claiming the abundance I cannot feel

This post is part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, scroll down to find out more!
This post is part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, scroll down to find out more!

I moved here in the sweltering heat of August for all the wrong reasons. Well, for the one main reason most rational people would caution you against moving across the country.

I moved to New York City for love.

It happened fast, but it had been building for something like 10 years so it didn’t feel completely irresponsible to fall in love with my best friend who showed up on my doorstep in Des Moines, Iowa after a year of not speaking to say “I love you.” (Yes, he led with that.)

The excited mess of planning over late night skype calls felt very silly and romantic. I flew out to visit and again for job interviews – a guest in his high-powered and hipster concrete city. I sold my car and purged my belongings, keeping important things like handmade crafts from high school and souvenirs from service trips. I finagled vacation time and work schedules and organized all the little roots I spread out in the two years of life in Iowa. I held my breath, quit my job, bought my ticket to La Guardia, and then found out I had an offer to start on the exact weekend I would be arriving in Brooklyn.

In March, it will be a year since that cold, brown night on my doorstep on Dunham Avenue. I feel pretty reckless and young and silly sometimes, but I am not a stranger to adventure. I chase it and it chases me, on the regular. That’s part of what makes Patrick and me a pretty perfect pair. We both love adventure.

But this is different. 

There is something very vulnerable about involving another person in my adventure – something unnerving about another someone walking through the good days and the bad days and caring which kind of day it was. I slip into silence often. I shake off questions I can’t give good answers to. I stack my schedule with good things. I slide into smiles when I can’t find anything better to do.

This year I learned I am picky about my adventures and selfish about how I would like them to play out. When I’ve had enough adventure, I want the freedom to hide away without anyone wondering why I’m hiding or where. I want to be reckless on my own schedule and I moved to a city where it could be done. Selfish recklessness. Self-centered, ambitious adventure. 

Sometimes, inside adventure, I am especially aware that nothing can be poured out from emptiness. No matter how many times you tip over an empty cup, nothing will always come out. Because we cannot make something from nothing, only God can do that.

Only God can take what is empty in me and fill it with abundance. But He is not just able, He has promised. Christ came to bring life abundant (John 10:10). God loves to give good gifts to His children who ask (Matthew 7:11), because He is the only One who can give good gifts (James 1:17). These truths remind my soul I cannot conjure up abundance on my own.

God promises to fill me up when adventure has left me empty and when I want to hide away. And I believe it. He promises that in His presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) and He will give us the desires of our hearts if we are delighting in Him (Psalm 37:3-4).

I can choose to believe the abundance I cannot feel.

And the most beautiful thing about abundance (apart from the miracle that it can happen in empty space) is that it cannot be contained. Overflow pushes out beyond boundaries. An abundant life reaches beyond self and into the lives of others with the good things I cannot own or create.

I am daily aware of my emptiness in Brooklyn and the emptiness of selfish adventure. But the bigger adventure and the greater delight is in adventuring while believing God for the next step. I can claim His promises of abundance when I feel most empty, because He is a promise keeper. He will not only fill me up, but He will overflow my life into joyful relationship with neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow adventurers. He is abundance and today I am believing.

Patrick is still my favorite person to adventure with. Heck, he is kind of my favorite person all together (I don’t know anyone else who would consistently walk me home at 2, 3, and 4 am). But this empty-to-abundance thing is something only God can offer and we both need that on a daily basis. Knowing and claiming God’s promises means I am not asking Patrick to be the miracle I need for emptiness.

Only God can do that.

I kind of feel like I should be in a good place, a better place, to write a blog post for the Skinny Dip Society blog tour. I should be more positive or more focused or more free. But it is winter in Brooklyn and I don’t feel those things and I refuse to be dishonest. I am in the place I am in today. Profound, I know.

Right here is a good place to claim the abundance I cannot feel.

I am a work in progress, but I am learning to believe abundance is something that can overflow every moment, even the forever winter Brooklyn moments. I am shaking the should be’s and the more of’s to believe abundance can happen here, where I am.

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This post is part of a series of 25 bloggers over 25 days sharing as part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, hosted by Katie Den Ouden. Be sure to check out Lauren’s post from yesterday, on Forgiveness, and Bonnie’s post tomorrow. Katie will also finish up a 21-Day Freedom challenge tomorrow, but don’t worry you can still get in on some of the wild and free action! Find out how you can enroll in her 12 week immersion program. She is a beautiful inspiration, so you won’t regret spending time checking out her stuff. You can catch up on the past few weeks of her blog tour–over here

 

solitude is an OK thing to need

The Atlantic did not have to be the one to tell me.

