FRAGMENTS

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.” ~ Anais Nin

The Practice of Letting Go of Everything You “Should” Be Doing (Guest Post by Nicole T. Walters)

The contradicting voices cried out, clawed at me, and made me feel inadequate, harried, and always less than enough.-2

The party was completely pin-worthy, Pinterest-perfect. Donning my little hand-made hat, I walked around the party watching the kids decorate their tea cups and laughing at the rabbit and queen of hearts costumes. The mad-hatter cake was just tilted enough, the frosting looking too good to cut into.

When a friend commented the next day how wonderful my five year old daughter’s party had been, saying “I don’t know how you do it all” I smiled modestly and cheerfully said something about just not sleeping but I was lying through my fake-smile, hiding all the cracks underneath the surface.

Inside I was trying to do everything I thought I was expected to do and be something no one asked me to be, least of all my family. Like the slightly chipped tea-cups I bought at the thrift store for the party, I looked good on the outside but imperceptibly, quietly, I was cracking.

The voices on every side were bombarding me, telling me everything I should be doing. Feed your kids organic food, but live frugally and buy locally. Work out and get that perfect body, but make sure you don’t spend too much time away from your family. You can have that perfect party at little cost when you make it all yourself, but slow down so you don’t miss out on your kids lives. The contradicting voices cried out, clawed at me, and made me feel inadequate, harried, and always less than enough.

By the end of that year I was barely keeping the tight anxiety in my chest at bay, fighting exhaustion, and feeling far from God. I couldn’t fit everything into the day. Between my family, work, church, volunteering and everything I believed I had to do, God was relegated to the leftover edges of my life. I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore and I started practicing saying “no” to things.

Committing to live more simply, I pulled back on commitments, tried to let go of all the perfection, and promised to listen to God’s voice instead of all the other ones I had let become my Master that year. I spent more time just being with my family. Parties became small outings and I curled up with my new Bible study and asked God to speak.

The trouble was the voices didn’t stop bombarding me, telling me all the things I should be doing.

They came from authors of books and writers online who promised a more peaceful, spiritual life. They came from the very Bible study I hoped would be the answer to my spiritual-dryness. They came from the pulpit on Sunday morning.

Make sure you have a quiet time each morning. Did you sign up for a women’s Bible study? Read through the Bible in a year. Did you forget to pray for your kids today? Lead a small group and don’t forget to volunteer in the children’s ministry. Spend your first five minutes a day praying. Make sure you are praying for others, too. Give. Pray. Read. Be at church. Serve. Lead. Study. This is what you should be doing. Do. Do. Do.

I was still that empty, cracked teacup. I was trying to fill myself with different things, the best things even. I was trying to fill myself up with the Spirit, for Heavens sake!

Just as anxious and far from God, I again reconsidered the voices I was letting guide my life. I walked into the end of yet another year I felt was spent striving with little spiritual growth to show for it…and I just listened.

Practice.

The word came like a gentle whisper to my spirit. I had been asking God to show me what to do differently because what I was doing obviously wasn’t working. The voices I was listening to weren’t speaking life to me and the ways I tried to reach Him were leaving me frustrated and tired. The answer wasn’t about doing at all. God was asking me to be.

A perfectionist doesn’t like practice. We like beautifully polished, finished products. We like everything to be finished and pleasing and well…perfect.

God was asking me to stop all the doing and just focus on being. Practice is about trying, not getting it quite right, getting back up and trying again. Why can’t spiritual practices be the same way?

I am spending some time slowly reading through over 80 different scriptures which talk about seeking God. All of them are about being in a posture of learning, of receiving. They don’t ask us to seek Him in a certain way, to do a list of things and then we will find Him. They just ask us to come to Him – chips, cracks and all.

God constantly says: seek me, call to me, draw near to me, ask of me. “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me,” He says (Proverbs 8.17).

A lot of days I still let all the other voices in my head drown out His. But some days – on the good days when I whisper the word practice to myself over and over – I remember the way it feels to just be, to know that in God’s kingdom there aren’t as many shoulds as we think there are.

This move from doing to being is such a subtle shift, one I’m not yet comfortable with after thirty-four years of trying to do all the things everyone tells me I should. I’m not ready to call myself a recovering perfectionist yet. I am still struggling with the idea that I should be doing more.

Most days I still want to perform for God.

But I’m learning that instead of performance today He asks for my presence…for my practice.

