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.

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The Deep End

Hello, my name is Rebekah and I have commitment issues.

I am basically terrified of committing to anything. Not because I lack trust or fear betrayal, but because I am so terribly bad at un-committing from things.

My mama named me Devoted; it clung to me something fierce. I blame her for everything.

Just kidding.

But seriously, I way over-committed myself this winter. I thought I was going to Africa for two months. My plan when I came back was to play fill-in nanny for a few months and figure out where I was going from there.

I didn’t go to Africa. Which means I didn’t quit my other job. Which means I was working fifty-ish hours a week on a sleep schedule that resembled a tilt-a-whirl. Late nights. Early mornings. Up and down and spinning around and would someone just let me off this ride before I get sick?

I developed a love/hate relationship with the short hours between 12 and 5am. If I didn’t require sleep, I would have spent that precious time writing. But five hours doesn’t cut it for this girl.

For sleeping or for writing.

I came out of this experience like a zombie, stumbling through the familiar motions of life, but having forgotten how to feel any of it. Seriously, guys, I almost died. Or maybe I just wanted to die. It’s all a little fuzzy now.

I do remember having a complete mental breakdown in the month of March and calling in dead to both of my jobs one tragic Monday. I think I spent that Monday curled up in the fetal position, telling myself over and over that this was no way to live. No. Way. To. Live.

That’s when the plotting, the searching, the scheming began. What could I do to make myself feel alive again?

“I want to do something crazy,” I confessed to one of the regulars one day. “But I’m too responsible. And I’m tired of being responsible. Is it too late for my rebellious streak to kick in?”

He just chuckled and encouraged me to please go on with my “bad girl speech.”

“Ah, let’s face it,” I lamented. “I’m probably not going to go off the deep end. I just really want to.”

“Let me know when you do,” he said, in a way that made me realize that he and I have two, very different definitions of Off the Deep End.

Because to a girl who has walked the straight and narrow most all of her life, Off the Deep End isn’t drinking and partying and waking up in a stranger’s bed. That sort of stuff has no appeal whatsoever to me.

My idea of Off the Deep End is jumping in my car and driving all the way to the west coast just because I’m curious to see how different the Pacific Ocean looks from the one I tend to frequent.

It’s backpacking through Europe because history and poetry and, eh, why not?

It’s jumping on the next plane to the Maldives because I hear they’ve got this restaurant there that is entirely underwater and it’s like eating in the world’s biggest aquarium. Plus beaches and paradise and the possibility of a life-changing encounter in an airport.

It’s restless feet and a gypsy soul, and who has time for superficial stuff when adventure is there for the chasing?

I talk about that stuff all the time. Daring adventures, impossible dreams, a life Beyond Reason…

But I don’t live it. Not as often as I would like. I’m far too practical for that.

I sort through everything, over-analyze it, and dismiss the things that don’t have a “purpose.” As if every single thing I do has to be of insurmountable significance or I won’t do it at all.

Those are my options: Do or do not.

And mostly I convince myself it’s best to do not. As if accomplishing nothing is better than accomplishing something if there is no significance attached.

Maybe the only significance the above list would have is to make me happy. To shake things up. To splash a little bit of color into the life my tedious hands have painted in layers of gray. And maybe that would be okay. Maybe it’s not a bad thing, or a crazy thing, or an irresponsible thing to step into new spaces and be an adventurer every once in awhile.

But this time I settled for something a little closer to home. I signed up for ice skating lessons.

Yeah, I know. It’s a bit of a letdown after the suggestions above. But ice skating is something that always makes me feel alive, and I wanted to learn the mechanics of it. I wanted to know how to twirl.

Saturday was my first class. It was good, I guess. But it was less of the exhilarating freedom of flying so fast and more of the nitty-gritty details of learning to propel myself backwards. And when I say “propel,” I mean propel is the goal, but it’s a little more tedious than that right now. It’s slowly sliding and scraping my way across the surface and ending up facing forward again before I even know what happened.

I think that’s an accurate reflection of my life right now. There was a time when I just blindly soared through it, laughing and living it up. I’m in a different season right now—a more intentional one. I’m studying the mechanics of it, learning how to do it right. I’m just slowly scraping by right now, but I am okay with that.

Because one day soon, I’m going to know how to twirl.

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And so, my darlings, I will leave you with this:

Do something that makes you feel alive.

Because we all need to learn how to take the breathless, fearful step Off the Deep End.

Reduce Me to Love

“Reduce me to love.”

These words, penned by the one and only Hannah Brencher, showed up in my Instagram feed yesterday morning. Like many of Hannah’s words, they enraptured me.

“Reduce me to love,” she said. And then she proceeded to tell of how she gets in her own way. How often she abandons Love in favor of Expectations and Productivity.

“So please, just reduce me to love,” she prayed. “Nothing more. Nothing greater. I know it won’t be easy. I know it should be simple, but it’s not.”

We fill our lives with so many meaningless (but often well-meaning) things. We try to accomplish so much in hopes of making a name for ourselves. We sing to the tune of Busy, Busy, Dreadfully Busy and leave Love by the wayside.

Love is just one more thing to worry about, and we haven’t got the time. There is no room even in the margins of our busy schedules to add this thing called Love.

But the reason I keep coming back to Hannah’s statement is because she uses such an unconventional choice of words. “Reduce,” she says. “Reduce me to love.”

