finding “home” wherever you are

It’s been awhile since I took up pen and ink to write. (And still, you might say, I’m taking a shortcut by returning to screen and keyboard.) But – anyway – what I mean to say is that I am starting (again) to write. And you have to start somewhere when you’ve neglected a space and a place for a season. 

I’ve been thinking about “home” a lot lately. Obsessing over it might be a more accurate description. Because my family doesn’t have a home of our own right now. And after 11+ years of dwelling-in-our-own-home, it’s different. We originally thought it would just be a few weeks, maybe two months, tops while were in transition from Virginia to South Carolina and waiting for our home to sell. But this stopgap arrangement is now approaching half-a-year total – and we are still waiting.

homeSo how do you make “home” for a family of four while sharing your parents’ home? How do they expand their “home” to fit the demands, noise, delights, etc, of a family-of-four-with-two-7-year-olds?

I could do a few how-to blogs for sure, co-authored with my parents, on all the ways to make it work or things to avoid. But y’all know I’d rather not get too detailed in this space. I like to reflect on the ideas (or ideals?) and parallels and lessons and meaning found behind – above – around – among the details. And what strikes me are two things: (1) “home” is many places and (2) you can always make your space your “home” (even if it’s not entirely-or even partially-yours).

Returning to my hometown hasn’t been as much like coming to “true home” as it once was. Like when I visited home that first Christmas break during college, or when I moved back after college graduation, or even when I came back to get married. My husband and I have made “home” in two places at this point in our 11+ years of marriage – Philadelphia and Norfolk, Virginia. We were in Philadelphia for 5 years total (two of them married); and Norfolk for 8 years. Norfolk’s the only home our twin daughters have ever known. So coming back to South Carolina – while certainly familiar for me and wonderful in the aspect of being close to my family again – is not our home as a family. It will become that.

But that’s the key – the process of a place becoming home takes time. You can’t speed it up, no matter how much you try or how many people you start off knowing or how familiar a geographical location is.

So what do you do in the meantime? You have a lot of “first conversations.” You know what I mean – the basic get-to-know-you-and-your-story-and-your-job-and-your-family kind of conversations. And you have many similar conversations with many different people. Co-workers, friends at church, neighbors, parents at the soccer field, moms in the classroom, etc. It’s essentially the same conversations over and over again. And of course it gets old after awhile. But there are no shortcuts to relationships or community. You keep remembering that all of your tried-and-true friendships (the people you miss in the other homes you’ve had) started the same way. And over time, similarities emerged. And/or difficulties brought you together. And there will be shared tears and laughter that births true community. 

While you’re doing this, you’re also trying to establish a physical “home” that resembles the one you left. Which is extra-challenging when, for example, you don’t actually have your own place yet. But we do have two bedrooms and bathrooms and a hallway-turned-office, and a few weeks ago I hung up twine and paper-clipped our Christmas cards to the hall bannister and pretended it was like our fireplace mantle. And something small like that made this space we’re sharing feel a little more like our own. I try to focus on cultivating gratefulness, which isn’t hard to do most days because of my parents’ generosity and love, and the fact that I have a God in Heaven who arranges even details of my address in order to help me seek and worship him. But there are those days when I obsessively view homes on Zillow that I’d like to live in. And days I just wish I could look at our pictures and eat on our dishes and have a whole roof to call our own. For those days, I’ve written these words so that I can return and remember and gain perspective.

For all of you who are in those in-between-home days, too, I hope these words help you know you’re not alone in the ups and downs of the process. And I’d love to hear from you. What has helped you when you’ve been in a similar place? How do you find home wherever you are?

 

 

Five Minute Friday: hidden

It’s been a good albeit long week of summer. We watched a summer movie ($1 at Regal), shopped for school shoes (already!), I had an interview on the Debbie Chavez show, we played at the pool a lot and did a lot of indoor activities trying to stay cool during a sweltering week. Today I take a break and return to the blog, joining in Five Minute Friday.

Five Minute Friday is my favorite of writing link-ups hosted by Kate Motaung. Her description draws me back every week, and the community of FMF keeps me writing – “This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. Just write.”

***

Hidden holds intrigue and promise, like a buried treasure waiting to be found. It’s a new life blooming within a mother’s womb. A long cherished love that awaits the right time to be expressed.

