this year in your space, be it a blog, your home, your business, your relationships? I’d love to hear your ideas and inspirations.

tuesdays unwrapped :: the last one

It sounds simple: go outside, step into the quiet, if just for a few minutes, and see what rises to the surface. But we can’t do that! It’s almost Christmas! We must do that. It’s almost Christmas. This is perhaps one of the most frustrating disciplines I’ve faced lately. Mainly because what rises to the surface is not very spiritual sounding. It isn’t profound, deep, or even very interesting. I’m tired. My hair is dirty. That leaf looks like a puppy. But I keep walking, avoiding on purpose the temptation to critique myself. Just keep walking.

Things don’t change. Problems are not solved. Angels are not singing. Rainbows are not bursting from clouds. There is no light shining like a halo around me. Simply, I am quiet. And that is it’s own miracle. With the rhythm of walking, breathing, being with God and what is true about me, there is a slight and almost imperceptible shift. My frantic movements are not so frantic now. I see things I would have missed.

We tend to pray with words because we aren’t brave enough to pray from our groaning soul ache. And so we chatter away with our Dear God, just…and we miss him in the middle of all. this. noise. He’s still there, though. He doesn’t roll his eyes or cross his arms or tap his foot with impatience. He hears all the chattering and he sees what lies beneath it. Even in the noise, He gathers us up and pours Himself out.

I come home after my walk, cheeks red from the wind, camera filled up with images of hope, soul breathing more deeply. I spent the time listening, but I can’t tell you what I heard, exactly. The language of the soul doesn’t always translate well into English. Instead, I lean my weight heavy into Him, longing to live in the quiet even in the midst of the noise. I know that may not be possible, not the way I hope. But this walk was a gift for reasons I’m not really sure of yet. And for that I am thankful.

We would love to read about your Tuesday walk by inviting you to add your link below. Be sure to include the permalink to your Tuesday post. If you need help to link up, this page will hopefully answer all of your questions. Be sure to link back here to Chatting at the Sky so that others can find our community. If you wrote a regular Tuesdays Unwrapped post, by all means still link up! I’m delighted you are here and so thankful for this community. What a gift these Tuesdays have been. The links will be open to add until Thursday evening.

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a question for the desperate

“When we make room for silence we make room for ourselves … Silence invites the unknown, the untamed, the wild, the shy, the unfathomable – that which rarely has a chance to surface within us.”

Gunilla Norris, Sharing Silence

We have slowed. After ten years of marriage and as many in youth ministry, after three kids, three houses, two books, lots of trips and a year-long heartbreak, my family has slowed to near stopping. The kids are still in school, the dinners still are made. But The Man has been gifted some time away from work and I have met the book deadlines and now we slow. And we are slowed. And so we wait.
We have never been the parents to have our kids in lots of activities. We are not the first to volunteer and we don’t typically overcommit with yes. Still, even for us, this slowing has revealed my addiction to activity in a way I didn’t expect. We think of war as something obvious and perhaps valiant, something for the brave and heroic. But maybe the most deadly is the war invisible, the one we live everyday without knowing, the one we forget to fight because it looks like home and it smells like dish soap and it sounds like a rerun of Friends in the background.

An invitation has gone out but only the desperate can hear it. What is it you truly seek? I’m not sure the words expect an answer, rather they invite us to carry our questions with us. Let them percolate and roll around in the chaos of the soul. Don’t fear the loose ends so much. Give yourself permission to actually be where you are, and to be so in the presence of God.
I never realized how much energy I spend in figure it out mode. I am fascinated by people, by what makes us come alive, wilt, break, desire, lash out and love. In some ways it makes me a better artist, this social curiosity. But in all the figuring and connecting of dots, I might be missing the point. Slowing invites the mystery to make His home with us. Quiet cuts a path through the chaos in a way study and figuring and reasoning simply can’t touch. The Man and I pray with silent hope. He looks into my eyes and his gaze lingers. He sees me now and I see him and we are filled with gratitude for both the sweet gifts as well as the suffering. Because all of them lead us deeper into the mystery.

And so it is December, the month of Emmanuel – God With Us. He does not wait to come until we get it right, clean it up, figure it out, or break it down. He is simply with us in love. I have to ask, though I don’t necessarily expect an answer (unless you want to give one): in the most honest place where you are today, what is it you truly seek?

8 ways to know it’s time to take a break

Sometimes we need to keep going no matter what, to sit and do the work no matter the distractions, the time constraints, the resistance standing strong  with his arms crossed in the corner of the kitchen. I’ve worked with him breathing hot down my neck, and I’ve met deadlines early and spit in his face. I’ve been doing that for some time now.

For nearly three years, I have been writing books in some form. I’ve only cranked out two in that time where many authors would have twice that many in the same amount of months. With all these hours of work, I’m learning the difference between procrastinating (avoiding the work because I’m afraid, lazy, or distracted) and rest (setting the work aside on purpose with the intent of re-focusing).

