Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Celebrate Your Moo!

Lessons from a Stuffed Cow on Self Worth
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”
~ Psalm 139:14


That night after Thanksgiving, I went into my son’s room to tuck him in and there was plastic food nestled in the middle of his blue, dinosaur comforter. I asked him if his stuffed animals were having a picnic, and he said they’d had Thanksgiving breakfast that morning. And they wrote down things they were thankful for. I asked if I could read what they wrote, and his tender hands offered me a miniature 5-sheet pad of paper.
Just 1x2”.
With a turkey on the front – of course.

Oh, what overflowing treasures in those five tiny pages. At the top of the first page, Crocodile and Alligator with four items below their names. A bulleted list, nonetheless. But it’s the next page that really got me. The page with Spotty, the Dalmatian’s list. And Belty, the belted Cow’s list.

Because the first thing on Spotty’s list was “my spots.”

And the first thing on Belty’s list was “my moo.”
[Because he really does!]

As if the sheer sweetness weren’t enough, here’s what struck me about the spots and the moo. In their tiny little list of thanks, those animals didn’t start with the material. They didn’t even start with the grand external beauty that surrounds them, like the warmth of a summer sunset or the arresting sound of waves crashing up against the shore.

They thanked God for the unique way He created them.

Their own personal beauty that displays His glory.

It was at the top of their list.


I was struck by that because admittedly, I struggle to believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, let alone thank God for the way He’s made me. I struggle to believe the very passion of this blog space  – that His glory is made known through my weakness, my shortcomings. Especially since invisible illness has made its home in my body.

But I want to follow Belty and Spotty’s lead today. I want to celebrate my moo, enjoy the beauty of my spots. And I’m encouraging you to do the same.

So! One way God created you in His image. GO!
(And no, not an attribute that nobody else on the planet has. Spotty’s certainly not the only Dalmatian with beauty spots.)

It’s time to celebrate your moo!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Accepting the Sidelines

(or "The Night I Got Over Myself. Again.")

“The close confinement of a pit exhausts us with the endless echo of self-absorption.” 
~ Beth Moore

We’d approached these familiar church doors many a Sunday morning. Almost 16 years ago, we walked through them for the first time as a young married couple from the north looking to make our home in the south. And we did. Because although the doors open wide to a campus that many find intimidating, we soon found an inviting nook in the vast array and called it home.

We enjoyed those carefree years as young marrieds, actively partaking in all the small group parties, Bible studies, you name it. The only reason we missed anything was because we couldn’t stay put long, regularly hitting the road and the air to visit out-of-state friends and family. Our lifestyle was an active one, and we liked it that way.

After a year or two of being nestled into the warm space of our small group, our hearts were stirred to plug in even more. And the Lord gave us the opportunity to start a new small group with dear friends at our church for newly married couples. Seriously newly marrieds! We’re talkin’ – folks just back from their honeymoon. What a privilege to be a part of that sacred season in their lives.

Fast forward a few years when my husband had the privilege of serving as a deacon, then I had the privilege of helping to lead a women’s summer Bible study. Our list of involvement goes on, but my point is this:
We were active.
We were connected.
And that was just the way we liked it.

But then life took some twists and turns. And as a result, my stride's taken quite a toll since those days of carefree. Because as I approach those same doors, I’ve had Sunday mornings when it’s been physically challenging just to walk through them, let alone be actively plugged in to church life. So it’s been years since I’ve been in organized ministry, or even participated in an organized event. Because I’m doing well if I can muster the stamina to do all that’s required simply to show up on a Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, church life continues on all around me. Without me. 

And this health adventure hasn’t just impacted my physical frame. My mental, emotional, and spiritual gaits have also become fragile from the harsh winds of life. My journey through chronic illness has brought intense storms to the deepest recesses of my being, and it’s changed me. And the loss of life as we knew it with our church family has been hard to swallow. 

