Hope Runs (a story and a giveaway)

Today I’m happy to host my friend Claire Diaz-Ortiz (@claire), author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Read on to hear her tell the lovely true story of her new book, Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption. I endorsed it with pleasure and highly recommend it. Here’s Claire:

This story does not end where it started. Because where it started was nowhere near the red dirt of Africa, or the tiny hands of little girls in party dresses running alongside me on those red dirt roads.

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This story started on a trip. A trip for an eager twenty-something that spanned the globe. A trip that spanned nineteen countries of buses and hiking and zoos (yes, zoos) and milky tea and hundreds of books read and hundreds of mosquito bites suffered and hundreds of miles run in far-flung locales.

The trip, as it were, was to end in Kenya, where a mountain climb proved to be the final capstone to a year well done, to a story well lived in the world at large. But before a mountain could be climbed, a night had to be slept, and that was where the story went awry.

Because when they suggested that very guest house – a cheap place to stay the night before the climb, it didn’t matter that an orphanage happened to own it – my best friend and I agreed.

And in those first hours at the place of green and blue in the Kenyan highlands, when the orphanage elders asked us for lunch before leading us to our quarters for the evening, it all changed.

Because God showed up. Or rather, showed His face where He had always been.

In the middle of the lunch, in the improbable moments of that bright, sunny, tired, hungry afternoon, when I asked Him a question – THE question – the biggest question I had ever before had, he was there.

And here is what I asked:

If you have put this place in my path to change my story, open my eyes so I can see.

And He opened my eyes.

We stayed a year at that orphanage. We started a running program, and then a nonprofit organization called Hope Runs, with a mission to help orphaned and vulnerable children through extracurricular programming and education.

We ran, and ran, and ran through red dirt as far as the eye can see.

"Hope Runs"  Nyeri, Kenya.  May 12 and 13, 2007.

image by J. Carrier

In a year, stories change.

In the first hours of that year, I met a small boy who was older (thirteen, to be exact) than he looked. He asked me about a Senator named Barack Obama and then about David and Goliath and then stuck by my side, never letting up, for the rest of that year.

And when it came time to leave Kenya and for my story to move on to other places, I knew he was meant to come as well. Come with me back to a land of cheddar cheese and smooth roads and hot showers: the United States. Because that, I saw, was the next part of the story.

Sammy, now 21, changed my life in a way I could have never imagined. And, in turn, I changed his. Our story, about our strange family of faults and love, is now here, in paper, in a book they say we wrote but I say we lived.

Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption is that story.

Each of us has a story inside – dozens, hundreds, thousands of them – and I believe in the power of sharing that story. To see our way through, and to live the next step.

To celebrate the launch of Hope Runs, I’m giving away a free ebook, Share Your Story, which I wrote to talk about the power of story in our lives. Download it here.

Hope Runs Cover

And, Win A Copy of Hope Runs:

To win one of three copy of Hope Runs, do one or more of the following things. Leave 1 comment on this post for every item you do.

  • Like this blog post on Facebook.
  • Tweet this blog post.
  • Post this blog post on Pinterest.

Remember, for each thing you do, leave one comment. (So, if you post on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, that would be three comments.)

(Or, buy a copy of Hope Runs and get $150 in freebies.)

Claire Diaz-Ortiz (@claire) is an author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, she holds an MBA and other degrees from Stanford and Oxford and has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. She writes at ClaireDiazOrtiz.com.

Sammy Ikua Gachagua had lost his father to illness, his mother to abandonment, and his home to poverty. By age ten, he was living in a shack with seven other children and very little food. He entered an orphanage seeing it as a miracle with three meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and clothes on his back.

Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption is the unlikely story of Claire, the American tourist and Sammy, the Kenyan orphan – a story you won’t soon forget.

Survey Results and A Kind Thank You

The last time I checked, over 1500 of you have offered your feedback in the survey I sent out last week. And though that number only represents a fraction of you who are reading, your responses to the 8 question survey have come at just the right time.

chatting at the skyI expected to get an idea of what you’d like to see more of, to see less of, and to get some insight into where my passions and your needs intersected a bit more specifically.

What I didn’t expect was for your answers to those 8 silly questions to so profoundly remind me who I am and why I do this.

