Welcome. Another Laity Reflection

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“The essence of hospitality is a heart open to God, with room prepared for the Guestness of the Holy Spirit, that welcomes the presence of Christ. This is what we share with those to whom we open our doors. We give them Him.”–Karen Burton Mains

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From the minute I arrived at Laity Lodge I felt room prepared. Yes, there was a literal room waiting for me, but the spirit of every aspect of this place whispered, “Welcome. You will meet Him here.”

I loved how during the first evening, Tim, one of the Laity employees, briefly explained the kind of hospitality we would experience in our days there. Always beautiful pottered mugs and hot coffee and tea waiting for us in the reception area of the dining hall. Always fruit and snacks waiting. If we needed or wanted anything at all, just ask. After a clanging bell was rung, the most lovely and healthy meals were served family style. We gathered around a table of strangers and friends who were in reality brothers and sisters from the same Father.

I was perhaps one of the attendees who was most on the fringe. Never once did I feel left out of the group. Just the opposite, I experienced open arms, listening ears and sincere hearts. I use the phrase, “To know and be known by you” frequently in my close friendships. I did not coin this term. It comes from Parker Palmer’s To Know as We Are Known where he describes hospitality as a “way of receiving each other, our struggles, our newborn ideas with openness and care. It means creating an ethos in which the community of truth can form.”

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One of the things I was most anxious about in deciding to attend The High Calling retreat was sharing a room with someone I did not know. I arrived in an earlier group and settled into my space before my roommate arrived. Since deciding to attend I had prayed about who God would choose to share my space. I thoughtfully made a little tote bag of gifts to leave on their bed. Gifts. My love language. I haven’t shared a room with a stranger since college, and even then I did not do it well. When the door opened this beautiful woman came in, and her face seemed disappointed, even sad. She had come to the retreat thinking she was rooming with someone else. Someone she knew. Someone who was more important. Someone who had a large blog following and a published book. Someone who she could learn from and grow from because of knowing her. Who in the world is Monica Snyder from Uniontown, Ohio? I greeted her and told her I had been praying for her. She answered, “Oh, I haven’t!” We began to laugh. She explained how this room change turned her idea of what the retreat would be upside down. We hugged. I’m not sure who welcomed who, but it was comfortable and easy from that moment on. We told a little of our stories, a place I think everyone should start. How can I be with you if I know nothing about you? We headed out to dinner, and she welcomed me at “her” table and introduced me to the many she already knew. I silently exhaled. There was room for me. Caryn and I became very close during our time together. Except for my older sister, Rochelle, I can’t remember such late nights of sharing and laughing and “Oh, one more thing and then we HAVE to go to sleep.” I believe we will be lifelong friends and know God planned the room switcheroo for reasons we can’t even understand just yet. I am grateful for the willingness of this precious woman’s heart to open a space where our truth could meet.

I’m thinking about welcome as we begin Advent. Our Savior’s story begins with Mary making room in her heart and rearranging all notions about what her life would look like to welcome God made man into her womb. As Mary and Joseph traveled the night her labor pains began to come steady and strong they we told there was ” . . . no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

Eugene Peterson wrote a beautiful poem about “Hospitality” from a small volume of his work titled Holy Luck. I love how he takes us from welcoming Jesus, something we think we would all heartily agree to do, to opening our hearts and homes to others who are broken angels unaware; to those who are Christ people in their messy state. Long after they are gone your sacrifice of welcome may become the story that saves and even raises you from the deadness into life.

Benedict taught us well: Receive
Each guest as Christ. The bell rings, the door
Opens. Some unexpected, and some, yes,
Unwelcome. Our guest book spills out photos.

Christ abused. Christ the fool,
Christ sullen, Christ laughing,
Christ angry, Christ envious,
Christ bewildered, Christ on crutches.

Like Gospel writers of old we pray
And reminisce over left behind guest signs–
A bra, a sock, a scribbled thank you–

And let them grow into stories. Sometimes
It takes an unhurried while. Then,
There it is: absences become Presence. Resurrection.

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Come Lord Jesus

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“Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, ‘Come Lord Jesus!'”–Henri Nouwen

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I’ve been toiling over several posts; half written drafts telling stories of my trip to Laity. I’m trying to mine the riches and words are failing me. I am changed in a way a few days would not normally morph a person into someone else. The profound nature of God’s work in me is not something I can tell lightly. I am quietly holding these things in my heart. Much like Mary I am answering, “Be it unto me according to your word.”

