Friday, January 31, 2014


tonight at WalMart, a woman touched my arm and spoke life over me.

I've never met this woman before and I doubt I ever will again. we were standing between peanut butter and hot chocolate mix and Keurig coffee cups, me leaning upwards on tiptoes for a jar just barely out of reach, her pushing a cart down the row toward me from behind.

"I just want you to know, I feel like you need to know, you're doing a good job at whatever it is you're doing." 

and then she walked away.

holy. holy. holy. 

this woman had no idea what those words did for me, the second breathing of prophecy over me in the past twelve hours. she has no idea how deeply I've been creatively pushing myself, she has no idea about the vulnerability hangover I've been nursing since I submitted my fictional short story for publication perusal on Monday, followed by pouring raw words of a far less fictional sort in yet another direction last night.

she has no idea that today was the day that I stood crying at my kitchen counter, overwhelmed with a thousand things bearing down on my shoulders. she didn't know that I've been laden with self-doubt and low on words since acknowledging my own worth. {does it get more ironic than that?}

{photo via pinterest}

I am the biggest enemy to my own creativity, to my own setting out and declaring. I'm fearlessly committed to encouraging others to embrace their words, tell their stories, pour themselves out, peel back the roughage and let their brave show naked and raw and powerful. and then I find myself at the top of a tree, a kitten who had no problem scaling the trunk and finding my cheerleading perch, but now I cannot get down and I'm suddenly stricken with unmatched fear.

I am ravenous for my own self-worth. it's there. I can smell it, the way wine drifts over from the glass and makes your mouth water and your tastebuds spring to life with anticipation. but someone convinced me that I'm a teetotaler and that picking up that glass would be death to my soul.

but the Lion is whispering, not roaring {He knows what my soul can hear}.

if you do not drink, lioness, then you will die of thirst. and there is no other stream. 

being brave enough to lift the glass, to down its contents and let them flood the depths of me is only half the battle. the second part comes when I must step forward and speak, knowing that they'll know what I've been drinking. it's a different kind of intoxication, the kind that brings life instead of death, the kind that leaves deception at the gate and ushers in life like electricity through the heart of a corpse.

it's not chasing the fear away. no, not at all. it's embracing the fear, letting it do what it must, letting it prove itself futile and watching it drift away on the breeze like ash as the brave-flames stoke higher and higher still.

if you'll excuse me, I've been invited to a wine tasting.

{inspired by a Story Sessions prompt. join us? there's always room for you here with us}

Sunday, January 26, 2014

inked and unfolded

{photo by Rachel}
I want to unfold. let nothing in me hold itself closed. 
for where I am closed, I am false. 
I want to be clear in your sight.
:: Rilke 

every time I get a new tattoo, people ask me why. in fact, it's become such a habitual thing that I immediately start to consider my why the second my body touches the artist's table. it's a holy experience for me, stepping from the wide open outdoors into the small shops with needles on the tables and art in its own right covering walls and bodies. 

on Friday, as I leaned back on the table with the leg of my jeans rolled up and the buzzing of the gun in my ears ringing like a holy chant, I could feel the reason, the why flowing through my soul like electricity. 

I get tattoos so that I never forget and so that I can never hide again. especially this one.

I've hit that point in my life where I'm actually willing to be transparent. actually, if I'm honest, I'm less willing to be this open as I am realizing that I am meant to be splayed wide, visible for all to see. 

it's a strange sort of untucking

some of it is smooth and easy, the way that skillful hands fold and refold and unfold crinkled paper to form a crane. most is awkward, a dissecting, a flailing akin to the way the fitted sheet pops off the corner of the mattress when tossing and turning and nightmares cling tighter than sleep. it's not as graceful as I'd like you to think, less ornamental and tidy than my carefully placed words might lead you to believe. 

the new words on my skin read simple and smooth :: we are all stories in the end. there's a reason I got these words, this quote from my favourite television show of all time {Doctor Who}. because my life is stories, everything about it and every aspect of me. I have steeped myself in stories, my story
{photo by Rachel}
and her story and our stories all merged together. it's something I can't avoid anymore. it's something that has followed me forever. 

