Restless like a Thousand Tall Trees: 4 AM Thoughts on God, Change, and Dancing

Copyright MO 2012

Copyright MO 2012

I rub my eyes, grainy specs of rheum collected around my eyelids from the five hours of sleep I’ve gotten thus far. I’m not sure what it was that woke me up, other than the fact that I’ve been restless these past few days with jobs interviews that might potentially require a move. I lay in bed, then flip over on my side. But after 10 minutes of this, restless builds so strongly that I decide to feel my way down the dark stairs to get a glass of water. I head back upstairs and lay on the floor in my dark room, reminded of a couple songs that always brought me comfort in moments of uncertainty like this.

Even when I more or less walked away from Christian music a couple years ago, there were always a few songs I couldn’t shake. Audrey Assad’s “Lament” and “Restless,” being two of those. In the latter piece, she sings, “I am restless, until I rest in You, until I rest in You.” And tonight, I’ve woken up at 4 AM completely restless, having made a couple difficult decisions already this year, and soon to face a couple more, perhaps even a move from a city I have grown to love with a nothing-can-stop-me-from-loving-you,-Do-You-Hear-Me? kind of love, as I picture the faces of kind, fully alive people I’ve met over these past few years here. A smile and small laugh appear on my face, thinking about the places these folks have taken me. Dance parties. Biking down the city streets at night cheering at the top of our lungs so free. We climbed trees together. Played ukuleles in each other’s backyards. We square danced, rolled down hills, and laid under stars together. I love them all and every moment spent together.

But as I sit here in the 4 AM darkness of my room, I realize that I don’t know how people facing even bigger life changes than me do it. People who are a few months out from marriage or children. People who are moving to cities much further than my potential move. In all of this, I realize how averse and resistant I am to change. How I am not a willing dance partner to change’s dance. So I try to dance without change, only I keep scuffing my toes in the dark. My steps are heavy and clumsy.  Yet from across the room, I see change dancing freely and untrammeled in the open space, creating beauty, something more compelling than my solo dance in the dark corner.Come dance,” Change offers. I reach my hand out into the dark and wonder if I will ever be fully ready to accept this dance offer.

So hand reaching out, but not fully clasping Change’s hand, I think back to those songs I was talking about earlier, feeling exactly like the singer’s lyrics. I love when artists speak those experiences into melodies that flood your soul with a visceral hurt so good until you are singing right along too.

I continue to sit here on the floor in my dark bedroom. All is quiet outside, while inside, my soul “Rustles like a thousand tall trees. Why is it easy to work but hard to rest sometimes?” Audrey Assad’s words come easy to my soul tonight. “Still my heart, hold me close. I am restless until I rest in you,” her voice continues.
It’s been a while since I felt like I have truly rested in god while all of life crashes around me, thrashing waves thundering in the dark seas of change or hardship. It’s been a while since I’ve known life without anxiety, since 2006, in fact. And that’s ok; I’m not expecting nor demanding for anxiety to go away from my life completely. But I do wish to develop my wellspring reserves of confidence and unshakeability to believe that I can handle each of life’s changes as they come. Because bigger life changes are sure to come, especially when you’re someone who thinks you’d like to be married one day and adopt two kiddos. But when I sit here on my floor barely able to make peace with the changes in my life already, I think to myself, “thank God I’m not there yet.” 

IMG_1613But maybe God can show me how. How to rest in the one who made us. Show me what that looks like, because I have long forgotten, and I am weary. Show me what peace in the midst of uncertainty looks like, because I know there is a better way than my own self devices. There is a simple beauty to be found here, if I choose to try and walk its unnatural lines. And doing all of this, though not comfortable for me, would make my life easier too, I imagine. I mean, what’s easier, to trust in my own fears and dwell in uncertainty? Or take a chance on “all things working together for good,” like they told me in pews and sanctuaries so many years ago.

I take a deep breath, ready to hop back in bed and try again. I don’t have any new answers to my questions about the direction I’m going. But I do have a presence I’ve asked to teach me along the way, to show me what this rest looks like.

I can only ask myself to courageously try and follow this presence, this voice, the same voice that promises to lead us by still waters and open pastures.
I can only ask myself to embrace the question mark, the semi-colon, the dot-dot-dot ellipses…
I can only ask myself to be brave enough to accept change’s invitation to dance in each life stage.

Because there will be many, many more changes to come. Maybe I’ll marry one day. Maybe I’ll co-parent one day. I will say goodbye to strangers that came into my life for an ephemeral, teachable moment, recollecting their faces in daydreams or while idling in traffic one rainy afternoon. People I love immensely will die, and it will be a change that I will never, ever, feel fully prepared for. Because some changes you simply cannot ease your body into like a cold swimming pool.