I was thrown back into daily life with my Danica getting the tummy flu the Monday night I returned home. She missed school Tuesday and Wednesday, time I would have reflected and written more. I began to feel sick Wednesday and am really not well even now. I have a cough that racks my EDS body and makes a sharp knife like feeling behind my left eye. We had a lovely Thanksgiving at my parent’s home but did not push to decorate that evening. For some reason our traditions are feeling less necessary as the girls get older. We are all willing to relax into this Advent season. We finished decorating our tree today and will begin our candle lighting tonight and readings from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.

More than ever before our little family is not wanting for any one thing. We still sit in ashes in many ways financially and face a new year of immediate appointments that mean deductibles and trips and scans. We have purposed in our hearts to face these hard challenges in January, but for this month we will celebrate the gifts we already have and the one and only gift we really need, our God made man. Tonight we begin following the star, seeking the light and crying out, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Our journey will be quiet, soft and slow.

On repeat.

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Finding a Gap. Entering Laity

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“The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock—more than a maple—universe.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (This blog is not even a month old and I’m quoting Annie again. I won’t apologize.)

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It was seven days ago I woke at 4 am and drove myself in the bitterly cold and snowy dark to our little airport. I fly alone frequently for medical appointments and in my former life all the time for work, but this was entirely different. Always described as courageous and independent some might not consider this trip to Texas a big deal for me, but it was. My territory has expanded as large as the world through my old blog and facebook connections with people who walk similar roads of pain. My real world has slowly shrunk to my bed, my sofa and the medical professionals who through necessity have become my primary social circle.

I have read The High Calling regularly for a long time. I believe whatever we are asked to do in life is ministry when approached with the heart of Jesus. Their thoughtful posts by many authors give me concrete questions for reflection and soul searching in my own struggle for wanting to be more of a participant in the Kingdom of God.

I know for sure it is a tragedy so many of God’s children are living their lives on autopilot. They experience flashes of inspiration quickly drowned out by the endless monotony of the day to day. It leaves one empty and floating. The stay at home mother, the day laborer, the IT professional and the CFO filter side by side into the pews on Sunday and hopefully hear some exposition of God’s word with a morsel of practical application at the end. They leave. The people in full time ministry scratch their heads at the lukewarm response. In the same bewilderment most of the people drive home to let the dog out, make lunch, watch a football game and as evening approaches begin to feel an angst about the return to work. Plain old work. They pray for an average of seven minutes a day. If they are studying the Bible at all it is fast food packaging with a verse or two attached. Let’s grab our God and go. A Pinterest post with a pretty picture grabs their eye. Oh, there are nice words there too about being strong. Have courage. Trust. Hope. Yes, this is good. Now, back to my email and off to the meeting. The baby needs fed again, and there are no more clean towels. What will we eat tonight? What will I wear tomorrow? Should I buy something I don’t need on the way home so I feel like my work is producing something tangible?

I lived this life for many years.

I’ve been dancing around my call to write “Gauntlet with a Gift” for over a year now. At one point I will admit I considered myself in direct disobedience to God by not moving forward after a brief discussion with my neurosurgeon last summer. It was after I missed the Refine retreat in the spring and was hospitalized for twelve days in Maryland for plasmapheresis, God brought a messenger from Chicago to my room of desperation. She told me I had to write this story. She knew me from facebook and Team Danica. She came knowing nothing about the original call or my fits and starts with outlining the book. I finally took this seriously. Remember my rule for how God guides us? Providence. Provision. Gift.

I began to obey by opening up the hard beginnings of the story. It was much more than just about Danica or myself or our family. I continued to feel the need to find an opportunity to join a community of writers for encouragement and inspiration. I had been a lone ranger for a very long time. The readership of Team Danica grew out of an organic following of people who loved our family. Besides posting on facebook I did not market my blog, but you did. Even though I had a background in marketing, advertising and public relations including an employee who worked under me directly responsible for search engine optimization I did nothing to grow my place in this way either. Still, people from near and very far found us through Google searches including the names of our disorders. It turns out not many people were writing about them when all this began and certainly not someone willing to say the hard things like “HELP!” I never wanted to have links or ads or even change my simple blogger profile. It was my little space to bear my heart. I was humbled and grateful so many wanted to walk along side, continue reading, praying and supporting us.

