Stay

“In most of my church tradition, no one ever mentioned the holy work of staying.”

One minute I’m kicked back in my chair and the next I am scrambling upright, paying rapt attention to the book in my hands, trying to get closer to these words and the way they sing over this current season of my life.

I’ve never been one to pick a word of the year, but I selected one quite by accident on the first day of 2016. I thought the word was Fearless, only redefined. The kind of Fearless that makes you Stay when all you really want to do is Pack Up and Go.

“By all means, be Fearless,” I’ve whispered to myself while tucked into the darkened corners of 2016, “Just make sure it’s the Staying kind.”

So I read on, wanting to know what else Sarah Bessey had to say about the holy work of Staying.

“It’s a different kind of fearless,” she wrote.

I flailed. I squealed. I scrambled for my phone so I could Instagram the moment into a mantra for the masses. (It is 2016, after all.)

The girl who penned that blog post on the first of the year did not know what it meant to Stay. She knew Fearless only in the form of jumping on a plane and traveling to foreign lands and adventure is out there if only you are willing to chase it. Those things didn’t scare her the way they did many others. She felt quite content and at ease walking the streets of Mumbai and clasping hands with little, beggar children.

But ask her to Stay… Ask her to Stay and she trembles like a leaf trying to free itself from its mother branch, hoping to abandon herself to the whims of the wind. Why would she want to remain anchored to the tree when she could go for a swim along a breeze?

Hannah Brencher likens Staying to a monster that hides in the closet once you hit adulthood. She showed up in my inbox just this morning to remind me of how scared we all are of that word. And here I thought it was just me.

But it’s not just me. Sarah Bessey and Hannah Brencher stepped in to say, “Me, too. I’m learning how to be the Staying Kind of Fearless, too.”

Maybe you’re there with us. If so, welcome to the club.

The worst thing we can ever do to ourselves is believe that it’s just us. That we are alone in the world. That no one else has words that they give teeth and claws. That no one else pulls the blankets up over their heads to hide from the monsters we fear. That the monsters are entirely our own and no one else finds them as terrifying as we do.

I dedicated 2016 to becoming the Staying Kind of Fearless, but I didn’t really want to. If I am going to be perfectly honest, all I’ve wanted all along was to Pack Up and Go. I’ve looked to the heavens more times than I can count, asking, “Why am I still here?”

Because this isn’t what I wanted for myself. I never wanted to unlace my world traveling shoes and settle into Smalltown, USA.

But I stayed. Maybe I’ve been more begrudging than fearless, but I’m still here. And I’m showing up where I’m at, and being present in the moment, and learning to go deeper instead of wider. I’m realizing that maybe I don’t need to leave pieces of myself scattered across the globe; maybe I just need to throw my whole self into one place.

Staying is the kind of ministry that takes a vulnerability I have never learned. But I am learning now. Slowly, but surely I am figuring out what it means to be the Staying Kind of Fearless. Even if, for now, that requires sorting through a whole bundle of fear.

Hunting Unicorns

“You are far more complex than I realized.”

I shrug in response to the statement. “People are complex.”

“No,” he says. “People are not that complex. You are.”

But people are that complex. Every single human being that walks this earth consists of many layers, multiple facets. Whether we are lovers of fairytales who are the furthest thing from romantics (Who, me?) or admirers of magic living in an ordinary, mundane world, we are all walking contradictions. Some of us just don’t realize it yet.

Me? I’m a writer—an artist, if you will—and artists tend to delve deeper into life than most people dare to go. That doesn’t mean the others are not capable of such feats; it simply means they haven’t been curious enough to explore.

Sometimes I consider how simple my life might be if I had never left this town. I have tried (and failed) to wrap my mind around what it would be like to have gotten married right out of high school and given birth to those six kids my childhood self thought I wanted. What would I think and feel and believe had I settled for what was right in front of me and never explored the expanse of the world?

I think I could be quite happy there, in my simple life, not knowing any different. Because, you know what they say: ignorance is bliss. I, however, never afforded myself that luxury. I reached for something bigger, deeper, different.

I got a taste of the world and now I cannot go back to being a small town girl. It’s a beautiful thing; it’s a terrible thing. It’s where I am right now.

And last night, my current predicament led to a long conversation with a middle aged man about how I am a genuine, one-of-a-kind, there-is-no-one-else-even-remotely-like-me-in-the-world. Despite my protests that I am not “looking” for anyone, thank you very much, he insists that I am looking for something that does not exist. There are no such thing as unicorns, he says.