Hidden is also shame-tinged. It’s where I store my latest failure – bolted, safe, secure, for no one to see. If you’ve been abused, you know the burden of a hidden secret.

Hidden is good or bad, depending on what it is we are hiding and why. If it’s the latter – the long-buried secret – it needs the light for healing and freedom. Those sorts of burdens aren’t meant to stay hidden and borne alone. Speak about it with someone safe. Feel the burden begin to lighten.

If it’s the first – the type of hidden that’s like a treasure waiting to be found – I can think of no better analogy for what the Bible calls us children of God: “hidden with Christ in God.” We are God’s treasured ones, kept close and precious. Our glory is waiting to be revealed. 

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Book launch day & a sneak preview

unashamed - long.jpg

Y’all – it’s here. Today is the day that my first book officially launches into the world! I hope you’ll order a copy or two. Even more, I hope that you’ll discuss this with your community, whether that’s a best friend or a small group or your spouse or a roommate. Why? I want this book to be part of a movement in our communities towards gospel-fueled authenticity and away from the shadows of shame that keep us enchained. I want freedom. Healing. Transformation. Joy.

And so I’m giving you a sneak preview to you who are my faithful blog-followers – a section from the introduction and the conclusion. These best capture my heart for Unashamed and my prayer for its readers.

“I have always been terrified of public speaking. I can trace it back to eighth-grade graduation, when I froze on stage in front of my classmates and an audience of hundreds. Standing in front of the mic unable to utter a word, the expectant and anxious waiting, and an uncomfortable and heavy silence — these are what I fear anytime I am about to take the podium. The fear of being publicly embarrassed, of my weakness being unmasked in front of an audience who sees each excruciating moment, is one manifestation of shame in my life. At its core, shame is fear of weakness, failure, or unworthiness being unveiled for all to see, or fear that at least one other person will notice that which we want to hide. Shame is like a chameleon, easily blending into the surrounding environment so that it can’t be directly seen.

Shame commonly masquerades as embarrassment, or the nagging sense of ‘not quite good enough.’ It shows up when you attempt a new venture, or when you’re unsure of your place in a group. Unchecked, it can become an impenetrable barrier between you and others. It is not a topic of conversation at a party, although it is an unwelcome guest in every gathering. You may not know if you suffer under shame, because too often it’s been categorized as guilt (which is its close cousin). It is not the exclusive domain of victims of abuse, yet shame is found in every story of suffering at the hands of another. Shame can linger when you have sinned against another in ways that feel unforgiveable. Shame is complicated.”

From the conclusion:

“We know that there will be no more mourning or tears or death in the life to come. We look back to Eden to see that there was no shame before sin. Unashamed. It’s where we began, and it’s our destiny as the redeemed ones in Christ. The Christian’s ultimate hope for shame is that we will be clothed in the honor of Jesus Christ when we stand before God in all his glory. Shame will be eradicated forever. No more hiding. No more past to haunt us — either that of our own sin or that of sin done against us. Shame will be thrown to the depths of hell where it belongs with the great Accuser of our souls. It will be like emerging from a grim black-and-white film to a vivid and bright happy ending – an ending without end, that stretches into forever.

“This book is a fruit of my own journey away from shame into the freedom of being clothed in Christ’s beauty. I am a people-pleaser by nature and practice, and writing publicly terrifies me because of the fear of criticism and judgment. I want my words to be beautiful and perfect. And yet — like every other part of my life — they won’t be and they cannot be. It is in offering my imperfect thoughts that I am practicing my freedom. It is in offering some of my failures and imperfect portions of my story that I hope to encourage you to do the same. Above all else, it is my unshakeable hope in the power of Jesus Christ to heal shame at its source that emboldens me to risk. For if you begin to taste the freedom of the unashamed in even one relationship, it becomes a seed that can transform your community. We need more neighborhoods, churches, homes, and workplaces where we live unashamed and give others space to live unashamed as well. Let’s be part of the movement away from shame into freedom, honor, and glory.”

Join me? You can order Unashamed here. Or look for it in your local bookstore. I’d love to hear from you once you read it. Thanks for celebrating with me today!

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who’s at your bonfire?