I already told the Storyline debacle in an earlier post. I had forgotten I applied in the summer on a whim for a scholarship to “The High Calling” retreat. I don’t know what made me think I was even the right demographic to attend, but I had desperately dreamed of visiting Laity one day. An email awarding me the scholarship sent on July 6th had gone to spam. A second email sent on October 6th asked me if I was planning to use the money or it would need to be reallocated. This was happening the same time Shauna Neiquist said Storyline was mine. I thought God was pulling a double whammy, in my face, “Girl, get up and do this thing NOW!”

I wasn’t supposed to go to Chicago. I see God’s hand so clearly in closing that door. I had another surgery on October 22nd and returned home to recover with my heart yearning for retreat and recovery. I dallied around with the book more. I bought my tickets to Texas. I ended Team Danica; four years of story, heart cries and miracles to begin anew here. I decided to write a post from a prompt on The High Calling, and they decided to feature it. I thought it was the least I could do before heading to Laity. One link up gave me some cred, right?

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You know the verse about exceeding, abundantly above all you could ask or think? As our little group met up at the airport in San Antonio and headed on the two hour drive to Laity I was in awe. I thrive on new landscapes. I had been to the city before but never the Texas Hill Country. I was smitten. As we entered the 2,000 acre property we had to literally drive in the Frio river to get to Laity. I knew I was entering a sacred place. The rain and cloudy skies from the airport were gone and the sun was seeking me out as I checked in and found my room. I set out to explore and found myself forgetting to breathe. I knew I was ordained to be there. All my anxiety about the new people and unfamiliar situations faded away. My fear about who my roommate would be subsided. I came to the experience with no expectations. I realize now I was perhaps one of the few people there who didn’t have some kind of relationship with the organization, one another, a blogging or book venture or a desire to establish one of these things during the time there.

I came to see just a glimpse of the backside of God in a gap.

What He gave me was much more.

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My face is still shining.

(I will be writing for the next few days about details from the retreat, sharing photos and talking about why I’ve been practicing personal retreat as a spiritual discipline for most of my life. Consider Jesus words to His disciples in Mark 6:31, “Then because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”)

Spiritual disciplines are means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. It means somewhere youre not occupied and you’re certainly not preoccupied. It means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned on or counted on.–Henri Nouwen

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Unwrapping the Greatest Gift . . . an Advent giveaway

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“If you don’t come to Christmas through Christ’s family tree and you come into the Christmas story just at the Christmas tree–this is hard, to understand the meaning of His coming.” –Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas

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I found Ann’s blog A Holy Experience in 2008. Her writing brought me daily to the foot of the cross in a way I never had before. In 2010, a Christmas season following Danica’s major brain surgery and fusion and of very little in things to give but so much in Grace to receive, we began celebrating Advent as a family every day of December instead of just weekly on Sunday. This included reading Scripture, singing songs and lighting candles on Caleb’s beautiful hand made wooden “Cradle to the Cross” wreath. I would use a collection of books to bring together our nights of worship.

Last year I was changed by Ann’s daily adult devotional The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas. I began going through the book with a friend. It convicted and encouraged me in my slow expectant journey to Bethlehem. I especially loved the questions at the end of each chapter prompting thoughtful heart searching and reflection. I gifted at least ten copies, including giving it to my girl’s teachers at the beginning of December. Giving gifts early has become a tradition for me to eliminate the rushed frenzy of thoughtless buying and enable our home and hearts to quietly focus and rest in the Advent season.

I ordered the new family style book as soon as it was released. When Danica opened the beautiful pages she immediately began reading, and her excitement grew to see we would start our journey this year in the Garden of Eden and follow it all the way to the incarnation of our Savior. No more hanging out all month at the stable and the cradle. We come to understand the intricate details of God’s plan to save us through Biblical narratives winding through several thousand years; exploring the lives of men and women who are much like you and I. Ann writes in her devotional book,

The coming of Christ was right through families of messed up monarchs and battling brothers, through affairs and adultery and more than a feud or two, through skeletons in closets and cheaters at tables . . . And Jesus claims exactly those who are wondering and wounded and worn out as His. He grafts you into His line and His story and His heart, and He gives you His name, His lineage, His righteousness. He graces you with plain grace. Is there a greater Gift you could want or need or have?