Not, “Enable me to love.” Not, “Grow me in love,” or “Help me make room for love,” or “Fill me with a love that would overflow into the lives of those around me.”

No, she uses the word reduce. As if Love is a thing of which we are all capable if only we slow down enough to let it do its work. As if it lingers there in our hearts, just waiting for the opportunity to stretch out its hands and work its simple magic.

Because Love really is a very simple thing. Sure, we act as though it is something grand and lofty and hard to come by, but Love is a very simple thing at the core.

Love is a plate of food, wrapped and waiting in the refrigerator for the daughter who won’t get off work until ten.

Love is the handful of wildflowers you stop to pick on the way to a friend’s house because they are her favorite color.

Love is a name remembered. A ponytail tugged. A diaper changed. A late night trip into town for waffles.

Love is one single phone call/email/text message away.

Love is a series of simple things. The kinds of things that don’t require much. In fact, they require very little. Love requires us, not to be more, but to be less. To reduce ourselves from all of our lofty aspirations and checklists for productivity, challenging us to be—just be—that little thing that lingers when all distractions are stripped away.

Challenging us to be Love.

So please, reduce me to love

Nothing more. Nothing greater. Nothing important or pretentious.

Just Love.

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Stay Fearless.

I received an end-of-the-year update from WordPress informing me that I wrote a mere fifteen posts in 2015. But, in spite of my record low numbers, the readership remained steady. Dear Readers, I am amazed by your faithfulness. I would have given up on me by now.

While I am not one for new year’s resolutions, now seemed as good a time to start fresh as any. In fact, it feels long overdue. This year has been one of the darkest of my life. And I thought 2013 would be hard to beat. In 2013, I hit the rapids, but I still had God in my boat. In 2015, I kept trying to throw Him out because I didn’t like what He was saying. And, friends, let me tell you, it is really, really hard to brave the rapids without a guide.

But God, ever faithful, ever persistent, finds His way back into my heart in the most mysterious of ways. This time it was through the reading of Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters. In this fantastical work of fiction, an angel and a devil fall in love. It does not end well. These two races have been at war for centuries, but when Karou and Akiva dare to dream of a different way, the angels and beasts must unite against a greater enemy. It’s basically epic, and you would have to read the entire series to fully understand, but there’s this scene in Dreams of Gods and Monsters:

Liraz—most formidable of the angels—follows her brother’s lead and sides with the enemy. Liraz, whose arms are stained black with the tattooed tally of her victories. Liraz, who is feared by seraphs and chimaera alike. Liraz, who appears, in my mind, the very definition of Fearless.

She stares at Karou’s two human friends who have stumbled into her world. Petite Zuzana and her violin-wielding boyfriend Mik have no wings, no fangs or claws, no place in a world at war.

Weak, she thought, still watching the human pair. But there was another word lurking, defying it. Fearless.

They slept with their faces touching.

I read those words. Read them again and again, stumbling over this groundbreaking definition of Fearless every time.

Fearless quite literally means lacking fear. I suppose that could be a lot of things. Still, it’s hard to imagine that Fearless can define both the warrior who strives against insurmountable odds and the teenage girl who sleeps peacefully in the arms of her beloved.

It’s no secret that I have long been the girl who would stand alone on the battlefield. “Lord, send me,” has been the cry of my heart since I read the story of Amy Carmichael when I was eight years old. I would be perfectly content to wake up in a different country every month for the next year. In fact, I can think of little that would thrill me more than to have such an experience.

I think that’s what I’ve been waiting for as I remain tucked away in this tiny corner of the world. For God to say, “All right. Okay. Today is the day. Pack your little, fearless self up and let’s go.”

But He hasn’t done that. And every time I’ve tried to force His hand on the issue, He closes yet another door in my face.

“Can I please just go now?” I whine.

And He whispers in response, “What would you do if I asked you to stay?”

I haven’t answered His question, mostly because I’m afraid to give it credibility. Like, if I answer this question, I have to acknowledge that He might actually be serious.

Some people were made for staying, but not this girl. The world is too small in rural Ohio. I’ve felt it closing in, suffocating me. I miss the nations. I thought God and I had agreed this move was going to be temporary, but when I give it further thought, I realize God asked me to move and I consoled myself with the idea that it would be short-term. Just until I caught the travel bug and floated off to some other corner of the world.

I, like Liraz, had my swords in hand and my wings unfurled for flight when God confronted me with this scene—this new definition of Fearless.

They slept with their faces touching.

That’s the kind of vulnerability that has the potential to undo you.

“I want you to be Fearless,” God says.

And though I’ve been toting that word like a mantra since Taylor Swift first put it to lyrics and God took my hand and dragged me headfirst—Fearless, I get the feeling He is asking something much different from me this time. Instead of dragging me headfirst into the storm, He is pushing me back down into my chair.

“Sit down. Take a load off. Stay awhile.”

But my feet are already twitching in time with the music and the rain outside looks like the dancing kind.

“China. Venezuela. Mozambique. I know you would be there in a heartbeat if I asked it of you. But honestly—honestly—what would you do if I asked you to stay?”

I twitch. I squirm. I slink down in my seat. It’s the closest thing to an answer I can give Him right now.

“Occupy this space. Be where you are. Invest in the lives of the people around you. Fall in love with as many strangers as you like, but keep them this time. Touch their faces. Let their faces touch yours.

“By all means, be Fearless. Just make sure it’s the staying kind.”

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