finding words for my story

In my work as a counselor, the first place I start is in helping others find words for their story. Their story is there – they have lived it, the soul-shattering moments and the glory-filled ones alike, and yet finding words for their story can be hard. Not simply because it’s hard to speak of what you’ve never spoken out loud before, but also because you may not have the words to describe it. And so I will often suggest that they read something – the Psalms, for instance; or a book or memoir or a blog – to begin to find words for their story. I include these questions as prompts:

What stands out to you? What resonates with you? What do you say, “oh yes! That’s me!” about? Underline it; write that out; and begin telling your story.

In this month where I’m finding it hard to find words for my story (not because it’s difficult or painful, but it’s just busy and quite seemingly ordinary), I turned to a few favorite blogs this morning. And what I found put words to what I’m experiencing. My story of today. Enjoy …

Both are from Emily Freeman at “chatting at the sky,” my #1 favorite blogger and writer these days because of her grace-infused artful words.

First, from her post “one word that is sabotaging the art you live“:

But I’m just tucking them in to bed, you say.

I’m just cleaning the room.

I’m just filing the papers.

I’m just balancing the checkbook.

I’m just driving the carpool. None of this feels sacred to you.

Did you see the killer there?

Pay attention to when  you use the word just. Because whatever comes after that word is usually where you’re allowing the art to die.

Resist the urge to disrespect a task because it doesn’t feel important.

And in “the kind of movement that makes a difference“:

Rather than resenting my weakness, I believe Jesus is asking me to embrace my weakness. Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean despising self but releasing self from the expectation of being anything but poor. Small. Helpless. Worn.

My soul needs to remember the kind of movement that will make a difference:

Don’t try to handle your anxiety. Bring your anxiety into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to fix your loneliness. Bring your loneliness into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to hide your addiction. Bring your addiction into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to change your attitude. Bring your attitude into the presence of Christ.

Don’t despise your humanity. Bring your humanity into the presence of Christ.

There is still responsibility, there is still action that comes from me. But my action is not to make right, to make whole, or to make better. My action is to usher my abilities, inabilities, failures and successes all into the presence of Christ.

Somehow, all of this weaves into what I’m living and learning right now as we study Romans together in our women’s Bible study and as we delve into gospel & community in our community group and as I counsel and write and tuck into bed and calm down tantrums in the in-between moments.

Thursday free write

I sit in a quiet, secluded room of the Y, looking out at the Norfolk skyline on the fourth rainy day (or so) we have had this week. A welcome respite for the dry ground, which has not received actual rainfall that counted since August 10.

And here is a picture of my soul this past month. There have been waterings occasionally, but nothing substantial. It’s been busy, busy with good and beautiful things like one last vacation at the beach and the twins’ third birthday and retreat speaking and community group and women’s Bible study and preschool. So I took a soul time out this morning, and I did a yoga class followed by this space. This space of breathing. Of noticing life rather than letting it rush me by. Yoga felt slow to my fast-paced world of efficiency. And isn’t that illuminating?

On a date with Seth last week, I realized a few things – that writing helps my soul to breathe and I haven’t been doing that enough this fall; that when exercise is pushed off my plate it means the plate is too full; and that weekends need to be empty when the weekday rhythm of a pastor and counselor’s family leaves us all coming up for breath at its end.

What am I doing about it? Well … this. Starting to get in the habit of writing again. Saying no to external demands to say yes to Christ’s whispered invitation to my soul to “Come … all who labor … and R E S T.” What helps you to rest? What keeps you from it? Do share. We all need reminders and ideas of how to pursue the rest for which we have been redeemed.

Five Minute Friday: “write”

For me, to write is to think. Ever since I received my first diary when I was in 5th grade from Aunt Becky, I have sought refuge for my thoughts and prayers through writing. Words make sense of the inner joy or conflict or anger or grief …. and to write is to feel as well as to think about feeling.