The illustrations are lovely. The suggested activities for application provide the opportunity for the stories to become real Jesus living. There is also a link to download The Jesse Tree ornaments or you will be delighted to know Dayspring is also offering a full set of ready to use ornaments to purchase. I know this book will become cemented in our family’s Christmas worship for years to come. Throughout the month of December I will be writing frequently about the long slow journey of expectation. I hope you will find still moments to join me here and also carve out space for you and your own family to quiet the noise of the world’s twisted shout of the celebration of our Savior’s birth.

How do you or your family observe Advent? Is this something new to you? What could you do this year to make Christmas a more spiritual holiday for yourself and your family?

I am giving away a copy of Ann’s special book this week. To enter answer one or all of the questions above in the comment section here on the blog and share this post on facebook with a friend or family member whose adrenaline is already rising in the sea of Black Friday ads, lists of wanting, parties and pastries. I will randomly choose a winner on Thanksgiving night so I can priority ship and have it to you by the evening of December 1.

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Thorn in the Flesh

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I have been in the Texas hill country at Laity Lodge for The High Calling Retreat since Thursday. There is a marinating of soul needed before I can write more about this sacred experience.

Marilyn McEntyre encouraged us yesterday to cultivate a litany. I struggled and eventually put the pen and paper away and went to bed. This morning I entered the mostly empty and quiet main room in the lodge for worship. A humble and striking presentation of the Lord’s Table was waiting. Morning light slanted across the canyon illuminating simple pottery holding the sacraments.

I opened my Moleskin, and these words poured from my heart to the page.

I stood at a minimal wood pulpit and read:

I forget
Calculating a one to ten scale
Pain
Always five or more
Thorn in the flesh

I wail
Hiding in my locked room
Fear
Never going to escape
Thorn in the flesh

I fake
Entering the day with a smile
Obligation
Pretense of hopeful trust
Thorn in the flesh

I push
Dragging snapping bones forward
Wounded
Betraying my body to serve my man and girls
Thorn in the flesh

I retreat
Leaving behind the lonely place
Anxious
Breathing life in community and affirmation
Thorn in the flesh

I remember
Kneeling before the rugged cross
Redeemed
Believing His body and blood are for me
Thorn in the flesh

I expect
Lifting body, mind and soul
Healed
Knowing I am made eternally well by His
Thorn in the flesh

(I did not punctuate my words in any way while writing and wanted to share it here in the raw form.)

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Playdates with God. And another giveaway

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“What if man could see Beauty Itself, pure, unalloyed, stripped of mortality and all its pollution, stains, and vanities, unchanging, divine, . . . the man becoming, in communion, the friend of God, himself immortal; . . . would that be a life to disregard?” –Plato

Playdates

Every year I choose a word. For a lover of language this is a difficult task. The green leaves I love begin to turn brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange as they loosen their grip on their life source and float to the ground. The light dims as days get shorter and cold winds blow in. I dig deep and bury heart cries of musty yearnings mixed together like a bag of bulbs never knowing what will bloom. Covered by cold earth and first snows my winter sadness always sets in. I anticipate the journey of Advent, but I long for the afterbirth, the new life that grows from the stump of Jesse’s root. I really need the Cross and the Resurrection. I need the Hope of a God who is making all things new. I ask God to show me what I should choose to shape my entire coming year around.

My word for 2014 is “PLAY”.

In May of 2009 Danica’s neck went crooked. Our lives were turned inside out and upside down. I stopped playing. Every single effort of my spirit, mind and body was for saving her and holding our family together. I worked to continue to provide day and night. In between I was driving this little girl to every doctor, specialist and therapist I could. Dan worked the 3-11 pm shift so I could try to work online in the mornings. I was alone with the girls at night. After I would get my little Delaney tucked in I would sit outside Danica’s door while she screamed in pain. My prayers were a strange and sometimes sinful bargaining with God. I would give Him anything if He would just help her. I barely ate. I couldn’t sleep. When I finished my programming list work, and she had finally cried herself to sleep, I became obsessed with internet research and making connections with anyone who might help us.

Our bodies can only withstand this level of stress for certain periods of time. They will eventually break. I found a counselor early, before we even knew what Chiari was, and she drew me a picture of my brain. She showed me simply how there are two bowls there. One is what empties us; work, stress, illness and toxic relationships mixed in with basic things we may lack like shelter, food, clothing and security. The other bowl holds good things in whatever form we most need; the basic things I mentioned above but also rest, relaxation, loving relationships and yes, PLAY.

