Tag Archives: quiet

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.

A Time to Be Quiet

quiet

In my blog series last week, one of the practices of sustainability that I talked about was taking intentional breaks from your blog. And it’s time for me to do that here.

I’ve talked a little bit here about my struggles with my second book. The truth is, I’d forgotten how much this kind of writing — memoir writing — seems to require from me even as it heals me. It’s long, vulnerable work. It means deleting a lot of perfectly lovely words to get at the One Big Thing beneath all the other things. It means a lot of tears and insecurity and coffee and chocolate.

And what I’ve found is that I’m struggling to do all this while maintaining the blog. Even when I write about less emotionally taxing subjects (like favorite books and blogging practices), the time it requires to put these things out into the Internet is more than I have to give right now.

So, that said, I’m going to be stepping away from the blog for the rest of July and perhaps a bit of August to focus more fully on the book.

I’ll miss working things out in this space over these next few weeks, but I know that what I need in my creative process right now is a little breathing space. A little more quiet.

Even though there won’t be anything new here, there’s a ton to explore in the Archives. Check out the Glossary of Terms to see posts on your favorite (least favorite?) Christian cliches. If you’re looking for some simple ways to embrace acts of social justice in your everyday life, check out some of the brilliant guest posts from the One Small Change Series. Or take a break from my blog altogether and check out my first book instead! It’s way easier to read on the beach than a blog. And that’s exactly where you should be right now. Because July.

I’ll also be around a bit on Twitter and Facebook. Please follow and catch up with me there!

Thanks so much for understanding and for being here, on the other side of these blog posts, encouraging me in so many ways.

See you in a month or so!

35 Ideas for Cultivating Spiritual Mindfulness at Christmas [+ Giveaway!]

35 Ideas and Resources for Spiritual Mindfulness at Christmas

This morning, our church sanctuary was filled with stark winter tree branches covered in shining white lights. We sang our first Christmas carol, and my son came bounding out of his Sunday school class with a manger made out of a cut paper bag.

I cut and hung the rest of our Advent envelopes while Liam was napping and Dane was playing with his truck, and I felt proud of myself for getting all the pieces finished in time. The ornaments to hang. The chocolate to eat. The numbers counting the days until Joy to the world…the Lord is come!

We had to prop our Christmas tree up with a couple of my husband’s dumbbells because it kept trying to fall over (and succeeded once, nearly ruining our entire day). But it’s up now, decorated. The house is clean and bright and the whole place smells like evergreen and hope, and I don’t want to miss it.

I feel like I’m always missing it.

advent envelopes

I have to be very careful at Christmastime. This season, more than any other hooks my perfectionistic tendencies, and I find myself scrambling here to be everything, to do it all, to cram as much Christmas fun and meaning into these days as is humanly possible.

Every year, I have to relearn the beauty of imperfection, the grace of letting go, the fact that it’s not up to me to haul Christ back into Christmas.

It’s a balancing act between making space for mindfulness…and becoming obsessed with how I think Christmas should look for me or for my family.

And that’s part of why I started this Christmas Mindfulness Community Project.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked for your practices of mindfulness related to Christmas…and you responded with so many great ideas.

I created this series mostly for myself – as a reminder that there are so many beautiful ways to be aware of God and of one another. But also, I did it for us all – to open to doors to new ideas and practices and to inspire us toward love.

Today, I’m offering a list of resources to help cultivate spiritual mindfulness at Christmas. As the week goes on, I’ll be posting about Christmas Mindfulness as it relates to friends and family, traditions and magic, strangers and acquaintances and the gifts we give. I hope you’ll join us for this series (and if you have great ideas about any of these areas – send them to me now! It’s not too late!)

Keep in mind that these are resources. Not a recipe for perfection or for meaning or for putting Christ back in Christmas. They’re simply different windows through which we might peer into this Great and Beautiful Story – different ways in which we might find Light.

And really, couldn’t we all use a little more light?