But tonight, I can choose to reach my hand out to God and to change and choose to take a little solace in the journey that I’m so resistant towards. Maybe tonight, I will go to back to opening my eyes on the roller coaster, instead of keeping them shut. I will trade clasped hands on the lap bar, for hands held high above my head in the free, open air. 

But for now I’m going back to bed.

I hope to see you in the morning, feeling less philosophical and more fun, ready to dance like mad in the spring sunshine.

shadow dance

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Finding My Voice (and a little pep talk for the young girls out there)

keep the earth below my feetI had a professor in college who taught us about the “principle of leaving and entering,” i.e. one cannot move forward to the next [life stage, opportunity, job, city, destination, you fill in the blank] without making peace with what you’re leaving behind [be it college, your hometown, you get the idea]. At the time, I was dreaming about volunteering abroad after college, and ready to leave behind the America I knew. But what I didn’t realize at 22 is that the next stage of life would be just as much about putting things behind as it would be about pursuing new things.
A couple years after college, I burnt out.
I. simply. Couldn’t. keep. Up.
I lost myself and become bitter and cynical towards much of what I saw around me.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I realized just how many voices of the past were still lingering in my head, like flies in desperate need of a fly swatter. Voices of a spiritual community that said women were to be submissive, to “let their husbands lead.” Churches that said males were to be “pastor, provider, and protector” of his wife. Voices that said being a female pastor was a sin. Voices that made sure everybody knew what Christianity stood against, but left the world puzzled as to what we actually stood for. Voices that tried to rescue souls from hell, while ignoring the literal hells and Gehennas in the world going on right now. Sexual slavery. HIV/AIDS. Extreme poverty. Orphans without homes. Should I keep going?

In 2012, I began a journey towards freedom- freedom of religion, of dogma, of other people’s demands, of paved paradises- into a personal journey of development and enrichment. It’s looked like lots of open spaces, lots of gathering ’round the table over wine and sweets and savories, lots of finding and losing myself on bicycles. In this freedom, it’s as though God took me by the hand to lovingly, but firmly, (because the lesson was too important to miss out on) teach me that the thing about the past is just that. It’s in the past. It cannot hurt you again. It cannot continue to hurt you or frustrate you unless you let those voices zap your energy from the present moment.
For far too long, this woman’s listened to voices of the past that were squelching life, joy, zest for the moment. Alas, I looked myself in the mirror, a good ol’ stare yourself down, straight-up-talk, with a little bit o’ lovin’, and a lot of bit of firmness. I looked in the mirror, and noticed a cynic. Ugh. I hate that word. To me, it’s synonymous with a passive, complaining, do-nothing-to-change-anything kind of persona. So I asked God to silence those voices, the ones that were slowly, painfully, hauntingly taking away my joy, my peace, my resolve, and silence them one and for all, to free me from the people and places and noises that were no longer helping me become the person I want to become. I asked God to change me from cynicism into activism. Hurt into compassion. Bitter to better.

Somewhere in the process, I learned that I don’t need to fight anymore.. not against those voices, at least. A little whisper breathed into my heart,
You’ve been freed.
Let your load feel lighter, your burdens from heavy rocks to little pieces of shiny yellow sand.
Put the boxing gloves down.
Breathe.
You no longer have to defend, nor strive, nor try to make yourself understood.”

I thought it would feel easier. But then I realized that that’s not quite the way it works. The moment you stand for something, there is something you are implicitly standing against. The more and more you become the person you want to be, the voice that isn’t God’s will try to steer you off course. When you become YOU, not someone else’s version of you, you will disappoint people. But let me tell you something, you will become the person you were made to be. The more you will realize that the very people still standing beside you are there because they really do love you, they really do care, and they really do desire God’s peace and love and blessings upon you, not out of pity, nor spite, but out of a selfless kind of love that has found its way through the broken chains of redemption, giving voice and beauty to the very fact that you and I are both humans, composed of flesh and blood, and you and I have both been created in the womb.
I am freed now from what’s been zapping precious energy, and I can’t wait to learn, and love, and do, and grow, and experience with this new found freedom what God can finally place in my life in the thoughts and corners and crevices of my heart that were once holding onto hurt, bitterness, and a seemingly endless desire to be understood. I am free. I can only imagine what will go in those pockets of my heart now. I can love without mountains of expectations or fears of being hurt.
I can express bona fide joy—my smiles will no longer be a veil, hiding a voice that’s afraid of being mistaken as impolite, too afraid to speak up.
I can operate out of a place that points to the horizon and feel alive in my soul, and my bones, and my eyes; to live the story, full and raw, not dependent upon things be one way or another, but ever confident that this risk of living a better story is so much better than living in the choking weight of others’ voices that try to drown out the one true voice of who you want to become.