Last weekend I attended the 30th birthday party for my youngest brother. I’m the big sister of two younger brothers, although they’ve long since surpassed me in height. So now I look like the little sister. (But my wrinkles prove otherwise. Ha!) I am proud of both of my brothers for the husbands, fathers, and hard-working professionals that they are. I love them dearly, and their wives are like the sisters I never had. Since we live far away from each other, family gatherings are more infrequent than we’d choose, but we try to make the moments count when we’re together.

bonfireSo last weekend I drove the hours necessary to be present at his monumental birthday party. And it was a blast! My favorite part had to be the bonfire in the backyard of the extensive property where he lives. As we huddled around the warm glow, the circle of family and friends who love my brother was enviable (in the best of ways). He’s stayed close to home, and so present at the bonfire-birthday-party was a friend he’s known since they were toddlers – who had his own toddler in tow. There was also another good friend he’s known since high school, and a guy he had mentored as well as his incredible boss/employer who’s mentored him. There were representatives of the family – parents and in-laws and a sibling and nieces and a nephew – and we all enjoyed gathering around the bonfire with one another. We came together to celebrate this friend/family member whose joy for life has always been contagious.

And it made me think as the chill in the air increased, and we all began moseying back inside and into our cars and back to our homes – the bonfire is a great image for a circle of friends and family. Ones who’ve made our history with us, who remember the stories we’d rather forget or the moments so beautiful for having been shared.

To gather all the friends I love around a bonfire would entail literally flying people in from the corners of globe – from Singapore and Nairobi, Kenya – and from coast to coast, North/South/East/West.

And isn’t that the picture of heaven? We will all come around – gather together – around the One we love, whose Joy welcomes us in and warms our hearts with the Spirit’s fire.

I’ll leave you with a verse that gives words to this vision from Isaiah 60

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you:
    All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
    and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy;..”

 

 

Brené Brown on “Rising Strong” (a review at TGC)

Dear readers, I am thrilled to share with you my official review of Brené Brown’s latest book over at The Gospel Coalition Blog. You who have been following me for awhile know that I’ve been tracking Brown’s work for a few years now. You who are new may find it interesting to read these posts about my early encounters with her material and ideas:

As always, you honor me by your presence here. Thank you for stopping by.

*****

Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution is the third in the list of popular books written by shame-researcher Brené Brown, the University of Houston professor whose TED talks on vulnerability and shame went viral and have propelled her into the national spotlight. Rising Strong follows Daring Greatly(2012) and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010). I’m a self-professed Brown fan who’s been influenced and inspired by her work in my own thoughts about shame, which will be published as Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame (Crossway, June 2016).

As a church-based biblical counselor with more than nine years of counseling experience and a master of arts in biblical counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary/CCEF, I would like to speak into both what’s good and what’s misleading about Brown’s book. To be clear where I’m coming from, I’m speaking as one who loves biblical theology and has been changed by the gospel of grace that sets me free from my self-righteous striving. Galatians 2:20–21 is my life verse as a recovering self-righteous Pharisee who can too easily trust in her own works.

Pitfalls to Sidestep

In reading Rising Strong, it seems the most obvious pitfall could be outright dismissal by the Christian community and particularly church leaders because of its raw language and failure to speak explicitly about Jesus. Brown cusses throughout the book, and does so unapologetically. This may well be a stumbling block for many readers. However, if you’re able to move past that problem, there is much here for us to learn. Much of her material maps onto a gospel-grace framework—if only Brown would follow the trajectory to its conclusion. She gives words to and speaks boldly about vulnerability (which 2 Corinthians 12:9–10 calls “strength” through boasting in weakness); about the value of owning our failures (instead of hiding them) and then learning from them; and about the importance of examining the default stories we tell ourselves when we experience failure and shame.

[To read the rest of my review at The Gospel Coalition Blog, click here.]

A year ago: remembering tragedy and finding hope

A year ago today, tragedy shattered one family – intruding into an otherwise sunny summer afternoon and stealing two in its wake. Darkness seemed to win, leaving all of us in our church community in shocked grief at losing Karla and Katharine.

One year ago, we all sprang into action. Seeking comfort through what we could offer the bereaved and surviving husband and daughter, and sharing many, many tears together.

One year ago today – I’d never witnessed a dad telling his daughter the unspeakable, seen them collapse into each other with shared sorrow and grief-torn hearts.