At this point in the conversation, I am still more amused than annoyed, so I smirk. “You think I should settle for a horse and just glue a piece of antler on his head?”

Herein lies the real problem with people who tell you that you need to lower the impossible standards they imagine you to have: they are never clear about where the mysterious line is drawn. What is the perfect amount of compromise? Where do my standards switch from high to impossible?

I am still trying to figure out why in the blazes that if what I want is this…

unicorn-dimensions-unicorns-17788267-1024-768

…I should have to settle for this?

grinch2bdog2bfallen2bwith2bantlers

(I’m sorry, Max, that’s not fair. I love you. You are my favorite. But you are not a unicorn or a reindeer. You are a dog—the very best of dogs. Keep being a dog.)

I’m going to be honest here. I don’t think I demand anything unreasonable out of life. I want to write books, but they don’t have to be number one bestsellers (although I obviously would not complain if they were). I want to bounce around the world for years to come and maybe have a flight experience where nothing is delayed or cancelled or otherwise complicated. And if I ever do get married, I just want it to be to someone who thinks and feels about the world the same way I do.

If I am looking, it is for someone to share in an adventure. I don’t want a small life. I don’t want safe, comfortable, or conventional. I don’t want the shallow, the superficial, or the daily grind. I want to always search bigger, dig deeper, and see beyond what most people dare to dream.

Perhaps what I want is unreasonable after all—a life lived entirely Beyond Reason. A life fully abandoned to faith. And trust. And perhaps a touch of pixie dust.

Honestly, I’ll be okay if I never find a unicorn, so long as the journey is magical.

My Idea of Church

I went to church last weekend. I gathered in a circle with twenty-some people and we shared our stories. We laughed together, encouraging one another, but we also made sure to point out where each person could grow better, stronger, bolder.

It was a time to hear and be heard. To grow and help grow. A time when everyone was excited and accepting and eager for more. A time to let down our walls, exposing pieces of our souls to strangers. A time to fall in love with those strangers because of it.

“This is the way church is supposed to be,” I thought.

But, of course, I can’t remember the last time church has looked like this for me. Because this experience I had last weekend didn’t take place in a sanctuary; it took place in a Student Center at Ball State University. We weren’t talking about Jesus; we were talking about writing.

And before you ask, yes, that is a spiritual experience for me.

I carried it with me—this definition of church—through the remainder of the weekend. You might think it would be hard to even consider a word so sacred and spiritual while playing Cards Against Humanity, but that’s where it hit me the hardest. As the owner of this filthy game struggled to remain somewhat respectful for the sake of her good little Catholic companion, it was hard to imagine anything but the Holy Spirit at work.

Because that’s what blew my mind. That we were so very different at our cores and yet… Our experiences didn’t matter. Our worldview didn’t matter. Our politics and religion and culture didn’t matter. We were all storytellers, and that bound us together in a way that would be impossible in any natural realm.

I wish I knew of an actual church that worked like that. Maybe then I’d make an effort on Sunday mornings. Maybe then I wouldn’t find myself wishing for excuses on Wednesday nights. Maybe then church would actually make a difference in my life, rather than be that mandatory thing on my schedule.

I’m sorry to say that is what church has become in my life—an obligation.

In the movie Evil Roy Slade, the protagonist is a villain who falls in love with a pretty girl and decides to abandon his lifetime of crime. Only he has a hard time leaving the past in the past. One day, Roy has a relapse and confesses to his beloved Betsy, “My idea of a 9 to 5 job is 9 men robbing 5 men.”

I think my idea of church is comparable. Not because I believe in robbing people, but because my idea in itself is so drastically different than the cultural norm and, frankly, a lot more exciting than a church built on tradition.

Because if church looked anything like that circle of writers clutching pages of their stories within their trembling hands, I would feel differently about it. I would crave it like I crave waking up to Jacqueline Faber’s manuscript in my inbox. (Let’s make that a reality, Jacqueline.)

I do crave it. Not church as it is, but church as it should be. Church like my writing community. Because, I swear, if someone would talk to me about Jesus the way my coworker talked to me about Anita Blake the other night, I would be on a spiritual high for a month, hallelujah.

I just want a church that pushes past the fluff and the tradition and the agenda, and gets straight to the heart of it. I want a church where people ask their questions and share their stories and dare to risk rejection only to find acceptance instead.