“Write” also feels like pressure. The command to write calls to mind memories of those awful blue books in AP exams or college or grad school, where you must write and then be graded and do so all within a confined, imprisoned amount of time. So I prefer not to hear the command, “WRITE!”

“Write” is an invitation to my soul. To come to the screen or the journal and worship. To worship with my words and invite you to do the same with yours. To focus on the One worthy of words and writing, and to find grace everywhere as I force myself to write about it. To write is to notice life, put it into a picture you can see and enter into some aspect of it with me. To write is to build bridges of relationship. To write is to appreciate the relationships built, to strengthen them as I grow thankful for the way writing makes me remember the way my daughter’s eyes twinkle when she’s laughing and the joy shared as friends and family connect in the very ordinary moments of life.


Today I join Lisa-Jo Baker in her “Five Minute Friday” community. You can also join in here to write for five minutes on a different prompt each Friday.

why completion is harder to write about than the struggle

When Sammy the plumber made his last visit to our newly renovated bathroom yesterday, I breathed a sigh of relief. First of all, please note that we know our plumber by name. We should. He has become a household name to my daughters over the past 4.5 months that we [Seth] has been working on renovating our master bathroom. This is because we live in a house built in the early 1900s and one that was remodeled by someone proud of their DIY mentality yet with little skill. Or maybe they just became lazy along the way. This “master bathroom” was one of their projects, and each stage of remodeling uncovered another layer of poor workmanship and shoddy structure. Such as the clothesline that held a few of the bathroom pipes together. Or the prefab shower that wasn’t actually attached to any structural part of the house – simply nailed up to the drywall. And the icing on the cake was the fact that they had actually cut through a load-bearing supporting beam of the house in this “remodeling” project.

All of this added up to what should have been a relatively quick and easy “re-do” becoming a long and arduous process. Thank goodness I am married to a man who is a perfectionist about these things, committed to persevering through details and behind-the-scenes-structure in order for it to be done right. At one point, he asked a structural engineer friend from church to consult with him as he worked on rebuilding the floor joists. After their brainstorming session, this friend graciously volunteered to come help Seth with that foundational work – which included building a temporary wall in our kitchen to support the floor above while they reinforced it. Wow.

I could go on and on about Seth’s work; my frustrations; interrupted naptimes; living in a construction zone. Etc. Etc. In fact, it would be easier to talk to you about the struggle of this process of rebuilding our 4′ by 8′ bathroom. It’s easier to describe the process with its highs (choosing a good paint color; finding a picture that perfectly complemented this bathroom; how the glass doors came in just in time) and lows (see paragraph above) than to wax eloquent about what it’s like now that it’s completed.

Isn’t that true about life too? It is in the process of parenting that we are prolific; in the waiting of pregnancy we hope and dream and speak – the birth comes and we are speechless. I find that when I am walking through a trial, words come more easily than when that trial is done. Or if I speak about a trial in the past tense, my words sound a bit empty – a little too “tie-a-ribbon-on-it” perfect.

As a “J” personality, I am always longing for closure. (Referring to the Myers-Briggs personality test – J or P – which are you? Also closely related to type A or type B.) And yet. When closure comes, there is a sense of emptiness in it. The home project, as beautiful as it is, is never quite as fulfilling as I imagined it would be. The successfully potty trained twins don’t make life 150% easier as I had pictured it. [Enter comic relief: we now do potty RUNS wherever we go, like the Virginia Aquarium this morning when I grabbed my two-year-old by the hand after she announced she needed to go potty; and we fought crowds like it was an emergency.] I think this is life this side of heaven. The completion feels great, for a moment, but never quite all it should be. For we are still longing for a Day of Completion to come.

Meanwhile, we’re in the struggle. And let’s write about it together, giving words and hope and meaning to the waiting.

To live life or to write about living life, that is the question …

20130625-225313.jpgI must admit that I’m hitting a bit of a wall with the whole “daily blogging” thing. Some of it has to do with having very full, rich, beautiful life moments.