One year ago today, I’d never seen the beauty of a church community activated by tragedy, becoming family for the deeply bereaved, restoring them to health one meal and embrace and shared tears at a time. I’d never felt such a deep sense of call – of being made for such a moment, to walk into the wake of an unimaginable tragedy and find this was holy ground. I did not go alone. God was there. He held us together, and he has been in our midst. Tragedy left its mark, but it does not win in the end.

A year ago, I never knew that laughter and smiles could return – that joy could be had – that comfort could be known even with questions unanswered and hearts laden with sorrow.

A year ago today, I could not have penned the words below (a letter to grief featured on Kate Motaung’s site) for I had not lived them yet. I have been changed, and so have we all. Let us not forget, and let us not stop seeking to comfort one another and to press into hope. Hope that light dawns after the darkest of nights, that it will one day dawn again. Forever restoring and healing and redeeming we who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

*****

Dear Grief,

You have claimed many friends in 2014, and I have been touched by you as well. The worst part is that the church has too often refused to own you as she should. She has proclaimed a gospel of health and wealth instead of the message of the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief who promised suffering for all who take up their cross to follow Him. And in those moments when the people of God feel like they have no refuge, you cackle and seem to win. You whisper lies, saying that there is no hope, and that God is as distant as the well-meaning friends who disappear after an initial rally of support.

Your problem is that you cannot be predicted nor defined. You come as a unique visitor to each of us, rarely on time and often in disguise. You hide yourself in many forms, putting on a mask of anger to make us feel strong instead of weak. Sometimes you sink deeply into the soul, bringing depression and despair that seems impossible to escape. If left unchecked, you can cause me to live entirely on the surface of life in order not to look within and acknowledge your presence there.

Jesus Christ knows you better than any of us. He is “the man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He bore the weight of what grieves God on the cross and conquered it fully in His resurrection. He took away the sting of death – sin – saying that you, Grief, no longer have the last word. Hope takes away your bitterness, leaving us a cleansing sorrow in its wake. Hope allows us to acknowledge you without surrendering fully to you. Hope frees us to look you in the eyes as you enter our hearts and communities, and to weep freely with those who sorrow. We the Redeemed can meet you without despair; acknowledge you without empty clichés; join with others who dwell in your shadow without demanding answers or reasons.

Sorrow well

So come, dear grief, teach us to sorrow well because of the hope of a risen Savior who will make all things new and eradicate your presence from our broken world entirely when He returns again. You will not own us, though you may visit us more frequently than we would choose. We will not turn away from your presence in our own lives or those of our friends and family. And thus we strip you of your power to isolate, turning your presence into a sign of longing and an invitation to draw nearer to those suffering in your wake.

for all the spiritual moms on Mother’s Day

photo from ksl.com

photo from ksl.com

This is for you, the often overlooked one who won’t be officially included in this weekend’s celebration, but who has birthed many, many souls into being. You have done perhaps harder work than that which will be officially honored this Sunday, harder in that it is less recognized for the great personal sacrifice and deep loneliness you’ve carried in your birthing work. As you have ached to mother physical children, you have continued to nurture spiritual children. You have been available all hours of the day and night for the woman in distress, the teen on the brink of ending it all, or the 23-year-old who just had a devastating break-up, or for a peer crippled with the agony of discovering her husband’s affair. You have borne all of this, and more. You have cried along with them, and you have wept hidden tears for the husband you’ve always dreamed about or the children you wish God had given you.

You, like Hannah in the Bible, may have wept agonizing prayers of tears as the aching desires of your heart overflowed. Others have likely misunderstood you, offering you petty cliches that while true felt trite. Like, “Jesus is your husband,” and “God has given you more time to serve the church.” Perhaps what you needed first was an understanding embrace, or one willing to cry with you at the decades of disappointment you’ve carried. Yes, God has met you amidst your loneliness, and he has provided for you, but it has not been easy nor is that need all in the past tense. You know that because you don’t have physical children, more needs will arise and you’ll continually have to ask God for provision. You are in many ways a modern day widow, even if you are married, in that the society often overlooks you.