but that's why I get tattoos. that's why I walk again and again into the place thick with the scent of ink and cigarette smoke and something else, something rising like sacred incense from the Holiest Place toward Heaven. it's wafting out through the tear in the curtain. it's a thin place, where the Lion's roar is clearer and His breath smells sweeter still. 

because if it's there, permanent, on my skin, I can never shrug it off and leave it on the side of the road. even when I get scared. 

these marks on my skin, this new one in particular, are my Ebeneezer stone. my place of help, my flesh-guides to remind me that I am called, that I am not hidden. I am unfolding, one smooth piece and one awkward flail at a time. and each of these marks are helping me remember. 

I am clear in Your sight. 

{inspired by a Story Sessions prompt. join us? there's always room for you here with us}

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

when I say I'm pro-life

{photo by Jennifer}
{trigger warning: non-explicit mentions of abortion and rape}

if I say Roe v. Wade, you know what I'm talking about. I don't have to explain the details or lay out what those words mean. it's two names with a "v" in the middle. versus. two sides standing one against the other.

I believe in a lot of unpopular things. I write a lot of things that offend people, that make them bristle and take a step back. sometimes they even write me letters or notes explaining just how wrong I am, just how far off the path I have wandered.

but this is where it gets sticky. because I'm pro-life, but I hesitate to write those words because of the connotation they immediately conjure. when I say I'm pro-life, you get a picture in your head.

I remember the day we were driving home from school passing by the McDonalds on the left and the buffet restaurant on the right. it was so many years ago, but every time I pass that corner, I still remember. there were people there, screaming, holding signs set with images of blood and death and broken body parts. the man behind us, or was it beside us, rolled down his window and commented to a red-faced picketer that they were on their way to dinner and the pictures were making him lose his appetite. the man spewed, "good. enjoy your dinner, sir," spitting out the final term of respect as though it was the filthiest curse.

I'll never forget. I think I was seven. I'm twenty-three now. I'll never forget, not as long as I live. but what I remember aren't those signs or the words on them. I remember they were vile, that they made my elementary-aged stomach do a funny sort of flip. but what I remember is that man. what I remember is the rage.

when I say I'm pro-life, I want you to know that I'm anti-shame. I'm anti-picket signs, and I'm anti-red-faced men spewing spittle and rage in the same breath, and I'm anti-bombs being flung into abortion clinics. I'm anti-whispering and I'm anti-pointing fingers.

when I say I'm pro-life, I want you to know that I'm pro-woman. I want you to know that I'm anti-rape and anti-victimizing. I'm against the twisting of women's bodies into nothing but sexual objects with the singular purpose of causing men to stumble. I want you to know that I'm pro-life because I'm pro-human, and they can go hand-in-hand.

when I say I'm pro-life, I want you to know that I've wrapped my arms around women who've had abortions and held them while they cried. I want you to know that I've heard the comments that those who claim to bear the name of Jesus make about "the least of these" behind their backs and under their breath. and it makes me sicker than those signs did, because He promised to wipe away all tears and to bring life where death would rather abide.

if you have had an abortion, I want you to hear this, so loud and so clear. I may be pro-life. but I am not anti-you. I am not, He is not. 

I know there is a better way, there has to be. I know that when the laws disappear that back-alley blood is spilled and women die out of fear and desperation. I find myself sitting with my head in my hands with tears in my eyes as I go back and forth. aren't we supposed to be hands and feet, life-bearers and love-bringers? aren't we supposed to hold and treasure and forgive, four hundred and ninety times plus one more for good measure?  aren't we supposed to protect all life, women and children alike?

how can both be done? oh Lord. there must be a better way.

so on this forty-first anniversary, I will sit in the silence with the ache burning deep in my soul. I am begging the Lion for a better way. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014