We were created by a God who loves to give us good things. He created us to experience pleasure. Rest was so important to Him He actually made it a rule to live by and dedicated one day out of seven to it. He asks us to be like children in many ways. He wants our hearts and minds free in such a way we do not worry about what we will eat or drink or wear but choose the better part instead. We are back to the Catechism I shared in an earlier post. God wants us to spend quality time enjoying Him and glorifying Him forever.

I began 2014 determined to restore some kind of good to the almost empty bowl in my brain. After a revision of my brain shunt in February I was blessed to take a trip to Tucson. It was an amazing week of retreat and rest but also of play in every way. I wore my talisman of play the entire time. (Lisa Leonard makes the most beautiful hand stamped jewelry perfect for your word of the year.) I read spirit filling books. I laid by the pool with my face in the sun. I hiked into the Sonoran hills. I bird watched. I took lovely photos of tiny dessert details. I had a spa treatment. I fed my body healthy meals. I spent two full days of my trip with my dear sister-in-law, a relationship that sustains me. I sat on the patio every single night to watch the sun set over the mountains and the starts and city lights appear. Each evening, along with the other guests there, I drank a shot of tequila and toasted new friends around a fire that burned late into the mountain chill. It was everything I needed and wanted it to be. I was also well for the first time in years. I had the week I’d begged God for. Just seven days of feeling no pain and remembering what real life could be like. He graciously gave this to me. My only regret was my husband and girls could not see me like this.

When I returned home I began to look for ways to begin again doing things I enjoy. I made more art. I planted a perennial garden. I threw a fun outdoor party with all my friends. I went to a concert. I went shopping with a friend to putz for vintage treasures. I listened to music and watched movies I’d missed in those lost years. I was able to just be with my husband and girls, and this was the best play of all; having a relationship with them outside my bed, outside of pain, outside of sickness. Mixed in all this was some intensive plasma treatment and hospitalization, IVIG infusions with home health, Meningitis, more plasmapheresis and another surgery, but I had filled up the good bowl enough to make it through. Play saved me.

Several months ago Laura Boggess published a book titled Playdates with God. I have read it through twice now. It is all marked up and page flagged. The book is a beautiful journey through her own longing to make deliberate time in her serious and busy life to just BE with God in the purest form possible here on earth. How do we even begin this without some kind of intention turned into practice? Could we start small? Could we carve out just one hour a week for our hearts to pursue enjoying God and practicing play? Would the ritual grow to become a sturdy thread in the fabric of our lives?

Laura points us to Timothy Keller and Katherine Alsdorf’s examination of Sabbath in Every Good Endeavor. They share three main tenants of God’s gift of rest and play. The Sabbath is a celebration of our design. It is a declaration of our freedom, and it is an act of trust. Laura writes, “To be free to live as we were designed to –with the confidence afforded by trust that our Divine Parent will work out all the details for our provision—this is the beauty of Sabbath. . . Time with God. Alone, Just the two of you. This is how intimacy develops. This is how we grow the trust necessary to come to God as a little child.”

I met a dear friend for coffee on Saturday. Her heart was sad about how life is sweeping her away. Day after day of sameness turning into weeks, making months and then suddenly you see a year of life gone without much joy at all. How does this happen? I encouraged her to put first things first every single day and then start small. You can do this too. Carve out one hour a week and make it holy. Let your husband know and your children know this is an appointment with God. It’s not your quiet time or your prayer time or your Bible study. Those are the first things. This is an hour you will do something you love. You will open your eyes and your heart like a child to remember what brings you joy. This is your chief end. Glorify God. Enjoy God. Make a playdate with God.

Tomorrow morning I am heading to Laity Lodge in the hill country of Texas for The High Calling retreat. I will be beautifully out of touch from this “world” and in fellowship with saints and my God in a hallowed place.

While I’m gone think about how you would you choose to spend your first playdate with God? Share in the comments here. When I return I will randomly choose a winner of my “PLAY” chalkboard banner I have treasured this year and a copy of Laura’s book “Playdates with God.” To be entered you need to subscribe to the site on the right side of the homepage, comment on this post and share socially by clicking the links below. Keep your eyes open. You will SEE Him. Ordinary miracles are His specialty!

