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;..”

 

 

why writers, ambiverts, and thoughtful living need both solitude and community

photo from belladepaulo.com

photo from belladepaulo.com

community

My husband’s staff team at church did a personality assessment this past week as part of a retreat day. His was confirmed as what I always knew (ISTJ) and what is exactly opposite of me (ENFP). The old adage, “opposites attract,” is proven true in our marriage. But that will be for another post.

The personality test stirred up my age-old frustration with who am I really? For although I tested as an “extrovert,” I have many introverted tendencies (and was just about equal on the two, with a slight preference for extroversion). It’s been suggested that I am what is termed “ambivert,” which is a combination of both. I would describe myself as an extroverted introvert, or an introverted extrovert. I’ve always enjoyed time alone to recharge, but then at the end of solitude, I’ve enjoyed nothing better than being in a group of friends or at a party. But after a day (like yesterday) of non-stop people time, I feel exhausted and in need of the comfort of a quiet activity – preferably reading a good novel, or writing, or painting, or some sort of solitary engagement.

I am also a writer. Writers are usually known as the quintessential introverts. It’s commonly thought that to do the best writing, you should be the most alone. When one has young children at home, and you’re trying to write a book for Crossway by September 1 (for example), there is great wisdom in that – and it’s true. So my husband sent me off on a 48-hour writing retreat last week, and it was blissful. I wrote to my heart’s content in perfect solitude. I took breaks in between finishing a chapter, and then I would go back for more writing. It was such a gift to my distraction-prone brain to be able to pick up exactly where I left off – without the intervening (normal) interruptions of finding that one lost princess shoe, or making sure that I started dinner on time, or answering the urgent work email/text.

And yet I found something interesting about the time away. First of all, it took me the entire first evening before I could write. I had to clear my brain of life’s distractions that accompanied me. To put to rest a few emails, and to call my mind back from all the places it scatters to in the normal course of life. Secondly, when I did begin to write, the first two-thirds of the day were prolific. I wrote more than what I had expected I could. But then – almost imperceptibly – I slowed down. The words began to drag. I was running out of steam by around 5pm of my big writing day.

writing bookMy writing mentor is currently Brenda Ueland, author of the 1938 classic, If You Want To WriteAnd she made sense of this experience:

I have come to think that there is irony in the lives of writers who sit at a desk always, tenderly or crossly protecting themselves from all disturbances, danger or uncomfortableness, so that they can work out a better literary style. … Instead of living a sedentary, literary life, assiduously polishing sentences and cultivating a prose style, he [T.E. Lawrence] lived a great life with supernatural standards for himself of courage, suffering, endurance and honor.

In summary, Ueland says that to be a great writer, you must be fully living a life outside of your writing. She proposes that your writing can only be as engaging and courageous as your life is. So perhaps motherhood is perfectly suited for writing, instead of opposed to it. And perhaps it’s not only ambiverts like me who need both total solitude and engaging company. Doesn’t a life lived thoughtfully and fully require both?

Five Minute Friday: “open”

Each Friday that I come to this space, I think I start much the same way. Something along the lines of, “Well … it’s been QUITE the week.” Today is no exception. Day 5 of snow days (=no school days, #desperateMomsUnite), and I’ve once again witnessed the limits to my impatience as I’ve lost it many times with my 4-year-old twin daughters. Who surely would also speak of a week that’s felt long, hard, and boring. With occasional glimpses of happiness as we played in the snow and drank hot chocolate. I am praying that the snow-play and hot-chocolate memories would override the rest. And if not, well, that’s what savings is for – college or therapy, their choice. !

I love this introduction to “Five Minute Friday” by its lovely hostess, Kate Motaung:

Welcome to another round of Five Minute Friday, where bloggers from all corners of the internet gather to feverishly tap out five minutes of free writing on a given prompt each week.

If you don’t know what we’re all about, click here for more info!

So here goes – “open”:

***

To close in on myself after pain or sinful anger is easier than staying open. It feels safe to curl inward, to isolate, to lock myself in the proverbial ivory tower. I am safer here. And so are they. They won’t be hurt by my rudeness, my angry words I regret moments after they fly from my mouth. Closure feels better for everyone.

photo credit: lauravuphoto.com

photo credit: lauravuphoto.com

But open is how I’m created to live, and open is the only pathway to love. Open to others, and them to me. Open like the vast expanse of sea meeting sky horizon. Open like a field of Texas bluebonnets in springtime. Open like the sunny sky above the clouds always there when you take a plane above the grey skies. Open like my daughters who say, “I forgive you, Mommy,” and then ask me to come play with them in the next moment.

