Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Faith Stronger Than Dreams

When I want to take charge of my dreams, I abandon them. I gather them together and pack them up tight in a neat little box. I shut the lid and lock it with a tiny key. Then I carry this precious box right to the feet of Jesus and I lay it gently in front of him.

These dreams aren't really mine. They don't belong to me. Not yet, anyway. They are the dreams that God has whispered to my heart. Over time, through the years, during the days that span my life. Very old, long-held dreams and sprightly, newer ones, too. 

Dreams I can’t stop thinking about, even when I close my eyes at night. 

Dreams that God reminds me of in a million little ways that are so meaningful to me, it takes my breath away.

Dreams that make me wonder how the God of this enormous marvelous world could want to pursue me with his love so that I would follow him.

Like pinpoints on a map, I ponder the markers he's already posted just for me on this journey. The answered prayers, the miracles, the little pieces of his plan that I catch a glimpse of, knowing that he's at work in my life. 

I tuck these God-moments away, engraved as keepsakes on my heart. 

But these things sound silly when I talk about them. I feel a little crazy when I speak the words out loud. 

And although I'm absolutely certain that God is rearranging the things in my life I thought were immovable, I'm not sure it even makes sense to me.

These dreams are nerve-racking too. They make my knees quake and my heart beat faster. Because I have no idea how in the world they can possibly come true.

So I get confused. 

I’m notorious for gathering the opinions of others for the areas of my life where I don’t feel confident. I need advice. I ask for their input.

What do you think it means? I question, eagerly hanging on their answer. What would you do? I’m eager to know, sure it will shed some light on my dilemma. 

I spend my time listening to what works for others instead of following my own instincts. But it's hard to understand someone else's dreams.

Last weekend, while my seven-year-old niece Devon and I were eating chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, she wanted to tell me about the good dream she had the night before. I told her I couldn't wait to hear it.

She said it was about Star Wars and she was Luke Skywalker. 

Since her brother is a Lego Star Wars fanatic, I wasn’t surprised that she dreamed about Star Wars. Or that she thought it was a good dream. 

But then she said sometimes she has a bad dream. About deer.

Since her dad is an avid hunter and three larger-than-life deer heads hang in her house, I wasn’t surprised about the deer dream either. But I asked her what was bad about it.

She said she sometimes dreams about the deer who hang around the little pond in our neighborhood. Except they’re not exactly deer. She says these animals in her dream have the body of a deer, the head of a giraffe and are as tall as a llama. She says they scare her.

Then she laughs.

"When I talk about it, it sounds kind of funny,” she says. “And not really very scary at all.”

Somehow wrapping words around the fears that follow my dreams around untangles the hold those fears have on my thoughts. And speaking those words out loud further loosens their grip on my heart.

So when fear tells me the dream seems too imposing and I’m inadequate, I say I'm enough.

When fear says the dream needs someone qualified and experienced and I’m just a novice, I say God equips those he calls with everything they need.

When fear says the dream requires someone confident and I’m uncertain, I say that my confidence and courage is found in him.

I keep asking for God’s direction to move where and when he tells me. And even though I don’t know where he may take me, I know there’s no other place I’d rather be than on this God-led passage to somewhere, anywhere or just right here. 

My life isn't really about a dream I'm pursuing. I've given all my dreams to God, waiting for him to reveal his plans for me, one little piece at a time. 

And if he ever so graciously gives me back one of my dreams, I will know in my grateful heart that only God can make those dreams come true.

I'm on a journey with the God of the universe. It’s amazing and inspiring and the greatest adventure of my life. 

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place today with Coffee for your Heart and Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista. Won't you join me?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In the Camp of Friendship

My ten-year old nephew left for camp last weekend. He and his camp buddies rode a bus to the middle of Florida, where they're spending a week in a cabin without air conditioning. They’ll be swimming, tubing, kayaking and canoeing. Which will hopefully help them forget how hot and humid it is. Because it sounds a little miserable to me.

I went to camp, too, the summer I was ten. I loved reading stories of girls who went to camp and learned to canoe and swim, where they made forever-friends. But I still wasn't really sure I wanted to go. 