 

unspecifiedNicole T. Walters is a wife, mom, and writer from metro Atlanta who writes about faith, culture, and being on mission wherever God has placed you at A Voice in the Noise. She is passionate about Jesus and His heart for the nations, and loves to experience the messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not my own. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, you can find Nicole writing at a number of places online including The Mudroom, and SheLoves Magazine. You can connect with Nicole on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

The Practice of Wrestling with Scripture in a Communal Conversation

AI like a table set with plates filled with Jesus, with utensils and napkins of grace and mercy

I had my all time favorite teacher in the fourth grade. Miss Mizrahi. She was smart, kind, and challenging. I learned how to debate in her class. She gave us free rein to say what we believed and to defend our arguments with passion and courage. My friend Samuel also came from a Christian family, albeit a much more conservative one. Somehow he and I ended up as the spokespeople for Christian thought in my public school fourth grade class. For the most part we agreed with one another. Until one day…

Samuel said women shouldn’t work outside the home after they have children. He believed God was clear about this. He was only defending God’s character and God’s standard. God wants a woman to take care of her family. There was only one right way to do that. She was to stay at home.

As you can imagine, this did not sit well with me. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I raised my hand and quickly entered into the biggest debate of my life. One, I’m still in if we’re being honest. What does God want a woman to do? Who are we called to be?

Miss Mizrahi, a practicing Jew, encouraged us to go home, study our faith’s teachings about these matters and come back the next day ready to defend our stance.

When I walked through the door I immediately called out to my mom. She was folding clothes. “Where does it say in the Bible that a woman can work after she has children?” I was looking for ammunition and my mother knew the Bible better than anyone in my life. She’d know where to go.

“Proverbs 31 is a good chapter. You might find that helpful.”

I read Proverbs 31. This was good stuff! I underlined a few important verses. She bought a field seemed pertinent. The woman owned her own small business. Samuel was going to eat his words.

The next day Miss Mizrahi had us pull out our Bibles. She sat us in the front of the class and told us to explain where we were reading from and then to read our passages and defend our argument.

The problem was… Samuel and I brought the exact same passage to defend two different sides of the argument. He brought Proverbs 31 to defend his belief that a woman should take care of her family. I brought Proverbs 31 to defend that a woman can start her own small business.

I was shocked. The passage seemed so clear that it defended a woman’s right to work and be independent. Apparently, it seemed clear to Samuel that it instructed a woman to tend to matters at home.

I went home believing with all my heart that I was correct. But the wind got knocked out of me about scripture. How could I use it to defend my beliefs if someone else was going to use the exact same passage to defend a different belief? What in the world was scripture good for, if not to defend my truth?

It would take years to learn, to realize, that it’s complicated. That scripture is not a document intending to be used as a club to whack people over the head with truth. Yes, scripture has laws in it, a few black and white mandates, ten very important ones, that if followed, create a community rich in honor. But scripture is also overflowing with narratives about people who lived their lives and didn’t follow those ten important mandates and still encountered God despite or maybe even because of it.

Then Jesus came onto the scene and said all those laws could be summed up in loving God and loving your neighbor. That sounds quite vague. I want specifics, thank you very much. 

I’ve been reading the Bible my entire life. I spent years reading it cover to cover, and memorizing long passages. I’ve shaped my life around it, meditating, savoring, and also debating. I’m learning that the fruit comes from listening to the God we encounter in it.  

Scripture has been most beneficial to me as I’ve learned to let it be a doorway into a long communal conversation with God and God’s people. There’s rich beauty in the practice of wrestling over what it means to be human and how to shape our lives after the person of Jesus, both individually and as a community. Part of how we do this is my admitting that it’s much more complicated than we’re comfortable with, and committing to remain present to one another throughout the entire conversation. 

There is a depth that comes from being friends with people who don’t agree with you about every single theological thing. There’s room at the table for all of us. This might be something you disagree with. Your table might be more defined than mine. I like to set the table with plates overflowing with Jesus, and utensils and napkins of grace and mercy.

For me, it becomes a spiritual practice when I choose to listen to someone with whom I disagree, not to convince them that they’re wrong, but simply to hear the story of their lives and how scripture has shaped them.

I like how Anne Lamott says you can safely assume you’ve created a God made in your image when he dislikes all the same people you do. What words to think about.

What are the conversations you’re having around the table and how is scripture shaping them? 

 

 

 

On How Time Transforms Our Wants

Boardwalk

Our wants change over the years, don’t they? Life changes us, children change us, marriage changes us. We wake up one day and realize that what we wanted twenty years ago, or even five years ago is different now. The grand hopes we had as young people in our early twenties setting out on life ebb out and are replaced with an appreciation for simple things. We become grateful for what really matters.

I used to want to be important and for God to do great things through me, whatever that meant. Now, I’m content to live a quiet life and love the people in front of me. I appreciate the gift of a quiet life, the beauty of simple love and honor, and the hope of a fresh start tomorrow. 

Yesterday was a difficult day at work, which led to a rough night with my kids. We all cried. I spoke up about some things that probably needed to be said, but I’m not altogether sure I said it in the best way. This too, is life. I want be a woman who embraces my humanity, who is not trying to hold it all together and manage everyone, who lets life unfold around me without feeling the need to control and buffer everything. That means some nights will be hard. I will make mistakes. I will apologize. And I will stop taking responsibility for everyone else and start taking responsibility for myself, for what I want and what I hope for. I will use my voice and speak up, not only for everyone else, but also for what’s inside of me. 

It’s important to let time transform our wants, because if we don’t things grow stale and stoic. We have to let our vision change with time. If we hold too tightly to the picture we have of how our life is supposed to be, we can’t receive the life that we have. God is the God of today, and tomorrow, and yesterday. He is not the God of what should have been. He is God. He works in the middle of reality, and redeems what is, not what we had hoped for.

There is nothing wrong with realizing that what you wanted ten years ago has altered. My hunch is that the deep want, the true desire that was there early on, is still there. Time, life, pain, those difficult seasons of suffering only serve to refine your heart’s cries and make them a more authentic reflection of you. If you let them. 

I wanted to do great things for God, probably because I wanted to be seen. I wanted to feel significant, to feel like my life mattered somehow, to be useful. When I finally started writing, I felt the weight of significance every time I sat down to write a thousand words. This is the authentic want. The true self. Get to the heart of what you really want, of what you were called to do and be, and most everything else comes into focus.

It clarifies everything else. I want to write, yes. But I also want to be a good mother. A good teacher. A good friend. I want to open my heart to risk and love. I want to feel the goodness of living life awake and present, not numb and afraid. I want to honor God and love God with my whole heart in a true and authentic way. I want to drink coffee in the morning and enjoy making my family waffles with fresh berries. I want to travel and see Italy. I want to make fresh bread and invite friends to eat with me. I want to open my heart wide and love with extravagance. I want to listen and train my ear to hear God’s voice. I want to love and be loved. 

Time serves a good purpose when it intermingles with God’s grace. Grace and time together change us and make all things new …

How have your wants changed over the years? I’d love to hear.

Much Love,

 

Tina

 

 

A Letter to My Younger Self

1

Hey there darling girl,

It’s me, an older version of you. A much curvier, softened version of you. Gravity at its finest. I’ve been thinking about you these past few days. You lost your job at the church, a job you loved. You’re ashamed and afraid, wondering if you are enough.

You’ve also got a beautiful little baby girl who is changing your life inside and out. She’s where the magic is. She’s what will shape you the most. Another one is coming. A gorgeous boy. You’re a mama now and those two children will teach you how to love. They will teach you about the ache in this big wide world.

I would love to sit and have a glass of wine with you, to comfort your heart. I wish I could go back in time and hold you close, wipe the worry from your brow, tenderly hold your hand, and say hush, young woman, be still. It’s all going to be okay, but nothing will go the way you want it to. Life and people are going to break your heart. This is just the beginning. You’re trying so hard to be good enough, and do what you think everyone wants from you. You’re uptight and high-strung, you’re afraid to fail and trying to fix everybody else because you don’t know how to fix yourself. 

Here’s the thing, my dear, you don’t have to fix yourself. That heart you have for God, that love you feel in the deepest parts of who you are, that doesn’t need fixing. It’s the truest part about you. All the rest is going to get hit and battered about in storms you’d never believe, even if I told you. You’re going to disappoint people, lose friends, lose love and find it again in a completely different way than you could have ever imagined; you’re going to disappoint yourself. God is going to disappoint you. It’s all going to be okay, because that relationship you have with God, that beautiful intimacy you’re cultivating with your Creator is what will hold you together in the years to come.

Being a woman is who you are. You can’t get out of it. It’s your gift and your highest calling. You are going to bring forth life through pain and travail. There will be people who don’t understand the value of women, who set them off to the side and pat them on the heads and tell them they can’t be pastors or have the same titles as men and this troubles you. It should trouble you. It’s all hogwash. You are God’s steward, called to be a woman, to be beautiful, to be noble, and to take the world by storm. Run hard and fast my dear, and don’t let any man tell you that you aren’t a pastor or a leader or whoever it is they think you’re not supposed to be. You are God’s woman. He is so proud of you. For what it’s worth, so am I. You take the hard things that come your way, those painful rejections, the shameful accusations, and you turn them into the food you and God banquet on. This can’t be taught. Only discovered. Somehow you’re figuring out that pain and suffering and disappointment are just as much a part of life as the good and easy, and it’s only when they’re woven together that you find God. He is in the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, and his grace is more ravishing and boundless than anything you’ve ever encountered. Study grace. Learn its gentle rhythm. It’s what makes life sacred and enduring. 

You don’t have to try so hard to be good enough. You don’t have to worry about what people think of you. They’re usually too worried about what you think of them. Gossip hurts. Don’t be so harsh in your judgements. I wish you’d learn that because you’re wrong about a lot of things. You’ll learn over time that you know only a part of the story. There’s usually a lot more to everything than what you can see and it’s best you don’t know the whole thing. Your task is to love the people in front of you and bear witness, to watch and see what God is doing. It takes time for God’s work to unfold and when you judge too quickly, you miss all the glory.

You have a longing, a deep ache for intimacy. You can’t name it, but you know it’s missing in your life. I’m really sorry about this. There’s not much you can do about it right now, except cultivate intimacy with God and bring your longings to him. He will sustain you. Every hour you spend with God now, will bear a harvest of rich fruit later. You will reap the goodness of that intimacy with God at a time when you least see it coming and somehow God will be enough. The people you judge and criticize now, for not being good enough, for not having it all together, will become your teachers. They will show you that the imperfect life, the fractured life, the broken-hearted life is the life where the light gets in, where tenderness is most felt, and where beauty and mystery is appreciated and savored.

You will learn, over time, that it’s never been about you being enough. It’s always been about God’s provision of grace. It’s never been about trying to do everything the “right” way.

I love you, dear one. Be brave. Courage begets courage. 

P.S. When you start to get an inkling that maybe you should write, that maybe it will help you feel better to pen those words down, to type out those stories you’ve got in your head, do it! You’ll find joy and discover the great exhale of your life.

Much Love,

An older YOU.

(How about you? What would you tell your younger you?)

 

 

The Practice of Telling God What You Want

16663964812_46781812c1_h

Twelve years ago my role changed at the church I was working at. I had been working as a College Director and because of reorganization and the birth of my daughter, I found my name wiped off the staff roster. I had a baby and then I didn’t have a job at the church. There were a few reasons for this that made sense. And a few that felt quite cruel. When I cried out in complaint and frustrations about it, one of the pastors told me my new job was to take care of my baby. I think he was trying to console me, but it infuriated me.

I proceeded to fall into a dark mess of confusion. For the next several months I sat in the balcony at my church and cried. Ministry and church work were my favorite things. I loved being in the center of all the excitement, making a difference in people’s lives, and I loved to preach. I absolutely loved to preach. At twenty-six I felt like I had hit my sweet spot and someone ripped it away from me.

At first I tried to call some of the leaders and get some recognition for my work and figure out if someone could get my job back for me, to no avail. Then, I scrambled to find a new job somewhere else, but my husband was on staff at the church, so that made it harder. We couldn’t exactly work at different churches and there was the issue of me being just slightly postpartum and maybe, just maybe, a little crazy and off kilter. All the while, I was crying and raging to God like a child throwing a tantrum, arms flailing and feet stomping. I was so pissed off. It took months to get to a place where God and I could have a normal conversation about the whole thing. I hate injustice and this felt like injustice on every side. I felt powerless and mad and like something good had been stolen from me and I didn’t know how to get it back.

Finally, after a lot of clenched fists and tears, I started having an authentic conversation with God about it. It had to do with letting go, which I didn’t want to do … Letting go is so hard, isn’t it? Especially when it happens on someone else’s terms. And yet, even in that, God is mysteriously good. So, I told him how sad I was and how much I loved the job and how I felt forgotten. Over time, my heart opened enough to remember that God loves me and even if powerful people forget me and overlook me and even wrong me, He is with me, with strategies to help me.

One afternoon, I went on a long walk, which gave me a lot of time to complain. I walked and ranted. I like to imagine myself having conversations with the people I’m mad at, where I say the things I would never in a million years say to them if they were actually standing there. It helps me find my thoughts and let off some steam. So, there I was yelling at invisible people, when I heard God ask me something.

The thing about hearing God is that it’s kind of crazy in and of itself, isn’t it? I hear this voice that comes on my right side, right by my ear, and while it’s outside of me, it’s also inside of me. The whole thing is strange. And yet, I’ve been hearing and listening to that voice since I was seventeen years old. It has a weightiness to it that I find, well, weighty. I realize not everyone hears God this way and is uncomfortable with such certainty. There was about a year, just recently, when I didn’t hear that voice one single time. Which really pissed me off and confirmed that at least, I wasn’t making it up. But that’s another story.

Anyways, so I’m walking and ranting and raving when I hear God’s voice. And the voice asked me a question. Tina, what do you want? 

Are you kidding me? What do I want? Haven’t you been listening? I want my job back.  

Are you sure that’s what you want? 

I paused, reflected honestly about it. No, actually I don’t really want my job anymore.

What do you want? 

That was the question the Creator of the Universe wanted to know. Don’t you know what I want? I thought you knew everything?

What do you want? 

Fine. I’ll tell you what I want. Money! Enough money to feel safe.

Then I got serious. I wanted my kids to know feel their value and have a good life. I wanted to do something significant with my life. I wanted to get to know my neighbors. I wanted peace in my heart and home. I wanted to pray for things that really matter and feel like God hears me. I wanted to love my friends well and have rich relationships. I wanted to travel and live in other places. I wanted to be less afraid of failure and more willing to take risks.

Deep calls unto deep … as I told God what I wanted, one by one, naming my desires, each want, each desire got more focused, more authentic, more honest. Until I finally hit the one thing. It was there all along. But life had gotten in the way. Smaller dreams had filled in its place: pressing obligations, church culture, performance, fear of failure … But after an hour of lifting my heart’s cries up to God there it was, sitting at the bottom gazing up at me like we were long lost friends. As I stared into the bottom of my heart, I smiled. Of course. There it is. I know exactly what I want…

I want to write. I really want to write. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for years.

And then I heard God’s voice again. A softer version, almost like God was smiling at me.

The voice said… I want you to write.

So, I did. Every day.

I found the one thing that would ground me and sustain me and consistently call me back to myself and to my God.

 

What do you want? I’d like to hear …

 

 

Benediction: On Being a Mother

TEL_2_IMG_1832

I grew up going to a small Presbyterian church with a red carpet that went down the middle of the sanctuary, old wooden benches with puke yellow cushions, and beautiful navy blue hardback hymnals. My family started attending church when I was two years old because a neighbor lady invited my mom to a Friday morning Bible study. She resisted for a time, but finally agreed to go with the neighbor and encountered the very people she’d been searching for her entire life, along with the God she never knew she’d always wanted. We’ve all gone to church ever since.

On Sunday mornings at the very end of each service, after the final hymn, the pastor would raise up his hand and give a benediction: the blessing. The Lord bless you… the Lord keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you… Now to him who is able to keep you falling falling, and present you before his glorious presence ….

My mom, a petite lovely woman, overcome with this newfound love and brand new faith, would gather me and my sisters up into her arms right as the pastor would lift his hand for the benediction. She insisted on holding us tight as he raised his voice over the congregation and blessed us. I can still feel her soft cool hands on me, the brush of her cheek as she rested her face against my hair, the clearing of her throat, and the tender manner she held us to her breast as the strong, life-giving words fell over us … May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.  

I’ve been a mother now for twelve years and often reflect on those Sunday mornings, on how she insisted on drawing us near, on holding us while the pastor blessed us, as if she, in a stubborn, you-will-be-blessed, sort of way, was securing God’s favor over our lives. She wanted us to hear that God blessed us. She wanted us to know that God’s face shined on us, and she wanted us to hear it tucked up in her arms. 

I think by that point in her life, my mom had already learned how little control we actually have in this world, how much of a struggle it is to find our way, to know where we fit, to wrangle through this earth with some modicum of composure, and how easy it is to get lost and lose our way. And so on Sunday mornings, when there was someone with some kind of spiritual authority ready to pronounce a blessing, she made damn sure her girls were tucked up close to hear it, and receive it. 

Maybe that is the essence of motherhood.

I watch my children grow stronger, bigger, more sturdy day in and day out. I’ve kissed them goodnight, washed their sores, brushed the hair off their face, cried with them in my arms more times than I could ever begin to count and it’s been the greatest joy of my life. Becoming a mother changed me inside and out. Becoming a mom gave me a kind of purpose that I’d never known.

As they grow and we send them into the world, I’d give about anything to secure their safety, their prosperity, to give them the assurance that it will go well with them … But I can’t. I am only a woman, after all. We do a lot, but we do not hold tomorrow in our hands.

And so, with a dogged and stubborn faith, we gather them into our arms, and we lift up their heads to the One who does hold tomorrow in his hands … and we stubbornly stand there and demand that He bless our children, that He take care of them, that He love them with the same steadfast love we have for them … and we believe that maybe, just maybe, though it could hardly be possible, He might even love them more than we do.

We choose to believe that if anyone is trustworthy to tend to them in this great big wilderness of life, it’s God.

 

 

The Practice of Setting Forth Your Intention

Intention

intention |inˈten(t)SH(ə)nnouna thing intended; an aim or plan: she was full of good intentions | [ with infinitive ]  

At the beginning of each yoga class, the instructor has the students put their hands to heart center and set their intention for the class. The first few months that I went to yoga this annoyed me. I felt like saying, “My intention is to do this yoga class, isn’t that obvious?” But as time went by I started to say things like, “I want to stay present during this class.” Or “I want to work on my standing practice today.” Or, “I want to create space for my grief to rise up and spill over.” Or, “I want to take breaks whenever I’m tired and practice resting.” I discovered that intention provides a focus and a necessary structure.

The spiritual life has a seasonal pattern to it, an ebb and flow, a cyclical feel. At least my spiritual life does. I’ll have seasons where God feels near and it’s joy joy joy and other times when the spiritual life tastes like dry toast. I’ve learned not to panic. But I’ve also learned the importance of setting forth my intention in each season. 

During one season in my life, I felt like there was a lot of teaching about what I was supposed to do for God and it was starting to feel like a weight around my neck. So, I decided to turn my heart toward grace and ask God to show me how to find mercy.

Once, I heard God whisper he wanted to show me how much he loves me. I wrote it down in my journal and decided to pay attention to that word. Over the next several months one provisional miracle happened after another. Skeptics might say those things would have happened even if I hadn’t written that promise down in my journal. True. Indeed. But I did write it down and my heart was open to God’s revelation of love in my life.

There was a time when I felt like I no longer knew who Jesus was. There was all this jabbering noise about him. People in politics would bring him up, I’d hear people use his name for every thing from how Jesus would have cooked to how Jesus would have voted in a politics. He was like this nebulous iconic entity, someone from folk religion or something … I decided to read the four gospels over and over until he didn’t feel iconic to me any more. I read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Over and over and over again — my entire life got drenched with the words and scandalous ways of Jesus. 

During a particularly hard time in Chile, all I did was read the Psalms and cry. And I begged God to help me. I suffered from insomnia, I was terrified all the time, I felt haunted. My prayer, my primary intention was to survive. I felt tempted to walk away from any kind of spiritual life but instead, I decided to get quiet and just ask for help. Help came – over time. The winter passed, the sun came out again, and I made a couple of friends who were nice to me and somehow they seemed like God’s hands of love.

Maybe you are in a particularly busy season and you don’t have time for any kind of spiritual practice. Setting forth your intention could be as simple finding creative ways to talk to God throughout the day, to wake up ready to see God’s grace in your busy schedule, and notice the ways he brings relief. To pay attention.

Maybe you are fighting for your life with an illness. I have a few friends with cancer and they are fighting to breathe. Setting forth your intention might be to choose to rest in God’s goodness and love and let other people have faith on your behalf. To let community be your spiritual practice. 

What I’ve realized over the years is that walking with God is a whole lot like any other practice. It doesn’t just happen by osmosis. We have to get engaged in our spiritual lives. And if we have a setting forth of intention — it becomes easier. It provides focus. When I say, “I want to focus on my relationship with God right now,” what does that mean?

But if I say, “I’m going to pray The Lord’s Prayer every day for a month at the same time, and think about each sentence,” I have something that will provide structure.

A little bit of focus goes a long way. Be kind to yourself. God is on your side. This isn’t about striving to please him, it’s certainly not about proving yourself to him so he’ll answer your prayers, or about being good enough for God to show up and do miracles. All it is, is an inward shift that will have an outward action. I am a spiritual being … I want to be intentional about my spiritual life. We exercise for the same reason — because we are physical beings, we do exercise for our bodies. We set our intention…. “Okay, I’m going to ride my bike four times a week.” And then we follow through…

The spiritual life is the same.

The other day I was on a long walk with a good friend. She’s older than me and a ton wiser. We talked about regrets and life and our kids etc … and she said. “I have a problem taking responsibility.” This made me laugh. She’s one of the most responsible women I know. But she explained it to me. She doesn’t like taking responsibility for her own life, or her dreams, or hopes … I. Can. Relate. It’s scary to take responsibility for our own lives and dreams and hopes. If it all falls apart, who do else do we have to blame?

But, taking responsibility (responding to your ability) for who you want to be and where you want to go is the beginning, the starting place of a rich and fulfilling life. It may also be the beginning of a wee bit of conflict with the people around you.

I said fulfilling, not easy.

Setting forth your intention … What is it you want to be about?

(P.S. If you liked this post, would you please share it with your friends.)

 

I Changed My Name – Reflections on Identity and Family

Today, I went onto my Facebook site and changed my name. Tina Osterhouse. It’s the name I had all my life, the name I was born with, my dad’s name, my family name.

I was proud to be Tina Bustamante for sixteen years and will always feel a deep love and admiration, and a certain affinity with my children’s last name. When I was a young woman starting out life as an adult, it was, for me, a great honor to take on another man’s name and merge my life together into his. I wanted to give up my family name in order to take on a new name – a new life. I saw it as part of what we women do. We give up part of who we are in order to become something together.

I’ve been thinking about changing my name back to Osterhouse for some time now. In Chile, women don’t take their husband’s surnames, and the children end up having two last names. It works. At first, when I moved there, something seemed wrong with the tradition, but as time went by, I realized there was also something satisfying in it, of both the man and woman keeping their identity, and still finding a way to merge into one. Marriage is mysterious. It’s not because of a name that a man and woman somehow, over time become one flesh. It’s a thousand other things, most of which no one else in all the world sees. It’s private and sacred, and therefore, devastating when the marriage is torn asunder.

This last season has been a time of rebuilding for me, of reflecting, of looking at the past with a straightforward honesty, and trying to make sense of things. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand it all. That’s impossible. But I do understand that I spent a great deal of my grown up life running away from a past that felt broken to me. My parents divorced when I was young. My mom remarried. I absolutely love her husband and all his sons now, but it’s taken me years to get there. My dad is still single. He’s had some romances over the years, but opted for a single life. There is so much in my family history that felt difficult to reconcile, full of aches and loss and pain. So, for years, I ran away from what felt like utter devastation. My family legacy seemed like nothing but ruins, and so I was eager, if not desperate, to change my name and make myself someone new. 

I was small-minded …  

Over the last several months, I’ve had rich and meaningful conversations with both my parents, with my sisters, and with my step-brothers and their wives. They’ve offered me counsel, gentle suggestions, thoughts and an endless supply of tissues and moral support, but more than anything they’ve all simply sat with me and let me live out this season with as much honesty as I’ve had the courage to muster. On Thanksgiving, I talked with my step-brothers and their wives and told them a sliver of what was going on. I confessed how worried I was about my children, told them I was losing good friendships over all this, that I was about as low as I ever imagined being. Each of them, gently, with such tenderness, reassured me that I was not alone and this was not the end of my story. They were with me.

My younger sister flew home with her entire family to be with me at Christmas, so I wouldn’t be alone. They spent an absolute fortune on plane tickets because she knew I needed her. That gift was the gift of true love. My older sister writes me texts from time to time to let me know she’s got my back. She’s with me. My mom nods her head and lovingly extends her life to me as a testimony, a legacy if you will, not of perfection, but of love. My dad shows up at every game Lucas plays and cheers him on, ever present. He takes Emma to the barn and gives her riding lesson after lesson, pouring his horse knowledge into her. My list could go on.

What I’m realizing, is that what I thought was a legacy of devastation was actually a rich heritage of strength, a foundation laid for me of forgiveness and second starts, an example of what it means to honestly look at our lives and lean into the horror instead of running away from it, or shoving it under the rug in destructive patterns of denial. No one in my family is too arrogant to say they’ve messed up. No one in my family is too proud to say they’re sorry and they’ll try to do better next time. …

This is the stuff I want to rebuild my life on. The good fruit that comes from humility and suffering, the beautiful character that is formed from rubble and heartache, from disappointment and overwhelming loss.

My family is so terribly human. We’ve got it all: alcoholism, divorce, remarriage, sexual identity stuff. We’ve got drug addiction, death, great sorrow, overwhelming regret and disappointments – and yet, here we are. I’m a fragile, struggling mother … but I come from good bones, from strong and mighty hearts, from a people who continue on and choose to seek God, who find his grace sufficient in their day of trouble and lean into the relationships right in front of them, the ones with their children and grandchildren and step-grandchildren and love them just as they are.

My family is a family who says to people all over the world … there is room for you here. You have not gone too far, you are not too broken to be loved, and you are not too devastated to discover that grace is a gentle and healing balm.

 

 

The Practices of my Faith Series

imagesI’ve been insatiably interested in God since I was small a kid. I used to invite Jesus into my heart on a near daily basis, with great pomp and dramatic contrition whilst sitting on the toilet, children’s Holy Bible in hand, and skinny chicken-legs dangling. I’d pray the most dramatic prayers begging for salvation. I’ve been talking to God ever since, not necessarily on the toilet, and certainly sans dangling skinny legs, but I’ve honestly been fascinated with the spiritual life for as long as I can remember.

My spiritual journey is laden with a passionate searching, painful failure, and far too much swearing. I told my family at Christmas I think God wants me to stop swearing so often, and my mother, who never even says damn, sighed in relief and uttered toward heaven, “Oh, thank God.” I thought that was really endearing. My spiritual journey is also filled with a deep abiding love for God. A love that has guided me through seasons of doubt where I wondered if this Jesus stuff was any more than a fairy tale. I’ve had glorious moments riding the heights of answered prayers, and I’ve muddled through the mundane and ordinary seasons of washing dishes and mowing the lawn. And I’ve had times where I begged God to make a way through thick barriers that felt like blackberry bushes, and terrain so steep I feared I’d fall backwards to an impending death.

When I was sixteen, I had a reckoning where I kneeled down at a park in the early morning and promised to follow God, no-holds-barred. Somehow, I knew that by living in relationship with God, I’d find a kind of love that nothing else in all the world would hold a candle to. So, I’ve stayed. Even when I’m mad at God, bewildered, confused and screaming, I wrestle it out with him. I’ve found that even on the worst days and during the darkest seasons of anger and fear, I’d rather be in relationship with him, than not. I like God’s company.

Over the years, on my hunt for the Divine, I’ve discovered ways, things I can do that help me feel closer, more at peace with God. None of my practices of faith are new, but they’re mine, and they’ve yielded results: renewed faith, courage to tell the truth, a new patience, perseverance, love and forbearance where previously there had been spite and deep-seeded desires for vengeance, and a general sense of well-being coupled with the strength to be generous with my heart when I’ve wanted to let it shrivel up and die. So, I’ve concluded that anything I can do to approach the spiritual life with fresh eyes is helpful. When I put my heart in a place where God can reach it and speak to me, life blooms.

There’s this verse in the Bible, in the book of James, that says if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. This verse reminds me of life on the school playground. I’ll be your best friend, if you’ll be mine. We’re aching to feel less alone, but we don’t want to reach out to someone if they’re going to reject us, so we extend ourselves with the infamous … if. I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine. I’ll jump if you go first.

What I love about this verse in James is how much God gets it. God knows it’s hard for us to reach out of ourselves and go on the hunt for something unseen that can’t be measured by anything temporal. God recognizes that it’s scary for us little humans to search for the eternal. And so there’s this promise that assures us – If you reach out, God will reach in. If you seek God, you will find God. That said, God is mystery. He doesn’t show up on our time-table or in our small-minded, altruistic-three-point-expected-outcome ways … God is much more wild and unmanageable than that. But … if we search and seek with a true longing to know, we’ll find what our souls are searching for … 

While, a life of faith is tenderly private and personal, it’s also communal. We’re in this together. And because we’re in this together, I’ve decided to write about my practices of faith. The things I do that help me in my relationship with God. When I read about other people’s lives with God it helps me. Sometimes it helps me feel less alone, or more understood. Sometimes it names something I haven’t known how to label, and sometimes it challenges me to step into something new and take a risk.

I would love if you’d join me on this series! I love to hear people’s stories and what they’re learning about God and the spiritual life.

One small request: If there’s a blog post you like, or one you think is particularly helpful, would you please share it on some form of social media, be it Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or some other new thing I’m clueless about? I’m a writer trying to build my platform and word of mouth is the most helpful.

I’m really looking forward to this blog series!

Peace,

Tina

 

 

Random Bits and Pieces

Lindsey Mead of A Design So Vast does a piece each month she titles, Things I Love Lately. I look forward to these posts because I get book ideas and articles to read, she promotes people’s blogs from time to time, shares what her kids are reading. It’s so helpful and fun to be part of the community.

I started to do something similar a long time ago. I’ve been meaning to do another and then I don’t. But because I’ve just had spring break and had so much time to read some great things, I decided to share some of my own Random Bits and Pieces … Things I love … and think you might too.

Several months ago, my friend Myles suggested I read a book by Alexandra Fuller. She is a white Southern African who grew up in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I finally got around to it this last week and was mesmerized, and stunned by his recommendation. The entire book overwhelmed me. I loved it. I am just plain in love with her writing. Leaving Before the Rain Comes is daring and full of insight. It’s the story one woman’s decision to walk out of her marriage and how she makes peace with her life.

“The truth is, I wasn’t only not a good daughter of Africa, I was not a good daughter of anywhere, nor was I a good wife, nor a good mother. I was a woman on the brink of free fall, and it was hard to be a good, acceptable woman in any language or in any place when simultaneously contemplating coming undone. For the first time, I was beginning to see that for a woman to speak her mind in any clear, unassailable way, unapologetic way, she must first possess it.” (211) 

She also wrote Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, which I’m reading right now. There’s this hopeful willingness to embrace the radical, intermingled sorrow and joy of our lives in her writing. I can’t recommend her enough.

I came across Grounded by Diana Butler Bass several months ago and started to read it slowly, savoring its depth and insight. Diana Butler Bass loves God and works hard to make God accessible. She suggests that although Christianity is on the decline in America, the world is shifting and hungry for the sacred in every day life all around us. Diana Butler Bass contends, along with Paul Tillich, that God is the Ground of all Being … he can be found in the world around us, and we can gain spiritual ground through the God who resides in the world with us – not far away and far of.

I am also reading The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson. It’s difficult to get through all the essays, as they’re dense and really smart, but they’re thought-provoking and insightful!.

A few months ago, I came across an essay that Joan Didion wrote in the Vogue magazine in 1961. It’s titled Self-Respect: Its Source its Power. This short essay is packed with insight. I remember years ago I asked my friend Lupe about the nature of women and abuse and why a certain couple of women didn’t want to leave their husbands, despite horrible domestic violence.

I railed against the situation and said, “They have the power to leave!”

She shrugged. “The don’t have internal power.”

I have never forgotten those words, ever. It took me a long time to realize that internal power is a high commodity and comes at a high price. I think Joan Didion’s essay touches on the source of internal power. “To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of other love or indifference.”  

I adore this You-Tube video, called You Make Me Brave. I watched it over and over a few weeks ago. I’m excited there’s this trend right now that seems to be calling us to be a people who are brave and bold, instead of obligated and duty bound. It’s not so much about finding ourselves, but about finding God. On the road to discovering God, you will inevitably come to know your truth self. But God does not call us to tiny, atrophied, fearful lives of rules and lists. The life of faith, in particular the Christian faith, is one of courage and adventure. It’s important to hold onto that.  

Finally, on Sunday my friend Andrea did a photo-shoot for me and the kids. It was wonderful. Andrea Laurita photography is outstanding. The grace and ease in which she worked with me and my kids was exceptional. My kids settled into her gentle way of leading them like little sheep. It was so fun.