Let me explain a bit further. Whenever you haven’t seen somebody for a considerably long time, there’s an enthusiastic reunion, right? And the typical catch-up questions come naturally. Then on the opposite side of the spectrum, when you see somebody frequently, like every Sunday morning, you get to go beyond those surface questions to dig into the day-to-day grind, and walk through life with them. But my husband and I, we’re in this awkward frequency of the in between. We’re not seeing these folks regularly. But it’s not like it’s been 5-10 years since we’ve seen them, either. In reality, our circumstances have left us doing all the things you’re NOT supposed to do if you want to experience close community:
We show up inconsistently on Sunday mornings. (Sometimes as a couple, but more times one without the other.)
We go into the worship center. We worship. We go out. 
No small groups. No Bible studies. No outreach events. 
No more relating than cordial Sunday morning smiles. 

It’s an unhealthy pattern that leaves longing hearts lonely and unfulfilled. Yet sadly, it’s a pretty common pattern in churches, so we’re not a total anomaly. But in our case, we know better. And we want better. We’re willing to do what it takes to be connected, but our circumstances inhibit us. Our hearts LONG to serve and plug in again. We’re just not physically able to. And that's been a painful place to live.

That particular evening, I approached those now-awkward church doors yet again. My footsteps carrying the imprints of one who’s spent the last several years wrestling her way through pain and loss, through life. And that dreaded in-between awkwardness started to settle in the closer I got to the doors. But the next step held something different. Because in that step, He whispered to me:
“Can you accept it here?” 

Can I accept it here . . .

On the sidelines.

In this awkward and isolating in between.

Can I accept this disconnected place I’m in?
And make the most of it. 

 The moments between His question and my entrance were so brief that I didn’t even have time to consciously respond before I was through the doors and swept into the flow of church goers.

Yet His question alone empowered me. Because this time when I walked through those doors, the awkwardness was replaced with confidence. I was no longer focusing on my disconnectedness; I was focused on embracing the brief moments that I HAD with these people. And wanting to taste the sweetness of being a blessing to them – even from the social sidelines. 

My experience that evening at church was entirely different.
Because rather than throw out a fake hi,
I reached out and offered an embrace. 
Rather than avoid eye contact to dodge the awkward shallow,
I called out her name. 
Rather than turn away after the obligatory hellos,
I turned back to reengage and encourage. 
Rather than stay quiet in my seat before the program started,
I introduced myself. 
And rather than keep that restroom tunnel-vision stare straight down at my hand washing for fear of the casual acquaintance standing next to me not remembering me after all these years, 
I looked up. 
I took a risk.
I initiated conversation.
[Turns out she remembered me, too.]
 

Rather than fixating on being a part of community, I got over myself. And experienced a taste of community when I did. 

A sweet embrace.
The laughter of grace.
The delight of relational reconnections.
The blessing of a new friend.

All rich treasures I would have missed had my focus remained on community – instead of on Jesus. 

That getting over the awkwardness, getting over myself at church, wasn’t anything I pursued. Nothing I’d been praying about. Not a conscious mental shift I made that evening. It was simply another miraculous moment when His grace entered my reality to bring about the change my heart and mind desperately needed.

And sure, it was different from the strong pulse of community we’re used to being a part of. But it was okay. I was okay. I was content with the less than ideal. Content to accept the sidelines.

With an overflow of grace, God brought my self-centric mind back to what church is all about taking my eyes off myself, and turning them onto Jesus.


[Psst! Don’t look now, but this little kite seems to be wrestling a little less, and resting a bit more these days. Well . . . at least THIS day!]


Image courtesy of charamelody

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Fortress of Fear

"There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear."
~ 1 John 4:18a

She had me at the title: Held Captive by Fear. But the entire time I was reading her piece, there was a nagging question in my head that I couldn’t shake. I’m all about God removing my bricks of fear, but what I couldn’t figure out was how, exactly, He does that. Where in my heart and mind does that process begin? In other words, what needs to happen to get results? [Okay, so I like formulas. And writing in the sky. And perceived control . . . ]

As I was chewin’ on all this with the Lord, I thought about my constant toggling between love and fear. A frustrating and exhausting tug of war in my life . . .

(Click here to read the rest.)


Thanks to my dear blogger friend, Jamie Harper, at Brown Paper & Strings for the privilege of joining her "Out of the Dark, Into the Light" series as a guest blogger. Come join us, and make sure you leave a comment so we can greet you when you stop by!