I want you to know today that you are seen. You are known. And you are invaluable to the kingdom’s advancing and the fabric of church communities. I pray that my daughters will have spiritual mothers like you available to them when I just can’t help them because I’m too close to their situation. I pray that whether my daughters have physical children or not, that they will, like you, spiritually nurture and care for many souls. I pray that in their waiting days – waiting for marriage, or for conception, or for grief of what’s lost to pass – that they will be able to think of at least one of you who will cheer her on by example.

I’m thinking of my friend who ministers to the sexually broken and hurting, courageously risking much to bring the hope of the gospel into these places of confusion and pain. I’m thinking of another friend who has helped develop and teach Jesus-centered curriculum to women and men across the world. And of another sister who is assisting in administration of a Christian counseling center, while she also pours into the lives of many women through personal counsel. Yet another woman comes to mind who has welcomed missionaries and missionary candidates for decades through her gracious and warm hospitality. I’m thinking of you in my church who bolster my heart with your words of encouragement and your endurance in the faith through your care for others and your support of us. I’m thinking of my clients brave enough to speak of how difficult it is to be single, to be childless, of how the world often seems to pass them by (Sunday mornings can be hardest).

I’m thinking of you, and I want you to read this as a heartfelt note of appreciation on behalf of all of your spiritual children who will rise up and call you blessed on the last day. Thank you for your hidden service, your poured-out love, your difficult endurance, and your courage to keep on going step-by-step. I pray that this Sunday you will feel God’s smile upon you in tangible ways. Might we who know 1-2 of these such women be part of God’s words of appreciation to you?

Jesus is your cure for loneliness, not Facebook

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario. I feel bored with my life, or my house, or my clothes, and so I check Instagram or Facebook. Perhaps I think I’ll find affirmation or connection in how many likes or reposts I’ve received. Maybe I pop over to Pinterest to get inspired with a DIY project for my home or with my kids. I’ll then see how many Twitter followers I have, and whether my blog stats are booming (or not). The result is that I either feel temporarily elated, or in a state of deeper discontentment than before. The pull of social media is strong, not only because it is always accessible, but also because it seems to promise what we are all craving: a place to belong. … [Read the rest over at iBelieve.com, where it’s featured today]

Five Minute Friday: “real”

Our week in review: celebrated St. Patrick’s Day (and our 9-year engagement anniversary) by eating Lucky Charms (my daughters’ choice), wearing green, listening to Irish music; continued in the sometimes-overwhelming rhythm of our normal lives as a pastor-counselor/writer duo trying to manage our home and nurture our 4-year-old twins’ hearts and faith; laughed a little at the antics of our daughters along the way; rejoiced at God’s provision of a home for my in-laws to buy (they’ve been renting since moving here in the fall – and this home is just *perfect* for them!); saw depths of sin and depths of grace in my own heart as I love and counsel others through the same.

And then here – to Five Minute Friday. Aaahh. A resting place, of sorts. Writing on an assigned topic for five minutes, unedited. Here I go –

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The Velveteen RabbitReal is so hard to become, isn’t it? Just ask the Velveteen Rabbit, or Eustace from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader who had to undergo a painful extraction of his dragon-like skin in order to discover who he was.

Real is paraded as what we are all going for these days – “real food” “authentic/real relationships” “real hope for troubled times” “reality TV shows (that are anything BUT real …)”.

But to be real? Well, it takes courage. It is hard to show up as I really am, without knowing how you will receive me. It can be excruciating to be the first one vulnerable in a group. Or to be exposed for my failings in front of anyone else. But empathy and connection and love cannot happen unless I risk becoming real.* Being vulnerable – showing up as I am unmasked by disguises or pretenses or what I think you want me to be. Oh, to be real! It will open up doors of belonging (and it has in my life), and it will also open up long-standing wounds. 

I’ve experienced both in my journey to become real. To show up because I know I am already loved, forgiven, accepted, delighted in, validated, dignified. To show up to others in the middle of my weaknesses because I am trusting that God’s grace is made strong here … in these very fissures of my cracked clay jar that let in (and out) the Light of hidden glory. 

photo credit: heuning.co.za

photo credit: heuning.co.za

*I am indebted to two courageous women who have shown me through their writings how to be real like this, and whose ideas I am paraphrasing and personalizing here: Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly and Glennon Melton’s Carry On, Warrior and blog at momastery.com.