Advent Books and Guides (Reader Recommendations)

For the one experiencing pain and loss this Advent season:

  • Abby Norman at Accidental Devotional is re-running the series she wrote last year after her grandfather died at the beginning of Advent. For anyone who finds themselves in the darkness, struggling to cling to the light.
  • Creating an Advent Calendar for Prayer: “Last Christmas, I was pregnant with our second child, and every time I read stories about justice issues surrounding children, there were lots of tears. The DRC situation was exploding around that time with the rebels accused of all kinds of atrocities toward children, and my husband and my hearts broken. So we created an Advent “calendar” with a country and a photo of a kid from that country for each day I glued the photos on the squares and attached a little Advent calendar clip on each one, strung it on some twine and then put it on our mantle. And for 24 days we prayed for each child and the children of the nation represented on the card – it helped keep my mind on the nature of Jesus’ birth, a time of trauma, darkness and sadness in the world he lived in even though beautiful because Jesus is beautiful and the light of the world.. but still, he was just a baby at the time surrounded by all of this pain. ~ Devi Abraham (For more information on this project, read Devi’s blog post here.)country advent 3

For the Creatively Inclined

  • Rethink Church does an Advent Photo-a-Day project. Each day, they give a prompt, which you’re encouraged to use to inspire a photo every day during Advent. Tag #rethinkchristmas on Twitter to join the conversation.
    photo a day
  • Christmas words: Last year, Mandy Steward at Messy Canvas released an Advent Ebook which included a year a day gives you a word a day and several inspirational quotes. You could cut all the words out, put them in a bowl, and draw one every morning to inspire you toward thoughtfulness, creativity and mindfulness. I did this last year and loved it…but for whatever reason, I’m having trouble finding it again this year. Still, you could create your own advent window project like this by writing a list of 24 words having to do with Christmas, cutting them up, and choosing one each day to serve as a writing prompt.
  • “I Will Find a Way” – song by Jason Gray & Andy Gullahorn. (One reader said, “This is a song I’ve been listening to a lot that speaks of Advent to me and could be useful for those who are spoken to best through music.”

Resources for Kids

  • The Jesse Tree One reader recommended this book as a great starting place: The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, Dean Lambert Smith. Another suggested hanging Jesse Tree ornaments on a garland strung up across the opening between two rooms in our house
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible – my favorite kids’ Bible ever – has 21 stories in the Old Testament…each of which ends with a tie-in to the coming of the Christ Child. And then three stories in the New Testament surrounding the birth of Jesus. Which is 24 – one per day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. (Adriel Booker offers a free reading guide download so that you can easily see which parts to read on which days.)
  • Combine the Jesus Storybook Bible reading plan it with the Jesse Tree idea. (This is what we’re doing at our house this year.) We’re using the Jesse tree outline adapted for The Jesus Storybook Bible here. I also downloaded the cute ornaments she features, and that’s what’s in our Advent envelopes…along with a couple of pieces of candy for the kids.jesus storybook bible and jesse tree
  • The Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (a fun, touching fictional story. I haven’t read it in years, but I remember loving it as a kid and can’t wait for my boys to get a little older so that I can read it to them!)
  • Reasons for the Season by Kathy Hutto – FREE PDF! – recommended by a reader who’s doing it with her  6 and 3 year old daughters.
  • “One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is sitting around the kitchen table listening to my dad read from Jotham’s Journey, the Advent storybook. My sister and I were absolutely spellbound. The simply act of reading together as a family, especially when everyone is fully present and fully enjoying it, is beautiful.
” ~ Lizzie Goldsmith

Other Simple Ideas for Spiritual Mindfulness

  • Advent candles: “The simple thing we do is that we light our advent candle(s) at dinner and say one thing we are thankful for when we light it and one thing we would like to see change in the world as we blow it out. It is simple, poignant and even small children understand thankfulness and that some things are right in the world. We remind them of whom we pray to and that Jesus wants to see that change too (well, most of the time they line up. I’m not totally convince Jesus wants to see my LEGO in the world!). We don’t stress if we miss it or if dinner with 2 small kids becomes what it can become (chaos). We simply return to it the next day.” ~ Jane Halton

