Tag: perspective

Fight Back

On Monday night, I went to sleep with depression lurking in the corners of my room. I woke up Tuesday morning with melancholy breathing over my shoulder. As I hit snooze, as I scooped coffee grounds, as I sat down at my desk, as I opened the blinds to let the gloomy gray light in.

 

“What is the point?” it whispered savagely. “What does any of this matter? It doesn’t. It won’t help you now. Go back to bed. Settle into that hopeless place, Elizabeth. It’s the only place you have left to go.” I heard it seep through my tone in my meetings and conversations. My voice was heavy and my mind was coming up short searching for something, anything, positive. I opened Instagram mindlessly, only to scroll past every encouraging story or graphic. Not out of annoyance exactly. More like incapacity. I didn’t feel like I had space to hold a smile or a chirpy tone of voice or one more quippy version of HASHTAG WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER. The darkness loomed too large; there was just nowhere to put any light. 

 

I made a playlist a while back. It’s called “Remember Your Narrative Of Joy,” titled for a phrase from an Emily P. Freeman podcast episode I had listened to that week. She had talked about remembering the story arc of your whole life. That a chapter did not define a whole narrative. As believers, she gently reminded her listeners, ours is a narrative of joy. 

 

I wasn’t feeling particularly joyful at the time, but I knew I needed to act fast and find a way to remember my narrative. Thus the playlist. 

 

It’s not even a full hour of music. Twelve songs. Eleven to start with. I didn’t think too hard about it. It was a moment of desperation, and it’s difficult to to think critically in moments like those. I just threw in the first songs that came to mind when I asked the questions, “What calls something good out in me? What makes me smile? What will make me dance?”

 

A little voice reminded me of my playlist – made specifically to remind me of what’s true. “You should turn that on,” it whispered. “It will help.” But I don’t want help, I huffed. Like a petulant teenager, I shrugged the voice off. “I’m miserable; leave me alone in it.”

 

By 10:30AM, the living room which is currently functioning as my office was crowded with shadows, both literally and figuratively. Though I had turned on every light in the room and opened all the blinds before I set to work hours earlier, the dark skies and rain were hard to overcome with a few 40 watt bulbs. I needed more light.

 

Unable for the moment to focus on any task in front of me, I decided that it would be a good time to stretch my legs and go in search of another lamp. Somewhere in the process, it became a determined battle march. I came back in the room a few seconds later with a brighter lamp and a singular phrase rolling through my mind: 

 

“I’m going to fight back.”

 

The light clicked on with a roll of my thumb. A light came on in my chest and behind my eyes. The tide was turning, and I now held the upper hand in battle. I grabbed an unlit candle from a corner in the room and set it on my desk. “Heirloom Tomato” it was called. If I couldn’t go out in all this rain, I could very well make it smell like a garden inside. 

 

As I sat back in my seat to try it all again, I popped in my air pods and opened the playlist. Remember your narrative of joy, I told myself. My thumb hit the shuffle button and waited for the machine’s choice. The first notes of “Glorious Day” came jumping through the tiny speakers. I leaned back in the chair, breathing in the victory of the last five minutes. Everything changed because I decided I didn’t want to be bullied or dictated to by my fickle emotions or the bleakness of my present circumstances. I didn’t want to just lie down and take it. I wanted to fight back. So I did. 

 

About half an hour later, the sky brightened, lifting the whole room with it. It still rained heavily, but it wasn’t quite as dark. It felt like a beaming smile from a kind Father, a loving God. I think it felt like that because it was. 

 

“I needed rescue, my sin was heavy, but chains break at the weight of Your glory.

I needed shelter, I was an orphan, but You called me a citizen of Heaven.

When I was broken, You were my healing, now You love is the air that I’m breathing. 

I have a future, my eyes are open.”

 

With my open eyes. I saw leafy branches full for the first time in months. I saw a tiny firefighter walking with his dad, splashing in puddles. I saw birds and squirrels flitting through growing grass, trusting their Maker for the life they are living. I opened my front door and saw the rain calling out all the budding things, waking up sleeping life, softening hard ground. 

