On bringing weakness as an offering {a friday story}

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Friday morning gets off to a rough start.

Both kids are extra, extra high-maintenance, and my irritability level is high. I speak to my sweet boy more harshly than I should, and I find myself apologizing to him twice before lunch time {and probably should have apologized a couple times more, if I’m honest}.

I’ve spent the entire week fighting off a cold and winning, but my immune system decided it was through protesting, and sickness finally nailed me on Wednesday afternoon.

So my sinuses are throbbing and I’m blowing my nose every other minute or so (sorry if I’m grossing y’all out), and I’m leading worship tonight for the prayer meeting that will be the culmination of our church’s week of prayer and fasting.

Friday late morning finds me pulling myself up by the bootstraps — or by the little loops on the tops of my galoshes, to be exact — and wrangling my littles through melting snow, into our minivan. A few minutes later we’re making our way through Target, where I try hard not to sound like an exhausted, frustrated, worn-thin mama. (Speaking of pretense. Ahem.)

Thankfully, my kids are peaceful for the moment. I wander the aisles in search of the few things I need, and my mind wanders to tonight’s time of worship and prayer. I mentally sift through the songs I’m planning to lead, and I try for maybe the 6th time today to wrangle my heart into the “right” position to help cultivate an atmosphere conducive to encounter with Jesus.

The “right” position? What does that even mean?

Nevertheless, I try.

And then I catch myself, and these heart-whispers rise to the surface, reminding me over and over that Jesus says I can bring my weakness before Him as part of my offering, that it’s in these raw places that He wants to make His glory known.

And yes, self-control is an obvious necessity if I’m going to honor Him in my parenting (not to mention communicating honor to small hearts). But I also don’t have to shove all my ugly into some corner closet within my soul in order to bring Him a pleasing sacrifice of worship.

And actually? He prefers me this way. Raw. Aware of my need. Honest with myself and before the One who made me, weak spots and all.

We grab hotdogs at Target because there is no way I’m going home and making lunch on a day like this. So we load up and head home with full bellies, and do my chilluns want to take naps today? Um, nope. No. They do not.

If I had enough hair to grab hold of, I’d be wanting to pull it out, y’all. Because even with Jesus having bathed my heart in such precious truth in the Target aisles, my frustration level is still through the roof.

The afternoon wears on, and suffice it to say, I’m repenting and repenting to Jesus because I just cannot seem to muster up a heart of peace and gratitude today.

Interesting, I think. How He so often asks me to lead — particularly in a worship capacity — when I feel weakest.

It’s not till I’m throwing on some makeup and a cute scarf and preparing to run out the door to be there early that I realize — *that* time of month is approaching, and it’s entirely likely that *that* is the culprit for a minimum of 50% of my had-it-up-to-here state of heart.

I sigh, partially with relief that I’m not going straight up cray-cray, and partially with frustration that hormones can just do me in like that sometimes.

I thank Stan profusely (something like, “you are SO my knight in shining armor”) and leave him home to get the kids ready — he’ll bring them to church in a bit.

I try to use my drive time to decompress. To still my heart before Him. I’m only a little successful.

I arrive at the church building, fumble my way around a sound system I’m still learning to operate, and breathe prayers. Just let me worship before You alone. For Your glory. Bring Your manifest presence. Move on our hearts, Holy Spirit. Have Your way….

I find myself thanking Him that despite my having crammed oh, so much failure into this day, He is committed to encountering the hearts of His people.

To encountering me.

I enter into worship just as deeply in need of Him as anyone else in the room. Hungry. Broken. Raw.

And y’all? He is there. He’s moving in that place, softening hearts — His nearness is tangible and sweet.

I find myself dismantled as I strum chords and sing my heart. Performance and perfectionism are falling to the ground, and there’s nothing else that matters except being poured out as an offering to Him, whatever it looks like. Except ministering to His heart.

****

I drive home late. Stan and the kids have long since gone home, and my littles are snoozing soundly by the time I arrive. I sneak in, kiss the world’s most adorable cheeks, and chat with my incredible man.

And as I’m putting away dishes and preparing to wholeheartedly embrace my pillow, I realize that somewhere in those moments of bringing my entire raw, bare heart before the throne and leading out of my weakness, my insides have been rearranged. Set right again.

I didn’t need to have it all together in order to come before Him — yet when I came before Him in the midst of my brokenness, He knit me back together inside.

He covered my brokenness, and He filled me with awe.

I crawl into bed, silently thanking Him for heart-safety — for freedom to be my truest self before Him and before people in this place. I thank Him for peace, for steadiness of heart after a long, long day.

For this sweet, almost accidental byproduct of spilling strength and weakness and adoration, all intermingled, at His feet.

Before I fall asleep, I throw up a quick Facebook status:

Heart = full.

And it is.

{Sharing my heart with sweet friends in Lisha’s community tonight.}

Posted in Freedom From Perfectionism, Give Me Grace, leadership, Learning Authenticity, Ministry, misc. walking with Jesus, risk, Uncategorized, Worship Leader Guts | 6 Comments

A broken piece of my story, and one thing that scares me

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The dream is poignant. Terrifying.

We’re in Kansas City, and an unnamed social worker has located some distant member of Maia’s biological family — a great grandmother, maybe? — who wants to raise our daughter. And somehow, despite our very finalized, very permanent adoption, has legal rights to her.

We have no choice but to pack up our 19-month-old’s toys, clothes, belongings, and drive her 60 miles to her new home in a small Missouri town where this grandmother lives.

The shock and trauma are palpable. I’m fighting back a torrent of tears, trying to be strong for Isaac and Maia as we prepare to hand our sweet girl over to an elderly relative she’s never met, not knowing if we’ll ever see her again.

And once again, we will cease being a daughter’s Mama and Daddy. My heart is pulverized.

Somewhere along the way to this small town, we stop at a restaurant for lunch–

–and Isaac cracks open the door to our bedroom.

I’m awake. And maybe only one previous time in my entire life have I been so relieved to discover it was only a dream.

Gratitude washes over me, along with an intense desire to kiss my daughter’s perfect cheeks, which I quickly make my way out to the dining room to do.

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It’s been this growing awareness in my heart lately — the fact that Maia is nearing the age that our foster daughter Tali was back in 2010 when we had to hand her over to her biological mother. We parented her from 2 days old, and then suddenly we were no longer Mom and Dad. Tali was 21 months when we lost her. Maia turns 19 months today.