    Photo by Kristin Huntley at CreationSwap
    Photo by Kristin Huntley at CreationSwap
  • Writing or curating blog posts, meditations, or devotions: The past two Decembers I have done an Advent series on my blog. I’m currently debating whether to do it again, because it does get a little much to manage to do daily posts during a busy time. But, I find myself drifting back to the idea because of what it cultivates in me. It keeps me reading what I should read and thinking about what I should think about when a million other things are pulling me in a million other directions.”
 ~ Stephanie Spencer at Everyday Awe (Stephanie is doing another Advent Series this year. Check it out here.)
  • Taking time for silent wonder: “I sneak out to the balcony [where I can see our Christmas tree]. I quiet my heart from all the busyness of the season as I sit and watch the lights and their reflection on the large window behind them, frosted over from the cold. I take off my glasses and squint a bit, just to see the rays of blurred light echo the stars outside.” ~ Jenna DeWitt
  • Waiting for the baby: “We do not place baby Jesus in the nativity that we set up when we decorate but rather wait until we get home from Christmas Eve service and together as a family place him in the nativity.  Throughout the season we talk about why baby Jesus isn’t in the manger yet and how we have to prepare our hearts for his birth.” ~ Martha Leader McGeehon
  • Decorating a “Jesus Tree” – (I love Kelly Stanly’s special tree of “Jesus” ornaments. I may try this next year instead of the Jesse Tree.) She writes:
    “I was having trouble translating the superficial into something meaningfuluntil I hopped online [and bought a few new ornaments for a new tree]: A Jesus Tree. A tree like this can never be complete, but as I hung the hooks on the branches, I felt the reverence I’d been longing for. With each ornament I placed, my prayers went something like this: Yes, Jesus, you are the I AM. You are love. You are the baby in the manger and Lord of All. And on and on, as I added ornaments symbolizing many of the names and faces of God. He is peace. Freedom. The light of the world. The Day Star. The lamb, and the lion. The shepherd, the carpenter, the gardener, the creator, the fisher of men. He is hope and joy. The Alpha and Omega. The king, the church. Faithful. He is my home, the vine, the gate, the door, the Word, and my daily bread. He is Christmas, but not just Christmas. He’s so much more than that. And my tree served as a reminder to really think about who He is. To view Him in broader terms than the baby in the manger. To know that he is light, and love. He is everything.”

Jesus tree

  • Serving communion: “Getting to serve communion — passing the bread to the couple or family or group of friends next in line, and then reading the passage from the Bible, looking each of them in the eyes — is the spiritual highlight of Christmas for me. It’s so humbling to be the one serving. It changes the ritual completely for me.”
 ~  Kelly Stanley
  • Listening to the radio: “What I’m really excited about this year is celebrating Advent on the radio. I host a night radio music program at a small Christian station, and I’m planning on incorporating all manner of things Advent into the words I say between the songs in the lead-up to Christmas, and all the way through Epiphany. It’s such a good way for me to be mindful myself, while also sharing this mindfulness and expectancy and joy with whoever happens to be listening in the middle of the night.” 
~ Lizzie Goldsmith

*

Thanks so much to all who contributed ideas and resources. I’m so inspired by your thoughtfulness, insight and creativity.

To help us celebrate Advent, Salt of the Earth has given me one copy of their gorgeous Christian Calendar to give away to one lucky winner! To enter for a chance to win, simply leave a comment – any comment – below! (I’ll announce the winners of all giveaways this week on Sunday, December 8th.)

christian calendar 7

Did any of these ideas speak to you? What other ways do you choose spiritual mindfulness during this season? What other books, blogs or resources would you recommend?

Making Manifest [Book Reflection & Giveaway]

pencil and paperDuring my Very Hard Year, I meet the church ladies every Thursday morning at a coffee shop.

It was dark when I drove there and dark when I left, and in between, there was a fill-in-the-blank Bible study on the book of John.