 

I saw all the things I would’ve missed with a downcast soul. For such a limited view, there is certainly a lot of goodness to be seen. Some days will be bigger battles than others, but in every one, I want to choose the fight. I want to rage against the dark that tries to creep in. To push it back with the great force of what is true. To swing my sword of truth with ferocity and wield my shield of faith with strength. All so I can see His goodness in the midst. 

 

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, for the help of His presence.”

-Psalm 42:5

 

“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

-Jeremiah 31:25

Brick by Brick

I didn’t publish often in 2019, but I did spend much of the year writing. Slowly but surely, I began by typing one word after another, one sentence after the last. To what end, I wasn’t sure. But that was kind of the point. To provide space to breathe through my fingertips. To let the words out that piled up, weighty and tall, on my chest. Thousands of them offloaded onto a Google Doc or a clean sheet of notebook paper in exchange for freedom, peace, and clarity.

What follows it something I wrote last spring. 

 


 

Discontent. That’s the word I feel a little too often in this season. Rushed is the word that follows closely behind it. I feel a little like I’m hurtling forward, and in the blurry colors speeding past me, I wonder what it’s all for. What am I doing here? I’ve been chewing on some words to attach to the restlessness fluttering in my chest. Trying to chase down a feeling that keeps lurking in the corners of my mind. 

It’s April 27th, 2019. I’m in Houston for the Hillsong UNITED show – one of the first on their People Tour. About halfway through the set, the band piles onto the smaller stage about 15 feet from where I’m standing. They tell a story, set up the song, and begin to play. And the notes that fill the air echo somewhere in the chambers of my memory.

Suddenly, I’m back in a musty smelling room in Walker County, Georgia with 300 teenagers. There, standing in the middle of the crowded room during an evening summer camp service, is my sixteen-year-old self. I slip into the row beside her in the old chapel on LookOut Mountain, and I watch her face in the glow of the stage lights, changing with every expression, singing her heart out. I remember this. The words to “Inside Out” run across the screen in front of her and move her soul in a new and fresh way. I don’t interrupt, but I do wonder what she would think about my experience tonight, my experience in the life I’m living now. 

I think about her a lot recently – my younger self. I go back to her often in my mind and tell her all the things I’m doing now, and I say, “Can you believe it? This is where you go! Doesn’t that sound like a wild journey?” She doesn’t say much in response. She looks at me with incredulity and confused eyes, a little hesitant and not quite excited. “But that doesn’t make any sense. Tell me one more time how I get to where you are now.” 

“Only Jesus,” I say. “That’s how.” 

Back in Houston, I have an All Access pass draped around my neck. An hour earlier, I shook the hand attached to the brain that wrote that song. That song that moved me then. 

I sit on the second row, hear it afresh and discover that it moves me still.

It’s bizarre, the life I’m living. That thought runs frequently through my mind. It’s amazing and wonderful and special and fun and such a privilege. So why does the word discontent follow me around? 

I think I have been culturally conditioned to expect something new. Something else. Something next. I expect marriage, a family, a promotion, a house, a move, a connection. All my life, I’ve moved from adventure to adventure, new chapter to new chapter. While this isn’t the final act in the play, it doesn’t have an end in sight. No due date or leading line foreshadowing what’s to come. I’m just here. Day after day, doing the job I was given to do, interacting with the same relationships, driving the same roads, unlocking the same doors. 

And as I write this, I realize what a blessing that is. What a kindness I am missing in my discontentment.

The cravings in my brain tell my parched throat that it is looking for a specific and flavorful drink while I walk past countless glasses of cool, clear water – the only thing that will truly satisfy. 

Adventures are ahead. They will come in time, and they will be as thrilling as all the ones before. But there is a thrill here, too. In sitting still. In routine and the simple act of putting one brick on top of another of my life. Bricks and bricks and bricks, placed at an even pace with diligence and care, don’t look like much one at a time; however, when I step back, something special stands before me. 

And while I work, there is a Master Architect behind me designing something beyond my wildest imagination. Right now, it looks like just a stack of bricks, but that’s only a foundational piece of a larger cathedral He is building. A cathedral meant to show His glory to every eye that sees it. Every eye, including mine. 