So thank you for taking the time to affirm and confirm some things for me. For example, when I asked you if you could only choose ONE topic to read about here, this is what you said:

favorite topic chatting at the sky

1. Everyday Faith (39%)

2. Rest & Simplicity (11%)

3. Art (9%)

4. Courage (7%)

5. For Your Weekend (7%)

These five categories made up 73% of the favorites, with the remaining 27% spread out among the other 17 categories. When I asked what topics you didn’t want to read about here, 932 of you straight up skipped the question. I take this as a good sign.

This isn’t the kind of place you come to because of a specific topic, even though I know many of you have some specific interests you prefer.

For the most part, you come here to pause,  take a breath, and to remember the simplicity and depth of your faith in a fast-moving world. And this is exactly why I write here. I’m glad we’ve found each other.

On to the most important question of the survey (or at least the most fun), here is where our lives are reflected back to us in the form of primetime television:

If your life was a TV showI love us.

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the survey (there is an opportunity to write in feedback if you so choose), you can do that here.

Thank you all again for joining me as we walk, crawl, struggle, and sometimes run in faith together.

Tomorrow we’ll be sharing What We Learned in March – I hope to see you back here then!

In Which I Ask for Your Opinion

chatting at the skyIf you and I ever go to a movie together, I’m sure we will have a lot of fun. We will share popcorn and I’ll forget the napkins so one of us will have to run out during the previews to get some. And by “one of us” I mean you because I love me some previews.

Half-way through the movie, I will pull out the king-size bag of peanut M&M’s from my purse and you will pull out the family pack of Twizzlers (red not black, obviously) and we will share and share alike as we enjoy our film and gain exactly 14 pounds each and promptly pass out into a sugar coma.

When the movie is over and we wake from our coma, I will be so glad we came and it will be a lovely night together. Unless you turn to me just as the credits begin to roll, eager look on your face, loud words in your mouth, and say, “SO? WHAT DID YOU THINK?!”

If you do this, I will still like you, but I will not answer you. I will stare at you with wide-eyes, willing  you to stop all that talking. I will continue my silence at least until we leave the theater, preferably until we get to the car. Because Emily doesn’t talk about movies while she’s still in the theater.

Strange? Yes. Absurd? Probably. Controlling? Absolutely.

Offering my opinion while the credits are still rolling is not something I do. I would prefer to wait a week until I gave you my opinion, but that’s ridiculous and I am a reasonable woman. It isn’t that I don’t have opinions, I just like to hold them close at first. And I certainly don’t want the strangers behind me to hear them.

Today, this blog is our movie. And I want to respect your right to your own opinion because I know how important that is. I also don’t want to be your annoying (but well-meaning) friend who loudly asks you what you think in a way you aren’t comfortable with, which is why I pretty much never ask you your opinion on this space.

But the truth is, I would like to know what you think about some things. In the car. On the way home.

After eight years of writing online through various seasons of my own life, I have found a comfortable rhythm here, what I sense is a fairly strong connection between what I enjoy writing and what you want to read. I’m thankful for that, thankful for you. 

This Howard Thurman quote comes to mind, the one that has made its way around the internet about a billion times about not asking what the world needs. Incase you haven’t seen it, it goes like this:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

-Howard Thurman

Howard Thurmond was a smart and accomplished man. And I agree with him, I do. Too many times in my life I have looked outside of myself to figure out what other people think I’m supposed to do rather than listen to my own life and move as an artist who actually has a mind of her own.

But when it comes to a group of people I already connect with and serve – you – it could be helpful to ask now and then what this particular world needs. Now that we’re several years into it, it seems wise to venture out of the theater, find our way to the car, pull the door closed and look you in your eyes.

So, what do you think?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer that cold. I would be ever so grateful if you would take two minutes and answer these 8 multiple choice questions to help me sharpen my focus here a bit. I don’t plan to change things as much as I plant to focus. Of these 10 things I enjoy writing, which ones do you most enjoy reading? That kind of thing.

If you also subscribe to my newsletter, you received a link to fill this survey out yesterday. If you did already, thanks so much! Your answers are already surprising me a bit. I can’t wait to see what the rest of you might have to say. Would you take a moment and give me your anonymous and optional opinion? (I can’t wait to see which TV show you are!)

take the survey

One question that isn’t on the survey but that this post has made me wonder about – As a readerwhat do you need? I’m not going to put any restrictions on that question, if something comes to mind, would you put it in the comments? You’re the best.