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The Snow Child and “Ordinary” Miracles

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“She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable?” ― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

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It’s no secret I’m not really a lover of snow. I suffer from Intracranial Hypertension, and I can predict snow before Doppler radar because of an intense pressure headache that grows from the feeling of numb fullness to a skull crushing my brain. My second brain shunt, now almost a year old, helps some. The grey skies hurt my heart and cold almost paralyzes my body. All this makes me wonder why God has me living here in Northeast Ohio.

There is still a wonder in the first snow of each year. It began falling last night as I put Twixie out for the last time before bed. Just like a child I stood in awe of the flakes falling on my eyelashes and face. I reached out to catch one and the second it touched my fleshy warmth it was gone.

Several years ago I gifted my mom with the book The Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrect. It is a stunning coffee table book with micro photographs of individual snowflakes. Not knowing I deeply desired the book for myself, my friend, Janet, gave me one for Christmas last year. There is also a smaller gift edition available. Never before had I seen or begun to understand the intricate DNA of every single crystal miracle. We all hear the adage, “There are no two alike.” I finally believed.

I’ve been keeping my eyes wide open for “ordinary” miracles. Somewhere between real life and fairy tales there is a snow child in us all. The beauty and the ugly of our stories make up remarkable narratives about the detailed design our God is revealing in each one of us. Many times these lessons are fleeting and only our for a moment. Look around you today. What may seem cold and wet and slightly inconvenient is also a gift. What other wonders are we taking for granted because we cannot slow to see?

“You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had begun to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.”― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

(If you haven’t read the novel The Snow Child you must! It is truly an adult fairy tale you will not be able to put down. It will shape you and stay with forever.)

And this. Sarah McLachlan singing “Ordinary Miracle.” Way back when Team Danica started I had this song play every time you opened the site. I’m listening to it on repeat today. Enjoy.

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Harvesting Quiet Gifts of Good

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“And none will hear the postman’s knock without a quickening of the heart.  For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?”–W.H. Auden

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I grew up in a family entrenched in ministry.  I saw shepherding and serving as difficult and thankless.  My parents often burned-out on doing good but never pulled back for times of real respite.  The older I became the more I resented their focus on other people while my siblings and I floundered around spiritually.

My mom cross stitched Galatians 6:9 as a Christmas gift to hang in my dad’s office.  “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  How could they be so committed when the Church was such a mess?  When I was fifteen there was an ugly split.  I watched over a decade of their lives burn into a pile of rubble.  I ran as far as possible from God and His people as I could.

It took relocating and many years before the smoldering cleared, and my parents were brave enough to return to demanding positions of ministry.  My mom is an elementary principal of a large Christian school.  The hearts and lives of the children and their families are what she breathes.  My dad is an education and missions pastor at a local church.  Almost every waking minute of their lives at least six days a week are committed to serving others.  I can’t wait to see the heavenly harvest from their life work.

I never wanted to be like them.  I talked about this with my counselor many times.  I sporadically returned to the Church and resisted almost every opportunity to be real hands and feet.  I slowly began to serve in ways like taking meals to others, watching their children and joining in small Bible study and fellowship, but it was hard, and it frightened me.  Focusing outside my own heart and the hearts of my family and risking being an active part of the body of Christ seemed too far to stretch after all I’d seen.

Read the rest of this post over at The High Calling.

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Shine Through Me

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“Begin today! No matter how feeble the light, let it shine as best it may.  The world may need just that quality of light which you have.”–Henry C. Blinn

What is calling

I struggled for months with creating this new site and beginning to talk about the book I’m writing.

I believe God directs our paths through providence, provision and innate gifts.  He creates each one of us with a special DNA of purpose. For all of us it should include the first question and answer from the “Westminister Shorter Catechism.”  My dad kept a little blue paperback version with circles all over the cover in his Bible.  I had to be three or four years old when I began learning the foundation of what my life was made for.  It asks, “What is the chief end of man?”  It answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

It is that simple.

The larger question we all ponder is how our circumstances and gifts could be best used to this end.

Months ago, a childhood friend sent me a book written by Emily P. Freeman titled “A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You were Made to Live.”  I know it was a nudge from her to consider I might be stuck in my long and painful journey writing occasional posts on a little blogger site because it was safe.  She also understood any aspiration for something bigger would be plaguing my heart, because motive is something I live and die by.  Is shining the light He created in me toward Him through the story He is writing in my life something pride or selfish ambition are inevitably at the center of?  Could I ever see growing my audience and publishing a book as obedience to His call and a way to deeply glorify God and enjoy Him?