I want a church that isn’t divided over experience and worldview, politics and culture. I want a church where we can overlook and even accept these things. Where we can learn and even grow from these things. Because no matter what our other loves, we are all lovers of Jesus.

And that binds us together in a way that would be impossible in any natural realm.

Where is God?

Wednesday night Bible Study. We talked about how easy it is to read some books of the Bible and how difficult it is to push through the others, but how necessary both are.

“Right now I’m reading 2 Samuel,” my friend said. “People are slaughtering each other and it’s hard to find a loving God in that.”

I think it must be a very hard thing to read the entirety of the Bible if you are just looking for love. If you are looking for all of the traits of God you already find familiar. If you are trying to summarize Him, to tie Him nice and pretty with a bow.

“God is Love.”

You’ll find those words on wall plaques and church signs. You’ll hear them tumbling off the lips of Christians near and far. They’re the words we use to win others over—the first introduction to our beliefs. While they are not untrue, they are not the whole truth either.

Yes, God is Love, but that is not all He is.

Way back in the book of Exodus, God introduced Himself to Moses as I AM WHO I AM.

Not I AM LOVE. Not I AM JUSTICE. Not I AM PEACE or LIBERATION or FREEDOM THROUGH THE AGES. When the Creator of the universe elected to introduce Himself to a human being, He chose the title I AM.

It means nothing. It means everything. Even after years of pondering that statement, I struggle to understand it. I’ve never met anyone else who could introduce themselves simply as I AM.

But God is. He encompasses everything. More than love. More than justice. More than peace or liberation or freedom through the ages.

Today, as I consider the conversation from Wednesday night, I cannot help but think of how well my friend’s words fit not only 2 Samuel, but the world in which we live today.

“People are slaughtering each other. It’s hard to find a loving God in that.”

Maybe it’s also to find a just God or a peaceful God or even a God of liberation.

Maybe it’s just plain hard to find God. Period. Where is God in all of this?

My neighbors talk of the end times. They tell me I should be afraid. Afraid to go to concerts or conventions or, really, even to work. It’s a crazy world out there. Crazy people. Anything could happen.

But I’m not afraid. Even though I “should” be.

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

So if you’re asking where God is, He’s right here. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell among His people.

Christians, you are not allowed to ask where God is in all of this; you should already know. He should already be present in your heart and in your home.

You don’t get to be the ones sitting inside, trembling in fear. You get to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world. You get to be Love. You get to be Justice. You get to be Peace and Liberation and Freedom Through the Ages.

You get to be I AM.

And if the world still can’t see that a loving God exists, then we have failed them.

So, where are you taking God today?

A Life You Can Fall in Love With

“Is it weird,” she asked, “to see Josh get married when you’re still single?”

“No,” I shrugged. “I’m used to it by now.”

Which is true. I mean, it was weird when she got married. She was the first of the “younger generation” to tie the knot, and she married my baby brother who was certainly not old enough to get married, right? But the next three years have been so full of both bridal and baby showers that I hardly blink at the news that yet another kid is getting married and having kids of their own.

As I sat there watching the bride and groom share their first dance, I pondered my sister-in-law’s question a little deeper. Is this weird? Is it strange to watch Josh—this boy I’ve known all his life—get married?

Yeah. Maybe a little. After all, last time I looked, the kid was about twelve. But is it weird that he’s getting married when I’m still single? No. Not at all.

I don’t expect everyone to wait on me. They could stay waiting forever and, as you all should know by now, waiting is not what I am about.

I watched Josh’s hands dance up and down Maria’s shoulders and wondered (as all good writers do), what if?

What if I was living for this, hoping for this? What if I spent my single years obsessing over the thought of having my turn on the dance floor? Would it be weird then, to witness this moment?

I think, in that case, the answer is yes. Yes, this is weird and hard and decidedly unfair. I’m twenty-five years old; Josh is just a baby.

But I don’t live for him.

Him—the elusive someone who is supposed to come sweeping into my life and become my everything. The someone I’ll wear a white dress for. The someone I’ll devote the rest of my days to.

If I’m going to be honest, I thought I’d be married by twenty-five. As a child, it seemed as good an age as any to start settling down. As an adult it seems sort of like a cruel joke I played on my future self.

That’s right, make plans, Rebekah. It will be so amusing to see how unexpectedly your life actually plays out.