The Real Job of a Writer

As a writer, I sometimes forget what my real job is. When I’m rushed or under a deadline, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking my job is to string words together in some creative way resulting in a variety of desired outcomes for me or the reader. Hopefully both.

the real job of a writerObviously a writer has to actually write. But my job, even before writing, is to pay attention.

Listening with all my senses is my first real job. When I remember nothing begins with me and purpose to stay small in the presence of others (not in a woe-is-me kind of way, but in a you-have-something-to-teach-me way), the writing not only comes more naturally, but is more full and textured.

This listening posture is a lifestyle, not a decision I make because I have a deadline coming up.

Pay Attention to the World Around Me

There are different ways of listening. First, I pay attention to the world around me. My brain is now trained to listen for certain concepts and perspectives no matter where I am or what I’m doing. If I hear something true about faith, grace, or creativity, it’s going to catch my attention and inform my own thinking by either confirming what I already believe or challenging me to see things differently.

Here’s an example.

On my way down to Charlotte this weekend, I listened to Here’s the Thing, a podcast with Alec Baldwin. On this episode, Alec Baldwin interviews Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live and the man responsible for launching the careers of Tina Fey, Chris Farley, Will Farrell, Bill Murray and way too many others for me to list out.

From episode 8 of Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, orginally aired January 30, 2012:

Alec Baldwin: Now you have this great success – you have THE great success – in late night television, and then you have success in primetime television, you’ve produced TV shows particularly now, that have done well, and you have great success in film. But you’ve never worked in cable.

Lorne Michaels: Well, I did with “Kids in the Hall” and I did now with Fred in “Portlandia” which is on IFC.

Alec Baldwin: Do you feel you haven’t been as aggressive in cable as you might have been?

Lorne Michaels: I think at the end of the day…

Alec Baldwin: You’re more comfortable with network – I’ve grown to prefer network because you’ve gotta walk that tightrope and you can’t just go crazy.

Lorne Michaels: Yes, to me, there’s no creativity without boundaries. If you’re gonna write a sonnet, it’s fourteen lines. So it’s solving the problem within the container. I think for me, commercial television and those boundaries, I like it. I like that you can’t use certain language. I like that you have to be bright enough to figure out how to get your ideas across in that amount of time with intellegience being the thing that you hope is showing. Not officially, but you want it to be, “Oh, that was kind of bright.”

After hearing him say this - There’s no creativity without boundaries - I paused the podcast, made a note in my phone voice recorder, and continued to listen. I agree wholeheartedly with Lorne Michaels on this point, something I’ve written about here on the blog and in A Million Little Ways.

I’ve thought a lot about this concept so my ear is now trained to notice it. When I hear it again from different perspectives, I write it down.

Pay Attention to the World Within Me

But there is another way of listening, a way I am sometimes loath to practice. As a writer, I take seriously the job of  listening to my own life. I don’t always like what I hear which is why this kind of listening is more difficult than the first.

The very thing Lorne Michaels pointed out in that interview, the concept about creativity I agree with and have written about myself, is the reality I slam up against in my own writing and life.

I face the limiting factors of insecurity, fatigue, doubt, pressure, and time. For example, today I have to work within the practical limit that it’s March 18 and our kids are out of school again because of icy roads. And I want to point to the external limit and say that there is what is keeping me from being creative today. When really, the lack of a consistent writing schedule lately is forcing me to be creative. Not necessarily in my work, but in my life.

How will I decide to spend these extra unexpected days? How will I handle the unplanned? How will I respond when the schedule doesn’t allow for me to do what I hoped and wanted to do? The easy, uninspired way is to be frustrated. This takes zero creativity. But the real challenge for me is to walk into this day with new eyes – to decide to see, handle, and face the ordinary in a different kind of way.

This is when there is no creativity without boundaries actually matters. It’s easier to face the limits in my writing than it is to face the limits in my life. Feel discouraged in your writing? Be brave! You have a job to do! You’re a writer after all.

But feel discouraged in my living and it gets tougher to pep-talk me out of. Especially when my living is keeping me from my writing. See how twisted this can get?

It’s ugly, but it can also be a thin place – a place where heaven touches earth in a mysterious kind of way because this is your real life. This is where Christ wants to meet me, as I stand in the midst of my own limiting factors. When I am my own limiting factor.

 This is when living is art is living.

Paying attention is the writer’s real job – in my world and in my life. Otherwise, the writing will be empty and meaningless.