I’ve been anxious to cross that 21-month threshold with Maia because I think, maybe, some deep place in my subconscious might settle a bit. She’s really ours. We really don’t have to hand her over to a dysfunctional system.

Whew.

While I’ve anticipated the sense of heart-relief that will come after Maia hits 21 months on March 19th, I didn’t fully anticipate this resurfacing of the trauma of losing Tali as that date draws nearer. I find myself thinking of her more often lately, needing to intentionally, repeatedly entrust her precious, now 6-year-old heart to the perfect care of the God who made her and is committed to her life.

And I’m reminded how that particular piece of my story, of my mama-heart, still hangs open. Raw. Broken, if not always acutely felt. And I yet again consider the invitations to intimacy with Jesus that come hand-in-hand with that brokenness, if I’ll be brave enough to respond to Him in those hurting places. (Psalm 34:18)

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****

This morning I have a dear friend at home with my littles — my first morning out, alone, since our move. So I throw on my favorite hoodie and boots, teach Natalia how to work our child-locks and let her know to keep Isaac on task in the bathroom so gigantoid messes don’t happen — and drive the few blocks down the street to “our” Starbucks.

Venti coffee in hand, I find a little nook in a corner, and read a while in Buechner’s Telling the Truth. And can I just say — if you haven’t read it, you may wanna consider adding this gem to your reading list for this year.

I’ve been making my way through it ever-so-slowly since we moved, and I find it rearranging places inside me that are still much too deep and unformed try and wrap words around. Jesus is using these words to pull back layers of pretense. To more fully excavate my truest self, my deepest identity in light of the wild extravagance of the gospel.

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****

I find myself stepping into new places here in Colorado. Invitations to lead worship are coming in in higher numbers than I’ve ever experienced, and there are all these risks to which I’m saying [gulp] yes. 

Never have I been more thankful for the support and wisdom of my husband, and never have I been more sobered by the ways Jesus is inviting me to partner with His Spirit in facilitating heart-encounters with Him, and simultaneously by the need to carefully, prayerfully consider my yeses and my no’s.

I almost went back just now and added exhilarated to the sentence above, after the word sobered, but while I know the exhilarated piece will come — it always does when I have the privilege to witness the Holy Spirit’s movement upon hearts — right now I mostly feel afraid, if I’m honest. Afraid, yet also profoundly grateful for the peace of knowing that I know it’s Jesus who’s calling me into these places that feel so far over my head.

And He’s trustworthy.

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In all this stepping out and moving into uncharted waters, this desire rises over and over again to my heart’s surface: I want a deeper authenticity. Both in the way I love Him, and in the way I coach others into that love. I want performance to fall off my shoulders, and while I do desire to tenderly consider and gently lead people’s hearts, I don’t want a show — even if it’s what I think needs to happen in order to keep people comfortable.

I want (though there’s fear attached to this, too) to let my gaps be exposed before Him and before those with whom He’s calling me to live life. Because as much as I’d love not to, I will certainly fail to meet expectations. And it’s when I allow my gaps to be seen that God has room to show up and encounter those I care about.

So the groaning of my heart these days is that when I’m in leadership in whatever form, and when my raw, still-in-process places are glaring, what will also be exposed is Jesus. His strength perfected in my abundant weakness. His glory. His heartbeat. His relentlessly tender pursuit of these precious hearts.

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I want to love and sing and live and bleed that stuff, you guys. Weakness and all. I want to be genuinely myself as I do it, even when the temptation is to move toward presenting some partially masked version of myself that I think might soothe or impress or garner man’s praise.

So I find these heart-cries surfacing even as I write –

Distill me, God. Purify my motives, intentions, interactions. Purge me of the pretense that comes from the fear of man’s disapproval.

And as I press my scarred and scared places into your perfect, healing, all-consuming Love, let me move forward in this confidence that can only come from abiding in that place — right up next to Your burning heart.

P.S. Sharing these words over at Kelly’s newly birthed linkup — formerly Kelli Woodford’s Unforced Rhythms community — with a heartful of gratitude for Kelli’s months of gracious hosting of our hearts.

***Addendum***

I want to be clear that my logical mind has absolutely zero doubt that Maia is ours, and permanently. I simply think that somewhere in my subconscious, I just haven’t quite recovered from the fear that came with the loss of Tali. And I do, however irrational, look forward to moving beyond the 21-month mark with Maia. But Jesus steadies my heart… and I am so thankful for my beautiful girl. Thanks for your love and care, my friends. I deeply appreciate you.

Posted in Community, Confidence in God, Encountering God in the Messy, Freedom From Perfectionism, Goodness of the Gospel, Grief and Loss, leadership, Learning Authenticity, Ministry, misc. walking with Jesus, risk, Uncategorized, Unforced Rhythms | 16 Comments

In which I take a deep breath and share… {#oneword2015}

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Tears burn the backs of my eyes as I open my WordPress “Create New Post” page this afternoon. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s what happens to me more often than not when words are ready to be given voice. They surface in the form of these tears that make it up, but not all the way out. Go figure.

Stan’s helping a sweet family from our church move into their new home, my kiddos are napping soundly, and I am breathing in the quiet.

Pretty sure the days on end of no afternoon naps in our first few weeks here are catching up with my littles. They are exhausted, and Isaac, at least, has been absolutely at the end of himself. Adios, coping skillz.

Yikes.

But I’m rambling.

What I really want to share with you here is my one word for 2015.

Twenty fifteen?! What?! How did this happen?

Yet it did, and my goodness, I am grateful.

If I’m honest, 2014 was one of the more difficult years of my life. I wrote through it all somehow, albeit it often vaguely — through the loss and the hurt, the grieving and the waiting — and I pray I wrote through the more painful days in such a way as to cover and not dishonor, to extend and receive mercy, while simultaneously offering my friends who journey with me via my words an authentic glimpse into my torn heart.

My 2014 word was freedom, and when that word chose me, I had very little understanding that freedom would come at such a high price.

Please bear with me as I write vaguely yet again — and suffice it to say that last year’s journey into higher freedom took me oh, so much deeper with Jesus than I’d anticipated, primarily because the process of staring my fears in the face in order to move through them toward freedom was much more — well, fearful — than I’d expected.