Stone Wall Image Credit: Ioan Besoiu

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stuck



“How do you keep going so hard for so long when you can’t even stop to take a breath?,” she asked. I told her this season of life is clearly my [much-needed] boot camp for dying to self, and for coming to hard-core terms that this world will never satisfy. It’s broken. It’s hard. It’s not my Home. Those realities are what keep me hanging on.

But several nights later, the rubber met the road of routine and my soul pounded the pavement in resistance. I just wanted to stop, let my mind soar freely beyond these four walls, and let my soul breathe. But I was called yet again to the same place, at the same time, to do the same thing. And I didn’t want to. There was a temper tantrum raging in my soul, and I wasn’t ready to surrender.

So I stepped out the front door and sat down on the top step, beneath the warm blanket of stars. It was a quiet night. And the only motion in view was the flickering of the street lamp, wavering back and forth just like my soul. What it needed to do, was the very thing it was struggling to do.
And so was I.

And there was that kite. The one stuck in our walnut tree. My son had pointed it out to me from the Dining Room window a few days before. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have ever noticed it.

The breeze that night was enough to border chilly, and enough to entice the kite elsewhere. So I watched that kite. I watched her fight in the darkness against the branch that held her there.
Constantly wrestling to be free.

She’s a kite, afterall. She’s designed to be in motion, to soar high among the roving clouds and endless sky. Not to be stuck stagnant at ground level.
She was clearly out of place. And in essence, useless.

Then I saw what surrounded the kite.

Flower buds.
Quiet whispers of life.
Steady companions anxious to burst declarations of beauty. Declarations of their Creator.
Reminders of His presence.
All in the same place that months ago, held coldness and death.

On top of that, the kite was free to behold the majesty of the night sky.
Because she was stuck.
Had she not been stuck, her nights would have been spent in the sterile darkness of storage. Missing out on the radiance of the moon, and the canvas of constellations.

As she wrestles against the rough branch, He whispers to her in the wind. So she does something different this time. She leans into the branch. And she begins to see things she's never noticed before. 
She sees a young Daddy swing his little girl around and land her on his shoulders.

She breathes the crisp night air, watching the sky expectantly for shooting stars like a child on Christmas Eve. 


The other day, she watched as a family, 15-year neighbors to the walnut tree, packed up their memories to make new ones in a new home. 


And she's witnessing the sacred courage of a husband and wife as they battle their way through the dark alleys of a cruel disease.
Despite her struggle to break free, she’s beginning to see beauty blossom around more corners than ever before. Even while wrestling lonely in cold, dark nights.
As I write, she remains stuck in my walnut tree.
But maybe she’s not so out of place, after all.

Because apparently, this isn't about the chance to fly again.
This season in the walnut tree IS about the kite breaking free. But it's about her breaking free from something greater. Something that holds her back far more than the heaviest of branches ever could.
It's about discovering strange new sources of joy. And peace.
And surprisingly – freedom.


In fact, it's about redefining freedom.

Finding a freedom she's never known before. Freedom from herself.
One that soars wild and uninhibited, closer to the Heartbeat of Heaven than even the open skies.
One that finds glimpses of His glory in the small, but sacred, plot of land where He's placed her.

A thrilling liberation to embrace that her worth goes far beyond what she can and cannot DO.


She's finding these freedoms.
In the stuck.


She's beginning to see that we glorify God not just by doing big things, out there, for all to see. But by doing the little things.
Right here.
With nobody watching but Him.
Because He's enough.


She's beginning to trust that the significance of her days isn't defined by her scope or reach.
And that her value isn't secured by grand scenery or a seemingly extraordinary calling.

Because when God's in it, it's all extraordinary.


She's discovering this grand paradox. This freedom in the stuck. This beauty in the tangled mess. Soul rest in the assurance that no matter how useless she feels, or even looks, in her stuck state, she can still partake in the goodness and glory of God.

~ ~ ~

What circumstance has been beyond your control and left you feeling stuck?

My experience on the branch has been an isolating one. How would you describe your experience?

Have you ever considered ways the branch might be a friend in disguise, rather than an all-out enemy?

And I constantly misplace my identity in what I do (or think I should be doing), rather than in Who He is, do you?


