Into a spacious place

I first began blogging here as a college student in 2010. It took me a few years to get my feet under me in this little corner of the internet, but it was in this sacred space where I discovered my current voice and niche as a writer

With that said, I’ve recently come to realize that as I’ve grown as a storyteller over the past seven years, the overarching narrative of my content has shifted a bit – and thus, a new little corner of the internet has been born!

While I’m feeling a bit sad and nostalgic at the thought of wrapping up my time here at Zealous Feet (the kind of sad you feel at a graduation when one chapter is ending and another is beginning), I’m mostly feeling eager and slightly giddy to let you know that I’ve started a new blog: Into a Spacious Place

Join me there as I continue telling stories about how God draws us out of the crowdedness and toxicity of our own hearts and into the spacious place of grace and freedom.

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Dusty dreams

I started writing a book today – and by started I mean I opened up a Word document, wrote a few measly words, sat there for a while staring at them, and then eventually named it and saved it deep in my computer where no one will find it.

Yes, I named it. Don’t ask me what I named it, because I won’t tell you. It’ll probably change – in fact, I’m certain it will. But I named it because names matter. Names turn a nothing into a something and force you to pay attention to it – and this book would probably remain a nothing if I kept it tucked away on the dusty “maybe someday” shelf of my heart without a name. So today I pulled it off the shelf, brushed off the cobwebs, and said, “Hi, lifelong dream! Let’s get a move on, shall we?”

I don’t know what this book is going to be about exactly. That’s generally how it goes when I sit down to write. My best thoughts and ideas evolve as I go. I’m often surprised by my own words when I read them later.

This scares me a little bit – not only because it feels ambiguous and vague, but because it feels increasingly scary to try and insert your voice into the conversation that is happening in this world. The conversation feels like a barreling freight train that you’re either going to miss or get crushed by if you’re not loud enough, smart enough, articulate enough, or poignant enough. With the technology available now, it seems like everyone has a voice of sorts – or at least pretends to have a voice by hopping on someone else’s bandwagon. You have to have a cause, a solution, a good headline, a well-designed blog, or a five-point argument with a thesis in order to have a voice.

Or at least that’s what it feels like.

And I’m afraid. I’m afraid because I often feel the opposite of things like ‘smart’ or ‘articulate.’ I’m afraid because – while therapeutic and life-giving – writing can be a long and arduous process for me. It’s easy enough to post here every once in a while, in this small, low-risk corner of the internet that not many people stumble across. But writing a book? That takes guts, and a whole heck of a lot of time that you don’t know will necessarily pay off in the way that every closet writer secretly dreams it will.

But I’m pulling this dream off the shelf because I like words and I think they’re transformative – both for the reader and the writer. I’m pulling it off the shelf because I’ve been told that people enjoy hearing what I have to say. I’m pulling it off the shelf because “my story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours…it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally.” (Frederick Buechner and I regularly finish each others’ sentences…it’s NBD.)

So – let’s get a move on and see where this goes, shall we?

When dreams come true and aren’t quite how you dreamed

I’ve recently found myself up close and personal with a beast that I think it’s safe to say we’ve all encountered at one point or another: Discontent, in all her envious, impatient, ravenous glory. Always demanding more, more, more. Never full, never satisfied.

In many ways, I’m living the dream right now. If you had asked me where I saw myself in five years when I was a sophomore or junior in college, I probably would have given you some variation of my “sensible, yet slightly vague and reserved for the general public” answer, and then secretly curled back up in that hidden corner of my heart where my wildest dreams reside.

This life I’m living today – living in paradise, doing work that I care deeply about – was one of those far-fetched, “corner of my heart” dreams that I tended to so quietly five years ago. I couldn’t have imagined that I’d actually land here, let alone so soon.

In turn, I find myself caught off guard and surprised every time I’m faced with the same insecurity, loneliness, or discontent I’ve struggled with for my entire life. I live on the very grounds that thousands of people flock to each year in order to grow in faith and community, and yet I often find myself battling spiritual dryness and grasping for deep friendships. I feel this sense of guilt for becoming somewhat numb to the mountain view I wake up to each morning, and for not always being perfectly happy or “okay” in the place that everyone else wishes they were at this present moment. I’m suddenly one of the people that I used to look up to as a pillar of wisdom and strength and maturity, and yet I don’t always feel wise or strong or mature.