My ten-year-old gal pals convinced me it was fun and special and told me we would all stay in the same cabin. They told me it wouldn't be the same without me. I felt included. 

So I rode a bus to camp in the middle of Pennsylvania (where it didn't matter if the cabins were air conditioned) and I made memories that have lasted a lifetime. I went hiking and swimming and roasted marshmallows. It was at camp where I knew no fear and discovered the thrill of jumping off the high dive into the deep end of the camp’s big swimming pool. 

During my camp days, all the girls were my friends. But in just a few years, the cheerleaders {I wasn’t one} and the bookworms {that was me} would go our separate ways. I would long to be included back into that circle of friends. 

The same girls I went to camp with seemed so busy with boys and sports and didn't seem to notice me. I craved kindred-spirit kind of friendships.

And I still do today. I much prefer deep friendships over surface acquaintances. Friendships full of shared experiences, delightful memories and heart-to-heart conversations. 

These friendships are built intentionally over time with considerable care and steadfast purpose. But I’ve found that creating meaningful friendships can happen in ways I wouldn’t expect. 

The website (in)courage has created community groups where friendships are made on purpose. Their dream was to establish a place for women to meaningfully connect in small online communities. 

For the second time this year, I’m co-leading an (in)couragers group on Facebook for professional women called (in)couraging Vocations. 

It’s where we share our workplace challenges and our personal stories, forming friendships across time zones and beyond pinpoints on a map.

We kick off our sessions with my co-leader Sara’s marvelous idea of a get-to-know-you party right in our group, posting questions and answers for an hour to get the conversation started.

I'm surprised to discover that every one in our group feels like a kindred spirit to me as we share tiny snippets and pieces of our stories. 

I learned that Sara lives in a hundred-year-old house and loves history as much as I do.

I found that another gal visited my hometown of Pittsburgh recently and {as it charmingly does for most people} found it didn’t match her images of an unpleasant city at all. 

I learned that a new friend and I share the same idea of a blissful day that includes baking something delicious and a trip to the library, getting lost in the stacks of books.

I even risked exclusion from the group when I confessed that I was the only one in the group {and apparently the world} who hasn’t seen the movie “Frozen.” (And I even bravely divulged that I had no intention of seeing it!) 

I was amazed how one hour and 159 comments later, we all felt like old friends. 

And just like dear sisters and friends, we pledged to pray for each other, encourage each other through our challenges, and share the beautiful things God is doing in our lives.

I still cherish the memories of my camp friendships and savor my real-life friends, but I know making friendships online is possible too. It just feels a little different. But still as energizing to my soul as a cool breeze on a hot summer day.

Before my nephew left for camp, he packed his bug-repelling cuffs, along with towels and washcloths he was instructed by my sister to be sure to throw away at the end of the week and not bring home. 

I asked him if he minded that there wouldn’t be air conditioning at this camp in the middle of Florida, in the middle of June. 

“Auntie,” he said as politely as possible. “This is CAMP, not a luxury resort.”

I can’t wait to hear about the muggy cabins and the pesky mosquitos. But most of all, I can’t wait to hear all about the memories he made with his camp buddies. 

That he won’t realize until years later that he’ll remember for a lifetime.

My sweet nephew Nate (center) and his camp buddies.

I'm linked up over at (in)courage today as we share about friendship on purpose. Click the image to read more stories!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Parking Adventure and Book Review: Finding Spiritual Whitespace

This post is part of the "Finding Spiritual Whitespace Blog Tour," which I am a part of, along with a group of soulful, journeying kindreds. To learn more and join us, click here.

My friend Beth and I made plans for dinner last week at a new eatery she suggested. It was trendy, got great reviews and I was looking forward to trying it. But the restaurant is located in a downtown neighborhood with very limited parking. And unless I can park in wide open shopping plaza-like spaces, I get kind of anxious. Actually, I get absurdly anxious.

I’ve never been a confident driver. Unfamiliar destinations and parking decisions can throw me into a tailspin. Sometimes I veto places based solely on whether or not I can park there. And once I get in parking-panic mode, I just keep twirling until I’m all spun out. 

