Tag Archives: hope

The Beautiful Breakdown

Sometimes the healthiest thing we can do is to let ourselves break…

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If I’ve learned anything over the past few years it is this: the beauty and the ugly come together. One tangled knot and try as you might – you can’t deny the presence of either. So often we wait to live the lives we want until we have it together. Until our embarrassing weaknesses are controlled and easily kept away from the view of our life’s company.

Last year I found myself sitting on a mountainside deep in the upcountry of Burundi, Africa. The dirt was bright red and the smiles of those around me a bold white against their beautiful dark skin. We sat waiting until we could hear them coming in the distance. The villagers and I. Waiting for the faint pounding we felt coming up the mountain.

It grew louder and ever closer until the men broke through the bushes into the open space before us. Twenty or so men carrying barrel sized drums on their heads. The mountain pulsated with the rhythm of their drums as we watched. The beat was inescapable. As if I was wrapped up in it’s echo that surged through the hills below. It was all I could feel and think about. The deep thudding almost seemed as if it was coming from inside me. In that moment there was no getting away from the beat. Everything I felt and thought was permeated by the dominant pounding.

And I find myself craving the simplicity of that moment again and again. No matter what thoughts tried to creep up it was impossible to think them through the drums. Their pounding was the boss. I long for that overwhelming beat because so often I feel the music at war within myself.

A gracious tune of inspiration and wonder. The kind of music that accompanies majestic and playful things. And then the suspenseful melody rivaling it as fear’s soundtrack. And there is no beauty in this place.

Today I cried in the car on the way to write this. I was listening to Bethel’s new song “No Longer A Slave” and I could. not. contain. it.

The pain. The weariness. The shadows that make their ways into the sunniest of my days. Fear. It unhinges the deep peace I have been promised.

Lies have tricked us into believing that we cannot be great until we are whole.

But our offerings which are healing to others are often given from the midst of our own pain.

In the midst of our lack, we can offer a blessing. From our own brokeness we can offer strength to another. While we fight our own battles we can love with passion. The dreams and the fears – they are a messy lot. 

And you know what? I did a poll with my Baller Status crew and the thing they said held them back the most was fear. How do you move past it?

How do you walk through fear?

It is as simple as it is hard.

You just keep walking. On the days that make you freeze in your tracks. During the conversations that make the tears flow. Through the nights that grip you with their loneliness. You keep moving. Clawing your way along if you have to. Being dragged by the friends brave enough not to leave you behind. Even if it is only by an inch, you keep moving.

In the moments when the lies taunt you with the most dreaded of your thoughts. When the ugliest parts of you seem to tattoo themselves to you for all to see – keep walking.

Walk toward the mountain – toward the One whose beat can drown out all of your thoughts. That will overpower the negative emotions plaguing you. Tune your ear. Listen. Let yourself be wrapped up in it.

In Him there is no darkness at all. In Him there is no darkness at all. In Him there is no darkness at all.

How do you stop the war of melodies in your mind?

Introduce a new beat. A stronger beat.

Even if you are lost beyond all measure. Not even sure which way is up anymore. Lean in. His song will carry you up the mountain – up to the high ground – when your own feet can’t carry you.

Just move. On the hard days when you betray and battle yourself to believe the best. Have hope. Listen for the beat.

For all of us up on the mountain or deep in the scratchy and dry valley – my prayer is that His pulse becomes our pulse. Just like on the African mountain. He will carry us. And with Him, we can walk through the fear. We just have to keep leaning in.

I’ve had a hard week. An embarrassing and raw realization of my own desperate need for a Savior. So here I am saying to you, “Hey guys, I’m a little broken.” And you know what? I see you in your ugliest places and I value you right there.

You and me? We may have seasons that leave us bruised and battered. But we will make it through and live lives of neon hope to the world around us. How do I know? Because we’ve got a God who makes broken bones dance.

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Werewolves and Talking Drawers

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I received an email from a werewolf once.

At least she said she was a werewolf. Leanara was her name and her story rattled me in all the uncomfortable ways. As I scrolled through the message, the lines told of her dreams and her pain. Abusive father, a lost lover and the scars on her heart that remind her of the reality from which she comes.