I was forced to press into His heart in ways I’d never had to before.

But He is faithful, y’all. So much more than faithful.

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And we are here now. We step forward into 2015 finally in our lovely, long awaited Colorado, and while my heart has been slow to catch up with the fact that this is a new, different season, I think I’m beginning to stick my toes in the water of embracing said newness. (Ahem. And apparently mixing expressions and metaphors is a thing for me now. Or maybe it always has been. Yeah. But anyway — onward.)

None of us will ever reach the end of learning to move forward through fear, and freedom will be an ongoing journey for me, as it is for all of us who walk with Jesus. But I am so thankful that my geographical and spiritual boundary lines have fallen now in places where walking out this freedom will be a little safer. Will feel a little — yup — freer.

 *****

The last several days have been full — both our time, and our hearts. We’ve spent hours with dear friends, both old and new-ish, and there’re these common threads that’ve run through nearly every conversation, to the point where Stan and I have at times utterly given up on maintaining eye contact with our friends and just stared in shock at each other, jaws agape.

Over and over again, the themes are wide open spaces, boundary lines in pleasant places, and the extravagance of the freedom accomplished for us by Christ’s work on the cross.

And I am undone by God’s sweetness to us, His repeated reminding of our hearts that we. are. home. And we are free, both in this new geographical space, and in Him. In the Kingdom.

Also? There’s another theme that’s run through my last several days, and y’all? I am so frightened by it. But it’s the best kind of fear.

Our friends here, and our church family? They so genuinely desire my heart, you guys. And my voice. A number of them read my blog, I’ve learned (eeep!), which makes all this pouring out of my soul feel even more vulnerable for reasons I can explain in a future post.  (But which I also absolutely love, and if you’re reading this and you’re a part of the LVC, I just adore you and you are so welcome here.)

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But here’s the thing: in all these recent conversations, people are asking about my WORD. For 2015.

This word that feels nearly more vulnerable than I can handle. That brings tears to my eyes and makes my stomach do flips with this gut-level knowing that it’s Jesus who’s highlighted it to me.

Oh, the irony in their asking. Because with every ask, there’s this prodding inside me, “Share it, Dana. Do your word. Open yourself. Be seen. Be heard. Be known.”

So, grimacing inside and often outside too, I share it. I choose to let them see into my soul — those I dearly love, and those I’m just getting to know.

And in light of the wide open spaces and increased heart-safety of this new season for us, for me… and in light of last year’s journey into this expanded freedom… and despite the fact that sharing this word makes me feel afraid and exposed and just generally yikes… I’ll tell you here:

Unfold. 

The word is unfold.

As in Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, hail Thee as the sun above — the line from Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee that thoroughly wrecks me every time I sing it, and has for years.

Also, as in this quote from Rilke that both sweetly convicts and utterly dismantles me:

I want to unfold.
Let no place inside me hold itself closed.
For where I am closed, I am false.

Unfold is what I’m free to do in 2015, because Jesus and I walked hand-in-hand together through 2014, into this previously uncharted-by-me level of authenticity.

Unfold is about trust — both in my God, and in those in whose midst He’s placed me now.

Unfold is about unzipping my soul, being seen, heard, known.

Unfold is about willingly exposing vulnerable places — insights, opinions, experiences, weakness, failures — but not without the covering of my Love.

Unfold is about taking new risks. About jumping and flying and failing and falling into mercy. About getting up and trying again.

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But mostly? Unfold is about worship. It’s about my heart’s cry, “May the Lamb receive the reward of His suffering!” May He receive it in the opening of my soul. In my authenticity. In the way I love and lead and sing and speak. May He receive it in my ruthless, unbridled trust, in my moving forward in quiet, worship-filled obedience even in the midst of fear, because He is outrageously, beautifully worthy of it.

Let nothing inside me hold itself closed. I want to unfold.

*****

Several weeks ago, a dear friend shared this song on Facebook, and it’s since become the soundtrack for my life. I want to share it with you here, because it speaks so profoundly to what Jesus has forged in me in recent days. I’d love for you to take a minute with this (literally – it’s short.). {And if you’re reading via email, would you consider clicking over to listen?}

Final thought: I’m reminded of this 5 Minute Friday post that I wrote back in July. It’s a super short one, but it gives imagery and further explanation to the vulnerability of this journey of unfolding. I’d love for you to read it if you’re not already worn out by all my words tonight.

ALSO (and I promise this is my final thought, for real, y’all) — if you’ve chosen a word to mark your 2015, I’d absolutely love to hear. Share it with me in the comments? And if you’ve blogged about it (which is by no means a requirement!), would you leave a link? I’d love to read.

Blessings to you, my friends, and happy 2015.

Your companionship here has been, and continues to be, an invaluable gift to my soul. I love you guys.

{Sharing this post with my friends in Kelli’s community.}

Posted in Community, Creativity, Give Me Grace, Goodness of the Gospel, Grief and Loss, Learning Authenticity, Ministry, misc. walking with Jesus, One Word, Transition, Uncategorized, Writing | 45 Comments

One Thing I Know for Sure {on living soft under pressure}

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It’s 7 degrees outside tonight with a forecast low of negative 4, and the snow falls still — these flakes so fine they’re almost microscopic. It’s been falling most of the day, and I’m thankful tonight that the snow’s light enough for my car’s windshield wipers to handle its weight.

I dig the minivan out just enough to see to drive, make my way just a couple blocks down the road to our nearest Starbucks, and find even the main roads are completely covered by hard-packed layers of white.

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Despite the fact that I can’t feel my fingers or toes, I stand still outside for a minute and breathe in the frigid beauty. The stillness of the evening calms my hurried heart. The quiet breathes fresh life.

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I mentioned to Stan a week or so ago that I felt like my heart’d been buried under boxes. That in the midst of transition and grief and exhaustion and all the seemingly endless doing of moving and re-settling with little ones, I’d subconsciously kicked into survival mode.

Just keep going, Dana. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

But something is shifting.

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Sunday morning rolls around, December 28th, and I’m on the schedule already to lead worship for our church family here in Littleton {in light of the holiday absence of our usual worship leader}.

To give a little context, this is the church where Stan and I fell in love. Our pastor here officiated our wedding back in 2007, and his family has remained some of our dearest friends of all time, even across the geographical distance of the last nearly 7 years.