I wonder if my 36-year-old self will come someday to visit me in this season. I wonder if the notes of a song that moves me now will prompt her to remember me as I am in this season, at this age. I imagine she will stand silently to the side, watching me, smiling with patience and kindness and understanding. “If you only knew,” she will say quietly. “If you only knew how it looks from here. There’s a masterpiece in the making.

“This is what you are doing here. You’re stirring mortar and stacking bricks in the only way it can be done. One at a time.”

 

Just A Little Bit Broken

Last week, I sat behind the steering wheel of a rental car on Highway 99, driving north. Los Angeles behind me, Northern California ahead. I found myself in the third lane from the right, trailing an old Volkswagen van. It was probably red once, but the years had turned the paint color to a burnt orange. Stickers with logos I didn’t recognize were scattered across the windows, and the rear bumper hung crookedly off the back.

For the next mile or so (before I got tired of going so slowly behind it), I watched the broken piece bump and jostle with every crack and pothole. I smiled to myself, and thought, “Yea, me too.”

The day I went back to work after a blissful ten days at home, I walked in with the kind of confidence that comes only at the start of a new year.

I can do this! So what if I have to leave tomorrow for a work trip? So what if I have to travel for seven days next week? So what if I don’t have enough hours to do all the things? I’ll make them enough! I’m New Year New Me! I can accomplish anything!

And then I cracked my computer screen by mid-afternoon.

Minor setback! You can STILL do this!

And then I packed everything I needed for my trip except my phone charger (hi, this is very important because – GPS).

No worries! You have $15. You can go get a new one. It’ll be great! You can never have too many!

And then my faithful suitcase started to wobble in ways it hadn’t before, and the handle jammed at an inconvenient place.

It’s okay. You just have to get it to baggage check. And to the rental car. And up to your room. Not a big deal.

And then I discovered the charger I brought for my computer did LITERALLY NOTHING when I plugged it in.

That’s okay. This is fine. You’ll just work from your phone. Problem solved.

And then I opened my suitcase and discovered that my curling iron had broken in half on its last trip through the Las Vegas baggage claim.

EVERYTHING IS STILL FINE.

When I saw the dangling rear bumper bouncing on the road before me, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and think about how 2019 seems to have started off a little bit broken.

Because of the broken piece at the back of the van, the vintage van looked rundown, fit only for the scrapyard. The rust and dirt and jostling parts made it look tired and less than capable of highway travel.

But it wasn’t.

Wheels were still turning. Engine was still running. Miles were still being covered. Being a little bit broken didn’t stop it. It made it stand out.

The little broken pieces of my life this week were small annoyances in the grand scheme of things (except for the curling iron, because y’all know that’s a significant tragedy). Nothing was life-threatening or devastating. Just small pieces of broken parts.

Sometimes the things that are broken are small, like legos on a bare foot. And sometimes they’re big, like a piano falling from several stories high. Sometimes they break one after the other, and sometimes they wait until you’re seated and comfortable until they decide to break again.

But the music from your beat up stereo trades places with the wind that whips through the cracks in the window. People watch and stare and say, “Look at that engine still running, still moving to fulfill its purpose, even with a broken bumper. Even with rust on the door handles and chipped paint on the hood.”

Would you look at that?

Give a little grace to the broken pieces in your life and to the people all around you. Commit to trying again when you break something else. Don’t let a broken bumper ruin your ride today.

Remember that dropping broken pieces off at a junkyard cuts them off right at the very moment they were about to say something significant to a watching world. Drive them through life instead and smile with joy behind the wheel. Be a reminder to those driving beside you that just because things are a little bit broken doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy a ride down Highway 99.

 

Weary Souls Rejoice

I’ve been thinking a lot about the 400 year gap between Malachi and Matthew. The absolute silence of God. The quiet. The waiting. The dryness that settled over the people of Israel. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining,” you know.

And I’ve thought about the promise remembered and recalled at every festival, with every prayer, in every household for 400 years. “Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

I’ve wondered at the questions that must have sprung like weeds in the most barren parts of their hearts.

