Sunday, March 23, 2014

Your Desperation, Your Worship

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, 
that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. “ 
~ Heb. 13:15, ESV

It was a pretty pitiful scene. In one corner of the house, I sat on my bed clutching the pepto-pink trash can, barely enough strength to be upright. In the other corner, my son crying over a hard-won battle that fell into computer abyss. Sweet victory turned sting of defeat. And my husband was out getting groceries, so unavailable to offer comfort to either one of us.

I sat there weak and helpless on my bed, the sound of my son’s unaddressed disappointment well in ear shot but out of my realistic reach. And I couldn’t help but second-guess a self description I’d penned just a day or two before. I described myself as “one who’s learned how to live in survival mode – and even worship there.”

"Are you kidding me?," I thought. "Have I really learned that?
What about this trying-to-survive moment right here and now?"

In entered His grace with this thought:
My dependence is my worship.

My helplessness reminds me that I need a Savior for eternity, and for the here and now. Every time I acknowledge that I am not self-sufficient, but instead incapable and desperately needy, I worship. I worship by removing my [perceived] ability off the throne of my life, and bowing down to the only One Who is worthy of that throne. Worthy of my trust. And welcoming of my desperation.

That desperation has been one of my primary places of worship in this hard season. That choice to bow down and trust Him instead of myself. That choice to surrender. That choice to invite His grace into my need.
Again. And again. And again.

In my desperation, my dependence is my worship.
And can be yours as well.


Picture compliments of Aaron Burden

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Leaving the Principle Behind



I'd like to think I'm a relatively easy-going kinda gal. But if there’s one scenario that’s always been a guarantee to get my blood boiling, it’s an offense to the principle of the matter. Sometimes individuals have been my offenders, but usually it’s a case of a company not doing the right thing, not making my satisfaction their primary goal.
Because I am consumer, so hear me roar. 

Of course, that's too ugly for a Christian to admit. So I've wrapped it tightly in justice, a perfectly justifiable (and responsible!) intellectual alibi.

One day several years ago, the Lord planted this strange seed of thought in my head. He asked me if the principle is truly what’s most important in a situation.
Is principle really what trumps all? 

It was confusing to even consider deprioritizing the principle of a matter, because isn’t it just plain RIGHT? Why would I not pursue what is right? That would be counter Christian.

And if the principle of the matter weren't most important, wouldn’t that mean I'd have to resign the respect due me? Even give up innate rights as an individual? There are all kinds of ramifications.
The wrestling ensued.

~ ~ ~

Ocean waves crashed their majesty just up the road. And the siren sound of seagulls was all around. But me? I was behind a closed bedroom door on the second floor on hold with customer service. They’d double-charged us for our internet service, and she was submitting a request for our account to be credited.

It was a stressful conversation, the explaining and the advocating. I’m not a fan of those. At all. Most certainly not while on vacation. But the return was worthwhile, so I made the investment of my time and energy. An expensive one, though. It left me wiped out the rest of afternoon.

A couple months came and went, but only a partial credit was issued. And so I called.

Month after month. 
Hold after hold. 
Operator after operator. 
For six months. 

Explaining every time the complicated nuances behind the relocating, the residential vs. the business, the double charging.

Finally, one wonderful fall day, an operator seemed to get to the bottom of the hold up. But. In order to resolve it, he had to send it back to the other department . . .

Return to sender. 
Hope they comply. 
More realistically, hope my remaining credit hasn’t gone back into a black hole. 

I took scrupulous notes all the while. I documented names, operator IDs, dates, details of who said what. I had a case, and I managed it well.

The holidays came and went. No remaining credit. And no time to do those dreaded calls.

So after ringing in the new year, I picked up the phone again yesterday. And I was bounced between departments more than ever before. A tennis match of my time and energy, and I was clearly losing.