If you would like to receive a free copy of Seven Little Ways to Live Art - an ebook that accompanies my full-length book on uncovering the art you were made to live - simply enter your email address here and click newsletter. I plan to send the March newsletter out this week and will include content you won’t find anywhere else.

One Book I’m Surprised to Enjoy

This weekend I started reading The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir by Joan Didion. It sounds hopeful and whimsical from the title but one page in you will realize this is a book about grief. 

The Year of Magical ThinkingI actually knew this going in and I decided to read it anyway. For me, a woman with a curious blend of sunshine and brood, this is an unlikely choice. On the one hand, I tend to want the books I read to be life-giving in an obvious sort of way (sunshine). But I am also capable of work myself into an irrational, breathless fear over nothing. I have a tendency to imagine grief-filled scenarios on my own (brooding).

In high school I once wrote in my journal, I’m in the mood to be depressed. Who says this? Someone who doesn’t need to be reading sad books, that’s who.

Still, I’m learning to be intentional about choosing books to read that I may not at first be naturally drawn to and then giving them a fair chance as  I read. It seems like the healthy, grown up thing to do.

I haven’t been able to put this book down, sneaking in paragraphs during commercials and lapses in conversation. She tells her story in an  immediate and honest sort of way, pulling out ordinary details to describe her unthinkable reality.

To see grief and loss through her experience is for me fascinating, heart-breaking, and strangely comforting. I haven’t finished it yet so it could take a turn, but so far I would recommend it.

Have you read a book you were surprised to enjoy? Or not enjoyed a book you thought you would? Tell us in the comments so we can edit our book lists.

A Word to Writers: On Changing Your Mind

After reading your comments on Monday’s post, In Celebration of Slow, I realize with great relief how many of us are rowing gently down the same stream. We sit side by side, shoulders touching now and then, gaze set in the same direction, and we row one slow stroke at a time. We must refuse to feel ashamed of our pace. The goal of our life isn’t always to rush ahead to someplace different. Sometimes we simply need to learn to settle in where we already are.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetWe know this. I like this about us. I want to continue to create space here for our souls to breathe in that truth because it’s too easy for me to forget.

During that post on celebrating slow, I shared with you how I started a series in January that I never completely finished. It happens a lot here, actually. It isn’t always because I take a long time to process or need more space to gather my thoughts. Sometimes it’s because once I get started on something and begin to dig in to it, I realize I want to change course.

Last year I planned to start a series inspired by Oprah’s What I Know For Sure column in her magazine. But when I sat down to write an introduction to that series, it turned out I didn’t know much. Not for sure, anyway. Woops.

So I changed it from What I Know For Sure to Artists & Influencers, turning the focus from what I knew to what other people were teaching me. We did that series once a week for a month.

artists & influencers :: a series at chatting at the skyEach week I chose a specific area of life and the artists and influencers who were teaching me in those areas: writing, church, love, and home. I enjoyed writing that series, specifically because it focused on what I was learning from others rather than what I knew for sure myself.

I had intentions of continuing the Artists & Influencers series and maybe I still will. I could easily write about the people who are teaching me about marriage, community, hope, and art. But once I finished that in early February of last year, I wasn’t motivated to continue at that time.

If you are a writer, on a blog or otherwise, and if you have the freedom to make these kinds of choices, please forthelove don’t continue something just because you said you would. I’m not talking about committments you’ve made to other bloggers, publishers, or editors. But in our own spaces where we have the final say, it’s important (at least for me) to write not only what your reader wants to read but also what you want to write about. If I continually have one without the other, the result is frustration for everyone.

Once Artists & Influencers ran its course for me, I set it aside with freedom, knowing I could pick it up again if I wanted to. Then at the end of February, I was still thinking about the What I Know For Sure concept but decided to try not to take myself so seriously. Instead of coming up with what I thought I knew for sure, I shared a simple list of things I learned that month: 10 things I Learned in February. This was the first thing on my list on that post:

1. Mae Whitman (Amber from Parenthood) played Bernice in Hope Floats. She also played George Clooney’s daughter in One Fine Day. She was ALSO the little girl selling brown bird cookies who wanted to go to space camp on Friends. You’re welcome.

Mae-Whitman-Amber-young-parenthood-2010-30450941-610-410The other nine things I learned that month had varying degrees of impact in my life but were equally simple. It was light-hearted and breezy, two words that don’t always describe me or my space here online.