Now I’m no werewolf and I’ve got my money on you not being a mythical creature either, but our own story lines run parallel to Leanara’s in a lot of ways. We’ve got dreams in our hearts. Things that keep us up at night and inspire colorful ideas that define our passions. Along the way though something went wrong.

Life happened. Our dreams met reality and they didn’t get along. In fact, they have grown into enemies.

A week ago I sat myself down at a coffee shop here in town. It was buzzing with conversations and people hammering out some work on their computers. My seat was at a worn old desk. Covered in scratches and no doubt saturated with a history of people who have occupied this seat before.

The best stories being told that day weren’t from friends gathered around the tables. The best words spoken were from voices in the drawer next to me. For years people have been leaving notes in this desk drawer. Notes filled with encouraging messages, funny sayings and their hopes for the future.

A pile began to form on the desk in front of me as I made my way through each piece of paper. This was one of the first ones I read and it struck a chord in me.

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I breathed it in because I needed it to sink deep. So often I feel the incomplete. I can see the gaps in my desire and my ability. Try as I might no bridge seems to work. It’s just what it is. Too short. I keep coming up too short.

I observe my incompleteness hurt people as I flounder to love others. Sometimes I am just downright selfish. Hoping to love deeply and yet I can’t seem to color inside the lines when it comes to relationships. They just get messy from time to time.

These words though. I’m good. Incomplete yes, but that’s okay. Because God isn’t done with me yet. He hasn’t given up or fallen short. I’m learning, growing and becoming. Every day. It’s baby steps sometimes. But even baby steps lead somewhere.

I thought of Leanara’s email. Her pain in seeing the brokeness around her and yet trying to believe for something better. And that’s where we all are. Werewolf or not.

I wish I could grab Leanara by the hand and bring her to this place. To this coffee shop and let her read the notes herself.  She may not be where she is going yet. She may be incomplete, but she is good. It’s okay to still be in the works. I wish we could sip coffee and talk about each note as we read them together.

I’d tell her I don’t really believe in werewolves, but I believe in her. 

Over the next few weeks I’ll share a few more notes from the drawer. But this is where we are starting. Here at the crossroads of reality and hope. So often these things are at war with each other. As of today, we are calling a cease-fire.

No more fighting and frustration between our lack and our dream. We are good. Incomplete but good. And that’s what we’ll stand on.

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upside down glitter punches

Dear God, get us out of here.

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 Ain’t nothing good coming down these streets.

At least that’s how it seems. Waiting on crappy benches scrawled with the wise sayings of 17 year olds and trash left over from the people who waited before us. Litter on our landscape. Gee, thanks. But we’ve got our shoes on and our bags ready because we know that we are going somewhere.

Busting out of this joint. God said good things are ahead and we believe Him. So we check the schedule for when our bus is gonna show up. When the phone call should come in, the decision is scheduled to be made or that magical moment when our special someone realizes that we are their only someone. Here comes the offer, the hire, the proposal. Here comes the future.

It was the best day of our lives until it wasn’t.

Knocked off our emotional high out of nowhere. Like the girl who shoved me down the slide when I was a little girl and a beautiful evening in the park ended with butterfly stitches on my quivering chin. Below the belt, girl. Not cool.

And here we are today. We’ve lined out our Sunday best, hired the band and roped off the sidewalks. Floats with our dreams about to make an entrance down the boulevard. Then we hear the thunder in the distance. We think to ourselves, “Don’t make me say it. Don’t make me say those words.” As the wind picks up, we watch the clock hoping that we can start soon and beat the bad weather. The words drop from our lips. “Don’t rain on my parade.”.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Wondering which will come first. Our plan or the storm. Dear God. Get us out of here before it hits.

Life is the simultaneous celebration of glitter cannons and below the belt punches. All rolled into one like an upside down day.

So we live our lives waiting on the benches. Sometimes getting wet and other times escaping the downpour just in the nick of time. Either way, it is up and down. Up and down. Up and down. If we aren’t careful then our soggy dreams build up into bitter hearts. Criticizing everyone who plans their parades and even worse – watching in horror as the sun shines and everything goes as planned for them.

Or we stop dreaming and scheming all together. Can’t handle another disappointment.

These bus stops turn into our homes because we secretly stop believing that we were ever meant to go anywhere at all.

What in the world is God thinking? Sending us out full of hope when there are storms nearby?

I’ll tell you what He is thinking.

He is thinking that no rain can get you wet enough. No wind can knock enough power out. No lightning can send people running too far.

We may be waiting on these benches. Feeling the sunshine and the rain. Seeing our balloons wilt with the passing of time. Then – sometimes at the very last second – we hear the music in the distance. A colorful parade in a world of grey. A world that is in desperate need of celebration and big hopeful ideas. A promise fulfilled at exactly the right time.

You’ll probably get wet in the waiting, but God won’t rain on your parade. I promise.

 

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Living in the tension between dangled carrots and spray painted grass

 

Four o’clock rolled around and all was well. By five o’clock it had all fallen apart. 

I was happy at four-thirty today. Giddy even.

For the past several years I have been working really hard towards a specific thing. You could even call it a promise. Hours have been spent researching the best way to go about pursuing this promise. Pens have run out of ink as I have taken detailed notes and filled out all the required paperwork. Scribbles on paper with charts and lists have covered my dining room table late into the night as I look over my plan.

You have no idea- seriously no idea – how many questions I have been asked and answers I’ve found as I have plotted the path for this big dream of mine to come to pass. It was starting to grow legs and arms and come to life before my eyes.

After holding it with cautious hope, I have recently begun to embrace it. Own it and let the excitement of its existence seep into all the little bits of me. At four o’clock this afternoon, I was talking to someone involved and the details were starting to come together. Ideas were bounced around and getting polished. Life was good at four o’clock today.

Then the phone rang. It was 5 o’clock.

I answered it. On the other end was the woman who held the keys to this little dream of mine being born. Not just in my mind, but in actual life. The kind of life you can photograph and share beyond the limitations of imagination.

It wasn’t good. She informed me of some news that changed the plan. In fact, it kind of erased the plan, burned the paper it was written on and then scattered the ashes somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. At least that is how it felt by 5:05pm.

The dream doesn’t have to die, but it does have to wait. And it goes to being a bit of a lottery when it comes to how it will work. There are no guarantees really.

The worst part? I started to scold myself for actually letting myself get excited. Chasing this promise has been years of ups and downs. Dangled carrots dropped in front of me and actually believing that I was finally going to get to eat them. I’d lunge to catch the dream between my teeth, but it always pulls right back up out of reach. Sitting there taunting me, but too far to have for myself.

You know what I am talking about. Falling in love only for the other person to back out. Working long hours just to watch another person end up with the credit. Finally saving enough money for a backpacking trip with friends but having to drain your account to pay a car repair. And now you are using your newly fixed car to drive your friends to the airport. Carrots dangled.

Sitting here tonight, I still choke back the tears of disappointment and frustration. This isn’t my first rodeo with “almost but not quite” when it comes to promises. And I’ve come to know what will pop up next.

Spray painted grass, that’s what.

I see the other side where the grass is greener. The side where everything went as planned. A field of grass that grows bright green and beautiful. That piece of earth where the money never ran out and the world is fair. Where people get what they have worked hard for and the rain falls with perfect timing.

I know you know exactly what I am talking about because you have had to live in the tension between dangled carrots and spray painted grass yourself.

The truth about that grass? It isn’t really green. It has been painted with idealism, envy and a good old-fashioned dose of imagination. It is the futuristic version of what would have happened if everything would have gone our way. The perfect interpretation of our plan before real life happens.

And just like that, we are discontent with where we are. The trinkets we carry as our own are no longer valuable. Our relationships don’t sparkle with endless perfection. Our romances are tarnished with human flaws. Promotions at work that went to another suddenly make our job seem insignificant.

And that’s the biggest problem with chasing dreams, promises and grander plans. Sometimes they don’t work out the way we want and we see our own grass as the enemy.

The other grass surely would have been softer, never needed mowing and would naturally repel all insects so you could picnic in peace. The people who live there are faultless and easy to love. At least it looks that way from here.

But this place? This place is work and pain. Trying and risking over and over. It’s loving the person in front of you when you have a very specific person in mind you’d rather be loving. This grass embeds thorns in your feet if you try to run through it carefree.

Right now at 9pm? I don’t really love my grass. It is poking me in all the wrong places and isn’t growing the way I want it too. But, I am trying to remind myself that the other grass isn’t real. It is spray painted with deceiving filters and all the unwanted parts have been cropped out of the picture.

It’s like Instagram grass. Perfected by perception.

This little patch of field I will go to bed on tonight? It is my home for now and I will be thankful for it. The people parked on this side of the fence with me are my neighbors and they are just as worth loving as the people on the spray painted grass. I’ll wake up in the morning and will choose to enjoy and cultivate the land I have been given.

Continuing to work towards the promise, but choosing to live my life with gusto right here until then. I’ve learned that here in this tension. We’ve got to live settled. Not the kind of settled where you compromise for something lesser. The kind of settled where you find contentment where you are while still working toward something else. That is a thing fought for and hashed out over late night conversations with friends.

There will always be a tension between the carrots we chase and the fields we sleep in. Even when it stings us to the core, we have to let go of our plans and believe the promise.

On the days when a late afternoon phone call crushes you, God has given you a place to sit and rest while you catch your breath. It might not be the perfectly manicured grass you were hoping for, but it is your place for now. And there is a grace to make it home.

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The wild one

I remember well. Exactly where I was when I first had the words roll through my mind. 

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I was sitting in a coffee shop just as I had through so many nights of college. It was late. I don’t remember how late, but I probably should have been in the library studying. Instead there I was on the stool situated along the front bar. The large window in front of me opened to the street and looked out over campus.

My worn journal was open to a blank page and I grabbed my pen and started writing. I am sure if I shared with you the exact words I wrote they wouldn’t make much sense to you. Syllables and doodles covering pages and exposing all the bits and pieces of me.

The parts of me that seemed disconnected and disjointed from each other, but all deeply rooted in my heart. That page had me on it. All over it. Even the parts of me that made no sense.

There was no clear picture or plan that emerged. All signs didn’t point to a specific direction my life should go. Destiny didn’t spill out like some sort of code amid the ink blots. It was just my words. The thread of my deepest dream.

I knew at that moment. I wanted to be one of the wild ones.

All the things I wasn’t – I already knew. No one needed to tell me that I wouldn’t be the first girl picked. I never was. Life didn’t have to remind me of all the places I fall short. The times I say the awkward thing or get my feelings hurt when I open my heart just a little too big. My soul bears the scars of close calls and doors shut in my face.

None the less, I couldn’t argue with what I already knew. I was one of the wild ones.

Full of fear and insecurity, but wild to the core. I wanted to chase impossible things and wrap my life with colorful thinking. Thinking that didn’t try to color-cordinate with every person and every situation. I didn’t want to be khaki. I didn’t want to blend in and match everyone.

I wanted a bold life. Those words and images I wrote on the page that night testified to that. I didn’t want neutral. I wanted to be red. And paint in red wherever I went. Marking lives and streets with red letters that declared “Liz was here”. I wanted to leave myself behind.

I was twenty. I naive. But I was right. At least partly right.

Fast-forward a decade. I’ve learned a few things about being wild.

I’ve learned that meals have to be cooked. Houses have to be cleaned. Every day. Jobs have requirements and you have to – you know – actually go to work when you feel like hoping in your car to chase adventure. And relationships? Those take time too.

But mostly, I’ve learned that wild doesn’t mean what I thought it meant when I was twenty.

It isn’t about spontaneous and risky adventures that create envious stories.

Wild is not what we do, but how we think. Daring to believe in what could be. Willing to be the person who changes things. Big or small. Not allowing the realities of life to dull down our spirits. To make us think that this – right here and right now – is all there is.