How will you save us?

When will Messiah come?

Will there be justice?

Will we be free?

How much more can we bear?

How long must we wait?

Are you still there?



I’ve thought of the Jewish children perched atop gnarled knees, listening intently to an elderly voice telling about a promised ransom, a payment coming for all the captives.  

I’ve thought of those same children growing up in the moments just before the star arrived. The palpable feeling of change in the winds. The stirring of hearts. The whispers. The prophecies remembered.

And I’ve thought of the moment when God’s silence was split by the cries of a newborn. Son of God, Son of Man. Divinity zipped up in mere inches of human flesh. An audacious rescue looked for, but still shocking and unexpected in His arrival.

I’ve imagined the crowd of shepherds—Jewish men who knew the promise—creeping slowly to the door of the stable cave.

“Is it true?”

“Can it be?”

“Is this the one we’ve been waiting for?”

And Mary nods. It’s Him.

After 400 years of waiting, He is finally here.

It wasn’t all healed in a moment. When the sun rose the next day, Romans were still in control. Herod was still a psychotic tyrant. There was still heartache to be faced. Rachel had much mourning left before her (Mt. 2:18).

But the fulfillment of a promise made at the dawn of time had been set into motion. Beneath a star was born the One who would set it all right. The One who would call to the exiled and bring them home. The One who would pay the ransom for sin and set free every captive.

I’ve wondered about the moments following the stable scene. When the shepherds walked away from the grand nativity stage that night, did they wonder how it would all unfold? Did they realize that it would be a long time before the infant King was ready to rule? And did they know that when He did, it would be vastly different from what the world expected? Thirty-three years later, did any of them squint against the sun and watch as a cross, splintered and bloody, was raised before them? Did they bow their heads in disappointment? Did they question what all their hoping had been for?

When Mary woke the next morning, did she feel as if a boulder was sitting on her chest, the weight of what she had been asked to do nearly unbearable? Did Joseph break out in anxious hives every time he remembered he had been tasked with the incredible job of raising the Son of God? Teaching him to walk and count and build?

And what about the questions that ran through the minds of the wise men on their long journey home? Did they look one to the other and ask, “did we really just meet a king? In that tiny house? And when His kingdom comes, will there be a place for us?”

I wonder about those questions, I guess, because I’ve had some of my own.

I know what it is to wonder if God chose the wrong person for a task to which I was called. I know what it is to wonder how long I’ll have to wait for an answer to a burning question. How long I’ll have to wait for freedom, for relief, for a moment of reprieve. I know what it is to wonder if there’s a place for me at the table. I know what it feels like to bear the burden of the unknown. I know what it is to wonder how the story will end and what it will cost in the in between.

As I enter this Christmas season, I stand peering through the gaps of the shoulders of a dozen reeking shepherds, catching glimpses of the Promise. I shove my way through to the trough that holds the King who came to rescue me. I lay down every question and look instead at His face. “Born that man no more may die/Born to raise the sons of earth/Born to give them second birth.”

And as I turn to leave to go back into the night to my post in the fields, I have to confess that there are things I still don’t understand. There are still heartaches and difficulties to be faced in the days ahead. But I looked on the face of my Savior, and that is enough. He is enough.

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (Jn. 8:12).

Four hundred years of silence, and then He steps in.

Four hundred years of darkness, and then there was a star.

Four hundred years of waiting, hoping, doubting, looking, and then He was there.

Humanity’s Creator King come to rescue.

When the stage was set, the curtains rolled back, every piece in place, God rent the heavens with a spotlight, shining with unwavering brightness on the face of His promise.

And with the privilege and gift of perspective, looking back from the top of Golgotha’s hill, we see that even in the silence, He was never idle or absent. “…for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).



How will you save us?

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son…” (Isa. 7:14)

When will Messiah come?

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (Gal. 4:4-5)

Will there be justice?

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18a)

Will we be free?

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18b)

How much more can we bear?

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:29)

How long must we wait?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isa. 9:6)

Are you still there?

“They will call him Immanuel, God with us.” (Mt. 1:23)

Hear the Rocks Cry Out

Today is my birthday.