{photo by Jennifer}
{this piece has been recorded in my own voice here.}

we live in a place where being naked is forbidden, in the literal sense of sleeves and cleavage and measuring tapes, and the metaphorical sense of words and eyes and thoughts. in fact, I think the fear lies closer to the words than the wardrobe.

it's common knowledge that being covered up to the neck is accepted and seen as the best choice. and if you choose to bare anything that steps outside the line, you risk getting hurt, and it would be your fault. because they told you the rules, and you stepped outside the circle.

it's barefoot coal walking with everyone whispering around you, you're going to get burned, you're going to get burned, you're gonna get burned. someone comes forward with shoes, a pair of socks, nylons. their offerings are well-meaning, but the intent is the same: cover yourself. they're tugging at your ankles, and you're wobbling, clumsily trying to stammer out a plea for them to stop. but then you're face-down on the embers with burn marks on your face, and the chiding comes in thick and fast.

you brought this on yourself, you know. that's what you get for playing with fire. we warned you.

but they missed the point. you're walking on hot coals with your bare feet, and you weren't getting burned until they started trying to cover you. your brave is showing, and it looks good on you. just because your bravery got scorched doesn't mean it went away. it just needs a little salve.

so you arch your neck and throw the socks in the fire-pit, with the shoes and the nylons, and maybe you take off your coat and add it to the pile. and you take a wild step, with the chant pulsing like blood in your veins. it's become your life-source, more oxygen and water than simple words repeated.

your brave is showing. your brave is showing. your brave is showing. 

repeat it as many times as the lies come, and maybe one more so that the brook-stone sinks deeper into the giant's forehead. it's not unladylike to wield a hammer, you builder-woman you.

there's wind on your skin, and it's cold and it'll make you shiver. but you'll take another wild step, and you'll hear the skin-sizzle and smell the smoke, and the flesh of your toes might char, just a little. but that hurt, it's the right kind, the kind that comes when you wake up and everything aches from the pushing and the stomping and the pressing with your back against the stone. the ache that comes when you wake up and find you moved a mountain overnight.

your brave is showing...step...

your brave is showing.... step...

{this post was inspired by my tribe of writers, the ones that hold my hand and my back in a way I've never experienced. want to join us in Story Sessions? there's always room for you with us.}

Sunday, January 12, 2014

why I don't hate the Church

{photo by Jennifer}

why do you hate the Church?

I get asked that question a lot, especially by those who have found themselves reading my plea for permission not to be a Christian anymore from last year. I'm finding myself having to explain myself over and over, in my awkward stammering way which belies the confident way I lay out my words in writing, that I am not targeting the Church. I do not hate the Church. I have no ax to grind, I have no vendetta.

my choice to refrain from referring to myself as a Christian was not because I have turned my back on my local body, and it's not because I'm sitting and staring daggers at any other believer-housing building that I have encountered in my past.

mostly it's because I'm tired of need-to-know religion.

in her stunningly visceral book, Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber writes the following words which drew an audible gasp from my mouth and brought me to tears the first time I read them :: "we want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God's presence." and that right there is why I needed to lay down the name.

because we've somehow set it up that walking into Church and into Christianity is the way to have all the answers, to find the magic guidebook and a pile of glimmering power-ups. we have somehow given the impression that there is a laundry list of answers just waiting to be discovered, and if you look long enough and walk the paces with exactly the same amount of distance between each step, we will find it and everything will be made clear.

but if that's what you're looking for when you throw in your lot with the Lion, you're going to be disappointed. it's mystery. it's grace that is completely beyond comprehension. it's redemption for all, no one left outside.

sometimes, I get this wild mad idea that maybe the Church doesn't have to be clean carpet. maybe we can go back to the cross, the splintered wood stained with blood and the way He talked to the thief hanging beside Him while they mocked him from the ground.

I've stepped back from religion. I can't do the treasure hunt anymore. but that Carpenter from Galilee cooking fish on the beach and smearing mud to restore sight?

I cannot get enough of Him.