This is perhaps the part of the story where I’m supposed to become angry and jaded and bitter, but that seems to sad of an ending, so I rewrote it. I took this unexpected mess of a life and decided I wanted something different than a fist to shake at heaven.

I wanted something more magical, more unpredictable, more poetic than that.

I wanted a life I could fall in love with.

So I threw myself into my work, and befriended coworkers and customers alike.

I signed a lease and started collecting things to furnish a home of my own.

I filled journals with stories and ideas and words that may or may not be better left unsaid.

I started taking ice skating classes and, you guys, you guys, I am learning how to twirl. (Well, pivot, really, but it’s where the spinning starts… so maybe soon?)

I am trying to be spontaneous and adventurous and vulnerable. I am striving every day to let down my hair.

Would I like to be married? Sure. Maybe one day.

But not at twenty-five. Twenty-five has a different ending in mind for me.

And that’s okay. Different than I once expected, but okay.

Some people say that every girl deserves a man who will treat her well. And maybe they do.

But what I hope that every girl has, regardless of her relationship status, is a life she can fall in love with.

Love your life, darling, and if you don’t, rewrite it.

Make it the kind of life you can be proud of. Make it the kind of life you can find joy in. Make it the kind of life you can fall in love with.

You deserve that.

You really do.

Even in This

Three years ago, I got a phone call. I knew little of the details (no one did at that point), but there had been an accident and the outcome was uncertain. The request was simply to pray.

And pray I did.

My faith was not small that day. As I told God what I knew of His character—as I reminded Him of another time He gave a little girl back her life—I truly believed my request to be simple.

I weaved a prayer of hope and trust, but, within an hour, I was picking up a pen to make an amendment to my prayer journal. Written there in red ink, like an editorial note to my future self, are the words:

You are good. All the time. Even in this.
That’s what I choose to believe.

The death of a ten-year-old girl seems a terrible segue into the current state of my life. In fact, I felt kind of guilty about recycling those words.

Those words are sacred. A memorial to Maggie.

And yet I find myself whispering “even in this” as if this could compare to the original moment in question.

It can’t. It really can’t.

The final words I exchanged with that child still haunt me, folks.

But the truth remains that God is good. All the time. Even in this.

Even in this. When my dreams have been derailed and forced to take the scenic route. When I’m twenty-five and, only now, finally moving out on my own. When I pick up a pen and the words won’t come and, when they do, I question their worth. When every ounce of me wants to go back to the girl I was at twenty because she was better than the person I am today.

I think that is the most frustrating thing. Because even if my dreams have not turned out according to plan, I should still be a better, stronger person than I was five years ago.

But I’m not. I’m really not.

My journals bear the proof.

I feel like I should read all of my journals like I read the ones from middle school. With a cringe followed by a wave of relief because I have grown up and overcome that stage of life. I should be able to look at my past and thank God I’m not that girl anymore.

But that’s not how I feel when I encounter the girl at twenty. The girl at twenty makes me want to weep for the things I have lost. I want it back. I want it all back.

Make the girl of twenty-five disappear and just give me twenty, please.

I am going to blame Grace Thornton for this sudden wave of melancholy. Because I was fine. I was fine until I started to read her book and she spoke of her quest for God, and her hunger for God, and her realizing that she had made her life all about God without ever really knowing Him. (There will be a full review of I Don’t Wait Anymore to follow because, seriously, all of the feels. But I digress…)

I was confused. Puzzled to think that I could have endured that same, glorious journey of a life fully abandoned to God only to end up back where I started from. Stuck in a pattern of serving Him simply because I do. And I should have recognized it earlier. Long before Grace. I should have known when friends started asking questions and I didn’t have the answers, or I was ashamed of the answers, or I just wanted to brush the entire conversation off because I was so very tired of fitting the stereotype—so very desperate to escape the pedestal.

I have felt like God has abandoned me, but perhaps I have abandoned Him.

I am reminded of the day Hannah Brencher answered the question, “How do you remind yourself God is with you, even on the hardest and darkest days?”

Her answer was as powerful as it was poetic.

“I hurl myself into the word of God,” she said. “On the days when I don’t feel God, and I assume he has packed a suitcase and left for Rio, I go and hunt him down. I look for him. I ask for him. I knock at his door. I make him answer.”

When I posted those words on Facebook a few months back, I received some critical feedback on the idea of “making” God answer. My friend’s opinion was that God was always right there, ready and waiting to respond to us when we call.

