Social Justice and the Confirmed Introvert [at Sojourners]

social justice and introverts

I’ve been reading an early copy of my friend D.L. Mayfield’s gorgeous new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Discovery Faithwhich comes out in August. She has worked extensively with the refugee community and has influenced my journey when it comes to the upside-down Kingdom of God…and my role in it.

I’ve been wanting to share with you for a while about my work in the donation room at Arrive Ministries — an organization serving immigrants and refugees here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota — for some time now. And as I read this book, it seemed like a good time to process some of my thoughts about being an introvert and figuring out how to approach the service work that seems so tied to the God of love and justice and mercy.

So I wrote this piece about Shane Claiborne and his irresistible revolution, about finding a way to join in the complex, messy hard beauty of the upside down kingdom while still honoring the part of my soul that desperately needs space, rest, alone time, and quiet.

The post went up at Sojourners late Friday afternoon. I hope you’ll head over there and take a look!

 

What I’m Into: April 2016

what i'm into april 2016

In one of my first sessions with my spiritual director, I walked into her office and burst directly into tears.

“I have no idea why I’m crying!” I sobbed pathetically, and she just nodded in that kind, knowing way shared by therapists and psychologists and spiritual directors the world over.

As I sat there, using her entire box of Kleenex to sop up the mess that was my face, she told me about this lizard she once saw in a nature show. When confronted with a predator – with extreme stress – it plays dead. In just seconds, it manages to flip over, lower its body temperature, and go into a near catatonic state, tricking the predator, who generally won’t eat something dead unless its killed it itself.

But the really interesting part, she told me, is afterward. After the threat has passed, the lizard slinks off into some safe space, some bush, and shakes. Just trembles like crazy. It has to release the energy, the stress, the anxiety of that experience, she told me. And then, when it’s done, it goes on its way like nothing ever happened.

I spent at least twenty minutes scouring the Internet for this video and came up empty. But still, when I think of April, I think about this shaking lizard.

I’m not entirely sure why my March book release took such a toll on me…but it did. I had big blogging/writing/marketing plans for April, but instead, I found myself fairly useless. I spent three of April’s four weeks with a debilitatingly bad cold – including the week that I went to the Festival of Faith and Writing in Michigan.

Many nights in April, I was in bed before nine and still had a hard time getting up in the morning. Outside, the winter raged against the leaving, and most days were gray and damp with rain and slushy end-of-winter snowflakes. I sniffled and coughed and slept and used an entire box of Sudifed.

And maybe it was just that gross cold-thing that was going around in Minnesota in April. Or maybe I was having a shaking lizard moment. Maybe the chills and the headaches and the excessive sleeping were my body’s way of saying – that was stressful. I need a minute My body’s way of finding release.

Either way, it’s May now. The weather forecast is sunny 60s and 70s, and the apple trees are in bloom and the lilacs are only a few days away. I feel like I’m crawling out from whatever bush I spent April hiding under, and the sun on my face is the most beautiful gift in the world.

What I’m Reading:

Books I Read April 2016

I’ve been doing that flaky-reading thing I do where I read like twenty books at once and it takes me forever to finish any of them. But I did managed to get these four read in April:

Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, Christie Purifoy: I found this book exquisitely beautiful, and Christie’s insights into faith and home were both gentle and searing. I’ll come back to this book again — which is the highest praise I can give. Warning: this book is most likely to make you want to sell your house in the suburb stat and move to the country.

A Rule Against Murder, Louise Penny: Another in the Inspector Gamache series, which I got hooked on last month. This woman comes up with the oddest ways for people to be murdered. She’s either a genius or a psychopath. Still, her writing is fantastic, and her books are so much fun to read.