I liked it so much I did it again at the end of March, April, and May. Finally someone suggested I make it a link-up so the whole community could share what you were learning as well. What a great idea! (I’m slow, remember?) In June I invited the Chatting at the Sky community to join me in sharing what you learned and 150 of you did. As I read through your posts, I decided this linkup is one of my favorites simply because it is so much fun.

If you have ever started something you didn’t finish or started something and totally changed it, take heart.

We can’t always plan out exactly what we want to do and then execute it exactly how we want to execute it. We start with a scrap of an idea, sit with it, stare out the window for awhile, write around it, beside it, beneath it, and finally choose a direction. Sometimes what we find is just what we expected. Other times it takes two or three (or forty) different paths before we realize where we’re actually going.

It doesn’t mean we’ve failed, it just means we have further to go.

Tomorrow marks one year since my first Things I Learned post. This will be your first chance to link up since December, as last month I wrote 10 Things I Learned in January: Uganda Edition and didn’t have the presence of mind to make it a link up because time zones and midnight posting and Coke without ice. I’m back in my own time zone now with ice and everything so I’m happy to host a place for us to come together and celebrate what we’ve learned this month. I hope you’ll join us tomorrow!

The Most Revolutionary Question You Can Ask

morningI recently watched a four and a half minute video where author and pastor John Ortberg remembers his friend, Dallas Willard. (I’ll embed the video at the bottom of this post). One quick segment shows John and Dallas on stage together having a conversation only a few months before Dallas Willard passed away.

John: “How do we help people – if somebody wants to think about how is my spiritual life going or how is my soul doing – how do we help people ask and answer that question?”

Dallas: “Well, very slowly. One at a time, we listen to them . . . I think the next thing is a question and not a statement: What’s bothering you? Start there.”

They talk some more and then John makes a joke.

John: “What’s bothering you? could be an interesting liturgical question – to start the church service asking, What’s bothering you? and the people could respond back, And also you.”

I laughed out loud when he said it and so did the audience. Then, as the clip ends, Dallas can be heard saying, “That would be absolutely revolutionary.”

I had to pause the video at that moment, three minutes and fifty-five seconds in, Dallas’ deep voice and thoughtful statement hanging there in the air over my desk, That would be absolutely revolutionary.

My head couldn’t nod big enough.

It’s true, my instinct is to not be bothered because it just doesn’t seem right. To ask myself or someone else what bothers could be seen as self-focused  or as an opportunity to rant or complain.

But what if we looked deeper in? Instead of manufacturing peace by shooing away my frustration or smoothing out my ruffled feathers, I am learning the importance of getting quiet enough to honestly consider what bothers me – not just on the surface, but deep within my soul.

Sometimes what I learn is ugly or uncomfortable. But there are other times I discover right next to my frustration lives a drop of passion I didn’t realize was there and a spark of hope I didn’t realize I needed. This is actually how all of my books were born.

Admitting what bothers me exposes what I most deeply long for. When I know what I long for, I become more fully alive.

What if we began to ask ourselves on a regular basis, What’s bothering you? What if we asked this of one another?

Is there anything bothering you today that you’d be willing to share?

Living Life and Taking Notes

Three weeks after John and I got married, we went on a mission trip with high school students from our church to serve for a week in Washington D.C.

We stayed in a little church in the city, slept on the floor in sleeping bags – girls on one side of the room and boys on the other. One of the days we were there was a Sunday so we worshipped with the small congregation, complete with raised hands and a super-charged sermon.

church

The students loved every minute of it. All we heard the whole five hour drive home was about how our home church was missing the point and how this new church in D.C. really loved Jesus and knew what praising God was all about.

And I was slightly livid.

Because what I and a handful of leaders knew (but what these kids didn’t know) was that ten minutes before we pulled out of the parking lot of this church to go home, one of the leaders of the church was changing his mind about how much we owed them for staying there, going back on a previously agreed upon amount. He accused us of lying and tried hard to get more money before we left.

Even if he had been the most God-fearing man on the planet, I still wouldn’t have been crazy about the students placing this little church up on a pedestal like they did. But knowing about the corruption of one of the leaders made listening to their talk even more difficult.

That trip was nearly thirteen years ago and I’ve been on a lot of trips since then. Most recently, Uganda.

First, let me say visiting another country for a week hardly counts as a cross-cultural experience.