The dialogue with the last in the string of operators was particularly unproductive.
It was disheartening (to say the least) when she informed me for the first time of a note in my account saying the request for credit had been denied last summer.
And it was frustrating (to say the very least!) when she had the nerve to ask me why I think I should receive this credit.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

I kept my cool, though. Didn’t even wear the ugly manipulative tone my nature sometimes puts on. I sought to take the higher roads of respectful communication despite her coldness.

But after a little while of getting nowhere, I got practical and decided I’d be better off hanging up with her and calling back to speak to a different operator. So right in the middle of our somewhat-mutual troubleshooting, I interjected a seemingly random,
“Thank you, operator. I think that will be all.”
Some silence, a few more obligatory formalities exchanged in closing, and no more wasted time for me.

As I put the phone down and placed my right hand on the mouse to start documenting our conversation, I couldn’t maneuver it because my hand was so shaky. I didn’t feel stressed, but clearly, I was.

After a few minutes, my hands relaxed, and so did my soul. Because instead of picking the phone back up to get a better operator, I reconsidered.

That particular moment is the point where my principle-trumps-all nature typically rises up, and my blood start boiling in agitation. Because really, this is all very simple, right?

We asked them to discontinue a service. 
They didn’t. 
Instead, they began to double charge us. 
Their fault, not ours. 
Therefore, we deserve to be reimbursed. (Fully! Not partially.) 
Simple, simple. 

As always, I heard my nature’s invitation to pursue the principle of it, but it wasn’t screaming in demand like it used to. It was much quieter. And this time, I also heard a different Invitation.

Despite the reality that they owed us money. And despite the reality that we could certainly use it. I sensed a need to let it all go.
The money, the principle, the stress.
A readiness to throw away all the papers and close the door to my file of scrupulous notes, and leave it all buried in last year.
Not in resignation. In freedom.

I could have pushed through, like usual, ‘til I found the frayed end of my rope. But that's what was making it sound like wisdom to me, offering me a sense of peace and contentment in the surrender.

~ ~ ~

Life is a series of dethroning exercises. Discovering who and what I have on the throne of my life. Going through the painful process of removing my grip on each one. And entering into the liberating experience of having Jesus there instead.

When we think about idols, we typically think about lures like materialism and power. But I've discovered so many more in my soul: People. Ministry. Fellowship. Even convictions.

And I’m finding freedom in leaving the principle behind. They are welcome in my life, but not on my throne. Only Jesus is welcome on the throne of my life.

HE is what will trump all.

Including my convictions about Him.

Oh and that first operator I originally spoke with last summer? The one at the beginning of this dethroning opportunity?
Her name was Angel.

"Beware of being obsessed with consistency to your own convictions
instead of being devoted to God."

~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest


Image above courtesy of Travis Silva

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Celebrate Your Moo!

Lessons from a Stuffed Cow on Self Worth
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”
~ Psalm 139:14


That night after Thanksgiving, I went into my son’s room to tuck him in and there was plastic food nestled in the middle of his blue, dinosaur comforter. I asked him if his stuffed animals were having a picnic, and he said they’d had Thanksgiving breakfast that morning. And they wrote down things they were thankful for. I asked if I could read what they wrote, and his tender hands offered me a miniature 5-sheet pad of paper.
Just 1x2”.
With a turkey on the front – of course.

Oh, what overflowing treasures in those five tiny pages. At the top of the first page, Crocodile and Alligator with four items below their names. A bulleted list, nonetheless. But it’s the next page that really got me. The page with Spotty, the Dalmatian’s list. And Belty, the belted Cow’s list.

Because the first thing on Spotty’s list was “my spots.”

And the first thing on Belty’s list was “my moo.”
[Because he really does!]

As if the sheer sweetness weren’t enough, here’s what struck me about the spots and the moo. In their tiny little list of thanks, those animals didn’t start with the material. They didn’t even start with the grand external beauty that surrounds them, like the warmth of a summer sunset or the arresting sound of waves crashing up against the shore.

They thanked God for the unique way He created them.

Their own personal beauty that displays His glory.

It was at the top of their list.


I was struck by that because admittedly, I struggle to believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, let alone thank God for the way He’s made me. I struggle to believe the very passion of this blog space  – that His glory is made known through my weakness, my shortcomings. Especially since invisible illness has made its home in my body.