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So despite changes in the composition of the church, coming back here still feels like coming home. And the privilege of leading these dear hearts in worship is a gulp of fresh air to my soul.

The way my heart and my family are welcomed and fully received in this place has already been balm to my aching places, and something inside me comes back to life a little bit as I put fingers to piano keys and pour my heart out in worship in not one, but two services.

*****

In the days since our move, our kiddos have decided afternoon naps are no longer their thing. I’m making it through my days with them by giving them “rest time” in their beds in the afternoon, having them listen to books on CD. So far they’re both enjoying the downtime, and the plus side for Mom and Dad is that 7pm most evenings finds them both in bed, sound asleep.

So Stan and I spend our now blissfully peaceful evenings unpacking boxes, hanging artwork on walls, and sitting face to face while we munch crackers with cream cheese and the most amazing jalapeño jam (thank you, Littleton Whole Foods).

We purchase firewood and a fireplace tool set, and after just over 2 weeks in our new place, we finally carve out time to sit by a fire Sunday night in the post-bedtime quiet.

Our conversations lately circle ’round the exhausting intensity of helping our littles adjust to our family’s new season, and we contemplate practical ways to live more deeply connected to each other and to the heart of God in the midst of all the pressure.

“I’ve not been doing a good job living in the reality of this, babe,” I tell him, “but I know that I know there’s a way for us to walk out this season, with all its grief and frustration and exhaustion, with hearts that’re soft and responsive and surrendered to Him.”

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See, what I desperately don’t want is to look back at these days and weeks of adjustment and processing all these major life changes, and realize I only survived this season. I don’t want to cave to stress, to live these days irritable toward those I love most.

I don’t want to be hardened by the pressure, to continue to numb out under the weight of it. I don’t want to miss the gifts of these days. The ways Jesus wants to make Himself known to me. The shaping and forming of Himself that He wants to accomplish in my depths.

And the desire and prayer that’s re-awakening my insides even in these last few days is that I’ll allow the pressure to soften me. To press me more deeply into Him, to conform my heart more fully to His.

That instead of resisting my circumstances, growing hard, and living frustrated — I’ll surrender to this season and to Him in the midst of it. That I’ll lean into intimacy with Him, and that intimacy will be what sustains and carries me and keeps my heart wide open and pumping, through the things that stretch me and pull me and take me right out of all my cherished comfort zones.

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So 10pm rolls around and Stan and I sit in the Sunday evening quiet. I’m desperately needing to go to sleep, but I can’t tear my eyes away from the final few flames licking around the far edges of the one remaining log in our fireplace —

— and I can’t tear my heart away from this deep, quiet sense of God’s nearness. Of His movement on my insides. His breathing on my internal flame. This softening of my soul to the tenderness of the One who is faithful to draw me yet again into His heart — Whose relentless pursuit of my deepest places just dismantles me over and over and over again.

****

P.S. So there’s a new year around the corner, and there’s this word rolling around in my gut these days, y’all. It’ll be my one word for 2015. And even just the thought of sharing it feels so vulnerable (and so right) that it brings tears to my eyes. I’ll share it with you here soon though (she said, as her stomach did a flip). And also? Just thanks. Thank you for walking beside me here for another year. For the continual presence and compassion with which you bear witness to my journey. You all bless my life so profoundly.

P.P.S. Linking my heart tonight with those in Kelli’s community, hosted at Beth’s place this month. ‘Cause I just pretty much love those guys.

Posted in Encountering God in the Messy, Encountering God in the Mundane, Grief and Loss, Learning Authenticity, misc. walking with Jesus, Transition, Unforced Rhythms | 12 Comments

In Which I Try and Break Through the Fog of Transition

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Where do you start when it’s been weeks since you’ve written and your entire life has been flipped upside down during the days on end of writerly silence?

This move has been the best kind of change, but my goodness, it has been disorienting to me.

Friday evening, December 12th finds us navigating Denver rush hour and making our way to our new apartment complex here in Littleton, CO — minivan, moving truck, and Stan’s Ford Explorer in tow.

Several local friends meet us at the apartment complex gate, and we’re soon joined by a few pre-teen neighbor boys who offer their box-carrying muscles to help us unload into our new home.

Our dear friends Ian and Sue, who pastor our church family here, are among the crowd of friends. Maia falls in love with Ian, and Sue unpacks most of my kitchen (much to my relief) while I try to channel some of Isaac’s stir-craziness into helping carry small items in from the truck.

Our apartment is little — almost hilariously smaller than our old 6-bedroom house in Kansas City. {Which, by the way, closed without a hitch, purchased by our sweet buyers who love Jesus and want to love people in our former neighborhood. Could not be a sweeter set-up. God’s faithfulness just floors me – His perfect orchestration of every detail of the sale of our home, despite the long wait.}

And the smallness of our new home by no means takes away from the relief of being here. Actually, fitting into a smaller space feels good, y’all. We have downsized and purged and simplified, and finally, we are home.

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Stan and I drive down the road and gaze at the mountains, and we sigh with relief to be back here. We reminisce as we drive by the places we had our first conversations, the places we fell in love.

And while the kids are excitedly exploring their new city and relishing the mountain view with Mom and Dad, their overall adjustment has felt slow to me. Getting used to the altitude; to a new, smaller space; to a new city; meeting new friends; adjusting to sharing a room for the first time — it’s all fairly daunting to a 4-year-old and an 18-month-old.

I do have complete peace that they will even out and settle well into our new life here. Already, they are more peaceful and settled than even just several days ago.

But the combination of their out-of-sorts-ness, and the mountains of boxes that have demanded my attention, has led to zero downtime for me in recent weeks.

****

So how’m I doing? Welp, I think sleep deprivation and travel and unpacking and learning to do life with my two littles in our small space with Stan working from home — it’s all relegated me mostly to survival mode.

And in the midst of all the upheaval, my Grandpa passes away in North Carolina the day after we move into our apartment. I’m so thankful he’s free from pain, that He’s with Jesus and with my Grandma who passed away end of September, but I’m pretty sure the grief of these back-to-back losses is gonna catch up with me unexpectedly one of these days.

And it does hit me in some measure, as I’m unpacking my kids’ room and I come across stuffed animals and dolls and toys made for me or given to me as a child by my grandparents – items I’ve saved for my own kids. I remember how sweetly my grandparents always loved me and I’m reduced to tears over how much I miss them.