I had a breath, more like half of one breath of experiencing Uganda. But it was a glimpse into a way of life different from mine and a daily rhythm foreign to mine. I could learn a lot from those I met there.

I know the temptation of elevating another experience or culture over my own simply because it’s different. I don’t recommend that mentality.

But considering how others live in comparison with how we live could be a wise and humble effort – not because any group or culture has figured out how to live right and certainly knowing that every small group, large group, tribe, and nation will have a fair share of shifty and manipulative people.

Still, it’s important to value the good things we see in others without disrespecting our own roots. The easy action is to elevate one and throw out the other. It takes time, commitment and humility to learn, consider, and then thoughtfully integrate. Agreeing that my way isn’t the only way (and sometimes isn’t the best way) is good for me.

notes from a blue bikeMy friends Tsh and Kyle have experienced way more than half of one breath outside of this country. They lived for years in Turkey – worked jobs, bought fruit, had babies. They had a true cross-cultural experience as a family and Tsh is sharing about it in her new book, Notes from a Blue Bike.

“We’ll take our rich experiences from life in another culture and redefine them into gifts to open here in the Western world. We would take the beauty of life in a slow, relationship-based culture and mold it into something beatiful and useful in our native culture, where the prevailing mark of a good day is getting a lot done.”

Tsh doesn’t merely recount all the ways her life in Turkey was better than her life here. That list would have made me crazy and slightly defensive. Rather she works hard to answer this question: Can we live effectively in the U.S. without productivity as our primary goal?

I am addicted to measureable productivity. Admittedly less so than in the past, but on days when I get little done, I have to wrestle through my own judgements of myself. I am daily learning how to be committed to my work while at the same time, not elevating it over what is truly my desire: communion with God and one another.

Unfortunately for my productive self, the results of communion remains maddeningly un-measurable.

But the value of communion is spectacularly immeasurable. 

This is what I hold on to.

Tsh reminds me of the choices I have in my own life to live with intention now. I don’t have to move to a different country to experience the benefit of a slower pace of living and I don’t have to discount my life here as less-than or wrong. Rather I learn what I can from others and uncover ways to weave in what matters most. We can find our own blue bikes to ride right where we are.

(subscribers click here to see a short video)

notes from a blue bikeI couldn’t help myself, y’all. I had to Waterlogue Tsh and her book. (!!)

Tsh is a mama, a writer, and a friend of mine. She wrote Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World and is the creator of The Art of Simple. You can also find her in a quiet corner of the internet on her own personal site aptly named Tsh Oxenreider.

Whenever I need to reevaluate what my family values most, I turn to her work. After reading this book, I felt like I had gone on a trip with Tsh as my guide–not to a foreign land, but a trip into the land of possiblity for all the important areas of my life. I deeply appreciate her kind and honest perspective on living with intention, especially her thoughts on money, schooling, and love.

And that is what I wrote in my endorsement in the front of the book. I put my name on this one. It’s a keeper for sure.

For When You Feel Restless for More

shadows

In January three years ago, I wrote a post called How to Live Big. You can read the whole thing, but here’s a blurb:

God writes big stories, stories that seem impossible. And they are, if you think about it. He seems to take great interest in impossible stories, and I think they’re interesting, too. But I rarely raise my hand to live them.

I write small stories. Everyday, I write stories for my life that include comfort and fun and entertainment. I live inside my little story like coloring a sunshine yellow – I stay in the lines and keep to the plan. Suns are supposed to be yellow, right? I am a rule-follower.

I wrote those words before my first book came out, 25 days after that email from Annie when she declared 2011 the year of making art. It was a time when I was wrestling with my own fear, a time when I was stepping out of my own small stories. Looking back on that time now, I would replace the word small with the word scared.

In those days, I used those words interchangeably. Not so anymore.

It’s true, God writes big stories. But we can only see that from here looking back. His big stories started with smallness: five loaves, two fish, a foot washing, a mustard seed, a fisherman, a shepherd boy, a baby.

But I felt restless in those days, wanting to write words that mattered, wanting to parent in a way that meant something, wanting to have a voice, wanting my life to count for something beyond myself. If I’m honest, I also wanted to be successful, the definition of success changing for me depending on what success looked like for my peers. I still struggle with the definition of success, actually.

Last year when we were brainstorming titles for my third book, one of the phrases I tossed into the pile was the title of that post, How to Live Big. You should know that it wasn’t a serious contender, but in titling discussions, anything goes and you can’t be afraid of bad ideas.