There was homework that we were supposed to be doing. There were small spaces for answering leading questions, all of it meant to guide the reader toward a deeper understanding of the Bible.

Like most studies, it was pragmatic. It was meant to help you learn, and in that learning, to grow stronger in your faith.

But it was my very hardest year. I was in the deep winter of Depression and didn’t know it yet. But what I did know was the answers to questions 1-10 in Chapter 1. After years of Sunday School and AWANA Clubs, after high school Bible study and youth group retreats and four years at Bible College, those questions were so insultingly simple that I resented them.

The questions I was battling through in my own heart during those months had to do with loneliness and sadness and feeling like God was nowhere. Like he had up and left my life.

I tried to write the complex questions in the margins and in the spaces, but there was no room for them. It was a fill-in-the-blank Bible study, and it wasn’t about the questions. It was about finding the exact right answers.

*

Here is what I am not saying. I am not saying that fill-in-the-blank Bible studies are bad. I am not saying that you are simple or stupid if you love them, if they speak to you, if you are being changed by one right now.

We are all in different places of learning and growing, and sometimes that word – the one you write in the small, blank space – is the word you needed to find. The one that will change everything.

What I’m saying is that during that time in my life, it was just not doing it for me, and maybe you’re there.

Maybe you’re desperately trying to interact with God or with your faith community, but it all feels dried out and stale – a very old crust instead of Bread of Life.

*

Making_Manifest_CoverI met Dave Harrity at the Festival of Faith and Writing last April. We’d connected online a bit, but at the conference, he handed me a postcard about his forthcoming book.

I wanted it to be available immediately, right then, because it is the book I needed so desperately that very hard winter.

It’s the one I need now.

In his introduction, he describes Making Manifest as a “28-day devotional book grounded in the acts of writing, creativity, imagination, solitude, and community building, all designed to help you ‘re-vision’ the way you understand and interact with the kingdom of God.”

It’s a totally different kind of “devotional” – a workbook filled with meditations and writing prompts. It asks that you make space for quiet. It asks that you write freely and that you pay attention to your life. That you value the words you write in the quiet space of this book, not because they are perfect, but because they are holy.

I’m not all the way through it yet. It’s meant to be a 28-day devotional, but I’m ambling. I’m taking my time with each prompt, feeling my soul get a little wider in the reading and writing.

Making Manifest doesn’t ask you to read large swaths of Scripture. Instead, it incorporates small bits and goes deep into the complex, life-giving truth about who God is. It would have been perfect for my cynical, winter-bare 24-year-old heart. The one that could not take one more fill-in-the-blank study of John. The one that could barely open the Bible without feeling inexplicably angry.

In the back of the book, there are discussion questions, workshops and exercises that allow you to use this book in a group context, and I’d like to start a group at some point. I’d like to try it in community.

I think it’s the kind of book that you can work through again and again and find it entirely different and uniquely beautiful every time.

*

I’m excited about this book because in the end, it was a series of writing prompts that helped me find my way back to God – not in a devotional book, but in grad school. It was hundreds of free-writes that were eventually refined into essays that turned into chapters that turned into the book I’ll publish with Convergent this fall.

But in the beginning, it was just prompts.

Just a notebook and a pen. Just me and the God I couldn’t seem to get to in the traditional, evangelical ways.

And somewhere in all of that messy cursive, something happened: I found him again. Somewhere in all of those imperfect, holy pages, He met me, and I was Found.

*

I’m so excited to have one copy of this beautiful workbook to give away, but really, I think it’s worth every penny. (It’s available from Seedbed here.)

You know the drill – leave a comment (Any comment! No brilliant insights necessary!), and you’ll be entered into the Random Generator of Awesomeness. I’ll announce the winner this Friday (the 10th).

In the meantime, stop by antler, Dave’s organization that’s committed to helping people engage in creativity as a devotional practice for spiritual formation. These are some seriously cool people bringing something that we desperately need to the faith conversation. Check it out!

^
Back To Top