On this date twenty-five years ago, I entered this world. Opened my eyes for the first time. Joined the ranks of beating hearts.

For every birthday since, there has been one thing that has always remained constant. After every celebration, I have found my feet firmly planted on the ground. My view of life around me: horizontal and concrete.

Very different from the view I see today–vertical and ever-changing.

On this birthday there will be 39,000 feet between the ground and me.

The truth is, there have been 39,000 feet between the ground and me a lot lately. I have stepped onto twenty flights in the last ten weeks.

Every pilot has landed the plane somewhere new and unfamiliar to me, so I’ve spent plenty of time with my nose pressed to the glass drinking in new sights. I indulge in the beautiful luxury of stillness, my forehead leaning on the window beside me as I sit quietly and watch the world go by.

There is something really special about the view from up that high. The land below stretches out and falls away making it look small and enormous in the same glance. I’m suddenly gazing at a vast topographical model like the ones you see in museums. Instead of one battlefield or city, I see everything. All of it. Stretching farther than my eyes can reach.

Flat farmlands connect like patches on a quilt. Colors and patterns threaded together by dirt roads.

Rivers wind and twist, running like veins across the earth, flowing, giving life to stagnant things.

Clouds float delicately alongside, so close you could reach out and touch them. They are never concerned by the strangers passing through their midst.

Some mountains rise up in friendly competition, each one stretching higher than the last. Others have their chests puffed out proudly, reveling in their glittery crowns of snow. They all stand stoically beside one another like broad-shouldered soldiers vowing solemnly to protect the valley below.

Canyons carved in the dry places, always watching the clouds beside you waiting for rain to refill their cracked walls.

Pools of lake water–puddles of sky fallen to the earth–are nestled sweetly between the hills, waiting with kindness for the wanderer who approaches thirsty for beauty and peace.

It’s clarifying in the most soul-clearing way. It’s perspective. It’s zooming out to remember for a moment that the world is big and I am small. Those mountains have stood at their posts since long before I entered this world twenty-five years ago and will go on standing without my help or permission for years to come.

I see the topographical model of my life so far. Twenty-five years stretched out behind me. Dry deserts, mountain peaks, valley beds, running rivers. Every part singing a different note in harmony to the same song.

You can hear them all the way up there, you know—39,000 feet in the air. You can still hear the rocks.

I imagine they sing out in a sweet, tenor tone. The trees in the forests join in with a rich alto, and the mountains belt out in strength and provide the foundational bass. And the running waters of the rivers sing a clear soprano melody.

You can hear them all the way up here, crying out to their Creator. Singing a never-ending song of His faithfulness.

“The Lord has promised good to me

His Word my hope secures

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures.”

-Amazing Grace, Chris Tomlin

I can’t think of a better place to be on my birthday than right here, 39,000 feet in the air, joining in the song.

Hey, Nashville-I Just Called To Say I’m Sorry

In 2016, I spent a significant portion of my time fighting a love for my new home. I had arrived in January with a steel resolve to be brave in the face of all the new. I was happy to be at my job, but that was about it. Though Nashville did all it could to reach out and extend a welcoming hand, I flat refused to speak. I spent the whole first year of our relationship pining over my ex. No wonder we had issues.

I stepped into a new city still hopelessly and madly in love with Florence, AL. Nashville was a fine place for some folks to live, but it just wasn’t my type. It was merely a holding spot for me. A waiting room for me to park in while I waited for the Lord to tell me I could go home.

If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.

-Malala Yousafzai

Home. Florence. One hundred and thirty-three miles southwest where all my people were.

I had no people in Nashville, and to be honest, I did a poor job of looking for them. I held my heart so far behind me that no one could come close. At best, I planted weedy roots that were violently ripped up once or twice a month when I pointed my car toward the Alabama state line and hit the gas. My mouth complained about my lack of ties to the city, but truthfully, my heart fiercely fought any connections. I didn’t want them, and somewhere deep inside my brain, I felt like I didn’t have room for them.

If I loved Florence with my whole heart, I had no more room for a new city to love. There wasn’t space for both.

