Why I Am Made Right [Guest Post]

Ashley Linne is the author of a new book in the Inscribed Studies series called Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be in Christ…which officially releases today! (Congrats Ashley!)

If you’re curious about the book and the rest of the Inscribed Studies series, you can download a free chapter from three studies, including Ashley’s, here. (No email required). In the meantime, let’s welcome her here to this space today!

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

I always considered myself a good Christian kid.

I never really rebelled as a youth. I always called home if I was going to be out late, and my mom always knew who I was with.

I always went to class and tried to make straight As. I never tried drugs or alcohol, and I didn’t have sex. I didn’t cuss; I didn’t listen to “secular” music. I didn’t even see a rated-R movie until I was seventeen. And for all of this, I was pretty proud of myself.

But I still didn’t feel right or good or happy.

All these things did very little to convince me that I was in good standing in God’s eyes and did nothing to make me feel that I was worth anything. I lived in constant fear that if I didn’t thank God for something, even my ability to see or walk, it would be taken away. I was afraid if I made one mistake, it would condemn me to the fiery pits for all eternity.

God was very important to me, but I didn’t yet have any real concept of His love or grace. My carefully constructed sense of security was founded on my own efforts. I was living the very definition of legalism.

Even though I didn’t sin in the “usual” youthful ways, I was still missing the mark right and left—I was mean to my sisters; I held grudges; I gossiped. I think we’ve all done a few things we’re not proud of.

For some of us, our lists of ugly moments might be longer than we care to admit. We’ve got skeletons in our closets, bad habits we can’t seem to break, and a list of things we wish we could do but just can’t seem to get right.

Many of us are grateful we can’t out-sin God’s grace, but we simultaneously hate ourselves for having to draw on it as often as we do. Others live as though we’ve forgotten that we’re supposed to live differently than our “lost” friends. Maybe some of us get drunk most weekends, have a one-night stand here and there, throw a co-worker under the bus when we need to look good, or tell a lie from time to time. But we’re all still Christians … right?

Others of us are so scared of “getting it wrong” that we spend our lives calculating our every move, over analyzing our every thought, and don’t know how to just be at peace with ourselves or God.

We are quick to point out the shortcomings of another, if only within our inner monologue, and are grateful we don’t struggle with that sin. We go to church every chance we get, we are in multiple Bible studies, we live by checklists and schedules. We would never admit it, but our obsession with being right and busy is just a cover-up for our belief that God will turn His back on us if we aren’t.

Whether we lean toward legalism or we lean toward licentiousness, we’ve forgotten who we are. We wallow in guilt, when we’ve been cleansed of all unrighteousness. Or we waste God’s grace, when we’ve been set free from sin. If we knew who we really are in Christ, our lives would look different than they do. More of us would be living in unwavering obedience to God because it wouldn’t be a burden; we’d simply be acting like who we are.

The truth is, if I’m in Christ and He’s in me, Jesus has reconciled me to God. It’s been done. There is no way any of us could ever make amends with God on our own, and we need to allow ourselves to enjoy the freedom that brings our souls when we’re in Him.

I have to work daily to cooperate with God as He reshapes me and cuts away the things about me that He doesn’t want to define me. I also have to work daily to cooperate with God and learn about resting in Him and enjoying life in Him. My prayer is that I live like I know who I am—that I’m His.

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 8:1-2, NLT)

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Ashley Linne CroppedAshley Linne is a wife and mom who loves to write, sing, and travel. She is passionate about discipleship, mentoring, and sexual abuse prevention. She has been leading small group Bible studies for over 15 years is the author of Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be in Christ.

Ashley lives with her husband and son in Bellingham, WA.

While I Was Out

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While I was out, the last days of summer came and went. We caught and released the last of the painted turtles that spend the summer on the pond before they all disappeared. I threw out the summer sneakers – all full of holes from running and bike riding and sloshing through the pond, the soles practically falling off – and we switched to the next size up.

The mornings got darker a little bit at a time…then all at once, and the ducks came back. I don’t know how they always somehow remember this place, but they do. They come by the dozens, and they spend the early evening wandering our yards for food, calling to each other loudly.