Go point to your horizon.

MOVE.
You don’t have time to respond to your critics.
You simply don’t have time.
Be you, the REAL you, ALL of you… that’s what the world needs.
Go seek.
Go ask.
Because what I hope that the girls of new generations come  to realize is this: that if ever there was a time for women to rise up and unite, the time is now. Oh yes, I’m thankful for my sisters who gave me the ability to vote. For women who went to college and challenged typical professions. But there is so much work we still must do.

Advocate.
Preach.
Lobby.
Dream. Louder.

May you listen to that one constant in your heart.
May you give voice and flow to all that longs to leap inside of you.
May your songs be peace, may your dance be love, and may your love bring freedom.

Because you have a voice that’s no one else’s.
We’re ready to hear it.

A Love Letter From God In The Midst of Confusion ((Part II))

Just some words of peace and love that I imagine God whispers in our ears in the mist of confusion or change. You are that Dear Child of God.

 We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
—T.S. Eliot
       

Dear Child of God,

Together, you and I have journeyed these times through and through. Every time it seems as though you face a new intersection, it’s tempting to think you’ll be alone, but let me assure you, you will never be truly alone. I will be with you always and I will send you love and kindness through the people around you. I promise. Choose to encourage yourself in the moments of un-joy that I am orchestrating things you just have no idea about yet. Yes, I will have beautiful new opportunities ahead of you.

I know it’s tempting to avoid and ignore feelings of pain, confusion, discomfort, anxiety. But there’s something bigger here, if you dare to look deeper in your bravest moment. I hope you can look back on my faithfulness and realize that every time you run away instead of facing the uncertainty of things unknown, you lose out on an opportunity for growth. There’s something here for you. Look again. Too big? Too scary? Gently lift the covers away from your face while I hold your hand. Child, while I wipe away the exhaustion from your face and plant a tender kiss on your forehead, I pray you’ll free your tarried mind from the burden of “why.” I can see the road ahead. You cannot. I know that frustrates you. But when you free yourself from the burden of having to have it all figured out now, have all the “whys” answered, you create space for my peace to enter in. It yearns to have room in your heart, your chest, your eyes, your smile, your soul. But inside of you, it’s crowded with the “why’s” and the secret fears that I already know of. There’s no room in the inn of your heart but I will find a way to make room to slip into your soul, through the cracks of your despondency as I melt your fears away like the wax from your midnight burning candle flickering in your dark room right now. I’ve come to bring light to your darkness. Let me in.

I know you’re afraid of rejection, of not being accepted by the people you meet. That your task-oriented, introverted personality tempts you to avoid investing in deep relationships. I assure you. Be yourself. I will give you new experiences of my love as you meet new people, find friends of freedom that you’ve been longing for. But you need community. And I want to show myself faithful to you in this arena. So leave the house. Put the keys in the ignition. Go meet someone new and get lost in their story. It will help shape or touch yours, anyway. Each of you have something to teach the world. When you’re feeling lost or confused or feel as though you can barely figure out how to make peace with the changes coming your away, check in on a friend and realize that they’re probably going through some of these same things too. Choose to be in it together. There’s going to be days that hurt, break, make you cry out in the dark. So speak gently to one another. Speak love to one another. Speak hope to one another. Speak of the strength with which I clothe you.

I know you’re trying to figure out where I’m leading you. I know it might seem like the steps you have to take are a giant waste of time. Just be faithful to the journey. Don’t get too caught up in it. Just go, one step at time. That a girl (that a boy). See, it’s bright and beautiful out there, isn’t it? I promise not to waste your years. The only moments you waste are those when you step away from Me and get distracted by your discontentment but sit there, on your floor, too afraid to try something different, to make a change. I see where you’re trying. I honor all tries, attempts at trying, successes and failures. Pick up your bones and shake the dust of your feet, child. Your shoes have some walking to do! To new places, to new faces, to the things I’ve put on your heart, if only you’d be courageous enough to follow through.