When I said it, I was sitting in my parked car in my driveway on the phone with Esther, my agent. We talked for an hour, trying to find just the right phrase. When I said this one out loud, her response was this: ”Meh. Do people really want to live big?”

I had to think about that for a while. In fact, I’ve thought about it now for a long while.

I don’t know if I 100 percent disagree with that post I wrote, but if I were to re-write it, I would word it differently. A lot differently.

Now, my restlessness feels different. I am careful not to color the word small in negative shades, as if it were something to run from or escape.

It almost seems like an oxymoron, but these days I’m feeling restless for smallness – not out of fear of man but because of my union with Christ.

I want to start small because I’m human and dependent, not in hopes that my small will grow into something bigger. Maybe starting small will remind me that is what I am – and Jesus will give me the grace to stay there – even when it hurts and even when it’s hard.

I’m restless to stay small in His presence, not because I’m scared, but because I’m His.

I want this to be a relief rather than a frustration.

I’m restless to accept  the beauty of smallness, hiddenness, and the secret work of Christ in the deepest part of who I am.

I’m restless to let Him come out of me in any way He wants, no matter how big or how small that may seem to me – whether that be in one big way or in a million little ways.

I’m restless for believers to see, as my dad often says, beyond what is to what could be. And this doesn’t mean I am to dream big and amazing things for God. Rather, it means I am to believe in a big and amazing God, period. I can trust Him to be Himself even as I dare to be myself.

And maybe as I do that, I’ll realize that starting small isn’t a means to a bigger end, rather I start small because it’s what I am.

And this is good and right and holy.

***

restlessMy friend Jennie Allen writes in her new book Restless: Because You Were Made for More, “We are called to dream but we’re afraid to. But because we are called, when we don’t act on it we become restless—restless to find purpose, to make a difference in the world, to matter.”

She urges believers to pay attention to what causes our restlessness, as this could be the very doorway through which the Spirit is urging us to walk.

During the month of January, we’re talking about some of these same concepts, what I like to call making art with our lives – this week specifically, what it means to make art in little ways. Maybe one little way you could make art today is to consider this question: Can you name the restlessness within you? What is pulling, tugging, and causing a bit of discomfort in your soul?

If you have an answer and would like to receive a copy of this new release, simply leave a comment telling us of your restlessness and from those we’ll pick five of you and share the winners on Saturday, January 11.

Tuesdays Unwrapped

It’s been nearly six months since John stepped down from his position as youth pastor, a title he held for twelve years. We have enjoyed these past months, remembering why he is a pastor, learning the shape of his soul.childrenWe have been quietly attending a small church near downtown. The kids did well with the transition – but I am a woman who, as a girl, moved around churches and schools and states like it was my job (I only exaggerate a littleso I probably haven’t given them much room to not do well. I mean come on, we didn’t move houses or schools or anything. Just church.

I realize it isn’t fair or thoughtful of me to filter their experience through my own. Just because I grew up with more extreme life transitions doesn’t mean theirs isn’t valid or difficult.

They haven’t been thrilled with leaving what was familiar to them and we’ve made some space to talk about it. But this month, something is happening I didn’t hope to expect. They’ve started to like this new, small gathering of believers. They’ve not wanted to miss, have asked if we could play with friends after church.

This past Sunday, they sang one song during an evening service with the other children. They were eager to participate and seemed to have fun, but most of the kids are younger than they are. During group performances at our former church, they blended in with the group. But on Sunday our daughter was the tallest one on stage and she didn’t seem sure about how to handle that feeling. I don’t think she’ll want to do that again. Sometimes it hurts to grow up.

I suppose we will have insecurities no matter where our feet take us. But we are continuing to walk to new places even though sometimes we find things we don’t like. Today I’m thankful for new friends, for the space to remember how the Spirit speaks to us, and safe places to feel insecure.

Tuesdays Unwrapped 2013

I hope you’ll choose one gift of your ordinary day and find the miracle secret it holds. Write it out, breathe it in, capture its image, see it new. And then come here to tell us all about it by linking up below. If you are new to this community, here is all the information you’ll need to prepare your post. All are welcome.

Our Final Tuesdays Unwrapped: I’ve enjoyed these few weeks of unwrapping simple gifts with you. Thankful for this space for our community to share the lovely, the messy, and the unexpected gifts of our regular lives. We’re so glad you’re here.