{photo by Rachel}
there's nothing like the word "catalyst" finding you during a vulnerability hangover.

it's one of those "mysterious ways" kind of circumstances where you really just want to draw away from the world and from the eyes that are peering in at you through your literary fishbowl. that's what writing is, in a way. it's being a fish in a tank, and people are staring, and sometimes they ignore the sign that says, don't tap on the glass; it frightens the fish.

people like to tap anyway.

writing is the epitome of vulnerability. there's that quote by Red Smith :: there's nothing to writing. all you do is sit down at at typewriter and open a vein. and we chuckle and shake our heads in that funny way we do when something is true and it amuses us. but then, all of a sudden, it's not so catchy and amusing anymore when you poured yourself out and you're a little weak and wan and woozy and the little glass of orange juice just isn't cutting it.

it's that thing of wandering into Smaug's mountain and realizing that I haven't brought a sword at all.

and then comes that word, glaring big from the upper right-hand corner of the sermon notes. catalyst. it's a perfect pairing with my word for 2014 :: precipice. 

a person or event which causes quick change or action. 

I've been writing big brave scary words already, twelve days into 2014. and it's left me feeling like I'm outgrowing my comfortable skin, like I caught myself sipping a little too much of Alice's drink me potion. it's growth, and it's intense, and it hurts. 

{photo by Rachel}
but there's something causing quick change and action. and it's not me. I'm not powerful enough for that, not on my own. I'm shedding all the garbage that's been collecting all over me, cleaning all around the battery connection cables that tie Him and I together. I can feel the glowing, the arcing when He and I meet.

and this is what makes the thrashing all worth it, every last bloody filth-plastered moment. 

sometimes it takes an emptying of words to realize you have so many left. sometimes it takes a visceral precipice looming up straight ahead for me to remember that His breathing is more buoyant than wings.

because it's because of feeling so completely stripped raw, down to nothing at all with barely even my own skin to keep me warm, that I can find myself sharing story -- my story, your story -- and breaking bread with dragons. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

to the men from a Jesus feminist

{photo by Jennifer}
dear men, 

I'm married to one of you. the tall blonde blue-eyed love of my life with the contagious laugh and the heart the size of Texas. 

my best friend is one of you. the supermodel military man with the lopsided smile and the passion for both clothes and cars. 

maybe, one day, I'll raise of you as a wide-eyed little boy with his papa's hair and that same quirky grin.

I'm surrounded by you on a regular basis, in close contact and in passing. the delivery man, the guy searching the top shelf at Walmart for the last package of cream cheese. 

I'm a feminist, in case you weren't already aware by the things I say and the words I share. 

but there's something I want to make sure that you know. 

I'm a Jesus feminist because I see you. 

isn't that so funny, how that word "feminist" somehow makes it sound like I hate your gender? like I want to take each of you and fling you into the boiling sea, laughing while you sink feebly, because I am a roaring woman and I don't need you. 

but that's the exact opposite. 

I know that you are more than the lower half of your body. I know that you have more self-control than you are given credit for these days. because I know you are the ruler of yourself, and you take responsibility for your own mind and your own actions. 

I know some of you are dogs, that some of you have broken hearts and spirits. but you aren't all like that. because we're all human, and some of us are cruel and some of us are kind. you're more than the ones that cause shame and regret. I can't see you all that way, because I hate when that happens to women. when that happens to me. 

your masculinity is not defined by ripping and rending and tearing. you don't have anything to prove. and if I've ever made you feel that way, I'm sorry. 

I know that some of you throw logs and some of you paint. I know some of you fix cars and some of you audit taxes. I know some of you dance and some of you write and some of you walk the beat with a gun on your hip. I know that you're all men. I know some of you are broken, that some of you have had the fight ripped out of you by a culture that throws your tears back in your face, that laughs
{photo by Jennifer}
at your troubles and tells you, 

suck it up. be a man. 

but I can't help but go back to the words of the God who saw you from before the dawn of time, the One who created you the same as He did me ::

He wouldn't offer to bottle your tears if He didn't expect you to shed them.