Funny, isn’t it – how we build dreams up in our minds to the point that the person in those dreams hardly resembles us at all anymore? How no matter how hard we dream them away, our flaws and weak points stay with us and aren’t magically extinguished by a change in status, location, or context? How no dream come true can protect us from the fluctuating highs and lows of the journey?

I remember counting down the years until I got braces as a kid. From my nine-year-old perspective, shiny metal braces on your teeth meant that you had arrived in every sense of the word. Where I got this notion, I have no idea, but when my day finally came, I remember feeling a little deflated when I left the orthodontist and didn’t feel any different – besides feeling a little more uncomfortable with my mouth full of metal.

We all do this, don’t we?

Once I get that promotion, THEN I will feel confident in my authority and decisions. Once I am married, THEN I will be patient and kind. Once I am a parent, THEN I will be selfless. Once I am friends with that group of people, THEN I will feel like I’m enough. Once I have more money, THEN I will be generous.

And then we feel caught off guard and discontent when we realize that _______ didn’t fix everything and make us perfect people who have it all together.

I don’t have much of a conclusion, to be honest – no shiny bow to tie up these thoughts and make it seem like I’ve mastered them. Except to say that maybe this is exactly where God wants us – at the very intersection of our deepest passion and our deepest inadequacy. Maybe this is where his kingdom comes most fully in our lives. I’m reminded of the spring rains we’ve been having recently, and how – like sanctifying truth – they slap us upside the face when we’re least expecting it, and proceed to wash over us and help us grow.

Spring is sure to follow

April looks like Frisbees flying through the air, bare legs, blankets on the lawn, and a really awesome farmer’s tan that’s well underway. It looks like a bipolar weather forecast, canoeing adventures with friends on the lake, and Cricket snapping at the air during her evening ritual of catching and eating every moth that snuck its way into my trailer during the day.

April smells like sun-drenched skin, impromptu neighborhood BBQs, and wet dogs after a hearty romp in the lake. It smells like campfire smoke, birthday candles, nail polish, horses munching on hay, and fresh flowers on the coffee table.

April tastes like cast iron skillet pizza two or three times a week ’cause I’m obsessed, peach Italian sodas, and honey greek yogurt with granola and frozen blueberries every morning for breakfast. It tastes like too many dark chocolate covered espresso beans from Trader Joe’s, lots of fresh pineapple, and handfuls of goat cheese on anything and everything that seems logical.

April feels like bare feet in the grass, a fresh haircut, and the awkward tension between wanting the air conditioning on during the day and the heat on at night. It feels like trying to reestablish healthy habits after a long winter of soothing myself with copious amount of baked goods and lazy evenings holed up at home. It feels like celebration after celebration with friends: babies on the way, engagements, new jobs, new seasons of life – lots to be thankful for. Oh, and it feels like layer upon layer of pollen and dog hair on everything I own – EVERYTHING.

April sounds like all things spring that I forget aren’t always around until they reappear each year: birds singing, flies buzzing, frogs chirping, and everything in between. It sounds like wind chimes in the breeze and an audible sigh of relief that the sun is here once again, and a winter particularly ridden with stress and uncertainty and gritted teeth can finally be put to rest.

Mmmm…sweet, sweet spring. You are so very good to us.

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.”

PROVERB

Put out your water-jars

“There is no waiting on God for help, and there is no help from God, without watchful expectation on our part. If we ever fail to receive strength and defense from Him, it is because we are not on the outlook for it…Unless you put out your water-jars when it rains you will catch no water.”

L.B. COWMAN, “STREAMS IN THE DESERT”

Life as of late has felt like a lot of effort and striving on my part. I’m constantly trying to make things happen that are completely out of my control – stuff at work, life plans, and everything in between. I like pushing through adversity, getting things done, defeating the odds. I made it until I was a senior in high school with absolutely horrific vision that stunned eye doctors when they accidentally discovered that this overachieving, straight-A student had been squinting her way through life for 18 years without giving it a second thought. (It took me several years of upping the strength of my prescription bit by bit to finally get my eyes to relax and stop straining – now I can’t see a thing without glasses or contacts. But I digress…)

As we know in our heads but seem to forget rather quickly at the heart level, anxious striving leads only to exhaustion and disappointment. Lately I am being reminded of how far I have to go in this area, how much I have yet to learn about expectant waiting. Do I truly believe that God’s timing is perfect? Do I actually trust that he will fill in the gaps when it feels like I’ve tried everything and have nothing left to offer? I think I do. I pray in what I feel is genuine faith – for patience, provision, trust. Yet as soon as my lips form the word amen, I immediately turn back to my striving and worrying.

If we truly believed that Jesus was going to show up at our doorstep and deliver what he said he would deliver, we would be making the guest bed, setting the table for dinner, and listening for the doorbell to ring – expectantly waiting and preparing for his arrival because he said he would come and we know that we can take him at his word. Yet instead we have the music blasting, the vacuum running, the dishwasher going full blast, and we’re running around yelling at each other. In turn, we miss his knock, and therefore miss out on his provision/strength/defense/whatever it was we originally asked for in the first place.

This afternoon I set an empty jar on my front porch, out from underneath the covering where the rainwater can reach it. I am quick to pray lofty prayers of surrender, but quick to forget the surrender part, so today, this was my tangible act of surrender – my opening of clenched fists, my reminder to put myself in a position to receive, my act of waiting expectantly for the water to come.

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My people, my clan, my cloud of witnesses

We’ve had a good handful of storms here in recent months. Scary storms. I’ve spent many evenings cozied up by candlelight, listening to the pounding rain and the howling wind around me – watching as branches are flung about in the chaos, wondering at what moment a tree is going to come crashing down on my roof and smash me to pieces. Yet I’m always fascinated by how violently such a tall tree can rock back and forth and bend in the wind and not instantly snap. It seems so contradictory.

***

A couple of weeks ago I visited one of the churches in our denomination’s conference on a Sunday morning to promote our summer camp programs. It was a particularly fun assignment for me, because it was the church that my grandpa pastored from its early beginnings until his retirement. It was also the church my parents got married in. I hadn’t been back since I was about nine years old, when my grandpa baptized me around the time he retired. It all felt vaguely familiar and sweet – like watching an old home video.

As I sat in the service, I was struck by the significance of the walls around me and the ground beneath my feet and out of nowhere tears started streaming down my face. (I can just imagine what the people around me were thinking as they watched Summer Camp Girl blubbering in the back row just minutes before sharing about how much FUN camp is.)

I wept because in a season of life where I have felt consistently unrooted – never certain of my exact footing geographically/relationally/vocationally, always wondering who my people are (as community can be a slippery thing to hold on to when you’re living alone in the middle of the woods as a twenty-something), rocking and bending in the winds of transition/insecurity/you-name-it – I suddenly felt steadied. I wept because the building I sat in reminded me of the commitment and faithfulness of my personal “cloud of witnesses” who went before me and did the dirty work and prayed the prayers and laid the stones so that I might someday know Jesus, too. I wept because the circle of life is a funny thing, and now suddenly I’m the one working in ministry and making big life decisions and blazing the trail for someone else someday, and perhaps feeling some of the very same emotions that my parents or my grandparents did in similar seasons.

I am profoundly grateful for my people, my clan, my cloud of witnesses. And because I know you’re all reading this because you’re my biggest fans: thank you. Thank you for holding fast to your commitments, digging your roots deep in the storms of life, and loving me well by loving Christ well. In the chaos and the crashing, the pounding and the howling of this life, I feel anchored by your example, encouraged by the footprints you have left behind, and rooted in your love.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

HEBREWS 12:1

#dating

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Me: “Reid, look at this! This is HILARIOUS. This is ME. I am these things! SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS ME.”

Reid: “Ha. Yeah, that’s funny.”

Me: “I feel like there are four or five of them that I really relate to, though, you know? Guess!!!”

Reid: “Um…you actively avoided someone today?”

Me: “Yep!”

Reid: “You often think about thinking?”

Me: “Yep!”

Reid: “People make you tired?”

Me: “Yep!”

Reid: “You’re much cooler on the internet?”

Awkward silence.

Me: “Uh, no.”

Reid: “WAIT – no! That’s not what I meant! You’re WAY cooler in real life!”

More awkward silence.

Me: “I’m better at writing than talking.”

Reid: “Yes, that’s it! You’re right! I’m wrong! That’s what I meant!!!”

World, the ugly truth has been revealed. I am much cooler on the internet. Sorry to disappoint you with this news of my cyber facade. (It’s okay, Reid. I forgive you.)

To trust the road ahead

Yesterday I crawled out of bed and into my car at 5am to start an early morning trek over Snoqualmie Pass in order to be somewhere for work by 8am. Bleary-eyed and armed with coffee, I began the drive.

I don’t really like driving. I’ve always wanted to like driving – to be one of those whimsical souls who rolls down the windows, cranks up the music, and cruises down the highway for hours on end without a care in the world. To be one of those people who lives for the road. But the truth is, I get sleepy and restless from sitting for too long, I’m easily lost in my thoughts and find myself accidentally driving 15 mph under the speed limit and getting flipped off, and music in the car stresses me out (though I like listening to it – I just tend to adjust the volume every 30 seconds to match the fluctuating heaviness of traffic/weather/moods of other people in the car/etc.).

A few days before Christmas, I hit an unexpected patch of black ice and spun off the road into a snowy ditch on my way home – the same drive I did yesterday. I somehow came out of it without a scratch – as did my dog and my Jeep – but ever since then I’ve cringed at the thought of driving long distances (which I’ve done a lot of over the last couple of weeks for work purposes). It feels silly, considering the fact that it was such a minor incident and I was able to get back on the road all by myself with four-wheel drive – but it scared me.

Yesterday morning in the darkness of the mountain pass, I found myself white-knuckled from gripping the steering wheel so tightly, nose pressed to the windshield trying to follow the fading lines on the road through the fog, and holding my breath as semi trucks barreled past me, spraying me with muddy water while my windshield wipers furiously tried to keep up.

I can’t tell you how many times I finally got up to speed and set my cruise control, only to hit my brakes a few seconds later out of fear. Irrational fear. Fear of spinning off the road again. Fear of falling asleep. Fear of drifting into the lane next to me and sideswiping another car. Fear of not being able to see the fading lines and driving straight off the road into a lake. Fear of tensing up out of fear, making the above list of catastrophic events 10x more likely.

I think about my life, and how hauntingly familiar this pattern looks and feels deep down in my bones. Fear, spurring on more fear. How one minor spin off the road can disable us to the point of distrust and obsessive control and dangerous paralysis.

I find myself afraid of failing or saying the wrong thing or making the wrong decision – because I’ve done so before, and it’s a very real possibility. But fear of failing or saying the wrong thing or making the wrong decision finds me afraid to move forward at all – afraid to press down on the gas, to get up to full speed, to trust the road ahead. Instead I find myself hitting the brake far before I reach my full potential, tensing up, and trailing behind a semi truck in the slow lane because I’m too scared to try and pass on the left.

I have a hard time trusting the road right now. I remember when I was first learning to drive at age 15 and taking a curve at 70 mph on the freeway made me nervous. “I’m going too fast! I feel like I’m going to fly off the road or tip over or something!” I said to my older sister once.

“The road was designed for this, Jessica. It was engineered for this speed,” she told me. I’ve always remembered that. I think of it often.

The truth is, we might spin off the road at some point in life. We probably will, in fact. Maybe multiple times. But what would it look like to put fear to rest amidst the rain, the darkness, the narrow passages, and the barreling competition, and to trust the road? To trust that Someone goes ahead of us and lays a path before us, specific to our particular journey? To trust that we are covered by Someone Else’s forethought and care and that we need not brake every 10 seconds or go through life white-knuckled and afraid? What would it look like to trust the reflectors marking our route, even if we can’t see them through the fog until they’re right in front of us? To trust that the light will catch them at the very moment we need them? – not before, not after.

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2016

So far, 2016 tastes like bowls upon bowls of steel-cut oats with sugar and half and half for dinner, cilantro lime crockpot chicken, and burritos bigger than my face that I can’t finish because everyone knows that chips and salsa are the best part of Mexican restaurants anyway. It tastes like warm rosemary sea salt bread with jam, frozen balls of cookie dough that I bought from some neighbor girls a while back for a school fundraiser but never actually got around to baking, and mugs of hot chocolate at my desk at work to cure the ever-predictable 2pm slump.

So far, 2016 sounds like this song on repeat, this song on repeat, and this song on repeat. It sounds like my new rain boots squeaking with every step, the fluttering shuffle of a deck of cards coming from a cute elderly couple playing Phase 10 next to me in a coffee shop, and the creaking and rustling of the forest that always makes me jump when I’m walking Cricket at dusk (read: “COUGAR!”).

So far, 2016 feels like being woken up by a wet puppy (and by puppy, I mean 6-month-old 45 pound “bull in a china closet”) nose every morning at 6:30am on the dot. It feels like the delicate frost that encases the world around me collapsing and crumbling under my feet when I first step outside each day. It feels like warm blankets on cold evenings, and my jaw literally dropping to the floor when I found a giant hole in my linoleum floor ripped up by a certain roommate the other day.

So far, 2016 smells primarily like candles. And not much else. (Back story: in an attempt to be clever and give homemade Christmas presents to my friends, I went on a vigorous candle making spree last month. In true “Pinterest fail” fashion, I ended up with more than a dozen Pepto-Bismol pink (supposed to be white and red) candles with weird cracks in them that I was too embarrassed and proud to actually give to anyone. I’ll be burning them incessantly for the next three years. If you want one, consider it gift-wrapped and waiting for you when you get here.)

So far, 2016 looks like a growing stack of half-read books and a full calendar that makes me breathe a little faster every time I glance at it. It looks like an ominous veil of fog swallowing up everything in its path, surprisingly clear sunrises that give me hope, and a brand new coloring book with oh-so many creative possibilities in its blank pages. It looks like the new leather journal sitting on my counter that is my closest stab at a new year’s resolution: 2015 was characterized by too many feelings of “not good enough.” This journal is my attempt at giving those toxic thoughts a tangible space to dwell that isn’t my heart or my mind, with the hope that 2016 will be characterized by gentler, less critical self-examination.

On darkness & silence

Over the last few years, I’ve become much more introspective than I’ve ever been before – with a hint of melancholy and a dash of reclusiveness thrown in there, too. Or perhaps I’ve been that way all along and I’ve only recently become more self-aware.

Either way, I’ve come to this place of craving the season of Advent each year. I find solace in the collective practice of expectant waiting, and the deep groaning of creation for a Messiah. I find myself gravitating away from the glitter and the hustle and the excitement of it all, and drawn to solitary walks in the December fog and quiet evenings spent alone or with a friend or two, with a flickering candle. This may not surprise you if you’ve read many of my other posts.

The last few years have felt consistently dark. Not dark in a frightening, hopeless kind of way – more like grey, with thick cloud coverage. The first half of my twenties has had me spinning in the mud of doubt and fear and wondering and all those things that plague us when we’re trying to find our place in the world, at whatever age. What is my opinion? What do I stand for? DO I stand for anything if I haven’t said anything? What am I good at? Do people like me? Did I say the right thing? Am I in the right place? Where am I going to be in a year? Two years? Three?

I often don’t know what to say to God. Not necessarily because I feel disconnected from Him – more that I simply just don’t know what to say. I often freeze for a brief second when someone asks me a question, or if I’m asked to speak on the spot or pray out loud. It takes me a long time to sort through and organize my thoughts. And sometimes I just don’t have anything to say, even with people I feel close to.

Lately I’ve been going on lots of walks. Several a day. Part of this is due to the fact that I have a five-month-old puppy who eats household items if she doesn’t get enough exercise, but part of it is because I’m drawn to the quiet of the hushed woods around me. In the past I’ve used walking or running as a time to intentionally pray, but in these last few days since Advent began, I’ve found myself simply exhaling “God” within the first few steps, and not much else for the duration of the walk.

I think this is why I resonate with the season of Advent: the relief in acknowledging the “okay-ness” of the silence and darkness that feel less socially acceptable during other parts of the year when the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining. Of course, we celebrate the anticipation of the light, the coming of the light. That’s “the reason for the season,” after all.

But I like to imagine what it must have felt like before the Messiah arrived, to put myself in the shoes of those who hoped, but didn’t always feel certain in their wandering, waiting, longing, groaning. What must it have felt like to exhale “God” as a prayer alone in the wilderness, without the assurance that He was coming in a known form or timeline? We sing the whole story all the time, in a span of about three minutes: from “long lay the world in sin and error pining” to “yonder breaks a new glorious morn” without hardly taking a breath. But what if we didn’t know the ending yet? What if the Light of the World didn’t break forth once a year in reminders made of tinsel and parties and peppermint?

I wonder.

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