Share your thoughts, & share the post!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The One Thing Your Blog Strategy (and your soul) Can’t Do Without



Create titles that hook ‘em, they say.
And they’re right.

Present your content with visual cues to keep them reading, they say.
Yep, I’m a believer!

Find your voice.
I agree. It makes all the difference.

Close with a call to action to invoke a response from the reader.
Marketing 101.

And above all, write, write, and write some more.
Mhmm, Writing 101.


No doubt about it, I have a huge passion for strategic communication. My background is in marketing, so I champion all the above principles. But there’s an ingredient that’s imperative to any blog strategy that I have yet to see in any “top tips for bloggers” articles.
And it trumps them all.

Some of you may have a good rhythm with your blog and don’t tend to second-guess your writing, your strategy, or yourself in the process. But I’m guessing for the majority of you, that’s not the case. Especially after reading posts from blogger friends like this one and this one.

So let me put my arm around your shoulder and be your voice of encouragement today.

This, friend, is what I want you to hear:


It’s okay if you’re titles don’t stop the entire world in its tracks.

And it’s okay if you’re struggling to find your voice.

Yes, it’s even okay if you don’t close with the all-imperative CTA.

It’s okay if you’re inconsistent,
don’t come up with the next big thing,
and don’t write nearly as often as you’d like to.

It’s o-kay.

So why, you ask, is a writer who has a huge passion for marketing communications offering you the freedom to break all the strategic rules she tenaciously champions?
Because I have a greater passion for Grace.


Grace is what trumps all I know about marketing. It’s the glorious freedom that tenderly beckons me to set aside strategy and break the rules. Regularly.
Because I want to know Him more than I want to know success.

But Tanya, you ask, won’t that make my blog ineffective, stagnant, and stale?
Oh, dear friend. Trying to constantly configure the perfect equation for the perfect blog will make your soul ineffective, stagnant, and stale.

That’s far too high a price to pay.

And please don’t mistake me for saying that a highly-visible blog is a bad thing, or that it's equated with a lack of intimacy with God, or that we should suppress our God-given dreams. Not at all.

I want to make an impact on our world as much as you do. And that’s a good thing. What I AM suggesting is that we don't let that desire to make Him known trump our desire to know Him.
Or else we’ll begin to mistake our impact for our identity.

I don’t know about you, but I wrestle with that. A lot. I’ve had a post about my struggle with that percolating for seven months, but for now I’ll leave it to Oswald Chambers to sum up:


“Beware of getting ahead of God by your very longing to do His will.
We run ahead of Him . . .
becoming so burdened with people and problems that we don't worship
"

Beware of getting ahead of God by your very longing to do His will, dear blogger . . .

When you can’t find that snappy title that readers will find irresistible,
remember God’s power is made perfect not in competence,

but in weakness.


When you can’t find your voice,
trust His to speak through you.

When you’re banging your head up against a wall to come up with an engaging call to action (not that I’d know . . .ahem),
trust His Spirit to invoke a response in the reader’s soul in ways you or I never could.

And when the only feedback you receive is the sound of crickets chirping instead of comments affirming,
remember Who you’re writing for.
[And that it's also okay to break rules of grammar.] 

Strategic marketing and communications isn’t the end all be all for our blogs, dear blogger.
Your relationship with the One who authors your life story IS.

That relationship with Him is more important than your ministry for Him.
So don’t sacrifice intimacy with Him for the sake of traffic and stats.

Impact is valuable.
But it doesn’t determine your value.

And so, my fellow blogger, fellow life sojourner. Whether your blog strategy is written in a file or simply in your mind, THIS is what He longs for you to engrave in it:

GRACE.

For the imperfect blogger.


~ ~ ~
And now I want to hear from you!

How have you perceived success for your blog?

Do you struggle to embrace grace when you see other bloggers excel?

Do you ever let your personal value get too wrapped up in your blog?

Have you mistaken your impact for your identity?


And why not encourage your favorite bloggers today with this post?

Every blogger struggles with discouragement, at times. And not just us small-scale bloggers. So why not reach out to your favorite bloggers by sending this to them! Tell them how much you appreciate their pouring their heart out on the screen. And remind them of the freedom they have to be imperfect.