I spent ten weeks in late 2011 through early February of the next year at a beautiful lake house recovering from my brain decompression and first fusion.  My husband gifted me with the above beautiful piece of art by Kelly Rae Roberts.  I would move it around to ensure she was facing the sun as it changed positions from dawn to dusk in this cathedral of a home with a wall of windows.  I consider the time I spent there one of the holiest and most soul changing experiences God has ever given me.  I collaged a vision board for my heart’s desires.  I prayed for hours.  I read for hours.  I blogged some, and I wrote prolifically in my personal journal. I knew then I was supposed to write this book.

I returned to the dark basement in my parent’s home.  I had so many health struggles in front of me, and I felt the Shekinah glory fade away.  I began to doubt God, myself and the journey.  I wasn’t just hiding my light under a bushel.  It almost went out entirely.

Emily writes about a short essay C.S. Lewis penned called “First and Second Things.”  He said this, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” She elaborates on her own struggle about desires and calling.

Where I’ve run into the most confusion, though, is wondering what it actually means to bring glory to God as a first-things pursuit. It isn’t just me on my knees in an empty room with my hands lifted in the air.  It can be that, but it isn’t only that, and I would dare say it isn’t usually that.

How are human beings to reflect the glory of God in the world?

I have been tempted sometimes to throw every single desire I have into the “second things” pile for fear they are things I’m making up.  I tend to assume if it’s something I really want, then it isn’t something I should be allowed to have.  Am I just being selfish?  Greedy?  Crazy?

It takes courage to honestly consider desire in the presence of Jesus.  Am I brave enough to acknowledge what I most long for?  Am I willing to expose my desires in the light of the love of God?

Here’s my favorite part,

As we begin to uncover the desires we may be reluctant to face, remember the Gospel makes it possible for us to confront whatever we see.  Christ is intuitive enough to sort out the first and second desires on our behalf.

The timing is now.  I’m obeying His providence, His provision and His gift to shine.

“Let your light shine before  men in such a way they make see your good works, and glorify Your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16 (NASB)

Goodgiveaway

Is there a desire God has placed in your heart you have been fearful to pursue?

Comment below about a way God could shine through you to accomplish good works and glorify Himself. Share this post or invite someone to join this journey.  I am giving away three books I love.  “The Lemonade Ripple” is a children’s book by Paul Reichert about how small acts of kindness ripple into big waves of love. “One Good Deed A Day” is a journal with simple suggestions every day on how to reach outside our little worlds and do good.  “Shine Through Me” is a journal full of Scripture and beautiful quotes with lots of room to write about what is calling you.  The winner will be chosen randomly from all comments.  The giveaway will close midnight on Saturday, 11/15/14, and the goodies shipped Monday morning.

Look for a post tomorrow about creating good through our specific gifts.

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Paying the Rent to Write

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I had business cards printed in honor of launching this new place anticipating connections with people in the publishing world as I finish the book I am currently writing. I planned to order some “real” ones cohesive with my brand when this site went live. For the interim I had a sweet little design printed on beautiful card stock. They are perfectly me. If you didn’t already know, quality paper is like good thread count and great champagne. If you’ve never touched it, slept on it or drank it you’ll probably make it through life just fine, but once you have you’d pretty much sell your soul to make them yours. I always have a stack of books nearby and the red glasses are just smart, so I thought ordering fifty of these cards would give me something to hand out at Storyline. When it came to a title I was stumped. Who was I going to say I was? What is it that I do?

Am I am blogger who wants to be a writer? What is the difference? Am I writer who wants to be an author? Are you only an author when something is published on good paper? When did all this become so confusing and the lines this blurred?

Remember when you uncapped your Le pen in the coolest color and just let it slide across the smooth empty pages of your journal or notebook without any hesitation? There was no world wide web. We were not pushing “publish” on any and every thing pouring out of our minds and hearts. Our words were sacred, sincere and safe. We kept them like a treasure map back to our true selves knowing for sure we would need them again someday. At a young age we already felt the propensity to lose our way and betray our own confidence for false desires so we wrote like mad.

I love this passage from Annie Dillard’s “Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters.”