All right, so maybe I was the one who left for Rio and I’ve simply had to make a long trek back, but I couldn’t help being a little jealous of this person who has seemingly never had to knock on God’s door the way the widow from Jesus’ parable did (Luke 18). Night after night after night until he finally acknowledged her request.

Some people really do have a faith like that. A coworker once told me of a conversation she had with God. “As you know, the Holy Spirit is such a gentleman…”

She really said it like that. “As you know.” As if God quite obviously spoke to everyone so sweetly and gently.

I think God knows I don’t like things sugarcoated. Our conversations are a little more direct and, some might say, disrespectful. My holy spirit theology could be more accurately identified by my pastor friend who said the following words:

“Some people say the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. I beg to differ. He slapped Paul right off a horse. That’s not very gentlemanly.”

I have been slapped off my high-horse more times than I can count.

But God is good. All the time. Even in this.

Even in this, as I’m lying on the ground, world spinning around me. As I try to figure out what this means and where I’m meant to go from here. As I pound on God’s door and beg Him not to move to Rio—don’t You dare move to Rio—when I need Him so much right here, right now.

And He is here.

He is good, He is faithful, He is here.

That is what I choose to believe.

Yes, even in this.

The Jonah Complex

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the story of Jonah. Let’s face it, that’s probably the coolest story anyone ever learned in Sunday School. Sure, David defeated a giant with a rock, but Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale before it vomited him up safe and sound on dry land. I believe history has seen more unlikely heroes like David than it has unconventional fish bait like Jonah.

But the thing you didn’t realize as a child is how little mention that fish actually gets in the story. There’s just a casual reference at the end of Chapter One about how “the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”

Like, yeah, God did that. No big deal.

And again at the end of Chapter Two: “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”

So long, Fishy. It was fun while it lasted.

When I got a little older, I came to like Jonah’s story for different reasons.

I’ve had my fair share of Isaiah moments. Times when I raised my hand and declared, “Lord, send me!”(Isaiah 6:8)

I’ve even had a few Ezekiel moments where I went “in bitterness and turmoil, but the Lord’s hold on me was strong.” (Ezekiel 3:14).

I’ve had a thousand, little one-verse moments for both my obedience and my rebellion.

Jonah got four chapters. Four chapters of running and hiding and begging and relenting and stewing in bitterness because this was why he ran in the first place.

What has long intrigued me about Jonah is something they never taught me in Sunday School. All I remember from my childhood is the happy, little ending where the city repented. Yay, Jonah! You fulfilled your mission!

But there’s Jonah, at the end of the story, sulking in the hot sun while God chastises him for being without compassion for the people God sent him to save. It ends so abruptly with God expressing his love for the people of Nineveh and Jonah declaring his will to die.

Will Jonah repent or will he not? Tune in next time…

And then God cancelled Season Two.

It’s sort of like that much-debated piece of literature “The Lady and the Tiger.” I guess God thinks you don’t need to know what Jonah did in order to consider what you would do.

The fish may have delivered Jonah to the place God intended for him to be, but Jonah was still running. That’s what blows my mind about this story. The only person who didn’t repent was Jonah. And yet, God used him even in his rebellion.

Jonah was called to Nineveh, and when he ran the other way, God calmed a storm and redeemed an entire boatload of heathen sailors.

Wait, what?

I thought we were talking about Nineveh here. That’s where Jonah was supposed to be. That’s what he was meant to do. No one said anything about any sailors.

But it appears to me that Jonah was in the wrong place at the right time. It seems to me that God redeems our messes more powerfully than we could ever give ourselves credit for.

The last year or two has been really hard for me. I feel like I haven’t been tracking as well as I should. I feel like I’ve been stumbling toward Tarshish rather than charging into Nineveh.

I feel too dark to be a light. Too unworthy to be a vessel. Instead of letting guilt take me by the hand and guide me home, I’ve welcomed it in and let it take up residence.

Sometimes I don’t like the person I’ve become—the one who snores away while the storm rages on.

Yet I find hope in believing that God has elected to use me, in spite of my rebellion. In some cases, as a result of it. I like to think that even when I’m thrown to the waves and left sinking into the darkness, God’s glory will be revealed to those left standing on deck.

Travel via fish’s belly is not the most glamorous route to redemption, but sometimes it’s necessary for wayward souls like mine.