But I want to follow Belty and Spotty’s lead today. I want to celebrate my moo, enjoy the beauty of my spots. And I’m encouraging you to do the same.

So! One way God created you in His image. GO!
(And no, not an attribute that nobody else on the planet has. Spotty’s certainly not the only Dalmatian with beauty spots.)

It’s time to celebrate your moo!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Accepting the Sidelines

(or "The Night I Got Over Myself. Again.")

“The close confinement of a pit exhausts us with the endless echo of self-absorption.” 
~ Beth Moore

We’d approached these familiar church doors many a Sunday morning. Almost 16 years ago, we walked through them for the first time as a young married couple from the north looking to make our home in the south. And we did. Because although the doors open wide to a campus that many find intimidating, we soon found an inviting nook in the vast array and called it home.

We enjoyed those carefree years as young marrieds, actively partaking in all the small group parties, Bible studies, you name it. The only reason we missed anything was because we couldn’t stay put long, regularly hitting the road and the air to visit out-of-state friends and family. Our lifestyle was an active one, and we liked it that way.

After a year or two of being nestled into the warm space of our small group, our hearts were stirred to plug in even more. And the Lord gave us the opportunity to start a new small group with dear friends at our church for newly married couples. Seriously newly marrieds! We’re talkin’ – folks just back from their honeymoon. What a privilege to be a part of that sacred season in their lives.

Fast forward a few years when my husband had the privilege of serving as a deacon, then I had the privilege of helping to lead a women’s summer Bible study. Our list of involvement goes on, but my point is this:
We were active.
We were connected.
And that was just the way we liked it.

But then life took some twists and turns. And as a result, my stride's taken quite a toll since those days of carefree. Because as I approach those same doors, I’ve had Sunday mornings when it’s been physically challenging just to walk through them, let alone be actively plugged in to church life. So it’s been years since I’ve been in organized ministry, or even participated in an organized event. Because I’m doing well if I can muster the stamina to do all that’s required simply to show up on a Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, church life continues on all around me. Without me. 

And this health adventure hasn’t just impacted my physical frame. My mental, emotional, and spiritual gaits have also become fragile from the harsh winds of life. My journey through chronic illness has brought intense storms to the deepest recesses of my being, and it’s changed me. And the loss of life as we knew it with our church family has been hard to swallow. 

Let me explain a bit further. Whenever you haven’t seen somebody for a considerably long time, there’s an enthusiastic reunion, right? And the typical catch-up questions come naturally. Then on the opposite side of the spectrum, when you see somebody frequently, like every Sunday morning, you get to go beyond those surface questions to dig into the day-to-day grind, and walk through life with them. But my husband and I, we’re in this awkward frequency of the in between. We’re not seeing these folks regularly. But it’s not like it’s been 5-10 years since we’ve seen them, either. In reality, our circumstances have left us doing all the things you’re NOT supposed to do if you want to experience close community:
We show up inconsistently on Sunday mornings. (Sometimes as a couple, but more times one without the other.)
We go into the worship center. We worship. We go out. 
No small groups. No Bible studies. No outreach events. 
No more relating than cordial Sunday morning smiles. 

It’s an unhealthy pattern that leaves longing hearts lonely and unfulfilled. Yet sadly, it’s a pretty common pattern in churches, so we’re not a total anomaly. But in our case, we know better. And we want better. We’re willing to do what it takes to be connected, but our circumstances inhibit us. Our hearts LONG to serve and plug in again. We’re just not physically able to. And that's been a painful place to live.

That particular evening, I approached those now-awkward church doors yet again. My footsteps carrying the imprints of one who’s spent the last several years wrestling her way through pain and loss, through life. And that dreaded in-between awkwardness started to settle in the closer I got to the doors. But the next step held something different. Because in that step, He whispered to me:
“Can you accept it here?” 

Can I accept it here . . .

On the sidelines.

In this awkward and isolating in between.