We need to be open to one another. I need you to be open to me so that I know I’m not the only one struggling amidst motherhood and writing and counseling and home-keeping and marriage. You need me to be open so that you can love me with empathy, and so that you can speak gospel words of grace and truth into my heart and story.

To close inward? Well, it’s the path to depression (anger turned inward), and to isolation, and to despair, and to bitterness. It lets my mind and thoughts be unchecked. And while that may be appealing, it is never best or good in the long-run.

God’s grace is that he opens our inward-turned souls, opens them to the beauty and light of redemption. And to the community of the redeemed.

***

“what’s your story?”

The following is the manuscript for a devotional I gave at the conclusion of my church’s week-long women’s Bible study yesterday morning. 

****

I’ll never forget the first time I met her. I was a brand new staff member at her church, freshly graduated from seminary, and she was hosting a kids’ vacation Bible school at her gorgeous, historic Philadelphia home. And I’ll admit that I felt intimidated. She was outgoing and funny – clearly “the life of the party.” She leaned over after introducing herself and took me aback with her atypical first question, “So what’s your story?” She later told me that she intentionally asks this question rather than the more common, “So what do you do?” because she finds that typical opening question to be rather off-putting. You’re immediately put on the spot and labeled and categorized based on what you do (or you don’t do). And how many of us feel comfortable claiming our profession as our primary identity? Of course you and I are much more than what we do. The opening, “what’s your story?” captures this so much better.

So I want to pose the same question: what’s your story? My story this morning is of a mom who feels tired with trying to balance mothering twin daughters with the demands and privileges of a job I love as a counselor; and mine is the story of a woman learning to find my voice and seeking to explore my creativity through the art of writing. My story is of a daughter who misses her parents in South Carolina, of a sister who feels too far away from her brothers and their families, of a wife whose husband is a pastor and all the dynamics that this entails. My story is of a woman who longs for summer and spring with all my heart – who still associates summer with “free time” although having preschoolers at home means summer will be the opposite of this. My story is of a friend who wants to do more story-telling and story-listening than tasks accomplished and projects completed.

Studying Romans with my church’s women’s Bible study this year has given each of us a new angle on our story – a new way of understanding our stories – and this story is the best ever told. God’s story, or the shorthand Paul uses throughout the book “gospel.” Let’s think of the thesis in Romans 1:16-17 –

for I am not ashamed of [God’s story], for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in [God’s story], the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’

What’s your story when you’ve read and studied Romans? Maybe one of the following –

  •  the story of someone who’s trusted in your own goodness too much and so Romans is a story of being beckoned out of your self-righteous judgment and hypocrisy into the freeing grace of admitting your sin and your need for grace found only in Jesus and HIS perfect goodness
  •  the story of someone who has found grace and power for salvation for the first time – who has found God’s story of grace, forgiveness, and righteousness in Jesus to be THE story your life needs
  • the story of someone who thought your badness was too bad for God – that your rebellion was too much – and God’s story beckons you to come home. To be truthful with where you’ve wandered far from him and to find refuge in grace.
  • the story of someone who’s found Romans to be profoundly and deeply unsettling as you’re confronted with a God who is not as we would make him to be – a God whose character seems harsh or even capricious at times if what Romans says about him is true. So perhaps your story is one filled with questions that feel haunting.

There are parts of my story that fit with all of these scenarios, but I find myself identifying most with the story of my goodness and judgmental heart exposed AND the story of unsettling questions weighing heavy on my heart. Whatever has been stirred up in your story during Romans, don’t leave it here. Don’t end that for the summer.

Maybe you could find a few friends or people you connected with from your table and meet regularly throughout the summer at someone’s home or a park or a coffee shop for the purpose of sharing stories – either your own and/or the stories God tells in His Word. Perhaps you could find a book or resource to read on your own that will help you to grapple with your questions and your story. I’ve brought a few that I would recommend: Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid, The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, To Be Told by Dan Allender; Grace for the Good Girl & A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman; Grace through the Ages  by William Smith and/or Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker as short devotional thoughts. For exploring some of the hard questions raised by Romans, these are two of my favorites: How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer.

Although WBS ends today, your story doesn’t and neither does the community you’ve found here. Join us for Easter week celebrations – Maundy Thursday, 12pm or 6pm Good Friday service, 9am or 11am Easter Sunday. Help out with CAMP/Camp JR. (and send your kids!); join a community group that meets weekly; if you’re a mom, contact me to be added to the list to be informed of Nurture events and meet-ups throughout the summer.

Live into your story – tell your story – listen to others’ stories. That we may live out the truth of God’s story as seen in Romans more truly through stories of more grace and less judgment, more freedom and less condemnation, more acceptance and fewer barriers to love, more of trusting in God’s goodness for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and less of trusting in our own.