She is nine, beloved, as open-faced as the sky and as self-contained. I have watched her grow. As recently as three or four years ago, she had a young child’s perfectly shallow receptiveness; she fitted into the world of time, it fitted into her, as thoughtlessly as sky fits its edges, or a river its banks. But as she has grown, her smile has widened with a touch of fear and her glance has taken on depth. Now she is aware of some of the losses you incur by being here–the extortionary rent you have to pay as long as you stay.

Did I really want to pay soul currency to tell my story? I had this very real opportunity once. When it came time to sign my words over to someone I didn’t know or trust I ran fast and far away.

I began a blog in 2008 to show my family the cute pictures I took of my girls and keep track of some daily gifts. I’d been through a wicked pregnancy and moved to Ohio from the Washington DC area not long after my Danica was born. I went from being Director of Marketing for a real estate development firm to writing SQL code in my pajamas day and night. In between changing diapers, doing flashcards with my five year old and crying (there was so much crying), I continued to write the whole truth free hand in my journals. Oh, and I may have kept a bottle of vodka in the freezer too. It was just for really hard days, I promise. I went from wearing beautiful suits and amazing shoes while carrying my Louis Vuitton bag into fabulous lunches at swanky spots like The Hay-Adams to a desolate place I never in a million years thought God would be so cruel to ask me to live again. The old blog is still published out there. I named it “Every Day Simple Abundance”.

There were only two blogs I regularly read during this time. I followed my childhood friend Angie’s blog, Spring of Joy and this other little place where I met Jesus every day at the foot of the cross. A few of you may read there now. It was Ann Voskamp’s, A Holy Experience. It was small and quiet, tucked away on a farm in Canada, and I think just a few hundred in the whole world were faithful readers then. I like places like this. I’m suspicious of anything that grows too large. I don’t care for big crowds or lots of acquaintances who aren’t really friends, and I hate a bandwagon. I believed pure things are not for the masses and any road into the Kingdom of God has to be narrow with a tiny gate. “One Thousand Gifts” didn’t seem like a stretch to me. I began keeping a gratitude journal in 1999 when I read Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book “Simple Abundance” after seeing her on Oprah. Although I was far from God at this point of my life I will tell you the act of writing God’s common grace to me day after day was perhaps the single most important thing bringing me back to saving Grace. Some days I was just writing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Over and over again I was thankful for food, drink, shelter warmth and sleep. When I began to read Ann’s words regularly I know for sure it was God’s way of pouring truth back into my heart after years away from Him. It was in fact “revolutionary”. It turns out most of the world was craving this discipline of gratitude as much as I was.

In 2009 when Danica was eighteen months old her neck went crooked. I continued to blog through some hard months of looking for relief for her pain and diagnosis, but I mostly hid. I sat at her door at night and pled the blood of Jesus over my daughter who would scream herself to sleep. In September 2009 we heard the word “Chiari” for the first time, and it changed our world forever. It wasn’t until after her first brain surgery in November 2009 failed we knew we were facing not just a battle but an all out war. I began writing at danicajean.blogspot.com, also known as teamdanica.com.

I have faithfully written there for over four years. I’ve paid some high rent as I bore my soul to anyone who would read. Many began to find my little blogger spot because themselves or their son or daughter were told they had Chiari too. As our story unfolded I was diagnosed as well and years of physical pain began to make sense. People cried with us, prayed for us, gave to us and carried us through a long dark tunnel of cruel suffering.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers and thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face, A GAUNTLET WITH A GIFT IN IT.”

This is my book.

“Gauntlet with a Gift.”

I am seeing some kind of light at the end of a tunnel.

I am ready to talk about the gift more than the gauntlet.

This is why I needed a new place to write.

It will be different. I will still write about our life and the health challenges I mention in my biography, but I will give you glimpses into the windows of what has sustained me during this journey. There will be beautiful words, music, poetry, good books, great stories about other overcomers, and gifts. I mean the real kind too; care packages from the best friend you always wanted.

I’ve decided I’m a blogger, a writer and an author now.

I hope you’ll sit on my comfy sofa in a patch of sunshine and make yourself more than my acquaintance.

I have changed my mind about how big God is and the way He uses the small, weak things of this world to grow His kingdom. I’ve seen a camel pass through the eye of a needle. I know for sure the gifts are there even when we can’t quite make out the shape of them yet. He’s answering the prayers, even shoving them in our face if we would only SEE.

Open your eyes with me. Walk along side me. I feel a light. Let’s head that way together.

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