Mosquitoland, David Arnold: I, admittedly, chose this book for its great cover…but I loved it. It was quirky and honest and bizarre in all the best ways. I feel like young adult authors are doing some of the best, most honest work in the business right now, and this book tackled mental health issues and family upheaval in such an interesting way. Plus, I read in the author interview at the back that stay-at-home-Dad-writer David Arnold wrote a good portion of this book in the YMCA lobby while his kids were in child care which is exactly what I did when I was starting my blog. So I kind of feel like we’re kindred writing spirits.

Rising Strong, Bréne Brown: This book took me a surprisingly long time to get through – I think because there is so much to think about. I appreciate the way that Bréne gives language to the internal work that we need to do to become wholehearted people and the handholds she provides to do this work. I’ll come back to this one again.

What I’m Listening To:

I’m still lazily relying on Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” for my daily soundtrack. It knows me so well.

What I’m Watching:

Andrew and I are finally into Season 4 of House of Cards, which is so good but also makes me worry about the state of humanity. We’re waiting to get our subscription to HBO online until Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley are over so that we can binge on both for the least amount of money possible.

I watched two different Hallmark movies in which a woman blogger falls in love with her online-commenter-hater. I don’t believe that this ever happens in the world, and it baffles me why it’s the plot of not one but two Hallmark movies.

I finished Gossip Girl and figured out who the invisible voice behind the anonymous gossip website actually was. For all of the shows faults, I thought the ending was kind of brilliant. (Also, there was a cameo by Kristen Bell, who did the voice of Gossip Girl, and she is perfection. I want her to play me in the movie of my life.)

The end of my Gossip Girl Netflix binge coincides, unfortunately, with the winding down of several of my favorite TV shows. Younger is done. I gave up on Nashville. Grey’s, Scandal, Jane the Virgin, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are all finishing up for the year, and I’m feeling a little bereft and floaty when it comes to thing to watch.

I find I’m most drawn to drama with a curve of humor and quirkiness, and I don’t know what show to watch next. I’ll do considerably less TV in the summer, but I still need something for the treadmill. I’ve been doing Drop Dead Diva, which is kind of fun, but I’m not fully in love. Any recommendations?

Other Things I’ve Been Into:

This little boy turned 5!

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He’s still into that Lego Ninjago show just as he was a couple of Halloweens ago, so I got my Pinterest on and created a Ninjago-themed party. My home-made Lord Garmadon piñata was, truly, the stuff of legends.

Ninjago party

However, I learned a valuable lesson – if you create a homemade piñata, truly, cover it with streamers and not duct tape. After twenty minutes of non-successful hitting, Andrew had to take a kitchen knife and gut the piñata and then pour the candy all over the kids. Lame.

lord garmadon pinata

The Festival of Faith and Writing. This conference is my favorite one, and it only happens every other year. I’ve been going since I was in my undergrad, and that first year I got to meet Frederick Buechner in person and heard a talk by Katherine Paterson that was so brilliant that it made me cry. I’ve been going ever since, whenever I possibly can. I think this was my sixth time there.

Over the years, though, the conference has changed for me in some amazing ways. It continues to be a source of inspiration and creative nourishment…but the longer I’m in the writing/blogging/faith world, the more connected I become to this giant, beautiful community, many of whom seem to show up during this week in April.

Every year, there are more people that I want to connect deeply with…and absolutely no extra time. I was so happy to see so many of your lovely faces there and wish I could have sat down for a long cup of coffee with each and every one of you. Next time, I’m staying for a week.

Also new for me this year: I was a speaker on two different panels. I led one called The Loud and the Quiet: Writing in the Age of Social Media with Sarah Bessey, Preston Yancey, and Christie Purifoy, which turned out to be a wonderful and complex conversation. I’m amazed at how differently we all come to our writing process and thankful for the ways that God winds our journeys together.

ffw - my panel

(I stole this image from Nicole T. Walters’ tweet. Thanks for capturing this moment!)

I also got to talk about that complex dance of writing about your spouse with poets Susanna Childress and Brent Newsom and my good friend Sarah Wells (whose stunning memoir will hopefully be coming out soon!)

ffw - panel 2

(And I stole this photo from the Indiana Festival of Faith and Writing’s director, Liz Boltz Ranfeld. Incidentally, I’ll be speaking at that Festival this coming October in Indiana. So exicted!)