But an affection for Tennessee was rising, quiet and strong and steady in the space beneath my chest.

I saw it first in April of last year. Green was coming back into the world again, arriving in brilliance after its hiatus. It sprung from the trees with all the energy of new hope and new life. My Cruze would come to the top of a hill on my way to work, and I’d catch a glimpse of rolling hills rising like a deep breath coming straight from the earth. And I would catch mine. In the cool stickiness of summer evenings, I watched the maple leaves from my patio flutter bashfully in the breeze. On Saturday hikes, the light would cut through the wall of trees so sharply I knew it was looking for my attention.

I stretched out on grassy lawns or scrunched in age-old pews and heard the city’s wild and brilliant heartbeat through guitar strings and voices loosed. I put my hand on the pulse of music that makes this city feel alive, like the soil beneath our feet is breathing the music from its own unseen lungs. Those of us who have to obey the laws of gravity get, for a brief moment, the chance to know what it feels like to defy it.

I’ve spent much of this new year trying to quietly apologize to Nashville. And Nashville, in all her generosity, is forgiving. Through all my foot stamping and tantrum tears last year, she never stopped singing. She never let her voice get too small for me to hear. And I’m grateful for another year to hear it and another chance to really listen.

You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.

-Henning Mankell

There’s room for both, I’ve learned. There’s love enough for more than one piece of geography.

And I need them both, Florence & Nashville. I need every mile.

Florence is home. Safe. Still so very needed. Always will be. When I cross the city lines, it refills my tank with courage. Tells me with its slow drawl that it’s glad to see me. Tells me it’ll be here waiting when I come again.

Nashville is growth. Smothering with its enormity. Terrifying. Luminous. Gleaming. So welcoming and warm. It pushes me to be brave. Demands more of me than I thought I could give. Asks me to climb to new heights, but promises a great view. And it delivers.

There are a thousand ways to go home.

-Rumi

So, Nashville, I just called to tell you I’m sorry. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad you welcomed me and gave me a new place to call home. I’m glad you didn’t give up on me.

And Nashville—the view really is amazing.

 

Adventures at the Lawrenceburg Fair: Part 3

So it’s taken a little longer than I initially anticipated, but here it is: part three of my Lawrenceburg fair blog series.

As a teenager, I had heard all kinds of legendary stories about the Lawrenceburg fair.

(Let’s just pause for a moment to laugh at my use of the phrase, “As a teenager.” Like it was so long ago. Also, laugh at the implication that I am now an adult. Ha!)

There was a glow of grandeur around my vision of this event. But to be perfectly honest, I was less than impressed when we arrived. We walked in next to the bathrooms and the animal stalls, and I have to tell you, it was not thrilling. Around the corner, we came to a string of rides and booths. Exciting but nothing different from any other fair. From where I was standing, it just didn’t look like anything to write home about.

After a short wait in line, a friend and I climbed into a cage on the Zipper. If you’re unfamiliar with fair rides, let me explain: the Zipper is essentially a Ferris wheel for thrill-seekers. Hence the cage. Though I have seen it make grown men nauseated and terrified, it is one of my favorite rides.

Much like the Ferris wheel, whenever other riders get off, the ride stops mid-circle, leaving you dangling wherever you stop. After a few minutes of flipping and screaming, the ride paused, leaving us at the very pinnacle of the machine. I looked to my left, through the holes of the closed-in contraption, and saw the Lawrenceburg fair. All of it. It was glittering, beautiful, and huge, expanding far beyond what I had originally assumed. At the highest point, I could see all the grandeur I had missed from the ground.

That’s often how life goes. We see only pieces at a time, confused by their smallness or ugliness or inability to fit in the puzzle we’ve already started.

But sometimes we get glimpses from the top. We stop at the peak of the ride and look out on all the pieces at once. We’re allowed a moment of perspective. Of understanding. Of clarity.

When we’re standing on the ground, it’s important to remember that another view does exist. There is a bigger picture. There is an end result even if we can’t see it. Just because the stables are clouding our current view, doesn’t mean there isn’t more just around the corner. There’s always more than what we see.