I told Stan the other day that though I’m beyond thankful to be here, it doesn’t quite feel real yet because my heart has felt buried under moving boxes and unprocessed loss and general exhaustion. Told him I knew I needed to write, but didn’t have a clue what I’d say.

And even now, 500 + words into this blog post, I still don’t quite know what I’m saying.

But I’m here. I’m showing up, finally.

I slump into a chair at the Starbucks down the street from our place, nurse my venti coffee-with-too-much-cream, munch on my pumpkin bread, and try however haltingly to put pen to paper and pour my heart into my journal.

I spend some time reading in Luke, trying to orient my heart at least a little bit to the reality of Jesus, to Advent — and the miracles of John the Baptist’s birth and Gabriel’s announcement to Mary wrap themselves around my heart.

The extravagant sweetness of God’s master plan to pursue the hearts of man softens me a little, sprinkles a few drops of water on my dry ground.

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And despite my distracted borderline numbness, the whisper of the Holy Spirit is tender and close:

Soak in My love, Dana. You can’t give out what you’re not positioning your heart to receive.

Oh yeah. Right.

I’m realizing how the noise of my exhausted desperation to get our new home unpacked and settled has overridden my quiet burning for stillness before Him. My need to slow down long enough for His nearness to invade my senses and His tenderness to embrace my soul.

So I’m sitting still here today, y’all. Diving back into Luke, into the sweetness of His pursuit of my heart — how it’s woven through the Christmas story, through the Advent season, through the reality of my life in these days.

He is Immanuel and He is here. Right now. With me.

And with you. To meet every need of your heart.

May you know His intimate, personal nearness in whatever ways you need to know it in these days, my friends. May it be awakening and comfort and peace and healing balm.

Merry Christmas. And thanks as always for walking with me here, for waiting and praying me through the silent times. And for grace, as I share these words today in all their un-put-together rawness.

So much love to y’all, dear ones.

Posted in Advent, Celebrations, Give Me Grace, Grief and Loss, Learning Authenticity, misc. walking with Jesus, Transition, Travel, Unforced Rhythms | 12 Comments

Uncovering Sacred Flames {and Other Thoughts Upon Turning 34}

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Thanksgiving Day dawns peaceful in our household. We hang around in our PJ’s for hours, all of us reveling in the relaxed pace of our morning, and in Isaac’s thorough enjoyment of the Macy’s Parade. It’s the first year he’s really been old enough to be excited about it.

I preheat the oven, throw in the breakfast casserole I prepared the night before, cut up a few pieces of fruit and toss with some yogurt, and bam — brunch is served.

With our housemate having moved out already {in prep for our impending move to Colorado} and no family visiting, it’s just the 4 of us for breakfast today. And as much as I’m aching and missing my side of our extended family on this, our first Thanksgiving without my Grandma Kiser, Stan and I are drinking in this time with just our little family unit.

Drinking it in, that is, until we find ourselves up to our ears in… well, disobedience.

Ahem.

We spend precious time in the afternoon and evening with Stan’s cousin and some other extended family, and — well, let’s just say the morning’s behavior train is still rollin’.

With an artistic, easily distracted 4-year-old, and a sweet 17-month-old who’s finding her voice and beginning to exert her lion-cub will, let’s just say we for sure have our challenging moments. And sometimes those moments add up to challenging hours. Days at a time, even.

So I wake up this morning, my 34th birthday, and while my husband celebrates and loves on me, our sweet littles don’t quite get the memo that Mom would love a peaceful, easier-than-normal day.

I smily wryly as I type, because lately, even in the chaotic parenting moments, Stan and I are often able to look at each other, shrug, sigh, and move on through the struggles mostly calm. {Mostly being the key word.}

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We are a team, he and I. But this is how this parenting gig goes, we’re learning — try something new, make progress, lose grip on some measure of said progress. Try next new thing, fail epically. Try still another new strategy, and succeed… but only till the next issue crops up.

Parenting our two littles continually puts us on our faces before Jesus, acutely aware of our need for His leadership, His heart, His creativity. Pressing into His commitment to their precious hearts. Leaning into it for dear life, actually, because this stewarding and shaping of little, Jesus-loving people is so not something we can make happen in our own power. Not remotely.

And when we try to do this thing without this humble posture of leaning that we’re learning, we fall flat on our faces every. single. time.

Upon nap time’s arrival, Stan and I plop down exhausted but peaceful at our dining room table, and coffee in hand, I spill my heart all over the table before him. We talk for two solid hours and our conversation winds its way around what it looks like to live whole, integrated lives, embracing the entirety of our humanity as intentionally created and desired by God.

The unzipping of our souls is all at once messy and sweet, painful and profound, and our hearts connect in deep places as we each affirm our desires for the whole of each other — body, soul, and spirit.

I’m reminded of this sacred flame that sometimes gets hidden a bit amidst uncharted parenting territory and the nitty gritty details of life. It requires regular, intentional fanning, a continual rediscovering of the fuel that fed it in the first place.

Seven plus years together, and again on my 34th birthday, I am choosing him. He is choosing me.

*****

I’d told Stan this morning that since our birthday date is planned for Sunday evening, what I’d love to do tonight was just grab a few hours by myself at Starbucks. He wholeheartedly supports my need for space to breathe deep and spill my heart in written word, so I find myself here tonight with a ridiculously amazing peppermint white mocha, and a backpack heavy with books and journal.

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I contemplate turning 34, and what’s turning over and over inside me lately is all the ways I find myself changing.

I contemplate Freedom, my One Word for 2014, and the various unexpected ways it’s manifested itself in my life this year. How it’s been all at once terrifying and exhilarating, this walking out from under fear of man and into all these wide open spaces of becoming.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I’ve jotted down a handful of fairly random ways I’m finding my perspectives and thought processes being transformed as I enter my mid-thirties.

1. I wouldn’t trade the seasons of loss and unfulfilled desires for anything. I am in love with the ways Jesus has encountered me in grief, how He’s rearranged my insides and covered my raw wounds with His love.

2. The older I get, the more poetic nuance moves my soul. And the more I’m moved by it regardless of the degree to which my logical mind comprehends it. And the less I *need* to be able to fully understand it in order to allow it to move me. I think those gut-level stirrings, the ones that are just barely beneath my word-wrapping reach, are the more important ones most of the time anyway.

3. I am learning to love paradox almost like I love poetry. The nuances and dichotomies and apparent contradictions of faith and doctrine and life experience that instead of contorting my brain and embittering my heart, are more often nowadays propelling me deeper into His heart, and deeper into friendship with those who see life through lenses less familiar to me. I may find more words for this in the near future, but y’all, this particular thing Jesus is doing inside me — it is utterly rearranging my insides, pressing me to the floor, face-down in repentance, longing for humility. Curiosity. A teachable, pliable heart.

And with this post edging up near 1,000 words, I need to stop for tonight. Thank you for reading, for tracking with the disjointed ebb and flow of my heart as I cross this threshold into 34.

Y’all love me so well, bless me continually, and are the sweetest traveling companions.

I am so thankful for you, dear friends.

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P.S. Linking hearts and arms with Lisha and Kelli and friends, as usual.

Posted in Attending to His Presence, Cultivating A Heart of Gratitude, Encountering God in the Messy, Encountering God in the Mundane, Family Moments, Give Me Grace, Grief and Loss, Learning Authenticity, Marriage, misc. walking with Jesus, One Word, Parenting, Presence, Unforced Rhythms | 11 Comments

On the Nearing of Advent, and these Unpredictably Rhythmic Offerings

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The Contract Pending sign has mysteriously appeared atop our For Sale sign this morning, quietly slipped in by our realtor under the cover of night. She knew it’d make us grin to discover it in first morning’s light.

Though we already knew we were officially under contract {thanks to the closing (finally!!) of our buyers’ former home}, this public declaration of contract-pending-ness makes it feel a bit more real: We are really moving to Colorado, y’all.

These last days have found us rifling through box after box, possession after possession. Organizing our belongings. Carefully packing this, tossing that, donating this other thing that someone else may need more than we do.

In just a few weeks, we will be downsizing from our big ol’ 6 bedroom turn-of-the-century home, into a 2 bedroom apartment.

Yup, that’s TWO bedrooms, and all this extreme simplifying of our lives is feeling more and more weighty in my heart, in a spiritual sense. This gathering to myself everything we own, taking mental inventory, letting it pass through my hands, turning it over in my heart.

There’s the sheet music for a song I wrote as a school project in 8th grade that won a county-wide award. There’s that old cassette tape of me singing with my mom in church at age 7.

There are photo albums and Isaac’s finger paintings and our wedding pictures. My Grandma Agre’s china and old foster care paperwork and that one pair of jeans that never quite fit right.

Organize. Pack. Toss. Donate.

It’s become like a rhythm, and somehow like worship — all this inventorying and sorting — and the more I sift through our belongings, the more my heart cherishes each associated memory, and each moment of this process.

Taking inventory of one’s stuff can be more like taking inventory of a life, and what I find is abundance. We have been rich, sustained and provided for in both heart-tearing loss and soul-filling joy.

Sorting through rubbermaid containers in our 120-year-old dungeon basement, I discover a box of books from my childhood that I’ve saved for my own kiddos, to be pulled out when they’re a few years older.

Narnia. Anne of Green Gables. The Boxcar Children.

And in that box, this treasure of a story:

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I’ve always found it interesting, how The Little Drummer Boy weaves fiction with biblical history, as the wise men invite a poor boy to join them on their journey to lay their treasures before the Baby King.

I pack up the rest of the books but leave this one out, thinking Isaac will enjoy it now that he’s 4… and the holidays are approaching.

So today at nap time, I ask if he’d like me to read a Christmas story that my mom read to me when I was a little girl.

He snuggles down under his covers, and I sit on the floor next to his bed, and I’m not three pages into singing my way through the beautifully illustrated story before I am fully choked up.

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It’s come up in conversation several times recently — how despite my tender, passionate heart, I don’t cry much at all, maybe just a handful of times per year.

But by halfway through the book, my voice is full-on cracking and tears are flowing and I’m having to quit singing every line or so to get half a grip on my emotions.

“Mommy loves this story, Buddy. That’s why I’m crying.” He accepts my explanation of my tears without question, for which I’m thankful, because I don’t know that I can put words even now to why the book moves me so much.

So much.

But I’m gonna try.

It’s something about the trip back to my childhood, I think.

But even more, it’s the openhearted willingness of a fictional boy to bring this seemingly inconsequential gift before a very non-fictional Baby King — the gift of his heart poured out through his instrument — and even as I type I choke on tears because my musician heart is deeply moved by his brave offering.

I have no gift to bring (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum)
That’s fit to give a King (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum)
Shall I play for you (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum)
On my drum

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So I weep over the childlike simplicity of his gift and of this story…

And over the fact that the little boy’s rhythmic offering makes the Baby Jesus smile.

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*****

Advent is coming.

The other day over Voxer, I share honestly with a dear friend that I’m struggling to feel the anticipation I generally feel as the holidays draw near.

Because instead of pulling out decorations, I’m packing our lives into boxes. And instead of baking, I’m cleaning and purging. And we don’t have a concrete move date yet — and although it helps that our closing process is actively moving forward now, it’s still painful to not have a definite end in sight.

And from the treasure trove of my sweet friend’s heart and life experience, this beautiful invitation from Jesus comes across the Voxer air waves. A reminder that when we aren’t able to settle into our usual Advent traditions due to upheaval in whatever form, He wants us to discover Him in different ways and places and rhythms than we generally would expect.

It’s the perfect nudge to keep my ears open, to listen for Him, to find rest and joy in a Person and not in predictable rhythms.

So I’m keeping an ear out for Him in all this dissonant uncertainty, in these busy, off-beat, final days of our year-long journey to Colorado.

Finding Him in boxes and old books and the sifting and shifting, all this offering of the rhythms of our lives.

___________

P.S. I am LOVING connecting more with my readers these days. If you aren’t already subscribed, can I officially invite you to sign up to receive my updates via email? {I rarely write more than once a week, so I won’t clog your inbox.} You can also “like” my blog’s page on Facebook, or feel free to simply send me a personal friend request {I’m “Dana Kiser Butler.”}.

P.P.S. Because my heart has found something that feels like home with them, it’s highly likely I’ll be linking up with Lisha and Kelli.

Posted in Advent, Attending to His Presence, Celebrations, Give Me Grace, Home and Family Management, misc. walking with Jesus, Transition, Uncategorized, Unforced Rhythms | 17 Comments

Becoming a Different Kind of Small

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My kids nap peacefully on Tuesday afternoon, and I catch up on a couple of Voxer conversations with dear friends. I meander for a moment onto Facebook, where I find that one of those friends has written a new blog post, so I grab a cup of coffee and hop over to read her heart, and it resonates profoundly with my current journey.

It’s funny how interwoven our interior processes are, all of us.

We belong to each other. It’s the theme of my existence of late, it seems. Jesus whispers it inside me again and again.

He is waking me up, y’all. Shaking my eyes open to all the ways I was made for humble community with humanity.

With those who know Jesus, and those who don’t. With those whose theology matches my own, crossed ‘t’ for dotted ‘i,’ and those with whom differences are many and varied.

And those in the latter category — I’m learning to sit quiet in their presence and let Jesus expand me inside.

More and more these days, I am seeing the ways I’ve been small-minded. The ways I’ve presumed to offer answers to the world, and in doing so missed the heart of the One who is the truest Answer-with-a-capital-‘A’, but who sometimes shows up as the Answer in ways and people and places where my eyes haven’t been open to discover Him.

He is opening my eyes though, and humbling my heart, and the more open and humble I grow, the more I realize how far I have to go.

So I’m contemplating lately how I want to relate to my fellow humans. More specifically, I’m turning over and over in my heart the disposition with which I want to re-enter our church family in Colorado.

And the idea that rolls around in my mind over and over again is a different kind of small. 

Not small-minded this time, but small in the presence of others.

Small as in: I want to receive from you, to draw you out. I want to have a hand in mining the treasure and unearthing the fire in your deep places. I want to learn from you, to be a place of welcome for your heart and your story.

Small as in: I have much to gain in inviting you to bring your truest heart to bear upon my own.

Small as in: I have no need to transform you into a project or fix your broken places in order to bolster my personal sense of identity or purpose or security in my role in advancing the Kingdom of God.

And although the two might be easily confused, what I am not talking about here is donning a cloak of false humility that denies the value of my own heart or wisdom or life experience. I am by no means suggesting I don’t have insight or truth to offer those Jesus will put before me.

But where a few years ago might have found me poised to heroically swoop in and save the day — or try to — the right-now version of Dana is hoping to tread so much more softly. Confidently, yes, but also tentatively.

To offer myself primarily as a listener and an asker of questions, as a quiet witness to sacred journeys, to the spiritual birthing processes of those whose paths my life will cross.

Part of me is terrified to tell you this, because now that I’ve put it out there, what if when I mess up? What happens when I talk too much and don’t listen like I long to and I slip into having all the answers you need? {<–Insert superhero pose here.}

Eeep! I am weakness-prone. Pride-prone. Proving-myself-prone.

But I wholly believe it’s God’s grace that’s leading my heart in the direction of humility, and I am forced as I embrace this process to lean into Grace even harder. What He begins, He is committed to. I’m thankful. And oh, am I ever counting on that commitment to this process.

And with my baby girl awakening from her afternoon snooze and beginning to chatter in the baby monitor, I’m finding the need to draw these thoughts to a close, and I’m not sure I have an eloquent way to do that today.

So I’m thanking you for grace, and I’m going now to be small in the presence of the little people who’re right here before me this day, and everyday. Because I’m thinking this is where it counts the most — as I let Him shape my heart through them.

Much love to y’all today, my friends. I am grateful for you, for our linked arms and intertwined journeys into the heart of God.

PS. Sharing this post with my friends in Lisha and Kelli’s communities.

Posted in Attending to His Presence, Community, Ministry, misc. walking with Jesus, Parenting, Presence, Uncategorized | 24 Comments

When the Waiting Might Possibly Never End

photo 1It’s the 7th of November, and today marks a full week of silence in this space. The last few days, this flicker has grown inside me — the desire to birth a piece of my soul here — but I haven’t quite known what to say.

And if I’m honest, even as I sit to write, I’m not sure what will come out.

What I do know, though, is that sitting in Panera this Friday morning, opening up my WordPress dashboard brings up tears that burn the backs of my eyes, and that almost always means some facet of my heart is ready to be unearthed, to be given language.

The end of 31 days found me tired in the best way possible. I was poured out, spent, and I knew this was the way I should feel. The result of being brought to the end of myself… and then stretched even further.

So I’ve taken a couple of naps this week, and I’ve filled journal pages. I’ve been up at night with sick kids. I’ve read books, written songs {even recorded one}, and played my guitar purely for the joy of playing. And I’ve re-fallen in love with my piano, I think.

I’ve stared at the wall a bit, too. And at the trees, which, here in KC, are nothing short of spectacular these days. I can’t stop photographing them. There’s something about them that fills my heart with a mixture of gratitude and longing, and while my brain can’t quite make all the connections to tell you precisely why, I know their beauty moves me. That it breathes into a deep unto deep cavern of my soul.

So my eyes and heart feast on rich autumn color… and on the moon.

It’s full the last couple days, and I can’t get enough. Even more than the trees, the moon moves my heart toward longing. Draws my soul’s gaze to Him: to Majesty and Holiness and Eternity. To the type of beauty that rearranges and remakes me inside. The brilliant Presence I was made to sit in, to take into myself and become a part of, day-in, day-out, for always.

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It’s a glory-to-glory kind of beauty.

It transfigures. He transfigures.

I’ve had good days this week. Days my truest self has come out uninhibited, days I know that Jesus has reached out from inside me and touched deep places of others’ hearts. Those days are all at once exhilarating and terrifying, and they propel me to lean, lean, lean into the One who covers and defines me.

I’ve had hard days too — days which are no less good, in their own right, but days in which I’ve found myself profoundly in touch with my frailty. Days I’ve told my husband, “I think I’m a little depressed, babe.”

I’m not generally prone to melancholy, not even a little. But these final (or hopefully final) days of our season of waiting to move are feeling so long, y’all.

Oh, they are SO long.

And even though all signs still point toward a relatively smooth transition to Colorado here in another 3 – 5 weeks, I find myself off and on afraid that something will go wrong and the contract on our house will fall through again.

And we are aching, aching to be with family and friends, and with our church family there.

Speaking for myself, leading those precious hearts in worship — being a vessel to facilitate intimate encounter with the One who adores them so purely and fiercely — it’s been a burden of intercession I’ve carried before the Lord with varying degrees of intensity for the entire going-on-7 years we’ve been away from Littleton.

This morning I’m remembering my pregnancy with Isaac, how the final weeks leading up to his birth found me easily discouraged. Feeling unbearably full inside, like maybe the weight of this precious gift would never come out and I’d end up crushed by it somehow.

I’m thinking this waiting feels reminiscent of that.

And while part of me is genuinely excited and anticipating all that Jesus is leading us into in Colorado, another part of me is grieving over the length of our waiting, and wondering if it might never. ever. end.

But, there are autumn colors. And cooler temperatures. And a moon that stirs my soul. And there are warm scarves and warm cuddles and warm meals around our table with beloved family and friends.

And there is the movement of the Spirit in my deep places — this holy burning that reminds me that even — and maybe especially — in all the waiting and the stretching, I am alive inside. Deeply alive. White-hot alive.

He is unearthing and birthing and His commitment to that never-ending process in my core — it’s what keeps me breathing through this season. And it’s what will continue to keep me, regardless of whether our move goes through as we hope and plan, or not.

It’s where the realest Hope is found — in Him inside of me. In glory-to-glory transfiguration. In more of Him, less of me, and this ever increasing fullness of life.

So I’ll keep watching the moon and the colors and leaning into all this abundant beauty. And He’ll keep on breathing on this burning heart.

And I’ll live wholly alive — a life of burning, fragrant worship before Him — frailty and all.

P.S. So excited to be sharing this post with my friends in Lisha and Kelli’s communities on Sunday and Monday.

Posted in Creativity, Encountering God in the Beautiful, Encountering God in the Mundane, Give Me Grace, Grief and Loss, Learning Authenticity, misc. walking with Jesus, Uncategorized | 31 Comments

Day 31: On Kind Curiosity, and What I’m Going to Do Now

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Thursday evening finds me at Starbucks, sent here by my precious hubby to write this, my last. post. of my 31 Days series. I can hardly believe it’s over.

This, after having spontaneously shared a new song with you today, as a guest post on my friend Barbie’s blog. And y’all, Barbie’s hospitality and her community’s gracious receiving of my poured out heart in song there today (including those of you, my friends, who came over to sit with us a few minutes)– I’ve been simply undone by it. You guys. Just dismantled. Humbled as all get-out.

And if I weren’t at a Starbucks table right now, I would be physically on my face before Jesus all over again. As it is, I keep covering my face with my hands and deep unto deep sighing, and I’m fairly certain the girls at the table next to mine are questioning my sanity right about now.

Don’t mind me, y’all. Just a crazy, Jesus-loving artist over here.

****

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Today, I’ve done animal puzzles and frolicked on the trampoline and I’ve run crazy with my littles, teaching them to catch falling leaves as the Autumn wind gusts gradually render the Kansas City trees bare.

We’ve enjoyed perfect 60-something-degree fall weather, a pleasure I know will soon enough fade to a 30- and 40-degree chill that brings its own cozy excitement.

But we will soon be in Colorado, and we’ve gotta soak up every last moment of this right-now season.

Today also found me wrapped cozily in heart-conversation with my sweet friend Katie who came over with her baby girl. (And — ahem — with her homemade pumpkin spice creamer, which is bliss in my coffee mug, y’all. Sheer bliss.)

We talked humility and wisdom and diversity in the Body of Christ, and we changed diapers and giggled at the antics of our littles.

Katie is one of those incredibly present friends who draws out my depths just by entering the room, so she tends to get all. of. me. when she’s around. I ramble with her — something I don’t do easily with many people.

And one of the themes that keeps repeating itself in my conversations and in my reading these days is that theme precisely — of drawing one another out. This idea of a depth of humility that says with not so many words to the person of a different perspective, or a different skin color, or a different weight, or a different cultural background, or a different church background, or to the person of zero church background whatsoever:

I know you have insight and perspective and life experience that I need. I want to learn from you, to approach you with kind curiosity, because I genuinely believe Jesus can and will encounter me through you if I’m receptive to your heart and story.

Katie is this kind of friend to me, and she inspires me to friend others in the same way. Our conversation circled ’round this theme and I shared with her how passionate I am becoming to love people by making my heart a place of welcome and invitation for others’ stories and perspectives.

This is a concept that Jesus is most certainly still forming and solidifying in my depths, but let me tell you — I am so looking forward to having less and less to say, and more and more of a desire to simply, quietly receive from those Jesus puts before me — from those who are other — even the types of other that would normally make me uncomfortable.

Especially those types of other.

****

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So in light of the fact that October and this series are drawing to a close, the question has flown around a bit on the “31 Dayers” Facebook page: What are YOU going to do NOW? 

“I’m going to Disney World!”

But not really. In real life, I’m going to Colorado.

If all goes as planned, that is.

We should be moving in about 6 weeks — and we’ll be praying for miraculously spring-like weather as we load our moving truck smack dab between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So while I’m dreaming of using all this time I’ve spent writing to learn to arm knit (and I still may, despite our upcoming move), the bulk of my time in the coming weeks will be spent packing, purging, and running loads to Goodwill as we prepare to downsize from 6 bedrooms to 2, or possibly 3.

Also? I think there will be more songs. And I know there will be silence and solitude.

There will be reflection upon the ways God has stretched and deepened me as an artist and a Jesus-worshiper and a human being as I’ve poured my soul into this series. As I’ve reached deeper into my core and a more authentic version of my self, of my soul, has surfaced — maybe more authentic than I’ve ever been able to access before.

There will be scribbling of my guts on journal pages. And occasionally, when I feel so inclined and when our moving season allows, there will be words spilled in this space.

Because — and I know I say this often, but please hear my heart, how fervently I mean it when I say — I so deeply value your companionship here, my friends. The way you receive my heart and reflect it back to me.

You are so much grace to me. Thanks for walking beside me here in these days.

 __________

This post is part of my 31 Days series, Rooted: 31 Days of Authenticity (from my life in limbo). You can find the entire series here.

Also, if you don’t want to miss future posts or song reveals, I invite you to subscribe to receive each post in your inbox.

Posted in 31 Days 2014, Community, Creativity, Learning Authenticity, Ministry, misc. walking with Jesus, Uncategorized | 8 Comments