I know that you have worth. I know that some of you are feminists too. I know that you love, be it silently or loudly. some of you are bearers of privilege, the kind that makes the road easier for you than for me. but you know something else? 

that does not discount you from having a voice. 

being a feminist doesn't mean I hate you. it doesn't mean I want to overthrow you, destroy you, or render you obsolete. it means I love you, I respect you. 

hating you isn't true feminism. we want to see you succeed. you are our husbands, our brothers, our sons, our friends. 

we are feminists because we love you. we are feminists because we see you as more than an insatiable sexual creature ruled by your penis. we are feminists because we see you have been shaped by the same Hands that shaped us. 

because the way this works is that there doesn't have to be a choosing of sides, men or women. there can just be us. a united front. us and you, all together. we can just be.


Monday, January 6, 2014

here's to indecency

{photo by Jennifer Upton}
monotony is easy. safe is easy.

quite frankly, there are days when I'd so much rather withdraw into the protected little hovel I dug for myself in the early days. sometimes I want to go back to when the words were pretty and drew a crowd and fit where they was "supposed to," according to the rule list.

who made those rules? I'm still not exactly sure. but I can tell you this much :: it wasn't Jesus.

two days ago, I wrote about being published with profanity. the piece isn't even live yet -- not until Wednesday -- and already, I'm feeling the pressure to apologize. I've been told that I'm pushing the envelope too far, that it's so great that I'm expanding my horizons, but no one likes a lady with a potty mouth. that just because I'm saying that it could be holy doesn't mean that it will be.

I've even been told that holy ground is not mine to declare. I've been told that I'm trying to pull the power out of God's hands, that Moses didn't light the bush on fire, so why am I?

because He already lit my soul on fire. 

I'm not declaring holy ground because it's a whim, because I'm throwing the word around to land willy-nilly on any spare scrap of earth. it's because the first spark was kindled hot in the depths of my soul by the Lion's roaring.

and sometimes it's not always presentable. sometimes holiness is scandalous, the kind that makes people put their hand to their mouth and whisper about you in the shadows. sometimes you can hear them talking, feeling them pointing, talking about decorum and the way it should be.

but He made me risky. He showed me how to shed the world's clothing and walk a little closer to the line, whispering,

I didn't draw that line. walk My line, not theirs. 

that's what being a writer is. it's shedding the appropriateness of social norms, it's digging your fingers into the smothering wardrobe of darkness and ripping it off in shreds. it's pure risk, pure surrender.

so, here's to clinging tight to the filthy robe of the Rabbi and realizing that the path is easy without all the extra weight pulling me all over the road.

here's to holy, sacred indecency.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

when the f word gets you published

{photo by me, art by Mandy}
I'm being published this coming week. on the eighth. this is a big deal, a long time coming. I'm not sure if I have a lot of eloquent thoughts left in me. in all actuality, I'm pretty overwhelmed.

as much as I'm excited to be out in the world, my work with my name attached being shown to eyes who have never even heard of me or this place before, there is also a strange sort of trepidation. because I did a thing, a big thing, one of those wild things that you don't think about when you're doing it because you don't think it'll go anywhere. and then, all of a sudden, it happens.

I sent in the piece to Literary Orphans because I didn't think it would be accepted. that was risk number one. putting my words out there was the big step, allowing myself to acknowledge that I have to start somewhere, that my words have worth and value.

and then came the hammer. they wanted it, every last word. including that one glaring flashing word right there at the end. that fifth word in the last line. it's the kind of word you don't say in polite company. it's the kind of word that slips out by accident and you find yourself blushing and stammering an apology and wanting to hide.

:: it's a word that starts with the letter f. 

but then, I've been learning to stop apologizing for my words. all my words. including those sharp ones that tend to make the good Christian girl in me wince and recoil slightly. He's used worse things than the f-word.

He put two prostitutes in the lineage of His son. the fully God, fully human Prince of Heaven. He didn't need to take the things that the world saw as lesser, as dirty, as inappropriate, and put them in the line that brought His son to earth. but He did. 