Like my youngest brother’s gender reveal party we “attended” via Skype on Saturday evening, and tonight’s poolside party with our community group from church honoring two newlywed couples. We sat outside at sunset sipping wine and connecting about our highs and lows and in-betweens of our daily lives. As the summer breeze wafted off the water, it felt perfect. The relational equivalent of savoring a bowl full of fresh summer berries. Sweet without being overwhelming, and perfectly refreshing.


I’ve always wrestled in writing with the balance between living life (and having something worth writing about) and writing about life (to the point where writing eclipses my experiential presence in life’s moments). Am I like the tourist who misses the experience because of trying to capture it with her camera lens?

Probably not a very popular thing to read about or write about on a blog. But, hey, that’s where I am tonight. Thanks for listening in. (Particularly you, Ann. Knowing you read this daily made my day!)

memoir writing workshop

Two of my favorite things discovered anew in 2012 are lavender hot chocolate at Stella’s Cafe (I mentioned that in my last post) and the free memoir writing workshop I saw advertised at our local library. It seemed to have my name all over it (pun intended): meeting on Friday (the day Seth can watch the girls for me), once a month, and FREE. For a long time I have wanted to get some sort of additional input/training on writing, but the opportunity never presented itself so clearly. As I showed up at 10:25 on the first meeting in January, I was almost giddy with excitement. And I felt very young. With the exception of our instructor (someone my age who is getting his Masters of Fine Art at a local university), I was the youngest by at least 30 years. Perhaps longer. Sweet, dear old women who have lived life with stories to tell. Like long, memoir-length stories to tell of immigrating from Europe and Russia, having children, grandchildren, careers, and years of retirement (one woman’s been retired 25 years which should make her at least 75 by a conservative estimate). When I floated my idea of writing about my life thus far through the lens of the various places I’ve lived, each of them representing a distinct season of my life, one woman replied, “Honey, you’ve only had two seasons of life.” Well meaning, I’m sure. But I’ll admit my enthusiasm was a bit squelched by her dose of reality.

Nonetheless, I began writing my memoir and returned to our February meeting with my typewritten 5-page draft. It felt good to be back in “school” with an “assignment.” I was eager to share it and get feedback. Alas, our group had doubled in size and so most of the hour was spent reviewing last month’s class – with the instructor repeating every few sentences because much of the group cannot hear very well. Then there was the woman who responded to finding out that I had twin daughters by walking me to the door after class and asking me quietly, “So, were they natural?” Oh, my. I didn’t think we were that close yet.

All jokes aside, I really am enjoying the experience to mix with an entirely different generation than I’m a part of, and I am looking forward to hearing the beginnings of their memoirs, whenever we get to that part. Maybe in March? I can’t set my expectations too high, as this class is free, after all. At least I’m getting good connections with other students of writing, picking up a few helpful tools along the way, and it’s provided outside motivation to write.

During the last five minutes of class, I shared my first paragraph with them – and I’ll do so with you, too. There wasn’t time for the full critique I was hoping for, and half of those at the table probably couldn’t hear me read it. But I will share it with you – my virtual audience – feel free to offer your thoughts. I’m framing this memoir as if I’m writing it as a letter to my daughters about my life.

Nestled into a cozy suburban neighborhood in the South, filled with families just like ours – you’ll find the house. Even its address reflects the idyllic life we lived there: Sweetwater Court. It was the second home where I lived, but it’s the home where my memories began. Both of your uncles were born there (not literally, but taken home there after the hospital). In the summers, our backyard was our center of adventures. We planned a putt-putt course and charged admission – even got featured in the local newspaper! Mom and Dad (Gigi and Pops to you) generously assisted our efforts, taking us to various putt-putt centers in the town to see about donations of the green carpets, helping us install PVC pipe for the “challenge” holes, making copies of the scorecard I designed, and letting our backyard be overrun with neighborhood kids for much of the summer.