I did not, necessarily, need to read it from the pen of artists who have already ‘made it,’ but I suppose I believed it more easily. I was quick to let the words resonate – to make my solitude-seeking legitimate and unselfish and regular. Maybe it was just that title, “What Great Artists Need: Solitude” that made me first click through to the lengthy article. I want to be a great artist someday (everyday) and I will gladly take all pieces of free, expert advice.

And so Dorthe Nors tells me she learned about needing solitude from the creative genius of Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. In addition to having a very interesting name, Bergman is known for directing somewhere around sixty films and documentaries. But Nors points to his writing in The Atlantic article.

All of it resonated, but some little bits are still haunting me almost two weeks later. Because I do battle with solitude. Every time I plan a party or agree to a coffee date there are moments (and sometimes many) when I want to cancel. I want to turn inside myself because it is easier and because I’m out of energy and because there is no way I can attempt all the creative things on my to-do list if I am never alone. Let’s be honest – forget creative… I won’t get to the practical things either like cleaning out the fridge or fixing our bathroom door so it closes or worrying about the baby mouse I have seen scurry across our kitchen floor twice.

Alone time is good to get things like your kitchen and your bathroom and your soul in order. Solitude should not always get the leftovers because many times it is where we do serious business with the demons in our lives. Nors writes,

“Solitude, I think, heightens artistic receptivity in a way that can be challenging and painful. When you sit there, alone and working, you get thrown back on yourself. Your life and your emotions, what you think and what you feel, are constantly being thrown back on you. And then the “too much humanity” feeling is even stronger: you can’t run away from yourself. You can’t run away from your emotions and your memory and the material you’re working on. Artistic solitude is a decision to turn and face these feelings, to sit with them for long periods of time.

It takes the courage to be there. You run into your own pettiness. Your own cowardice. You run into all kinds of ugly sides of yourself. But the things that you’ve experienced in your life become the writing that you do. And there’s no easy way to get to it, if you want to write literary fiction.

And that’s what Bergman and other Swedish writers have taught me—to stay in that painful zone, discipline myself through it to get where I want.”

This is what Swedish authors are teaching Nors and what Nors is teaching me. It does take courage to be alone – and not just for the baby mouse that needs to be caught in my kitchen. I am a petty person and cowardly and all kinds of ugly. If I’m never alone, I never really feel the weight of those things I am. Nors talks about something Bergman wrote in one of his journals, compiled in a book called Images,

“Here, in my solitude, I have the feeling that I contain too much humanity.”

It’s not even about creating the kind of literary fiction that will be remembered like Bergman and Nors. It’s about having the imprint of eternity on our souls… and knowing that the eternal imprint is never contained by a body or inside a day.

It’s a too much feeling that not all the words in all the world could explain. But it is a tension that doesn’t need explanation as much as it needs space.

Rest. Tension. Time. Space. Struggle.

All this, my solitude-seeking, could also be related to my search for Sabbath rest. Artist or not, we all need that.

It was a jumble of reasons that landed me in the middle of reflections on solitude and Sabbath as I read the lessons Dorthe Nors learned from Ingmar Bergman. But, I guess I get it. It is good to be with people, but it is good to be alone – to fight against the too much pushing free of my chest. It is good to do battle with the space between my silent face and an empty ceiling. It is good to sit with the painful, weighty bits of humanity inside that remind me I am weak and poor and ill-equipped for everything I try.

It is good to make space enough for a full swing of the only sword fashioned to win against such a mighty weight, such a mighty too much.

the way we like to party

We arranged the tables lengthwise in the living room, similar to the Thanksgiving set up. Yeun brought all the supplies – the rocks and soil and sand and a beautiful spread of succulents. I reviewed several mental lists while we waited for the subway at Broadway Junction after work – chocolate chip cookie plans, decorations, and something for dinner. I was nervous about who would come and if they would bring food and if our preparations would flop.

I rushed in like a tornado to the apartment. It’s pretty standard, I guess. All the day’s bottled up energy gets shoved into 1.5 hours leading up to party show time… and this party was especially wonderful because we were throwing it with our neighbor Yeun. Somehow, she tracked down supplies for 20+ people to make terrariums and then she taught us all how to be terrarium making professionals.