Can I accept this disconnected place I’m in?
And make the most of it. 

 The moments between His question and my entrance were so brief that I didn’t even have time to consciously respond before I was through the doors and swept into the flow of church goers.

Yet His question alone empowered me. Because this time when I walked through those doors, the awkwardness was replaced with confidence. I was no longer focusing on my disconnectedness; I was focused on embracing the brief moments that I HAD with these people. And wanting to taste the sweetness of being a blessing to them – even from the social sidelines. 

My experience that evening at church was entirely different.
Because rather than throw out a fake hi,
I reached out and offered an embrace. 
Rather than avoid eye contact to dodge the awkward shallow,
I called out her name. 
Rather than turn away after the obligatory hellos,
I turned back to reengage and encourage. 
Rather than stay quiet in my seat before the program started,
I introduced myself. 
And rather than keep that restroom tunnel-vision stare straight down at my hand washing for fear of the casual acquaintance standing next to me not remembering me after all these years, 
I looked up. 
I took a risk.
I initiated conversation.
[Turns out she remembered me, too.]
 

Rather than fixating on being a part of community, I got over myself. And experienced a taste of community when I did. 

A sweet embrace.
The laughter of grace.
The delight of relational reconnections.
The blessing of a new friend.

All rich treasures I would have missed had my focus remained on community – instead of on Jesus. 

That getting over the awkwardness, getting over myself at church, wasn’t anything I pursued. Nothing I’d been praying about. Not a conscious mental shift I made that evening. It was simply another miraculous moment when His grace entered my reality to bring about the change my heart and mind desperately needed.

And sure, it was different from the strong pulse of community we’re used to being a part of. But it was okay. I was okay. I was content with the less than ideal. Content to accept the sidelines.

With an overflow of grace, God brought my self-centric mind back to what church is all about taking my eyes off myself, and turning them onto Jesus.


[Psst! Don’t look now, but this little kite seems to be wrestling a little less, and resting a bit more these days. Well . . . at least THIS day!]


Image courtesy of charamelody

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Fortress of Fear

"There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear."
~ 1 John 4:18a

She had me at the title: Held Captive by Fear. But the entire time I was reading her piece, there was a nagging question in my head that I couldn’t shake. I’m all about God removing my bricks of fear, but what I couldn’t figure out was how, exactly, He does that. Where in my heart and mind does that process begin? In other words, what needs to happen to get results? [Okay, so I like formulas. And writing in the sky. And perceived control . . . ]

As I was chewin’ on all this with the Lord, I thought about my constant toggling between love and fear. A frustrating and exhausting tug of war in my life . . .

(Click here to read the rest.)


Thanks to my dear blogger friend, Jamie Harper, at Brown Paper & Strings for the privilege of joining her "Out of the Dark, Into the Light" series as a guest blogger. Come join us, and make sure you leave a comment so we can greet you when you stop by!



Stone Wall Image Credit: Ioan Besoiu

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stuck



“How do you keep going so hard for so long when you can’t even stop to take a breath?,” she asked. I told her this season of life is clearly my [much-needed] boot camp for dying to self, and for coming to hard-core terms that this world will never satisfy. It’s broken. It’s hard. It’s not my Home. Those realities are what keep me hanging on.

But several nights later, the rubber met the road of routine and my soul pounded the pavement in resistance. I just wanted to stop, let my mind soar freely beyond these four walls, and let my soul breathe. But I was called yet again to the same place, at the same time, to do the same thing. And I didn’t want to. There was a temper tantrum raging in my soul, and I wasn’t ready to surrender.

So I stepped out the front door and sat down on the top step, beneath the warm blanket of stars. It was a quiet night. And the only motion in view was the flickering of the street lamp, wavering back and forth just like my soul. What it needed to do, was the very thing it was struggling to do.
And so was I.

And there was that kite. The one stuck in our walnut tree. My son had pointed it out to me from the Dining Room window a few days before. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have ever noticed it.