I was wrong to think that I was the wild one. It isn’t me. It’s you too.

After countless conversations on long phone calls and on sofas in coffee shops, I have realized that I am not the only wild one. You are too. We are all the wild ones. At least that is what we were made to be. The capes may have turned into cardigans and swords into laptops, but we are glowing in our core. Glowing, burning, for something better. Something bigger.

From our cubicles and living rooms we dream into a world that is better. A world that has our mark on it.  Believing that life doesn’t have to play out this way – believing that we could do it better. We could do this better. That despite all our failures and scars from being the last kids picked in dodgeball, there is something in this heart to offer.

Wild generosity is meant to do battle with greed. Wild forgiveness can cut off the cycles of hatred and vengence. Wild hope has the power to reach into the darkest places and sit – be with people where they are. Remind people that we pick them. We see them.

And love? Wild love makes people recognize that they were made for the same thing. To be wild. To dream. To live this one wild crazy life will all we’ve got.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think we are ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ kind of people I think we are wild.

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To all the has-beens and wannabes

It’s not about “that moment”. It never has been and it never will be. 

I used to think that life was more clean-cut. That a few singular events would mark me. I imagined them playing out over and over again in my mind. Rehearsed the lines and planned the details of how this party was gonna go down. I used to dream of the moments that would define me. Marriage, motherhood, career goals, levels of fame and recognition.

Clouds would surely part and rainbows would light the way for me. People would stand to their feet and acknowledge the finish lines I crossed. I’d get a trophy of some kind because, hey, I just had a “moment”.

This is the nature of the myth we believe.

A myth that life has a defining moment in which we reach our peak, our purpose. The big thing we were born for. The world will cheer for us and time will stand still to acknowledge that we have arrived. Our achievement. Our coming into our own. This is the moment we can rally around and cling to in order to make sense of our existence.

Life is less science and more art. It is about the sequential experience of collective moments.

And yet most of us view our existence in this linear chart of “life-changing” events. We live from dot to dot on the graph because in our minds that is way our lives are graded.

Some of us look towards the blank, flat line in front of us. We squint our eyes hoping to see a big mark in the future that documents one of those big events of life. The time our dream came true. A big break in our career. Getting asked out by that guy you have been crushing on all semester long. We chase big social media platforms because one day something significant will happen to us and we want to be able to share it with as many people as possible. ‘Cause somehow we have begun to believe that validates our experience.

We are hungry wanna-bes. Looking at our future selves and dreaming of what we will become. We anxiously wrestle through discouraging gaps between where we are and where we want to go. There is a vision we have of what we will look like when we are significant. Until then, we are nobodies. Just a faceless person in a crowd waiting to be launched into our lives. Just shuffling wanna-bes competing for a moment in the spotlight. A moment to be seen for our real value. A day in the sun.

Wanna-bes live in the future, but not in a dreamy sort of way. More like we don’t have permission to be awesome yet because we still lack a few things on our resume. As if there is a list with boxes to check before we can officially “arrive”.

Some of us have had those big moments already.

Like the guy who was in a popular band when he was in his early 20s. Now what? Life is all downhill from here? You are the guy who used to do and used to be?  The only gig you can get is an off the beaten path casino somewhere.

The warm sunlight we were basking in has moved on to another person with a fresh accomplishment and a newer idea. Now it starts to get a bit chilly in the shade and we bundle ourselves in blankets in an attempt to recreate the warmth we felt in the spotlight.

Watching the people who have taken our place on the pedestals we once owned. Today seems like a dried up version of yesterday, so instead of watering it with new vision? We let the present go to waste, and devote ourselves to the static shrine of who we once were.

 If the wanna-bes feel like their lives are on hold until “someday”, then the has-beens relive their “back in the day” over and over. Broken record status.

What if that isn’t the way it works at all?  What if our defining moments lie in our ordinary days. The days we practice again because one day we hope to stand on the foundations we are building today. What if who we once were is actually the foundation for us to become who we are supposed to be today?

Thing is, I know a secret about you.