My living room looked like a movie set for a miniature world, with inch-high boy scouts and bicyclists and tiny animals strewn about over the moss on the table. But it also looked like friends and strangers and neighbors bent over jars, vases, and fish bowls – getting dirt under their fingernails as they mastered the art of terrariums.

The apartment tours took 5 seconds and they always keep me humble. Yep, just the two rooms. Mmmhm, the walls are always this bare. Oh, this bench you are sitting on? That’s a shelf system we found for free and then converted for seating.

But no one cared because the laughter was the right volume. There was a miniature lady crawling up a cactus wall and a miniature boy scout troop walking on a forest path. There were fresh baked cookies and homemade Reese’s bars and the perfect new crowd of people huddled around tables making little worlds inside of glass.

I was tired and I won’t pretend otherwise. I am hosting a dear friend from Honduras and juggling the normal transit struggle, fighting the NYC frown face and trying to make this giant city a little smaller.

But, I just love hosting other people’s joy.

I love when people buzz my apartment and I love pushing the “door” button to let them inside. I love leaving my door open and I love when people walk through the entryway. I love when guests have to share a seat and I love when the joy pushes against the cold on the windows. I love when strangers are friends and when neighbors come over in slippers and I love when people can leave with something in their hands.

After we had tidied and rearranged when the last guest left, I sat down for the first time since 4:30 pm. It was probably after midnight and my feet were making me feel old. It was a tired satisfaction, but the whole night was kind of a blur.

I love hosting other people’s joy, but I don’t do it perfectly. I get stressed and snap and escape to the kitchen to wash dishes. Last night, before I settled into sleep, I read my evening devotional and this is what it said,

“See to it that sitting at the Savior’s feet is not neglected, even though it is under the specious pretext of doing Him service. The first thing for our soul’s health – the first thing for His glory – and the first thing for our own usefulness – is to keep ourselves in perpetual communion with the Lord Jesus, and to see that the vital spirituality of our piety, is maintained over and above everything else in the world.” – Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Reflections

And my soul said, yes. Yes to parties and hosting and community and fellowship… but first yes to sitting at the Savior’s feet. The formers are much more beautiful in proper submission to the latter.

terrarium party terrarium terrarium3

there is a peace

This last day of April stretched out long and I stretched out to test the seams of it – to try to be as patient as the moments that crept by so I could experience each one fully. It has been some time since one day has had so many slow moments and I was content to savor them all. Maybe it was the sun that slowed things down, begging me to look extra long at the city as I sped from place to place.

There is a peace.

Maybe it’s irresponsible to be unafraid of the future and maybe it’s naive to hope for impossible things. Maybe the illusive peace this world craves with groans is not a thing my soul can feel. But, maybe not.

By grace (o, mysterious grace!), we can say, “There is a peace” both with certainty and with hope. Our belief that God is Redeemer, Promise-Keeper, Defender, Lover, Savior, and Friend prompts our certainty and his faithfulness to be all those things prompts our hope. The grace empowered cycle of certainty and hope is a fountain that wells up and overflows in peace that covers all uncertain and desperate moments.

There is a peace to settle your soul. Well, it’s settling mine anyway.

What shall I do with a settled soul? How can I make sure the certain and hopeful moments are not wasted? Our memory verse (from Fighter Verses) for this week is Romans 12:11-13,

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

There is a gracious peace that has settled my soul and the Lord is calling me to make my peace productive. The same grace that allows me peace makes provision for good works (2 Corinthians 9:8) that have been prepared for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). As I savor the cycle of certainty and hope, God is breathing life into my bones so that I may live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28).

All this peace is for a purpose – that the Lord would be glorified in my dependence, my delight, and my diligence.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

There are many, many ways to serve our friends, family, and neighbors. This is May 1 and every May I try to accept the Every Day in May challenge. This year, I am going to use my love for creative writing to bless someone new each day. This might be through a story, card, special email, or clever joke. I may or may not post everything I do, but I might report some of the stories that happen as a result. I encourage you to take the challenge as well – for the month of May, choose to do something you love every day. My little addition is that you would use the “something you love” to bless others – that way you are both glorifying God with your gifts and blessing others with your offering!

from @frenchtoastgirl

what the Lord requires

Nobody told these birds to dance.
Nobody orchestrated their motions into something wonderful.

They did it all on their own.