While I was out, my firstborn, Dane, boarded the bus to kindergarten for the first time, Avenger’s backpack strapped on his back, waving out the window, and I didn’t cry, but I felt it at the back of my throat all day long.

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Liam went from age three to AGE THREE and spent long afternoons sobbing over the fact that I put his milk in the wrong cup or that I put it into his hand in the wrong way. We had a lot of long battles about using the potty chair, and in the end I got him 2/3s of the way potty-trained before we hit a total power impasse. Which means that while I was out, there was a lot of laundry to do.

The Internet kept spinning while I was out, but it all felt farther away. I stopped reading blogs and looking at Twitter for the most part. Instead, the world became very small. A kitchen table. A piece of paper. A loaf of pumpkin bread in the oven. A red leaf on the driveway.

I helped one friend welcome a new son into the world with a diaper-and-wine baby shower. People from our church filled up the house with love and appetizers, and we passed the new baby, one set of open arms to another, exclaiming at his tiny fingers, his perfect features, his new baby smell.

I stood by another friend while she let her twelve-year-old son go, unexpectedly, far too soon, on a beautiful September morning. When they put his small casket into the hearse, we all waved checkered flags and popped confetti, and racecars showed up to do a victory lap. While I was out, I stood in a crowd of grievers, and we hugged through our tears and worked very hard to believe that this will all someday be made right.

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While I was out, I excused myself from calorie-counting and responsible, grown-up eating habits and binged on potato soup and bread and pasta. Sometimes I had lunch-wine at my favorite writing spot, and it felt like a luxury, alone at a table, just wine and words.

I was out, so I didn’t blog, but I wrote every day, thousands of words that I didn’t show to anyone. I second-guessed and deleted and rewrote and revised. I averaged five cups of coffee in the mornings, writing and guzzling, writing and guzzling.

Every two or three days, I stomped out of the kitchen yelling, I’m quitting writing forever! But then I’d go back, and it felt like learning to tune my violin by ear back in junior high school. Without the instant response of commenters and retweets and Facebook shares to tune my words against, I had to close my eyes and really listen. I had to remember the sound of sharp and flat. The fixed pitch of truth.

I didn’t read much – just bits and pieces, here and there. I couldn’t seem to manage whole novels, so I read excerpts and a lot of poetry. I renewed The Interestings twice and then finally had to give up and return it to the library.

I spent too much money on IKEA bookshelves and stayed up way too late putting them together. I got one piece backwards on the TV stand that I spent five hours building, and two nights later, I had to loosen the whole thing and redo it.

bookshelvesI had a garage sale. I sold our old rocking horse to an art student who will make him into a sculpture. I sold a good portion of our pretend food to new families who will be served imaginary meals by their enthusiastic children. It was therapeutic and sad – letting go of one part of their childhood, embracing a new part.

While I was out, I missed this place and the way I am changed at this blank screen. And I also appreciated having time to rethink what I want this online space to be about. Time to plan and to realign myself and to get excited about this new season of blogging.

While I was out, life kept happening, and I am grateful, and I am refreshed, and I am broken in a few new ways. I am a little emptier and a little fuller.

I am here. I’m ready to get back to work.

 

[Okay, update me! I missed you all. What have you been up to while I’ve been out?]

Sorry. I’m Out of Words.

photo credit: madame.furie via photopin cc

photo credit: madame.furie via photopin cc

Once, there was a study by the University of Maryland’s College of Medicine that found that on average, women speak about 20,000 words per day, while men speak only 7,000.

My Dad, a wise an unapologetic introvert, was the one who told us about this study, I think. He said it with a note of laughter in his voice and a raised eyebrow at my Mom. From then on, whenever he had exhausted his social resources, he simply said with a shrug and a smile, “Sorry. Out of words,” and headed off to the bedroom to read the paper and watch sports on the tiny old television on his dresser.

I’ve been thinking about that this last couple of weeks when I’ve sat down at my computer, planning to write a blog post, coming up empty every single time.