Also, I think the fact that my books were next to Tobias Wolff’s means that we should become friends. For real. Swoon.

ffw - my book

The first critters of the year. April this year was definitely tumultuous, weather-wise, but spring won out in the end. Winter disappeared, finally, and the critters came out. My boys have been turning over our landscaping rocks and sloshing around the pond finding all sorts of creatures…including these, the first toads of the year. Welcome little guys!

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Writing and Blogging:

Like I said, I’ve mostly been under a bush, shaking off the stress all month, but I did manage to do a little bit of writing. I wrote this post called Throw the Seed about the creative process and marketing (ack), and I told you about the book I didn’t write…and the beauty of negative space.

My Dear Addie column at Off the Page this month had to do with the lines we put between secular and sacred, the ways we make God small, and finding the holy in Vogue.

I will hopefully be around Instagram, Facebook and Twitter a bit more in May. And the blog too.

But then again, the lilacs are about to bloom, and when that happens I will likely shut my computer off for an entire week and spend every moment sitting on the deck, sniffing.

I’m linking up, as usual, with the lovely Leigh Kramer (whom I bunked with at the Festival of Faith and Writing!).

What have you been into this month?

The Gospel in Vogue Magazine [Dear Addie Column #5]

vogue gospel

Today’s “Dear Addie” Column at Off the Page is about God and guilt. And fashion magazines.

The question, paraphrased, goes something like this.

“I guess I’ve always had a distorted view of God. I grew up in a loving home; however, sometimes my parents used God to keep us in line…

I guess I always was afraid of Him. My desire is to love Him and want to spend time with Him, but when I try and do so, I feel cold…

I also feel guilty watching certain TV shows and listening to secular music. I feel the most guilt about buying and collecting fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I’ve read that these things are too worldly and Christian’s have no business being concerned about them.”

And though your struggle may not have to do with Vogue in general, I know that Kathleen is not the only one who feels a gap between perception and desire, who has baggage about words like “worldly.”

So my answer includes a reading of Vogue. But of course, it’s not just about that. It’s about the lines we put around our faith that make God small. It’s about the unexpected places where God finds us and we find God. It’s about starting where you are, not where you think you should be.

Hop over and read it here!

Throw the Seed

Throw the Seed 1

It’s April in Minnesota, and everything is cold and wet and growing.

There is a head cold moving through our family, and I am going on Week #3 of headaches and congestion and Nyquil and asleep by nine. This is mostly why I haven’t been writing much on the blog this month. (Even as I type this, it feels like half of the words are getting lodged in the stuffing that seems to be filling the inside of my head.)

The cold is just one of the things that have made this years’ transition from winter to spring seem difficult and unpredictable. Our brand new baby magnolia bloomed beautiful for about a second – and then four consecutive days of cold rain stripped it bare. The white petals are pressed brown now into the driveway, next to the beached worms wriggling desperately toward the soil.

I’d forgotten how hard spring can be.

And of course, as it so often seems with me, my internal landscape seems to be synched up with the seasons turning around me.

My book came out a little over a month ago. The initial stress and angst and fear have passed along with the March snowstorms, but I’m still very aware that release is a process.

To move a book into the world, you have to stay present with it for while. You have to attend to it. It’s less like releasing a balloon into the sky, more, I imagine, like planting a garden.

Not that I know all that much about gardening.

The most I’ve ever managed is the plunging of already-started herbs into our big green planter. I am no gardener, and what I know about seeds and earth and the ways that they combine to create beauty and goodness and nourishment is miniscule.

I finished the most beautiful book this month by my friend Christie Purifoy: Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. In the book Christie cultivates and tends to her new home, planting seeds at the right times, believing that they will grow.