Back in January, I wrote a post on 5 Ways to Know if the Art has to Wait. Mostly, I encouraged you to move ahead, to make art anyway, to sort through the procrastinating excuses and create. But if you find yourself in a season where you feel pulled and directionless, here are 8 ways to know if it’s time to take a break:

1. More time is spent in reaction than intention. Do you feel like your days are filled mostly with moving from one fire to the next? That all you do is turn around and react to the people and circumstances around you? Surviving says just make it through. True living says let’s make this count.

2. Sitting still and doing nothing brings anxiety. When God said for us to be still and know that he is God, I think he meant it as a gift to us. When the voice of the shame of inactivity becomes louder than the voice of grace, let that be a red flag of warning. Allow yourself to sit long enough so the anxiety gives way to rest.

3. The idea of taking a break is terrifying. You have become very big and the world cannot rotate without you in charge. You wonder how to embrace rest without everything crumbling at your feet. Oh, to learn what it means to release the management of life out of our small hands and into the hands of God.

4. Your spouse asks you to. They see things we can’t see. When my husband goes too fast and I ask him to slow, I feel loved when he listens. Our family can be our most accurate mirror. Don’t be afraid to look into them and discover more of yourself.

5. It feels like there’s a motor in your chest that won’t stop. Your breathing is shallow. Your mind is foggy. Your hands are unsteady as you push them to produce. Embrace the unveiling of this anxiety. Allow those things that hum under the surface of your everyday activity to rise up from within and offer them to the Holy, Heavenly keeper of all your anxieties. In him is the only safe place.

6. Everything feels like an interruption. Ann’s words come back to me here, that life is not an emergency.

“Stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one’s own or real life. The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.”

C.S. Lewis

7. Your yes weighs more than your no. Are you coming up with lists for all the reasons you can’t say no to things? Is your head incapable of shaking from left to right? Are you dragging your bag of yes’s behind you while your bag of no’s hangs empty from your shoulder? Take time to sit with those bags and unload a heavy yes or two. (or ten).

8. You can’t shake the feeling that you’re trying to catch up to something. But you aren’t sure what it is. You spin and you worry and you are swept away in the current of activity. We are tricked into believing that the only relief from feeling behind is to catch up. But this is war, and the enemy is an illusive and foggy expectation.

If any of these resonate with you, perhaps it’s time to take a break from something. As I’ve been working and writing and making my art, I’m thankful for the courage I found under layers of good girl over the past few years; for the calling I’ve discovered after lots of stops and starts; for the book I now hold in my thankful hands, the book that works like a period at the end of a very long sentence. Here, she says, you finished something. I want to grab a permanent marker and make that period loud and strong, to make it stick, to make it finished. But the truth is, it will never really be finished. As long as I’m living, the work will never stop. I will always find something more to do, to write, to say, to act on.

But I need a little time to enjoy the period. The next book is fully in the works, the one that beats close to my heart in a different way because of who it’s for. I will be finishing up some things for that book as well as a few other things. So for the next two weeks, I will be quiet here on the blog.

When I come back, I’m excited to host Tuesdays Unwrapped again for just the month of December. That project helps me see. I would love for you to join me here then.

May these next few weeks be filled with grace, and may your thanks line the path for your giving. May you become well acquainted with your own belovedness as you take deep soul breaths of the mystery of Christ.

9 posts on finding space for your soul to breathe:

For When You Feel Behind
Change the World :: Say No
When Life Demands Performance 
Six Things About Soul Space
Make Room for Space
On Being Stubborn 
Love in the Morning
Slowing for Thankful
The Secret to Keeping the Wonder

her final choice

“Every step on your life-journey can be a step of faith. Baby steps of trust are simple for you; you can take them with almost unconscious ease. Giant steps are another matter altogether: leaping across chasms in semidarkeness, scaling cliffs of uncertainty, trudging through the the valley of the shadow of death.”

Sarah Young, Jesus Calling (September 25)

A little more than two weeks ago, I logged into Skype and set up a call with Sara. For about 30 seconds, it was just the two of us – she on her bed in Iowa and me on the coast of South Carolina. I carried my laptop up the stairs to the deck of the beach house, the ocean wide and sparkling behind me. It was a beautiful day.

“It’s so beautiful!” she said, “and so are you! Look at you there…” She paused between the words, needing a breath just to finish that short sentence. I had never spoken with her before that, and I knew my friends who were with me were waiting for me to come back down so they could see her, too. I had a fleeting urge to carry that laptop back to my room and sit with her alone, just to know her and to hear her speak. Joy poured out from the screen and I didn’t expect it. I don’t know why I was surprised by it.

Sara has been sick for a very long time. Due to her illness, she has been homebound for years – even the outside air harmful to her. So she couldn’t come with us on our retreat – one of thousands of places Sara hasn’t been able to go. If anyone had grounds to choose sorrow or bitterness or anger or fear, Sara did.

But Sara chose joy.

And I will never forget her for that. Saturday night, Sara breathed out one last breath of this toxic earth air and breathed in the first sweet, clean, fresh air of heaven. She is free and healed. And she will be missed. Many have written about Sara – many who knew her much better than I did. I’m adding my small voice to the chorus this morning, celebrating her life and her final freedom.