For the last several months, I’ve been living and breathing Book #2, and the closer I come to that nebulous but certain deadline, the more intense it gets. I’m writing down flashes of insight on the backs of receipts at stoplight. I’m leaving the water running for too long in the kitchen sink because my mind is somewhere else entirely. I’m reading books not as a reader but as a person trying to pin down her own language. Instead of getting lost in the story, I’m trying to figure out how Mary Karr manages to make such seamless transitions, jotting down really great verbs that I want to remember.

When I started work on this project, I understood very quickly that writing a book is like putting together a 100,000 piece puzzle and not knowing what the picture is supposed to look like. But lately, I’ve discovered another twist. In this box, along with the correct 100,000 pieces, there are also thousands and thousands of pieces from other puzzles. It’s lunacy, this writing business. I don’t know why we even try.

photo credit: Pablo S Rios via photopin cc

photo credit: Pablo S Rios via photopin cc

I tallied it up today. Best as I can figure, I have removed 47,490 words from my book so far. Probably more. An average book has somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 words, which means I have nearly an entire book’s worth of deleted words. There was a two-week span in which every time I opened my computer to work on the book, I deleted a thousand or two words instead, leaving gaping holes in my narrative and spotty notes highlighted in yellow.

There is a kind of terrible humility to all of this. When you’re trying so hard to create and you have to just keep destroying. When you need to produce, but even more than that, you need to remove. The world around hums with progress – more, more, more – but the story you’re telling needs less, less, less. Less of this. More of something else that you haven’t figured out quite yet but is on the tip of your fingers as you run the errands, make fish tacos for dinner, buy school supplies, do the laundry.

It’s a hard and holy process, and I love what it’s turning my book into. I believe that it’s becoming what it’s supposed to be.

But when it comes to trying to muster up something brilliant for the Internet? I can’t. I thought I’d be ready by now. I meant to come back to the blog and to social media at the beginning of August and be all the way back. And yet, I’ve got nothing.

Last week, my friend Ed Cyzewski released his great new book, and I really wanted to join in his synchroblog. The question was “What saved your faith,” and I thought, Brilliant question! I’d love to answer that. But all week, I just sat at my computer, and I couldn’t muster up the energy, couldn’t pull my mind out of the other work I’m doing, couldn’t come up with even the simplest answer.

I’m sorry. I’m out of words.

I’m not sure how much longer I’ll feel like this or how much longer this book will be a sponge soaking up every bit of inspiration I can muster. I may come up with a post here and there, but for the most part, I’m taking a page from my Dad’s book. I’m heading to the bedroom. I’m closing the door. I need a minute. I need to finish this and to finish it well.

Bear with me? I’ll be back eventually. And when I am, I hope to bring my best words and my whole heart back to this page. Which, in the end, has become one of my favorite places to share it all.

One More Dab of Paint [Guest Post]

I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend Kelly O’Dell Stanley today! I’ve known Kelly via the Internet for a while, and I had the honor of connecting with her in real life this past February on my Epic Winter Road Trip…and then again at the Festival of Faith and Writing. She is an amazing writer, and as someone who has a complicated relationship with prayer, I absolutely can’t wait for her first book, The Art of Praying Upside Down, due out next spring with Tyndale!

Please give her a wonderful welcome and lots of comments — and then pop over to her site and read more!

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I remember the moment that the pieces clicked into place. I was sitting in a stuffy art history room, taking notes in the ambient light from the slide projector. As a college graphic design major, I liked the idea of studying History of Modern Art. As the daughter of a watercolorist who painted realistic scenes, I was skeptical. Picasso? Mondrian? Who cares about a big red square?

And then my professor explained that these artists weren’t celebrated for their accurate drawing skills. They were not lauded for their attention to detail or the caliber of their brush strokes. Rather, they’re famous because they expressed their views of the world in a whole new way. They started with the same traditions and skills as the rest of the world, and then.

And then.

Then they saw something new. Maybe it took courage to put it out there for the world, or perhaps they had no choice. The truth of what they’d glimpsed—while elusive and not always immediately clear—mattered too much for them to ignore it. They translated what they saw, what they knew, into art. And now we study these paintings because of the path the artist took to get there. Because what they revealed was unusual. A mishmash of techniques and traditions—keeping what works, discarding the rest—resulting in a whole new take on something that had grown stale.