Before I read her book, I had only the vaguest idea that you planted different things at different times of the year. I know about as much about tending to growing seeds as I do about tending to a book. My book.

For all the Book Marketing 101 articles I read online, I still feel like I’m missing that essential knowing. The proverbial “green thumb.” Whatever marketing gene people have that makes it feel natural to reach into different places and plant your words, your work, your ideas there…I don’t have that. I don’t know what time of year you’re supposed to send out your press release. For all of my efforts, I still suck at Twitter.

*

Is it weird to write a blog post about my struggle with book marketing?

Does it seem like a pathetic ploy? Like a whining, simpering plea for you to buy my book?

I don’t mean for it to. But I also don’t know how to approach the page except for from exactly where I am.

And where I am is the cold, tempestuous spring of my second book release.

Certainly you don’t have to be a writer with a newly released book to feel this: the long, exhausting work of faithfulness. Live a great story, all the big bloggers are saying, and it sounds glamorous enough until you realize that so much of this is this plodding, frustrating, invisible fidelity to your dream, to your calling.

There is nothing sexy about it. In the movie of your life it would be left on the cutting room floor, or set to a Death Cab song and made into an inspiring montage.

No one wants to watch this part: The writer spends five hours alternatively looking out the window and writing sentences on her computer for an essay that will hopefully, maybe, help a few more people find her book. Halfway through, she has to take a two-hour break to write web copy for a collection agency. Because the dream, for all of it’s come-true-ness, does not actually pay any kinds of bills.

And what I’m trying to say is that even though I’m not a gardener, I understand that so much of bringing something beautiful up from the earth is dirt and weeds and sore knees and prickling, half-asleep toes.

There is a part that you must do – a piece for which you are responsible for. But so little of the growing is actually up to you, in the end.

Throw the Seed 2

In the fall, as my book transitioned from my hands to the hands of the marketing department, I read Luke 13:18-19 in my reading from Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours prayer book. In the prayer book, she uses the NJB version of the Bible. It’s a version I’ve never heard of, but which translates the following verse as such:

“Jesus went on to say, ‘What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with? It is like a mustard seed which a man took and threw into his garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches.”

I was stopped by the verb used in this version. Threw. I’ve never seen it written like that before, and I haven’t seen it since.

He threw the mustard seed, the Scripture says.

He didn’t obsess over where to put it. He didn’t plant it perfectly. There is a chance that he didn’t even know what time of year it was supposed to go in the ground (although I’m taking liberty here; he was a farmer. He probably did. But I don’t, and this verse seems to say to me, that’s okay, that’s okay, that’s okay.)

I feel a sense of release, of relief, as I read that verse over again. If there has been a theme verse for this release (which there isn’t, because that’s totally a thing of my evangelical past), it’s this one.

Throw the seed.

Throw it toward the soil.

Throw it, and be done with it.

SOME of this depends on you – it’s true. You have to take the action. You have to lift your arm, let go, release the seed into the air. But so much of it has nothing to do with you. The soil, the sun, the rain.

The God who makes things grow – who has always been about making things grow.

After all, there is so much already there – in the tiny heart of a little seed. An entire world.

And it is not me who draws the goodness forth and turns it into shelter for the weary.

It’s God. It has always, only, been God.

Throw the Seed 3

The deck is rain-soaked today, and the sky is gray, and I’m feeling caught in the tempestuous, transitional part of obedience.

And I don’t know what that looks like for you, but I know that I’m not the only one here, in the unglamorous, exhausting middle.

You started the ministry. You left that job. You committed to that man, that woman. You had a baby. You went to the doctor. You left your abuser.

You expected it to be fireworks and celebration, and it was, for a second. And then it was a lot of uncertainty.

And what I’m telling myself in this cold, rainy April is what I want to say to us all:

Pick up one seed. Throw it toward the spacious place.

This is all you have to do. Every day, one seed. One moment in which you are attending to the dream, the hope, the new thing.

Throw the seed, and let it go.

After all, so little of this is up to you.