{photo of me, taken by Nikki Jean Photography}
I've started finding myself breathing a little easier. even though I'm mostly rambling, even though I don't have to explain myself to anyone. I learned this last June when I discovered that courage groaned, and it was a beautiful thing.

maybe sometimes, holiness is a little ragged, a little rough. maybe sometimes sacredness involves digging in the dirt until there is mud under your fingernails and you find yourself staggering into the holy places. sometimes the words that come flying from your lips are the ones that don't fit in the world, the ones that get you pursed lips and side-eye glances and tsk-ing under the breath.

so I will tell you this. if the word is going to offend you, if it's going to turn you against me, if it's going to make  you want to throw rocks at me, then please, don't read the piece. I'm okay with that, really, I am.

but if you think that maybe, just maybe, that a Lion's roaring can drown out the profane, then oh, dear ones, give it a chance. sit on the words, let them in.

because sometimes, even the f word can be holy. 

{the piece is live on Literary Orphans as of right now HEREyou can read it or not, that is your choice. I did not choose the artwork behind the piece :: that was up to the editor. if that also offends you, if it takes away your ability to soak in my words, then please, abstain from reading. love and grace to each of you. bear me gently.}

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

the year of the Lion

{photo by Rachel}
I started 2014 with a bang. literally, as that is a very good emulation of the sound made by my knee striking the corner of our coffee table precisely at midnight. the pain was enough to reduce me to tears as my husband put his arm around me and spent the first minute of the new year kissing away tears.

the irony of that hasn't escaped me. it was a burst of pain that brought this new year in :: this precipice year, this year of big things. I am fully aware that birthing requires pain, and this year is already brimming with the anticipation of pain.

this year is precipice. that is the word He gave me, once against without consulting me, as He so often does. and it's a good thing that He buried this seed so deep within me, because I might almost be tempted to dig it up and throw it away. because this is so damn big. so damn big. 

this is the year of letting go, of falling because there is nothing holding me back anymore. I'm anticipating some stumbling and some bumping, some air currents and the occasional thunderstorm. to say that I am expecting smooth sailing and an easy ride in this coming year would be a lie.

if anything, I'm expecting things to be hard. 

I wrote this post in the early days of December for the new Story Sessions internet home. I didn't have any idea what my word would be for 2014. I had barely an inkling of all the things that I would start to understand, that I would resolve to write a book in this coming year, that some of my words would be accepted for publication right at the cresting end of 2013.

she whispers at my core, deep inside me,
“I am midwife to freedom.
now push.”
{shifra :: featured on Story Sessions}

but I think I understand now. I think I'm finally grasping this impossible thing that I've been feeling since before this year truly began. it was pressing against the seams of the old year, like a wild thing, a wave that knows the sea awaited behind the wall. and it wanted to go home. 

{photo by Rachel :: art by Mandy}
now we are here, eleven hours into this new year. eight days away from publication. already pouring through and attempting to understand how to expand myself, how to make the needed changes, how to write this book and spin these stories. 

it's all about embracing a calling :: about figuring out what is it, exactly, that He and I have been struggling through and warring about for the past twelve months. it's about being a writer, a mother, a sojourner, a wife. it's about being a wild one. it's about falling. 

it's about letting the roaring :: His roaring :: soak into my skin like salve and smear across my cheeks like war paint. it's about saturating myself in faith, not religion. it's about letting go.  it's about understanding that I will most likely be completely vulnerable, that I will be putting myself out there this year in a way that is borderline terrifying. 

it's 2014. the year of precipice. the year of big things. the year of holy days. the year of sacredness, of continued thrashing.

the year of the Lion.

{one of the big things that is happening this year is my all exclusive content newsletter. you can subscribe here :: also found on the right side of the blog in the sidebar. the first issue goes out on Monday, January 6th. I plan on writing more about this in detail in the coming days. I deeply hope that you will join me on this sojourn}