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One Friday night on a business trip, I glanced out my fourth floor hotel window. Across the lawn, in another wing, a large conference room was wrapped with glass. Men in black suits, yarmulkes circling the crowns of their heads, dark beards covering their faces, stood in tidy rows. And back and forth, in different rhythms, they rocked. Quickly, almost frantically, their upper bodies moved forward and back, forward and back.

I clung to the window frame, static electricity molding the curtain to my head. Hoping not to be seen watching this intimate ritual, yet unable to pull myself away.

I pray like that.

Not just like that, of course, but I find myself rocking forward, slowly and softly, when I kneel to pray. I have never known why, although something sparked inside me years ago when I read that Jewish men pray like this to engage their bodies as well as their minds. This is the first time, though, that I’d witnessed davening in person.

A kind of certainty chinks itself deep inside, an errant puzzle piece falling into place. Another borrowed tradition. This has always been the rhythm of my prayer, a melody that echoes the rhythm of my faith. Forward and back. An ebb and a flow. Moving as quickly in one direction as the other, equal parts forward-surge and reverse.

In prayer, I close in with the Holy One, but I’m afraid to stay too close. I feel myself burrowing under His protective wing, but before I get too comfortable, I find excuses to leave.

That night, forehead pressed to the glass, I began to understand something about my own worship. That if I move too far in either direction, I can’t stay upright. It may look like I’m all over the place, but I’m simply trying to reach Him without falling over in the process. Because faith, prayer, growth—they sometimes happen in tiny, tentative steps. Not gigantic leaps, but a precariously orchestrated dance for balance.

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Lately, it seems all the loud voices shout and condemn, sharp beaks pecking at our beliefs again and again—until all that’s left is a decaying corpse and a large black bird circling ominously overhead. When we look at all of the differences, blasphemy and indoctrination and cultural shifts, Christians who don’t look very Christ-like, judgment and condemnation, how do we stay upright?

I wish I knew all the answers. But I suspect it has to do with where we’re looking for our inspiration. And how we display it when we find it.

This makes me think again about those artists I studied in college. Acceptance wasn’t what drove them. Something deep down inside insisted that they express themselves. They borrowed techniques and traditions, wrestling with them until they could transform the pieces into something new, something true. Something that, even if it was beyond most people’s understanding, eventually made a lasting mark.

And that comforts me. Because my faith—my relationship with God, the ways I practice, the words I pray—may not look much like anyone else’s. And yours may not look like mine.

I hold tight to the conviction that even if it doesn’t change the world, my faith changes me. Whatever way I come to express my faith in Jesus will be worth all of the stumble-steps, all of the discarded attempts, if I find God along the way. Because as flawed as a particular church or tradition or teaching may be, there are still parts worth clinging to. I won’t—and don’t have to—wrap my arms around the ideas that don’t work. But I do have to open my eyes in order to see the ones that do.

I’m willing to explore. Willing to take a chance. Willing to lean forward, adding a dot of paint to my canvas, quickly, before I rock backwards and can no longer reach it. If I yield to my natural rhythm, the to and fro of my prayer, before long, my face will draw near to the composition. Those times are sweet and lovely. But so are the ones when I pull back—because if I’m lucky, just like with art, maybe the distance will reveal something that I couldn’t see up close.

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So, for now, I’ll stop fighting it. I’ll lean into my own rhythm, one much like that of these men praying in the glass conference room and the artists who struggled many years ago. Forward and back. The faith I’ve found through loss and love, heartbreak and despair, hope and joy and sorrow. The rhythm of my faith that rocks me, gently, through doubt and questions and wonder.

Into a place—a new place—where I can remain.

 

Stanley_Kelly photoKelly O’Dell Stanley is a graphic designer, writer, and author of The Art of Praying Upside Down (to come this spring from Tyndale Momentum). With over two decades of experience in the advertising world, three kids (20, 18 and 13), and a husband of 23 years, she’s learned to look at life in unconventional ways—sometimes even upside down. In 2013, an essay of Kelly’s received first place in the Writer’s Digest Competition in Inspirational Writing. She lives in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where she operates her own graphic design business and constantly seeks new ways to see what’s happening all around her.

Connect with her on her blog or on Twitter.