You carry wild dreams in your heart and neon hope in your soul. —> click to tweet

What you have done or what you will do is not what defines you. No single moment creates your legacy. It’s a lifetime. A series of ordinary days that build into an extraordinary story. A life with ups and downs threaded together by a greater purpose. You and those wild dreams you carry in your heart. The neon hope you bring into a dark world. The world needs you. Every day. It needs you to show up and give what you’ve got.

Cause life doesn’t start when we finally “arrive”. That finish line is really just another day in the journey. And life doesn’t end when we reach the peak of something. It shifts us into new territory if we let it.

We are the ones who show up. On the best of days, the worst of days, and the days that seem to blend into everything ordinary around us. We show up because we believe that every breath is a testament to our purpose. We are still here. And we still have life to live. Not yesterday, not tomorrow. Today.

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Come hell or high water. Me and you? We are standing.

Sometimes the battle isn’t about fighting harder, but just staying on the field. Standing come hell or high water. Me and you? We are still standing…

If I could look into your eyes I’d let you know that I see you there. A bit down the road from me. I see you trying your best to hold on with all your might to the little plot of ground you are fighting for. Mustering all your strength to fight against the headwind and recover from the blows that nearly take you out. The reason I see you is because I am here too. Standing on my own plot of ground…

This is a day where there just isn’t anything to do but stand. I sit here with tears brimming in my eyes because this little heart of mine is tired. My feet are sore from trying to claim this patch of land – this promise – for so long. I ache from maintaining uncomfortable postures. Twisting around the obstacles that try to tangle me – bending to keep myself just out of reach from their fatal grasp.

I first came to this place several years ago. Decided to make it my home and chose to see the future with eyes of faith. Chose to believe that God could do the impossible with me here. At first it looked like a great spot for a picnic on my new grassy plot. Lay out a blanket and enjoy the little nest I’d made with yummy food and tasty drink.

Here I would wait until it came to meet me. The promise I was standing on. But it never came.

It was okay for a while because I was surrounded by others just like me. The dreamers and believers who decided to stake their claims in the Land of Not Yet. We were like pioneers in this new land of ours. The minutes turned to hours. Longer than we anticipated but we adventurers always pack extra supplies and faced the unexpected delay with the gusto of a Broadway musical. After all, we wouldn’t be here forever. Would we?

Month after month the strength I found in numbers began to fade. My mountainside friends spotted their dream beckoning them to come and enjoy the new relationship, job, baby, adventure, personal breakthrough, clean bill of health… whatever it was. Their number had been drawn and they got to leave their humble plot to go claim their promise.

And now, here I am. Nearly alone on this mountainside. It’s hard to tell the ghosts from the visions anymore.

Through this foggy sense of no longer knowing how to fight this battle, I see you. I see you out here just like me. Seemingly alone on a piece of ground that once represented all the good things you hoped for, but now only reminds you of all the things you are no longer quite sure of. I know there are more of us, thousands perhaps. But right now, I just see us. You and me. Camping out here. And I hate camping.

Maybe you are one of the ones who packed up your lawn chair awhile ago and are in the middle of everything you dreamed of. If that’s you, I’m glad you got what you were believing for. Sure, I have my bad days and I get envious. But really, really I am glad for you. And while you are finishing off that last party cupcake, say a prayer for those of us still living off our rations.

To my fellow hillside dwellers, I’d like to tell you what I am learning. There is power in standing – remaining. 

“…and after you have done everything, to stand.” – Ephesians 6:13

When your legs won’t hold you up anymore? Kneel- it’s okay to be tired. When your eyes can no longer look for hope through your weary lids? Close your eyes and remember. Remember what led you to that little patch of promise in the first place.

There is nothing we can do to make it happen faster. No way of controlling the weather out here and the situations we have to navigate as we keep believing that someday, someday soon God will come and get us too. Through the heartache, stand. Through the storm that strips of everything we had, stand. Through the calendar days flipping past, stand.

Eloquent speech is not required. A bigger faith is not demanded. Right here? This is about standing friend. Even when we slouch on the heavy days, it’s about standing. Staying right where we are because despite it all, we are people who believe.

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