The breeze that night was enough to border chilly, and enough to entice the kite elsewhere. So I watched that kite. I watched her fight in the darkness against the branch that held her there.
Constantly wrestling to be free.

She’s a kite, afterall. She’s designed to be in motion, to soar high among the roving clouds and endless sky. Not to be stuck stagnant at ground level.
She was clearly out of place. And in essence, useless.

Then I saw what surrounded the kite.

Flower buds.
Quiet whispers of life.
Steady companions anxious to burst declarations of beauty. Declarations of their Creator.
Reminders of His presence.
All in the same place that months ago, held coldness and death.

On top of that, the kite was free to behold the majesty of the night sky.
Because she was stuck.
Had she not been stuck, her nights would have been spent in the sterile darkness of storage. Missing out on the radiance of the moon, and the canvas of constellations.

As she wrestles against the rough branch, He whispers to her in the wind. So she does something different this time. She leans into the branch. And she begins to see things she's never noticed before. 
She sees a young Daddy swing his little girl around and land her on his shoulders.

She breathes the crisp night air, watching the sky expectantly for shooting stars like a child on Christmas Eve. 


The other day, she watched as a family, 15-year neighbors to the walnut tree, packed up their memories to make new ones in a new home. 


And she's witnessing the sacred courage of a husband and wife as they battle their way through the dark alleys of a cruel disease.
Despite her struggle to break free, she’s beginning to see beauty blossom around more corners than ever before. Even while wrestling lonely in cold, dark nights.
As I write, she remains stuck in my walnut tree.
But maybe she’s not so out of place, after all.

Because apparently, this isn't about the chance to fly again.
This season in the walnut tree IS about the kite breaking free. But it's about her breaking free from something greater. Something that holds her back far more than the heaviest of branches ever could.
It's about discovering strange new sources of joy. And peace.
And surprisingly – freedom.


In fact, it's about redefining freedom.

Finding a freedom she's never known before. Freedom from herself.
One that soars wild and uninhibited, closer to the Heartbeat of Heaven than even the open skies.
One that finds glimpses of His glory in the small, but sacred, plot of land where He's placed her.

A thrilling liberation to embrace that her worth goes far beyond what she can and cannot DO.


She's finding these freedoms.
In the stuck.


She's beginning to see that we glorify God not just by doing big things, out there, for all to see. But by doing the little things.
Right here.
With nobody watching but Him.
Because He's enough.


She's beginning to trust that the significance of her days isn't defined by her scope or reach.
And that her value isn't secured by grand scenery or a seemingly extraordinary calling.

Because when God's in it, it's all extraordinary.


She's discovering this grand paradox. This freedom in the stuck. This beauty in the tangled mess. Soul rest in the assurance that no matter how useless she feels, or even looks, in her stuck state, she can still partake in the goodness and glory of God.

~ ~ ~

What circumstance has been beyond your control and left you feeling stuck?

My experience on the branch has been an isolating one. How would you describe your experience?

Have you ever considered ways the branch might be a friend in disguise, rather than an all-out enemy?

And I constantly misplace my identity in what I do (or think I should be doing), rather than in Who He is, do you?


Share your thoughts, & share the post!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The One Thing Your Blog Strategy (and your soul) Can’t Do Without



Create titles that hook ‘em, they say.
And they’re right.

Present your content with visual cues to keep them reading, they say.
Yep, I’m a believer!

Find your voice.
I agree. It makes all the difference.

Close with a call to action to invoke a response from the reader.
Marketing 101.

And above all, write, write, and write some more.
Mhmm, Writing 101.


No doubt about it, I have a huge passion for strategic communication. My background is in marketing, so I champion all the above principles. But there’s an ingredient that’s imperative to any blog strategy that I have yet to see in any “top tips for bloggers” articles.
And it trumps them all.

Some of you may have a good rhythm with your blog and don’t tend to second-guess your writing, your strategy, or yourself in the process. But I’m guessing for the majority of you, that’s not the case. Especially after reading posts from blogger friends like this one and this one.

So let me put my arm around your shoulder and be your voice of encouragement today.