So go listen to that still small voice in your heart, whatever it’s telling you. Maybe it’s time to take another stab at your studies. Or go grab your bike and get on the open road. Or take that flight. Or meet up with that new friend you’re fond of. Or apply for that new position that keeps resurfacing in your mind. And when all of your life and career and relationships and choices seem to jumble into mass confusion, wanting your full attention, don’t forget to head outside and take a look up at my Pleiades. You know the Big Dipper looks awfully close to the kite you flew last spring. Trace its outlines with your finger toward the sky. Feel the edges of each star from 50 million miles away. My hands crafted these lights out here, and now, as you finish tracing the shapes of the stars in the air, pull those hands in close to your heart, for I am holding them.

I’m here.hampton beach

I’m here.

I love you, all of you, every day.

Your Maker

When You Don’t Know What You Believe Anymore. (Finding Community in the Midst of Uprootedness)

I was on the phone with a friend last night who was describing, through tears, the confusing, sometimes lonely, often uncertain journey of re-evaluating your faith. When you’re figuring out what you really believe versus what you’ve been taught to believe. When you have more questions than answers. When you see more grey than black and white. When you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. I found glimpses of my story in my friend’s story and thought back to a time about a year and a half ago. It was quite a lonely time and I felt this innate desire to be understood; for just one person to say, “Yes, I’ve wondered about that too…”
Eventually, I would come to understand these feelings better through Ed Cyzewski’s “Divided We Unite” (free PDF version found here).

“For some of us who have been rooted in one spot for a while, sometimes the old answers and ways of doing things stop making sense. ‘Transplants’ are often in vulnerable positions, as they don’t feel like they fit anywhere, their beliefs have been shaken in some way… [One problem transplants may have] is they sometimes rush into something new without dealing with their previous hurts and disappointments. I saw this a lot with folks who were disappointed by the church and then jumped right into house churches or emerging churches without seeking healing first.”

Transplant! A-ha. It was the word I had been looking for but couldn’t put my finger on. A season of uprootedness is where I’ve been since my senior year of college, when the teachings of the Evangelical world didn’t fit in with how I understood gender, sexuality, salvation, and social justice. I’m still in “transplant.” And that’s ok. It’s nice here; I’ve finally found some fellow flowers in the field and know I’m not alone anymore.

This conversation with my friend brought back visceral memories of the past year and a half, when I was just beginning to verbalize my discontentment with “Christianity as usual.” I was only just starting to write out my truest feelings through a new outlet I created- this blog. I was only just beginning to speak up and share my truest feelings and opinions around other believers, as I didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers; rather, I just wanted to somehow arrive at a semblance of settledness and peace about my faith and wanted to get there as placidly as possible- you know, just kind of slide out of the back doors of former Churches and Christian groups and enter into an unprecedented dawning of a new era in my faith: freedom. Of having a voice without fear of being choked for voicing a different perspective, another way of living faith, another way of trying to love a God I can’t understand completely, but long to know deeply; a God I revere, but will no longer appease with praises and prayers that are null of the complete struggles I have with the Bible- with its violence and oppression of women– and gender, and Heaven and Hell and all the other stuff that I needed to be freed from and hash out with none other than my Maker.
Somewhere during this time span, God gave me an invaluable gift of freedom that I’m still exploring. The girl who finally left the “non-denom world” (Christianese for Churches that aren’t affiliated with any particular denomination and usually consider themselves Evangelical) for the United Church of Christ (and trembled the whole way, wondering when an Evangelical was going to tell me that denominations were bad or that the UCC is too liberal). The girl who was almost too afraid to post “6 reasons why I support question 6” for fear of retaliation from former conservative acquaintances became the girl who would speak at the UCC about how the church can be proponents of recognizing the imago dei in all by supporting marriage equality. I have much work to do on this road to freedom, but the familiar tears of my friend reminded me of the faith metamorphosis I’ve been through this year, as God brought some fellow stumbling, bumbling (whatever that means anyway) folks who love God and love people and don’t care for the dogma of anything else that takes away from this love. In my desperation, God brought such people into my life and they have shown me that I’m not alone; that there are more of us out there than we think.

So where are you right now? Have you ever been in a place where you weren’t sure what you believed and struggled to reconcile what you’ve been taught about Christian faith with what your experiences have been outside of the confined walls of doctrine and “shoulds?” Are you in that place now?
Hang on.
Reach out.
Speak up.
And find us out here in these open spaces…

Have you been through uprootedness before? Go reach out to someone who’s currently experiencing this. You remember how vulnerable and shaky it feels when your whole faith world gets thrown upsidedown. So go have that conversation. Go get that coffee. Go on that walk. And find a way to remind a fellow brother/sister/soon-to-be-friend that they aren’t the only one who feels this way.

Because no matter where we are in our faith journeys, we need each other. We need to know we’re not alone with our thoughts. With our questions. With our inability to sit still, hands folded on our laps, seated at our pews, secretly dying inside to a faith that is out of touch with reality, that’s not listening (just shouting), and that’s not loving (just pointing fingers).
We all need to know that we can love our God even if we want to release some of the things we were taught to believe about Christianity. And may we always come to know, deep, within our core, that there is and always will be room for us all at the table.
Come.
You may have heard you won’t belong if you doubt, or you won’t be “in,” if you question the way you do. But hear it crystal clear: you do belong. So come; have a seat. Or, if you’ve been sitting for way too long and need a fine place to stand, find your space to stand. Or run. Or cartwheel upon these endless fields of freedom. Come. There’s room for you. You’ll figure out what you believe in time. You don’t have to have it all figured out now. In the meantime, we’ll be here, in the muck and mire and mess and in the starting over and the joy, with you, beside you, learning with you, growing with you, questioning with you, passing around the cup and the bread and the Kingdom will Come, oh if but a taste of it in the now, and also in the forever and ever. Yes, yes, amen.
go out into the highways

“Figuring Out God’s Will For Your Life,” Revisited.

A reoccurring trap I find myself getting stuck in during this life stage is continuing to act with the same anxiety-ridden prayers and ways of relating to the God I was presented with from some Evangelical circles. The prayers where He needs to tell me exactly what to do, please, because I have to make a decision and it HAS to be the ONE decision He wants for me and I need to make that decision soon, now, because I can’t get it wrong! Afterall, I most certainly can’t spend another day doing something that isn’t your will, Lord!…

I think we do a disservice to both ourselves and to God when we continue praying to THAT God… the God who has prescribed a specific set of instructions for your life- and if you don’t follow them, in order, then clearly you’re not following His will and aren’t living out of His/Her “specific” will for your life.

Is that what God wants for us?
I mean, where do we draw the line?

Do we ask what “God’s will is” for our breakfast choices? Lord, show me if I should eat cereal or eggs for breakfast this morning. Help me, Lord, I need to know!

Is it “God’s will” for you to stay or to go or to move or to switch jobs or to leave the country or…

…I can hear those questions now. They roll around in my brain often (the jobs part, especially, not so much the eggs. I’m more of an oatmeal-on-the-run kind of girl).

But I’m done. To those thoughts and harried, twisted, fretful prayers, I bid you farewell.

You say we need faith like a child?
Well, then start simplifying, Child of God.

God has created each of our lives to have meaning, purpose and significance and S/He gives us gifts to show the world more and more of who She is. I just wonder if God is not so concerned with us “getting His will perfectly right;” rather, that we are finding Him along the journey in which He is walking with you. Beside you. Next to you. Embracing you. Encouraging you, present with you in this season, every season, every decision. Perhaps He’s not disappointed when we go left or when we turn right, U-turn or keep the same path, walk or run, or at our weakest moments, crawl. Yes maybe it truly is about the journey, not the destination. The process of becoming, rather than doing the “specific will.” I’m beginning to think all that He just wants you to know is that in life, there will be some goings and some comings, some dark valleys and some unsullied joy, some mess and some yes, some no-s and some grow, and that somewhere along the way, this journey, no matter how traversed, circuitous, or wild goose chase it’s been so far, he will certainly “lead you beside still waters” and refresh your soul.

And so tonight, as I catch myself praying one of those fretful prayers for the umpteenth time, I will stop. Look up. And remember that the God who has gotten us this far, can surely lead us to the next step. I will stop focusing on the destination and find solace in knowing that we will get there, someday, wherever “there” is, anyway. But what’s most important is the journey He’s taking us through, as we seek His face in the glory of the mountains and trees, seek His love in desert, and seek His heart in the times of uncertainty.

Yes, we’ve got a good Maker. And while we seek Him and take a look at where we are and how we’re doing, S/He’ll be making you, be making me.

For more thoughts on “God’s will for your life,” check out this talk by Donald Miller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggLQwxS-rcI

“If you have a donkey and it talks to you, God has a specific plan to your life. If you are a virgin and pregnant, God has a specific plan for your life… other than that, you kinda get to do what you want… You get to be really creative. The people who understand this CHANGE THE WORLD- the people who understand that me and God get to do something really cool out of the creativity of my imagination and the desire of my heart; they get their entire passion. But the people who say, “I’m so afraid that I’m not honoring God!”- they don’t do anything.”