So when I arrived at the restaurant, there wasn’t any parking anywhere. I couldn’t even manage to get by one of the cars parked in the roadway and a man yelled at me for sitting in front of his driveway while I pondered my parking dilemma. 

I wanted to cry and pout and berate myself. I wanted to turn around and go home. Because that’s what I usually do. But I called my friend and asked if we could go somewhere else. With better parking. 

Beth {who is also a very gifted counselor} graciously told me she would meet me at a nearby shopping plaza where I could leave my car and she’d drive us to the restaurant.

I was mad at myself. How could I not find a parking spot? Why do I let these things get me so upset?

But with supreme effort, I decided to keep the self-critical thoughts to a minimum so I could salvage the evening. Although I felt ridiculous, I got in Beth's car and handed her a book I'd brought. Refraining from telling her how idiotic I felt, I tried to laugh and said, “I’m glad I came bearing a gift!”

Beth drove to the restaurant’s tiny parking lot and there it was. Just one open parking space. She pulled in and said wasn’t it good we didn’t have two cars?

As I thought about my reaction, I started to feel encouraged and hopeful. Maybe I made a little imperfect progress. Maybe it can be part of a new story God is writing in my life. Maybe he can take my old broken reactions and mold them into something far more beneficial. To my own soul.

Author Bonnie Gray in her new book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace, describes herself feeling torn at times between the story she’s lived and a new, deeper story God is writing with all of the pieces of her life. In the beautiful, moving style readers have come to love on her blog, the Faith Barista, Bonnie proposes inviting God into all of the places of our hearts – into our stress-filled days, the painful memories of our past, our delights and our dreams -- to reclaim life the way God intended it for us.

Just as whitespace is important in art, Bonnie defines spiritual whitespace as a place of soul rest to find balance and beauty. 

Spiritual whitespace makes room in our lives for a deeper relationship with God. 

It’s where he takes all of the pieces of our life story and makes something beautiful out of us.

Bonnie chronicles her personal journey through the sometimes painful memories of her childhood to an eventual place of rest and peace in her soul, while serving up a spiritual whitespace menu of creative ways to spend time with God. 

Each chapter concludes with thought-provoking prompts to have a soul conversation with God, confiding our dreams, desires and disappointments in him. 

On our own soulful journeys with God, he wants to take us deeper, further, forward. 

Not back where we came from, mired in old patterns and ruts. When we yearn for more of God, finding more rest and peace and hope for our souls, he helps us understand our stories in the context of his plan for our lives.

Reading Bonnie’s book, I was reminded that I chose the word freedom for my one word for this year. Because God wants to set my heart free. Free from what entangles. 

Free from anxiety, disappointment, stress and fear. 

Free from expectations and perfectionism. 

To give my soul the freedom to enjoy the creative experiences and adventures of spiritual whitespace that God has for me.

And I think that just might include adventures in parking.

The evening turned out to be enchanting. We sat outside on a rustic deck lit with candles. The food was scrumptious. 

Beth and I ended our dining adventure with a creative new culinary experience. We shared an order of cronuts, croissants shaped like donuts, which were sugar-dusted, drizzled with strawberry sauce and topped with a scoop of bourbon-infused cream.

I think cronuts might become a fixture on my personal whitespace menu. 

Just as long as I can hitch a ride to the restaurant. 

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind, who wrote a book about her inspiring heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher's Weekly starred review. I'm taking this journey to find rest and invite you to read it too. You can get a copy here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is Your Life a Mystery Story?

Have you ever felt that your life is like a good mystery story? That you're missing a few vital clues to solve the riddles of your life? I’ve been finding myself a little baffled lately. It seems that I have more questions than answers. More puzzles than pieces that fit together. And I wish I had the help of a great detective to clue me in. 

A few weeks ago I went to see “My Dear Watson,” a high school musical production that my niece and nephew’s school was staging. It was their first time to see a live theatre production and my sister invited me to go along. 

Performed in a historic 1930s theatre at Orlando's Rollins College campus, the setting couldn’t have been more perfect. My 10-year-old nephew sat on the edge of his seat captivated by the set changes, gunshots, a sword fight, and a corpse, of course. 

As I watched the actors sort through clues to solve their case, I felt as if I were right there with them, trying to solve the mystery story my life resembles these days. 

Usually my life story feels like ordinary non-fiction. Some days it has its comedic chapters. And on the rarest of occasions, it has moments of being a thriller. But right now my life with God in the midst of it, feels more like a mystery and impossible for me to understand.

I feel like God is stirring something up in my life. He's doing something mysterious with my heart. I can’t possibly explain it because I'm clueless. But he’s gently wooing me. Shifting my priorities. Beckoning me to spend more time with him just to be in his presence, not for what he can give me or do for me. 

I'm beginning to think that what I thought I wanted to do, wanted to be, wanted to give and wanted to get out of my life might not be at all what I thought.

So I’m still searching for clues. 

I’m wondering if I’m really doing what God has designed for me. I like my life. I like my job. I like being single for plenty of time to write and create, but is there a dream I need courage to still reach for?

I’m wondering how God will work all things for good for me in my life. How can I move through disappointments and failures to get to the places of promise I believe God still has for me? How can I view them as valuable pieces of my life story, no matter how worthless I think they are?

I’m wondering how I can clear out of my life what hinders and holds me back. When will I unlock the secret to having my words and reactions come from a heart of love instead of irritation and impatience? How can I discard my natural inclination that leans toward self-consciousness? 

To further investigate some of these mysteries, I conducted an experiment after a few recent dating encounters have gone awry. I've wondered if my hair is too styled, my makeup too bright, my heels too high. Maybe I look too fussy.

So I try out a new look on a trip to the grocery store. I wear casual shorts and a shirt, comb my hair straight, put on a dab of pale peach lip gloss and pull out the only flat flip-flop shoes I own.

My sister calls me and says she’s on her way to the grocery store too. I warn her that I’m debuting a new personal style. “I’m calling it my rustic look,” I tell her.

As I wheel my cart toward her in the produce section, she stares at me and says, “Seriously? Aren’t you going to put on some lipstick?”

I tell her I am wearing lip gloss. It’s just so pale she can’t see it.

She rolls her eyes. “There’s one of our neighbors right there.” She waves toward the cucumbers. “And she already knows you’re my sister. Are you really going to look like that?”

I tell her I want to try out this new look until evidence proves it's not successful. But I have to wonder if I’m investigating the wrong kind of evidence. Instead of trying to unearth every clue to change myself to meet preconceived expectations, maybe some mysteries are just beyond my understanding. 

Earlier this year when I felt as if I were wading into the unknown, God reminded me of this verse. Inviting me to catch a glimpse of what he was doing.

“Forget the former things;
 do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
 I am making a way in the wilderness
 and streams in the wasteland.” Is. 43:18-19

It’s a mystery to me how God creates in each of us our own unique passions and preferences. But when I accept and appreciate all that makes me who I am, then I am the best version of myself to offer to others. Single for now or single for good, this life story is the best life story for me.

It’s a mystery to me how God whispers to my heart. I don’t understand how he speaks so personally and individually to me, but he does. He never stops pursuing me. 

It’s a mystery to me how, just when all hope seems gone, God is still there waiting for me. Just when I think something seems impossible, God does much more than I could ever think. Showing me that he’s been there all along, beckoning me to know him deeper, richer, fuller.

After the play, I asked my niece and nephew for the verdict -- what did they think about it? My nephew said he might like to be on stage someday. He said he wouldn't mind being a stage hand to carry props on and off the set, too. 

They have their whole lives in front of them to be wonderstruck at the mysteries of God at work in them. But I’m still picking up clues for my story along the pathways of my life's journey. 

My story matters. Your story matters. No matter how mysterious and unfathomable it is.

And when I can't explain or understand the mysteries of my life, I can trust and wait and hope, with faith and gratefulness. 

For those are the things that unlock the mysteries of God.

I'm linking up with Holley Gerth today at Coffee for your Heart and with Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista.