So, I’m writing a novel…

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Two years ago, at the encouragement of CJ, a lovely young woman at church, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). CJ, bright-eyed and full of storylines, had already completed her first novel the previous year and was eagerly anticipating November 1 so she could get started on her next one. According to NaNoWriMo rules, she’d have to finish this novel by November 30. CJ who is an excellent writer, was also 16 at the time.  So I thought – oh yeah, I can totally do that.

I can’t over-emphasize how excited this news made my husband. I’m pretty sure he married me because he likes the way I write (notice I didn’t say communicate; verbally I’m the queen of unfinished thoughts, rabbit trails, hand gestures, many tears and exclamation points; our relationship began with written communication and while strangely he does truly love me in my moments of intense, emotional verbal processing, I think he holds my softer written words in a tender spot in his heart). Any chance he has to encourage me to pursue this introspective passion of mine, he takes with full force.

That said, he committed to making sure I was up by 6 am every morning, so I could start writing the 50,000 words required to finish the NaNoWriMo challenge. Please let it be known that I am *not* a morning person, and that cannot be changed,  I don’t care what anyone says – including my husband, who swears you can train yourself to be a morning person (but this is coming from someone who voluntarily signed up for the Army and medical school in one fell swoop. Advice from super heroes must be taken with a grain of salt). Anyway. Husband woke me up at 6 am every morning and for two weeks I sat there at the kitchen table, huddled under a blanket, clutching a coffee mug, hen pecking, word by word… a non-novel.

That’s right. I told my husband I would participate in NaNoWriMo but that I couldn’t possibly write a novel because I only think in non-fiction prose. Ask my husband for a story idea at any given time and he’ll rattle off some brilliant combination of character, location, and conflict. I, on the other hand, will stare at you blankly and say “Um, yes, well. It will be about this woman, in her early thirties, right? Yeah, so she’s had a lot of transitions in her lifetime and she really loves God but she’s often struggling with how to reconcile faith with the world around her and what it means to love Jesus, really…” You get the idea. Perhaps I am a little too self-centered (okay, I know I am, let’s be serious). But I also tend to think that I’ve been given a gift of tying pieces of my life together, of seeing things in a slightly different light, and of finding glimmers of grace in the broken down and sooty bits.

So I really do think that when it comes to writing, my calling is first and foremost to learn how to be better at this. So I committed to writing 50,000 words of non-fiction prose in November of 2011. And… it did. not. happen. After 2 weeks, I gave up. I had little time, little energy, and it was honestly a little annoying (and a bit guilt-inducing) to get all the NaNoWriMo emails encouraging me about my “novel” when a novel was not what I was writing in the slightest.

But.

This year is different. I have more time on my hands, for one. Last time I tried NaNoWriMo I was working full time, was a relatively new bride with boxes to unpack and a new husband-roommate to care for [get used to], and was completely stressed out to the max. Now I have a flexible schedule and several coffee shops in walking distance from my house. Our boxes are all unpacked. My husband is working on plans to transform our garden shed into my very own writing cottage. (Yes. You read that correctly. My husband is making me a writing cottage. Did I win the lottery or what?)

Also, I think I might have a story idea. Just maybe. It may turn out to be absolute crap, but the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to write the most amazing novel in the history of man; the point of NaNoWriMo is to get you writing each day; and to show yourself that it is entirely possible to write 50,000 words. The thought is, you get it all out in the month of November, and then you take the next few months to edit, revise, re-imagine – heck, you can take the next year. Because the crux of it is you’ve shown yourself you can commit to and execute something worth creating.

We’ll see how it goes. But I’m hoping, since I’ve published here that I am committing to the task, you guys will help keep me accountable. Let’s see where we are this time next month, shall we?

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When I was on fire (and wanted to shine)

when we were on fire synchroblog

This post is part of Addie Zierman’s synchroblog in honor of her just-published book, When We Were on Fire

I was proud. I was strong. Never before had the fire of faith shone so brightly in my eyes as it did that chilly morning in November. I was calm. I was confident. I was four years old.

We were walking, my mother and I, through the rainy, crowded streets of Golder’s Green, the Orthodox Jewish community thirty minutes away from our home in London. She led me by the hand as I skipped over puddles in my Mary Janes. Weaving in and out of market stands, Mom searched for fresh produce as I thought of ways to occupy myself. I don’t remember why, but that morning I was particularly happy. Maybe it was the promise of McDonald’s and the yellow plastic train booth. Or maybe it was the idea to play Cinderella in Mommy’s old dresses when we went home. Maybe it was even just the crinkly-eyed grins that the elderly yarmulke-wearing gentlemen kept nodding my way. Whatever the reason, I was skipping with joy. And when I was joyful, a song was usually not far behind. Taking a deep breath, and throwing back my head to the sky, I just burst:

This little light of mine! I’m gonna let it shine!
This little light of mine! I’m gonna let it shine!
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Those elderly yarmulke-wearing gentlemen just kept on grinning.

When I think about that morning I wonder what happened to that wide-eyed innocence, that all-trusting faith that gripped me so strongly as a little girl. When I was told Jesus loved me, I believed it, and wanted to tell the world about it. I felt it. I would wake up early in the morning, lie in my bed, and sing to my ceiling songs I made up about angels and heaven and love for humanity until the tears came to my eyes. Granted, tears also came to my eyes when I sang about fairies and unicorns, but in my childlike innocence, I trusted there was a difference: I hoped that unicorns were real; I knew God was. I don’t remember the exact day I asked Jesus into my heart, but I do remember that, as a four-year-old, I imagined him knocking on the door to a cozy little cottage. And I imagined opening up the door, allowing him to enter. I’m pretty sure Jesus had a broom and some rags – after all, he was there to help me clean the place up. I remember feeling excited about this turn of events – but also nervous. And more than a little confused. But my mom was very excited for me, and very proud. So I was, too.

Hide it under a bushel –no! I’m gonna let it shine!
Hide it under a bushel –no! I’m gonna let it shine!

I should mention that I didn’t grow up in a strictly Evangelical home. As one college professor put it, I’m a “hybrid,” my faith a mixture of my paternal family’s Catholic roots and my maternal family’s Methodist tradition. While the invitation to my little cottage heart was likely encouraged by Sunday School teachers at the non-denominational church we attended when I was a pre-schooler in England, I learned how to pray with rosary beads around the same time I was learning the Lord’s Prayer, and later, after moving back to Texas at age six, attended catechism, made my first confession, took my first communion, and went to Catholic Camp. Yet in Texas many of my parents’ friends were lifelong Baptists or missionary kids, and it was in these relationships I began to explore what it meant to “really follow Jesus.”

When I was eleven, these friends brought us to a megachurch in North Dallas, where I experienced my first live concert – Michael W. Smith. Before the show began, we were treated to a performance by a man who re-enacted Jesus’ death on the cross. For a full fifteen minutes I watched this man stand in front of a huge wooden cross, pretending to be beaten and nailed. I was petrified. God had allowed this to happen to Jesus, his son? Because of me? And my sin? The subsequent altar call left me terrified. Had I really asked Jesus to be Lord of my life? How could I, when I had no idea this is what he had undergone because of my sinfulness? I suddenly felt the urgent need to tell someone – anyone, but mostly someone at this megachurch – that I had indeed asked Jesus into my heart, but that I was still confused as to what that meant – and whether I was actually saved. I filled out one of the guest cards in the pew where I sat, fervently checking the “I want more information about salvation” box. I never spoke to anyone there about my questions (I later learned my astonished mother fielded that call, assuring the guest outreach volunteer that her eleven-year-old daughter had filled out the card and we were fine, thankyouverymuch), but that night ushered in something new: a fear that I was not secure in God’s grace.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

At a Christian summer camp when I was twelve, a missionary kid told me that I couldn’t be sure I was saved or my family was saved – because we were Catholic. I tried to explain to her my Jesus-in-the-cottage experience, but she knew from Bible Quiz I knew nothing of scripture other than hazy recollections from Sunday School, and she was determined to get me to commit my life once and for all. “You’re not saved from hell, you know, unless you really understand what you’re saying when you tell Jesus you’ll follow him. And neither are your relatives. Satan’s trying to trick you.” Her words brought back a memory from catechism, the day my teacher told me, eight years old, that my mother wouldn’t ever make it to heaven because she hadn’t converted to Catholicism when she married my dad.

Fervent, fearful, I approached my camp counselor, relayed my conversation with my newfound MK friend, and asked her if it was indeed possible that my dad wouldn’t get to spend eternity with God, just because he was Catholic. I waited for her to tell me that this was all nonsense – Catholicism wouldn’t keep my dad out of heaven any more than it would keep him in it. But that didn’t happen. Rather than actually answer my question, my counselor told me not to worry about my family, but to instead worry about my own salvation. She suggested I go out into the woods for some quiet time and talk to God about it; telling him again I wanted Jesus in my heart – you know, just in case it hadn’t really “taken” the first time (I don’t think these are the words she actually used. But it’s what I heard). So I went out into the wilderness and had my first ugly cry with Jesus. I told him I didn’t know what the heck any of these people were talking about, or what the heck he wanted me to do, but I was tired of trying so hard to do the right thing only to be told I was totally and completely wrong.

The fire in my heart that day was a slow burning ember that warmed and comforted my soul. For the first time since I was that little girl singing from my heart, I knew I wasn’t alone.

Won’t let Satan –poof!- it out! I’m gonna let it shine!
Won’t let Satan –poof!- it out! I’m gonna let it shine!

That was the summer of 1994, and it was the perfect time to jump on the Christianity bandwagon. The Newsboys became my new favorite band. I replaced Sweet Valley High books for the Christy Miller series. My best friend and I made up choreography to the Newsboys’ “Shine,” donned Blossom-style hats and dress-and-legging combos, and tried out for the middle school talent show. I hung a poster of Michael W. Smith on my wall, right next to Josh Hartnett and Rider Strong from Boy Meets World. Another well-meaning camp counselor told me all about how she Kissed Dating Goodbye, and while I wasn’t sure that’s how I wanted to do things, I did ask my parents to buy me a promise ring from James Avery (I already had a rad ichthus bracelet), and I wore it on my ring finger, pledging to God and to myself that I would stay “pure” until marriage. After a transatlantic move before my freshman year of high school, I kept pretty quiet about my faith, except at Young Life or with close friends. But at home, in my room, Jennifer Knapp, Jars of Clay, and the Supertones kept me company. Robin Jones Gunn and Nicholas Sparks provided me with romantic fantasies I ate up like candy. At seventeen I went back to camp and (at what I still believe was the prodding of the Holy Spirit) sang a song by Jennifer Knapp for the camp talent show (I won a package of sweet tarts). I couldn’t wait to get to college and meet my guitar-playing, khaki-wearing Todd.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Rather than bring me my Todd*, college brought me Kierkegaard and Derrida; Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; and dates with guys who were disillusioned with their faith. My roommate quickly tired of me surreptitiously playing Ginny Owens and Bebo Norman, so I listened to U2 on repeat, shouting to the night sky (and, I imagine, God himself) that I still hadn’t found what I was looking for. I learned to relish words like doubt, anger, journey, and grace. Service trips and “reverse” mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua sent my faith into a tail spin as I tried for the first time in my (very sheltered) life to process how God could allow such suffering in the world. The religion department of my liberal arts college was practically devoid of Christians; we talked theology and Christology, living off the high of casting shadows on the pre-packaged faith the evangelistic crew spewed forth at Campus Outreach meetings. I was exasperated. I’m a fallible human being! Who am I to decide who’s going to heaven and who’s not? Claiming ignorance, I climbed up my ivory tower and sat there looking down at everyone “on fire” for Jesus. But I still went to Thursday night worship every once in a while, and still asked my friends at Bible study to pray for me.

I didn’t miss that anxiety that struck my four-year-old heart when I feverishly worried which friends wouldn’t be in heaven with me when we died. What I did miss was the steadfast resolve and purpose that remained unquestioned in my mind when I fearlessly sang that song in Golder’s Green. How much easier life would be if things were indeed black and white, good and evil, right and wrong!

And even still, in quiet moments, I still felt that gentle nudge, still heard that quiet voice that I knew even as a child: I knew I wasn’t alone, that I was loved and known by a holy, good, and perfect God. And that in the face of his bigness, I was indeed very small. In that smallness, with my limited capacity for understanding, perhaps all I could do was continue to seek and to knock. And trust that, in his goodness, he had a plan bigger than me or my efforts.

Let it shine ‘til Jesus comes! I’m gonna let it shine!
Let it shine ‘til Jesus comes! I’m gonna let it shine!

Much has happened in my life and in my heart in the decade since college. For now, it’s enough to say that I’m thankful for the ways God has not only stuck by me, but also remained a dynamic force in my life – no matter what I thought about him along the way. No matter who I was trying to impress. No matter what fearful motives were driving my words and actions.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Faith. Oh yeah, that’s right. Like a child. And I tell myself it’s okay to wake up early in the morning, lie in bed and sing to the ceiling like I’m sometimes inclined to do. I probably won’t ever burst into song in the middle of the farmer’s market, but sometimes I wonder if that would really be so bad.

*College actually did bring me my Todd; we just didn’t start dating for another 10 years. I first met my husband at a Young Life interest meeting. He was wearing khakis. He wore leather bracelets. He plays guitar.

This post is a re-working of an essay originally published on www.rightnow.org in June, 2002.

If you want to know who you are, watch your feet

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“Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.” – Frederick Buechner, Alphabet of Grace

This isn’t a fun post to write, which is a bit surprising, since I love Frederick Buechner and have always deeply relished the wisdom in these words.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the cost of discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a great read if you ever want to feel challenged (and when you start thinking that Facebook arguments qualify as religious persecution).  Jesus asked his disciples to leave everything behind to follow him. Everything – jobs, family, possessions. When they gave him their resounding “yes” their lives changed dramatically. Their feet made them followers of Jesus.

Last night at the Bible study my friend Lauren I host for the high school girls at our church, we talked about the dramatic changes that happened after that fateful night on the road to Damascus. Saul of Tarsus wasn’t just a curmudgeonly tax collector (as a kid, I think I imagined him much like Disney’s cartoon version of the Sherriff of Nottingham); he was a zealot who not only “breathed threats of murder;” he hunted, captured, and imprisoned Christians who ultimately would be tried and stoned to death. He, being an avid student of the Jewish law, was a passionate man on a mission to stop the spread of Christianity.

And then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus; he was blinded, he was captured by grace. In response, he said “yes” – to whatever God was calling him to.

Where did his feet take him? They led him to the synagogues where he preached the words of Jesus to the Jewish people. They took him throughout the Roman Empire to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. They took him to prison, to miraculous conversions, to places where he could write epistles of instruction, exhortation, encouragement. Paul’s simple “yes,” his act of putting one foot in front of the other to follow God’s call on his life, meant his life was completely turned 180 degrees. Yes, he was still the passionate, zealous man he’d always been. Yet he had a new found purpose. He was a living testimony to the power and the grace of the resurrected Christ.

Incredible.

Right, so it actually seems a little disingenuous to now turn the spotlight on myself, but for the sake of truth telling, it seems I must go there briefly. So where are my feet taking me during this season of life?

Here’s the honest truth: if my identity is formed by where my feet take me (what I actually DO as opposed to what I say I want to do or believe in), here is who I am:

  • Late sleeper
  • Couch dweller
  • Bath soaker
  • Facebook addict
  • Netflix junkie
  • Laptop slave 

What the what. I am such a lazybones. Especially since I am sitting in a house that still needs to be unpacked (we’ve been here for 4 months and our books are still in boxes).

But … I’m feeling a little nudge to also add the following:

  • Reader of great books
  • Runner of 5ks
  • Baker of treats
  • Lover of husband
  • Leader of Bible study
  • Pursuer of friendship
  • Student of the Word

One thought that comes to mind is that I tend to be pretty quick to judge myself (and hey – you know what? In the matter of Facebook trolling and Netflix bingeing, it’s probably good to judge myself a little). Another thought is a reminder that I am a woman in transition. We recently packed up all of our belongings and moved clear across the country, now faced with the task of decorating an adult-sized HOUSE as new HOMEOWNERS. After four grueling years of medical school, my husband is now a MEDICAL INTERN. In the ARMY. First world problems? Sure. Still stressful? Definitely.

Even good change is change. And change leads to stress. And a big part of stress management is self care. And you know what I do to manage stress? I sleep. I watch movies. I bake treats. I take baths. On good days, I go for runs. So there you have it – in this season of life, I’m doing exactly what I set out to do when I decided to quit my job and take a sabbatical.

But aren’t we called to more than this? Even if I make a daily habit of writing on this blog and my writing improves (oh please Lord, let it improve! I feel so rusty), what else am I doing with my life? Am I actually living out the life of faith I claim I have?

Here’s what I do know: I wasn’t called to be a missionary overseas (well, at least not yet). I wasn’t called to teach English literature in an inner-city school or teach English as a second language in Japan (had those doors slammed in my face). So far, it seems, I’ve been called to be a writer and a student and a friend – maybe even a counselor. I’ve been called to love a man who owes many years to the Army. I’ve been called to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, and soul, and to love others as I love myself.

Yes, Paul is a tough act to follow. Yes, I need a swift kick in the pants sometimes, especially when I am feeling lazy and unmotivated. Yes, there are still so many things in my life – relationships, possessions, old ways of thinking – that I still cling to, sometimes desperately, that hinder me in my walk with the one whom I call Lord.

I’m going to sit with that tension for the rest of my life, I am certain of it.

And yet. I am comforted by the knowledge that he who began a good work in me will carry it out to completion (Phil 1:6). It won’t be in my timing, and in won’t be due to my effort. But it will be totally, undeniably due to his incomprehensible grace.

In the meantime, I’m just going to keep on walking.

The story of my tattoo

In honor of Throwback Thursday, here’s a little gem I wrote when I was 20.* I am itching to do a rewrite, but for now, here’s a little glimpse of my sophomoric heart.

I had wanted a fish on my ankle. One of those ichthus-I’m-a-Christian-and-drive-a-Honda fish like I wear proudly on a James Avery bracelet and draw aimlessly in the sand when lounging at the beach. I had always wanted a tattoo, and it seemed to me that the only way to reconcile that desire with my conservative upbringing and—according to Cosmo and emode.com—my classically practical style would be to decorate my ankle with a stylish, dainty fishlet of the traditional Christian variety.**

That was, of course, until the summer I was nineteen, when I decided I was actually going to go through with it. My aunt, the same one who took me to get my first perm when I was eleven, told me that she’d be more than happy to take me to a reliable looking tattoo parlor while vacationing in California. Doodling in my journal several nights before the much-anticipated day, I deliberated over my choice of placement. Suddenly pictures of old ladies running with wrinkly, tattooed ankles flashed through my mind. Continuing to stare at my soon-to-be-inked skin, I wondered if perhaps my foot wouldn’t be better. My best friend down at Baptist-central Baylor University told me that it was “totally hip” to get an ichthus on the top of your foot, kinda like the Dixie Chicks and the chick tracks over their sun-tanned tootsies. I imagined a little fish, tickling my toes, pretty in sandals and hidden in tennis shoes, ready to be seen when I wished.

But a fish? I began to think it might look like a cheddar cheese goldfish cracker or a key chain you would find in Family Christian. I needed to spice things up a bit, but how?

Shouldn’t a tattoo be something personal? Determined, I flipped my Bible open, skimming the pages for traces of highlighter and pencil rather than relying on my faulty memory (I didn’t exactly ever make it up to Bible Quiz at summer camp). Maybe I’d find some little verse that I could squeeze inside my tiny fish to make it look fatter and filled. What I found – or should I say what found me – jumped out as I hit the end of Proverbs. It was a verse that I had underlined and starred and highlighted several times, part of the “Wife of Noble Character” section that a mentor had assured my Bible study group had less to do with being a wife than being a deliberate woman of God. I stopped, feeling goose bumps jump up and down my arms. Proverbs 31:25. Perfect. Frantically I set my pencil back to paper and for the next half hour traced circles and squiggles and signs. Smiling, I snapped my journal shut.

“We don’t do feet,” the pierced, purple-haired girl behind the counter explained to me. “When you tattoo feet the ink bleeds, and besides, one day you’ll get lots of wrinkles there.” Drat. My wrinkled-old-lady-with-pristine-feet plan was foiled. I handed her my folded slip of paper and tried to remember the last time I had seen my grandmother’s feet. As she looked it over, the buff, pony-tailed artist who would be handling me came over and shook my hand. When he saw my kindergarten sketch, he smiled. “Cool. Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll see what I can do.” When he returned, the sketch had not only been artistically rendered and dramatically improved, it was also three times bigger than I had intended. Doe-eyed and sweaty palmed, I told him I couldn’t possibly put something that huge on my ankle. “Then why put it on your ankle?” he asked.

Why put it on my ankle? The ankle seemed less offensive somehow, as if a passerby could rest assured that it might just be something temporary picked up at the drugstore, a pretty little picture that could be covered, if necessary, by a quick cross of the leg. Not like a Popeye the Sailor-strongman arm tattoo or those tacky lower back tattoos that scream when you lean over, “Look at me! Look at me! I have a tattoo!” Of course I didn’t tell him this. I went back to the large books of patterns available to customers, and a few minutes later came sheepishly back to the counter. “Here,” I said, showing him the tiniest cross in a corner of a laminated page. “I want this instead. On my ankle.” It reminded me of the logo on camp brochures that I had seen every summer in the San Bernadino mountains. Sure. That was personal. Memories of friendship and commitment were surely more meaningful than a little cracker goldfish. Not to mention smaller and less painful than my own creation. He gave me a knowing smile and told me to think about it for a few minutes. “However long it takes,” he said. “I like your design. You’ve obviously thought a lot about this; don’t give up on it so easily because you’re scared.” He glanced back at the cross. “ I don’t like to stamp people with something easy. We don’t stamp here; we create art.”

So I sat. And thought. And sat. After fifteen minutes had passed I decided that I needed to excuse myself and go to the one place I knew I could always think clearly: the restroom. After squeezing past artists, gazing wide-eyed at the pictures plastered over the walls of particularly daring men and women, I shut myself inside the tiny room and began to pray. What on earth was I doing? Could I really go through with it? Why did I even want to do this? I took a deep breath, and as I did the walls of the restroom faded away.

A flash of burning orange and yellow-beamed clarity struck me senseless as the water quietly lapped the shore. Exhausted, disgusted with my own frailty and inability to recognize the futility of my pursuits, I was sitting dejected on a spider-webbed dock leaning out into the lake. My freshman year of college was drawing to a close, and nothing was certain. The seniors that I had idolized were graduating. My roommate and I were at odds. My parents were thinking of moving. Projects and papers were coming out of my ears, and my carefully constructed plans were falling to shambles. “God,” I muttered, half plea, half curse, as the calming water reached out to me ever so gently. In silence I waited as summer blew in gently on the breeze, unwrinkling my brow and softening my face. I belonged here. I had known that if I came outside, to the wind on the water and the sun in the sky, I would find peace and strength in the stillness. Be still. The pink of the clouds, that pink moment that Grammy used to call me out onto the porch to drink in when I was small, trickled its way inside to that hollow place I had locked so tightly. Be still and know. Through the tears, the sighs, the broken prayer, I knew. How could I have forgotten where to place my trust?

My brown eyes stared intently back as I looked hard at myself in the mirror. I whispered, “She is clothed in strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” So I laughed. And with strength and dignity I marched out to the artist and handed him the sketch of my tattoo. “I’m ready,” I announced, “and I want it on my lower back.”

There is a work of art that colors my body. Orange and gold, the sun shimmers as it sets into the cool blue green water, reflecting its rays on the surface and into the depths where it reads Proverbs 31:25, and illustration becomes reference. Placed so keenly out of my sight and only occasionally in the view of others, it often surprises me when someone else mentions it. One night of my sophomore year a freshman lit up when she realized who I was. “So you’re the one with the tattoo!” she exclaimed. I straightened my Ann Taylor blouse and tried to listen as if I was used to being identified by my body art. She told me her roommate sat behind me in a class first semester, and had seen my tattoo when I leaned over. One night she came home and asked to borrow a Bible – a book that she had never been interested in opening in her life – to figure out what so important to me that I had it inked on my back.

I don’t know if a Body Art Ministry movement would ever take hold. All I know is that without even looking at my tattoo, I know it’s there. Like the hand of a protector on the small of my back, I feel it gently nudging me forward, ever reminding me to laugh, to let go, to drive out to the lake and watch the sun set.

*This post originally appeared on www.rightnow.org in the summer of 2002.

** Fun fact: while we were dating long-distance, my husband secretly went to the tattoo parlor one day and got an ichthus tattooed on his bicep. It is hands-down the sexiest tattoo I have ever seen.

Man doesn’t live on bread alone

Our books are still in boxes.

Usually, when I set up a new living space, my books are the first to be unpacked. I like to touch each one, pause; if there’s time, I open a few of the pages and read a few lines. Meditate on words once read, underlined, starred, recalling back to a younger self who read with passion and curiosity.

I married a man with as many, if not more, books as I have in my possession. The fact that some are duplicate is a private confirmation to me of our perfect synchronization. Thus we are the Curletts of Many Books and at the moment these treasures are still in boxes, sitting in the corner of our basement.

One book in one of those boxes is my Ryrie Study Bible, which I’ve had since sophomore year of college, when I decided my faith needed to be my own. Lately I’ve been craving the word, and Googling each verse in question hasn’t been cutting it. My husband’s Bible is worn; crammed with pencils, notes, and memorabilia; it is held together tightly by a rubber band. I love his Bible, but at a distance.

Rather than open every one of the twenty boxes in our basement to find my collegiate companion, I instead went to Amazon and purchased a thin line ESV Bible. I imagined myself tucking it into a purse or a suitcase, something toteable. Perfect. When I read the description I realized that there would be no notes, no cross-references, no footnote exegesis. I worried a bit that I wouldn’t be able to follow these words without the guidance of scholars. (I know, I know. Martin Luther and all that. But you know, sometimes my brain hurts and I need a little help.)

So…ever since that Bible made it to my doorstep? My hungry soul has been eating it up. Chapter by chapter. Number by number. Epistle by epistle. It feels comfortable, friendly. It makes sense to me. I am understanding its words in a way I never have before. There is clarity and an understanding that has never been present with me as I’ve read the word of God.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but I have to be honest: I am surprised. This prayer thing works. Sure, in certain denominations and certain pulpits, pastors and ministers pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the word of God. But how many times do we do that and experience…nothing? I would venture a guess that most of you reading this know what I’m talking about (or perhaps just as likely, you really have *no idea* what I’m talking about and the idea of asking the Spirit of God to help us do anything sounds a little freaky-deaky. I don’t blame you. It’s bizarre, right? Nonsensical). But here’s the thing: I asked him to help me, and he has been helping me. Honest truth.

How did this come to be? Well, a couple of weeks ago I had an ugly cry episode (definitely not the first!) where I professed from the very depths of my being that I believe in who he is and what he is capable of doing – namely, changing me. But this time I specifically asked him to open up my eyes and ears and heart to the truth of his word.

And guess what? He is true to his word. He’s been doing it. It feels like a fog has been lifted. And it’s rocking my world.

I don’t know what to make of all of this, other than to laugh through my tears. Cathartic is the word that comes to mind. I feel compelled to write. I have a new confidence I’ve never, ever experienced before.

Could it be possible that the Lord has known, since before the creation of this world, that it would take me until October of my 32nd year to fully experience the truth of his promises? That it would take me this long to study the clues along the way?

Just now I opened a box strewn with gifts. Brennan Manning. Frederick Buechner. Madeline L’Engle. Who say: You’re forgiven. You’re called. You’re a creator.

And now: the questions remain, “What do I create?” and, “Am I worthy of the task to which I am called?”

Something is brewing. Something is being knit together. And my Father, who purchased my life with the sacrifice of his son, clothes me in righteousness and undeserved reward.

He is with me.

Thank you for being a witness.

e

Sabbatical (or, how this all came to be)

Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a hiatus, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year). 

Have you ever taken one of those stress tests that tells you how likely you are to come down with an illness or get in an accident? Well, I did in the fall of 2012 and learned that I was pretty much expected to drop dead at any given moment. I know that sounds melodramatic, but those tests don’t lie.

In the previous year, I had moved a total of three times (one cross-country), gotten married, and embarked on a long-distance relationship with my husband, who was on rotation for medical school out of state. I now had (lovely! but very new) in-laws. I was telecommuting from DC for my employer in Seattle, which meant long hours at home, alone, in a different time zone from my team. Occasionally I would travel to be with my husband while he was training out of state, bringing my work with me (which was a blessing – but if any of you have ever worked out of a hotel room, imagine doing that for three weeks straight). We were involved in a community church, serving on the worship team and the youth ministry, but most of the women I befriended there were new moms (and if you’ve ever wished for a baby while being surrounded by babies, you’ll know how bittersweet and beautiful that gift of friendship can be). My husband’s schedule was inconsistent and unpredictable, and when he had free time, he wanted to train for the half marathon we had signed up for – something that was exciting and challenging, but also completely out of my comfort zone.

My husband was in the process of applying for Army medical residency programs, so we knew that in the summer of 2013 we’d be moving to Georgia, Texas, or Washington – each of which offered unique benefits, but were so different from one another it was impossible to compare.  We had to wait three (seemingly) endless months to find out where we’d be sent for the next three years – to find out where we’d be buying a house and putting down roots as deeply and as quickly as we possibly could before moving once again.

With a year of marriage under my belt, I was so thankful for the time I had with my husband, but was wrestling with a deep dissatisfaction with our home life – mostly because I felt like a failure as a wife. Working from home made it seem like cooking and cleaning and nurturing would be easier, since my office was just upstairs. But the convergence of two worlds made it very hard for me to give 100% to anything I was doing. (It’s worth noting here that my husband is The Most Gracious Man Alive – the pressure to be the “perfect wife” was not coming from him in the slightest. It was all me.)

I dreamed of the day I’d get pregnant so I could quit my job and devote my time to home and family. I was a little bit concerned that these dreams of family were partly a wish for escape. I was working all the time. When I wasn’t working, I was worrying about whether I should be working. The job itself was a great opportunity – I was challenged, encouraged, and allowed a great deal of freedom to do work in my sweet spot (and, hello – in my sweatpants!). In moments of great clarity I knew that the stress and this pressure I was experiencing were mostly coming from my own head, whispered from old tapes that told me I would never be good enough, smart enough, or confident enough.

Worst of all, I had no margin in my life. I worked, I slept, I ran, I collapsed in front of the TV with my husband. No time for interruptions, unexpected phone calls, favors requested. I wasn’t living the life I knew I’ve been called to live.

I longed to do the work I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a very small child – to write creatively. To set my own hours. To have space and time for creative expression, the cultivation of lasting relationships, and the joy of a life fully lived.

One day, while on a business trip to Seattle, I had dinner with a friend and told her all of this. She asked me very simply what I would do if I learned I had only 6 months to live. I blinked. I told her I would quit my job, no question. I’d spend time with my husband. I’d write. I’d visit my family and have coffee dates with girlfriends. She then asked me if I would ever consider taking time off of work, at least for a season. I stared back at her. A sabbatical was a lovely idea. But for me? Could I really? She urged me to write it all out, share with my husband, and pray about it. Why not? (This makes it all sound so simple and rational but if my life were an old Ally McBeal episode, you’d see my head exploding into a dazzling display of fireworks right about…now.)

That night, back at my old roommate’s house, I poured a big glass of wine and sat down to write out my “Sabbatical Proposal Plan.” It included a summary of my thought process, a timeline of activities, and goals for my time off of work. It had bullets and subheaders and was very fancy. I emailed it to my husband and asked if we could schedule a time to talk about said proposal. He (who had actually told me before the Seattle trip he wanted me healthy and if that meant quitting my job, so be it) graciously took this product of manic processing in stride and told me he supported me one hundred percent. (See previous note about The Most Gracious Man Alive.)

Within a month, after working out the details, I resigned after 5 years on the job. It was a terrifying leap of faith. As much as I knew in my heart this was the right decision, I was saying goodbye to a company and to co-workers I had known for half of my working life. No longer would I be defined by what I did between the hours of 9 and 5. When meeting new people I found myself flabbergasted as I described my new situation: “I am….currently not working? Because….it seemed the right time to take a break?” And strangely (though perhaps unsurprisingly) I discovered a newfound sort of internal pressure: to use my free time wisely, to not squander this precious gift, to make sure friends and family knew how productive and creative I could be when not encumbered by a “real job.” I also began worrying that my ridiculously gracious and generous husband would soon begin to resent the fact that I wasn’t contributing financially (especially on those days he returned home and I was still in my pj’s, unshowered, surrounded by books and coffee mugs and no food in the fridge, much less a plan for dinner).

It’s amazing the lies we’ll listen to, no matter our circumstances.

In the weeks and months that followed, I was amazed at the doors that began to open. Now, after a home bought, another cross-country move, a wedding, a funeral, a two-week trip to Europe, several visits to family and friends, and the time and space to read and sleep and think and run when I want to, I am slowly adding to my plate what I choose. (Awesome new job! Amazing friends! Adventures galore! Stay tuned for more exciting details…)

And this blog? It was on the Proposal Plan. Nine months later – the significance of this does not escape me – I am ready to create, to begin something new. Writing (somewhat) creatively in my sweatpants, pondering what it means to find identity as a woman, a believer, a wife, daughter, and friend. I’m hoping to explore where I’ve come from, where I am, and where I’m headed – and what it looks like to live in the midst of all of that, all the while wrestling with the conviction that I am a beloved child of God. My prayer is that if you walk alongside me, my story will touch yours. And you’ll find comfort, grace, and with God’s help – a challenge or two.

Thanks for reading,

e