This, friend, is what I want you to hear:


It’s okay if you’re titles don’t stop the entire world in its tracks.

And it’s okay if you’re struggling to find your voice.

Yes, it’s even okay if you don’t close with the all-imperative CTA.

It’s okay if you’re inconsistent,
don’t come up with the next big thing,
and don’t write nearly as often as you’d like to.

It’s o-kay.

So why, you ask, is a writer who has a huge passion for marketing communications offering you the freedom to break all the strategic rules she tenaciously champions?
Because I have a greater passion for Grace.


Grace is what trumps all I know about marketing. It’s the glorious freedom that tenderly beckons me to set aside strategy and break the rules. Regularly.
Because I want to know Him more than I want to know success.

But Tanya, you ask, won’t that make my blog ineffective, stagnant, and stale?
Oh, dear friend. Trying to constantly configure the perfect equation for the perfect blog will make your soul ineffective, stagnant, and stale.

That’s far too high a price to pay.

And please don’t mistake me for saying that a highly-visible blog is a bad thing, or that it's equated with a lack of intimacy with God, or that we should suppress our God-given dreams. Not at all.

I want to make an impact on our world as much as you do. And that’s a good thing. What I AM suggesting is that we don't let that desire to make Him known trump our desire to know Him.
Or else we’ll begin to mistake our impact for our identity.

I don’t know about you, but I wrestle with that. A lot. I’ve had a post about my struggle with that percolating for seven months, but for now I’ll leave it to Oswald Chambers to sum up:


“Beware of getting ahead of God by your very longing to do His will.
We run ahead of Him . . .
becoming so burdened with people and problems that we don't worship
"

Beware of getting ahead of God by your very longing to do His will, dear blogger . . .

When you can’t find that snappy title that readers will find irresistible,
remember God’s power is made perfect not in competence,

but in weakness.


When you can’t find your voice,
trust His to speak through you.

When you’re banging your head up against a wall to come up with an engaging call to action (not that I’d know . . .ahem),
trust His Spirit to invoke a response in the reader’s soul in ways you or I never could.

And when the only feedback you receive is the sound of crickets chirping instead of comments affirming,
remember Who you’re writing for.
[And that it's also okay to break rules of grammar.] 

Strategic marketing and communications isn’t the end all be all for our blogs, dear blogger.
Your relationship with the One who authors your life story IS.

That relationship with Him is more important than your ministry for Him.
So don’t sacrifice intimacy with Him for the sake of traffic and stats.

Impact is valuable.
But it doesn’t determine your value.

And so, my fellow blogger, fellow life sojourner. Whether your blog strategy is written in a file or simply in your mind, THIS is what He longs for you to engrave in it:

GRACE.

For the imperfect blogger.


~ ~ ~
And now I want to hear from you!

How have you perceived success for your blog?

Do you struggle to embrace grace when you see other bloggers excel?

Do you ever let your personal value get too wrapped up in your blog?

Have you mistaken your impact for your identity?


And why not encourage your favorite bloggers today with this post?

Every blogger struggles with discouragement, at times. And not just us small-scale bloggers. So why not reach out to your favorite bloggers by sending this to them! Tell them how much you appreciate their pouring their heart out on the screen. And remind them of the freedom they have to be imperfect.

Let's cheer one another on toward grace-based blogging!




P.S. My little story of grace in this imperfect post . . .

Out of all the strategic communication tactics I shared, the one I struggle with most is closing my pieces with engaging questions. So several posts ago, I quit banging my head against the wall and decided to be okay without them.  A big part of my blog’s purpose is to be a source of joy for me, not pressure, and my laboring over that tactic was defeating that purpose.

Well, you know the rest of the story, right? As I was finishing up this piece, God brought the above questions to mind. Not just one, several! It was so foreign to have them simply come to mind without laboring over them for days on end that I have to shake my head in wonder and smile. It’s so like Him.

So! M
aking a cameo appearance here on Truth in Weakness, closing questions! Enjoy them while I have them, folks – Engage away!

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