Let's cheer one another on toward grace-based blogging!




P.S. My little story of grace in this imperfect post . . .

Out of all the strategic communication tactics I shared, the one I struggle with most is closing my pieces with engaging questions. So several posts ago, I quit banging my head against the wall and decided to be okay without them.  A big part of my blog’s purpose is to be a source of joy for me, not pressure, and my laboring over that tactic was defeating that purpose.

Well, you know the rest of the story, right? As I was finishing up this piece, God brought the above questions to mind. Not just one, several! It was so foreign to have them simply come to mind without laboring over them for days on end that I have to shake my head in wonder and smile. It’s so like Him.

So! M
aking a cameo appearance here on Truth in Weakness, closing questions! Enjoy them while I have them, folks – Engage away!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Love Finds You

 
As they pulled into the driveway, I could see in his face that his body had just taken a hit. And that was before I spotted the mound of gauze covering his eye. It was a planned surgery, but that didn’t make it any easier to see my gregarious man lacking his usual zeal.

His designated-driver buddy got out of the car first, and joked that my husband “thought” he was coherent, but it sounds like the sedation clearly offered our friend some early-morning entertainment.


Then my husband stepped out of the car. More slowly, and less confidently than usual. With only one eye offering cloudy vision at best, he chuckled as he emerged and half-jokingly said, “I can’t find you.”
And I said, “That’s all right. I’ll find you.”

We embraced, I thanked our friend for getting up at the crack of dawn to go with my husband [since my health hasn’t allowed me to do that], and we made our way inside the house.

~ ~ ~

When we face trauma, even if it happens to be something we choose, don’t we attempt to manage our pain the same way my husband’s doctors did? We tackle it with pain killers from every angle, right? Locally and systemically. We anesthetize the point of pain with a numbness so potent we’ve ensured a total loss of all sensation.  And when the world offers valium promises to make sure we don’t even know we’re hurting, all logic convinces us to accept.
Just give me anything to make me not feel the pain.

As counterfeit comfort flows through our veins, it creates a false sense of reality, our entire system unaware of our gaping gash. Even giddy in the midst of it. (By the way, the side effects of the valium? It compromised his digestion – his body rejecting an essential for survival.)

Between the trauma, itself, and the side effects of our synthetic, self-prescribed coping counter-measures, our souls are crippled. Our thinking seems rational, but when we’re only seeing out of one eye, we perceive the world partially blinded. Our vision gets cloudy, and our equilibrium gets off kilter because we’ve lost our center of gravity.

Sure, on the outside, we look fine. We smile, crack a joke, and keep our incisions concealed under sterile white gauze. Because after all, exposure makes wounds vulnerable, prone to infection. And just like when my husband first stepped out of the car, we get so disoriented in life that we have a hard time focusing, and finding God in the midst of it all.

Yet with floods of grace, our tender Father looks past all our desperate attempts to find comfort everywhere but in Him, and sees our soul countenance with full clarity.

He knows the raw wounds that seep below all the gauze.

And He wants you to know,
“It’s all right. I’ll find you.”

 
"Israel, out looking for a place to rest,

met God out looking for them!"

(Jeremiah 31:3)






Image courtesy of Todd White

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dear Overwhelmed, and Constantly Disappointed in Yourself

What a hard road in life you’re walking right now, friend. Maybe more like crawling. I am so sorry, and I know how weary you are. Many days life feels like it’s spinning out of control, doesn’t it? But I want to tell you something. I see your Father doing something in you, something good.

I know you probably can’t see it, because all you see is what you’re not doing, right? What’s falling through the cracks. That phone call you wanted to make to your friend who’s hurting, the meal you’d planned on providing a long time ago for the one in need, the opportunities to reach out to others that your heart longs to say yes to. I understand. It’s a perpetual struggle for me to see past all that I’m not doing as well.

But here’s what I see in your life. I see God shifting your dependence from yourself to Him. Because each time you fall short, each time you feel like a bad friend, or wife, or mom – those are invitations, sweet soul.
Intimate invitations to cling to the Cross.


Or as William R. Newell puts it:
“To be disappointed with yourself
is to have believed in yourself.”


"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
~ Isaiah 43:19
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