The music they heard was not a symphony or a rousing indie anthem but the wind rushing underneath, giving power and form to their soaring.

Why?

It seems silly that these birds would make such a display just because – that they would cause such a great, choreographed spectacle in the sky caught on camera by chance.

It seems silly.

Tonight, I’m headed to the city of brotherly love to conference with a crowd of thousands to hear people like Eugene Cho and Leroy Barber and Dr. John Perkins talk about justice.

I’m not going because it’s hip to believe in something, because it is. I’m not going because I think I’m some big deal – some gift to the cause of justice, because I’m not.

I’m going because I want to learn what to do with the awe I feel when I see birds dance for an audience of One. I’m going because God created this world to reflect Him and there is a whole lot that doesn’t. I’m going because part of loving and treasuring Christ means putting one foot of faith in front of the other in my everyday. Because believing in His promises means I think sin and injustice can be overthrown.

I’m going because I know God’s heart for the lost and the suffering and the outcast, but sometimes I don’t know how to make my knowing come out my fingertips.

If God’s grace allows the birds to dance in glorious display of His creativity, then His grace allows me to treasure Him in the dance of justice seeking, with the wind of His power and pleasure beneath me.

It is not mine to win or gain or give, justice that is. God alone is sovereign in how His plan is carried out, but I can walk in obedience and in the footsteps of Jesus. I can do that. And I think what the Lord requires – doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly – might look like a dance.

Pray with me that God would work on my clumsy heart?

we will never know everything but we will always know enough

Tonight at the dream sessions we asked the Lord to help us get generous with our gifts. Our bursts of inspiration and creativity are always borrowing from what He has already made and deemed incredibly good. There is a certain stewardship that feels heavy and overwhelming on Sundays – that we would invest well the gifts He’s given us and it can be a bit like carrying around a blank check.

We don’t know what we’re capable of or how to get to our maximum potential. We don’t know how to manipulate the logistics so our lives will matter and our art will bring glory to the One who let us make it in the first place. We don’t know if it’s okay to dream for things too big or too scary or too layered. We don’t know if it’s just foolish to think dreams come true.

But maybe it’s what we don’t know that sends us back to figuring out what we do know – and maybe the whole process reminds us that we will never know everything but we will always know enough to be useful for His kingdom. Because the dreaming life is a dependent life on One who can make them come true.

This, dear friends, is exciting indeed.

When we understand our calling, it is not only true, but beautiful—and it should be exciting. It is hard to understand how an orthodox, evangelical, Bible-believing Christian can fail to be excited. The answers in the realm of the intellect should make us overwhelmingly excited. But more than this, we are returned to a personal relationship with a God who is there. If we are unexcited Christians, we should go back and see what is wrong. Francis Schaeffer

The ultra religious are sometimes just as clueless as the outright nonreligious – what God wants from those who love Him is become more like Christ. The journey is looking something like this:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
(Isaiah 58 ESV)

 

dream sessions

No, I’m not in Nashville trying to outdo Taylor Swift by recording “Blue” (the teen/country/bubble-gum/southern anthem album for adolescents whose emotions are speeding like the 1990 Caravan you just retired from the road). No, it’s nothing like that.

The dream sessions are accountability – a window of time where Emma and I sit in the coffee shop and lay our dreams bare on the table space in between. We get ridiculous about what’s possible and then we keep going, keep dreaming.

I knew early on that these little encounters would need some structure, mostly because I know myself and I cannot finish a good idea without structure. So, we decided these dream sessions would be about sharing, inspiring, and then working.

Well, it’s natural, isn’t it? Once you’ve laid your dreams out like undergarments on a clothesline you feel… a bit exposed. It takes everything in you to refrain from gathering up all the unmentionables in a large, haphazard bundle and running inside to hide them in the farthest corner of the house. That’s why we needed structure. So, we get together every week to remind one another what it is we are working toward and to nudge each other toward baby steps to get there.

We share about steps we’ve made toward our dream.
We inspire each other with conversation and prayer.
and then…
We go to work like our dream is our real job, because it is (kind of).

We bend our heads over the coffee table to work on something that uses our gifts, stretches our abilities, and reflects the creativity of the One who made creative desires in us. We take turns breaking into the silence with questions and challenges before honoring our gifts with the grindstone again. We really do believe that we are called to steward well our resources – that working for the Lord might mean digging deeper than what appears on a job description to find what is written on our hearts.

Sundays are for dream sessions.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy