You’re Bleeding, Not Dying {Liz von Ehrenkrook}

This week’s guest post is from Liz von Ehrenkrook: a kind and generous online friend. Recently, God called Liz and her youth pastor husband to pack up and go—Abraham-like—on a new journey. You can follow along here

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Sometimes I think we’re scared to bleed.

When I was a kid, I played hard; and hard at play meant bruised or scratched limbs, with the occasional should-we-go-to-the-doctor injuries. My parents weren’t the kind to opt for medical bills if they could handle my crying and heal my body at home with peroxide, over-the-counter ointments and band-aids.

In fact, I only remember going to the doctor one time.

I was four years old. Mom was in the kitchen cooking, I want to say macaroni and cheese because I always wanted to eat macaroni and cheese. I remember my brother and I watching He-man, and my decision to sit closer to the TV.

I hear my mom’s voice – but it’s not good for you to sit so close!

I wager, how could I get closer without it being bad for me, without getting into trouble?

My dad’s easy chair was angled toward our coffee table. I pulled the lever and reclined back so the footrest extended. I wiggled my tiny body onto the edge of the footrest, propping my head up onto the coffee table. There, a tad uncomfortable, but closer nonetheless.

I don’t remember how I fell.

My head was aching. Mom was running into the living room scooping me into her arms and flying down the hall to the bathroom. I remember sitting on the edge of the sink while she parted my hair, looking for the source of all the blood. She said I wasn’t crying but I was scared at her reaction, at the worried look permanently wrinkling her face. I turned my head ever so slightly and could see my reflection in the mirror.

There was so much blood. I let loose a howl, a high-pitched screech that sounded like a siren.

Then we were in the car, speeding to the hospital. I was in my mom’s lap, hugging her chest. My blood soaked her shirt.

Everything at the hospital is a blur. I remember crying. I remember bucking, flailing my arms and legs when the doctor cleaned my wound and then began stitching my head. Two nurses lay across my body but the adrenaline released a she-Hulk and I wasn’t going down easy.

I remember my mom’s face then. She was calm; there was no more worry.

“Elizabeth. You need to let the doctor do his job. You’re going to be okay. Can you be still for me?”

My body stopped convulsing immediately. I stared into my mother’s eyes and held her gaze. I remember my nose running and really wanting her to wipe it for me.

My skull has a weird shape now, a flat area. I used to enjoy freaking people out by letting them run their hand across my head. This is my scar.

I did suffer some trauma from the event. Because I had been exposed to so much of my own blood, my reaction to even the tiniest scratch with the smallest droplet of blood would send me into hysterics. I’d run fast and far, thinking I could get away from it.

My parents had to work with me through all my future injuries to settle me down, to remind me, “You’re bleeding. You’re not dying.”

I have grown into a woman of resilience. I adorn my body with beautiful scars to express who God has created me to be. Under the needle in tattoo shops I bleed, and it’s a reminder to me that I’m growing, I’m changing – but I’m not dying.

I imagine a lot of people would die for God because, heaven. But to live for God here, right now, means we have to live out our faith on earth, in this plane of reality, where we face trials of all kinds. In order to live, we have to be willing to bleed, and it’s difficult to make that kind of commitment to pain.

We don’t like the thought of blood; our life flowing from our veins, worrying how much we have to give. Then we sing songs telling the spirit to lead us where our trust is without borders; we worship God asking him to take us deeper than our feet could ever wander. But when we bleed, we retreat. We run the other way, as far out as we can get, thinking the thing God is asking of us will be so far in the distance it’ll never catch up to us. We wrap ourselves in the safety of fresh gauze and padded comforts.

Bleeding usually doesn’t come without pain. And through pain there will be tears. We will lament. We will ask ourselves, and God, “Why?” We will look to others and say, “This is hard and it hurts and I’m scared.”

I believe that with our bleeding, we’re actually doing some really great living.

I’m not saying everyone needs to get a tattoo, to purposefully bleed in order to prove something. My body art is a personal representation of my growing faith.

What I am saying is don’t run from the pain of living out your faith, be willing to deal with the blood.

You’re just bleeding. You’re not dying.

lizvoneLiz von Ehrenkrook – of So I Married a Youth Pastor – lives in Oregon with her husband, Mat, and their snobby cat, Pixel. In 12 days, Liz and Mat will be jobless and adventuring across the country on a summer road trip in search of what God wants next for them. Follow their journey here  and keep them in your prayers!

To Be Found Faithful – {guest post by Sarah Torna Roberts}

I have been longing for this day to come, so I can introduce you to Sarah Torna Roberts and share her beautiful post. It was just exactly what I needed to read. I bet it is for you too.

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It was a weekend none of us would likely forget. We were almost all of us together, as total as we’d been in years.  Tents were pitched in my grandparents’ mountain backyard, babies cried, and kiddos ran every which way. Newlyweds roasted marshmallows with arms wrapped around each other’s waists because that’s what you do when you’ve still got the honeymoon in your eyes. There was the familiar family talent show, piles of chocolate, bags of potato chips and the ever present onion dip, may it reign forever.

On night two of this spectacular family gathering, someone gathered us all, quieted our laughter and reminiscing, murmured words of thanks and blessing. Then, a new practice, a time of sharing with each family taking its’ turn breaking open a bit, placing the precious things of our lives and hearts into the hands and hearts of those gathered.

What does the next year look like for you?

What do you need prayer for?

How can we support you through the season you’re in?

One by one, we heard stories of looming college graduations, heavy work loads, raising young children, endless ministry tasks. We listened, we cried. We nodded in affirmation and love.

When it came to my Grandma, my so private Grandma, my never complaining Grandma, my solid as a rock Grandma, my bootstraps Grandma, we leaned in.  She spoke words, halted and started by the choked throat, by the emotion of her whole family spread before her, the emotion of putting it to words, the slow and steady path of her life.

She described her calling, her place in this time.  Sacred tasks, their holiness hidden by their everyday ordinariness. Tiny efforts in practice, monumental in their importance, in their cost. Her quietly muttered sentences washing over all of us, her simple obedience to the mundane and invisible ringing with truth and grace and love.

“I just want to be found faithful.”

And with that, the heart’s cry of my life was born. These words brought Freedom for my try-harder, do-it-right-the-first-time nature.

I just want to be found faithful.

Her words follow me around every bend in my road, blaze above me as I struggle through middle of the night worries, whisper at me when the path seems too narrow for my lead feet.

I just want to be found faithful.

… when my little son’s struggles are more than just a phase, when the road to developmental delay is winding and full of road blocks and rolled eyes. When we land on a diagnosis, to lean into a world as heartbreaking as it is beautiful and miraculous.

…when that file titled “Writing”  on my computer contains documents that date back to 2001. When the nudge to admit that writing is part of who I was made to be,  when it becomes clear that hiding is no longer an option, to write out loud.

… when the friend of my heart walks the road of infertility, when she needs me to just show up, to swear and rage with her as dreams collapse, to smile and nod as they change and morph.

… when I’m exhausted by the minivan, and the suburban life that repeats itself every day. When the tasks are ordinary and necessary, isolating and honorable, to do them tired and do them with love.

… when my husband needs my touch, needs my smiling joy over him, over our union even though I’m so tired and frustrated I could spit, to kiss him well.

… when the conversations are hard, and there is repair work to be done. When I’ve done harm with my words or lack of words, with my actions or inactions, to step toward repentance, forgiveness, the hard words of mercy.

I just want to be found faithful.

Faithfulness doesn’t look like perfection or super spiritual, hero-status endeavors. It is the road of mistakes, of imperfect persistence.

If my Grandmother is any indication, it is simply opening your eyes every single day to the life God has given you, to the people He’s set you with, to the circumstances and opportunities and situations of your life, and taking a step toward them.  And then maybe another one.

Faithfulness is meant for such as me, with my ragamuffin heart. It’s my imperfect road of trying again, of God smiling on me as I honor the life He’s given me by continuing to live it, even with my messes and sassy mouth and snappy temper. To open my hands to it, to pour my soul into it.  To raise my eyes to heaven and ask for help along the away, again.

To trust that this is enough.

profile pic-smallSarah Torna Roberts is a writer who lives in California with her husband and four sons. She blogs at www.sarahtornaroberts.com where she digs around her in her memories, records her present, and is constantly holding her faith up to the light. She snacks at 2 AM with great regularity, is highly suspicious of anyone who doesn’t love baseball (Go Giants!), and would happily live in a tent by the sea. Connect with her on twitter, instagram or follow her blog here

 

Finding God On The Streets – {a guest post by Brenna Lyles}

In February I had the pleasure of spending a few hours in amiable car conversation with four college women. They were magnificent: they turned a commute (boring!) into a road trip (wildly fun!) We were on our way to hear Gary Haugen speak about the Locust Effect – so I already knew from their interest that they were women with deep convictions. I also discovered that God had gifted some of them to write. A few weeks back, you heard from Tifani Oaks. Today, please welcome my other lovely driving companion, Brenna Lyles, to the Words That Changed My World series!

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It was my freshman year of college when I began to take initiative in my faith.

A series of “college experiences” gone sour led me on a path to a on-campus Christian fellowship. Despite growing up in the church, I had never experienced such a group and I was both intrigued and inspired. I immediately began immersing myself into this community of young people who were sharing their lives together and living with an indescribable fire.

As I grew in relationship with God and fellow believers in the following months, I came to understand the realness of my faith. It was more than just a book filled with intangible theories and moral codes, it was life. And I was finally ready to make it my life.

Suddenly, it seemed the chandelier that was my life went from dull to noticeably lit.

For months, I had heard a voice from within telling me that there was so much more in store for me, that God had a greater plan for me… if I was willing to change. These words came in parallel with a weekly sermon series on the Apostle Paul’s notion of “putting off” the old self and “putting on” God’s best version of me.

So, I started small and changed some things. The obvious things. I stopped swearing, realized the toxic effects of gossiping and my judgmental attitude, made myself accountable to several friends and mentors, and ended a relationship of two years that I knew was both disobedient and holding me back in my walk with Christ.

And, gradually, life seemed brighter and I began to experience a deep sense of peace. So, I dusted off my hands, sat back, and let God take it from there.

I’ve changed. I’ve done my part, I figured. It’s time to wait for God to follow through on that great promise.

But it didn’t come on my time, which left me discontent and irritated. I still had many areas of my heart that needed a little fix-me-up, but I neglected that small detail.

Was all this “putting off” for nothing? I began to wonder as time went on.

I felt God telling me it would take yet some more work.

Perhaps a month or two later, I read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. The book, in conjunction with my quest for putting on a new self, inspired me to spend a day feeding our town’s homeless people – a population I knew very little about but very harshly judged for their “poor life choices.” I recruited my best friend; we made some PB&Js and drove downtown.

Expecting to simply hand out sandwiches and walk away, I was shocked when these individuals leaped into conversation with me – me, a complete stranger. It was clear they had a deep longing to share their lives, their stories, their downfalls, their journeys, their misfortunes. They spoke of broken homes, running away, addictions, oppression, and – incredibly– God’s grace. I sat on the sidewalk and soaked it in.

I cannot say it was one particular phrase or statement that did it, but I came home that day with their words pulsing through me. I felt renewed and filled and radically changed. I knew I had landed upon something.

A bit selfishly, I continued pursuing encounters with this community both in and outside of my town. Street ministry became my comfort zone. It always starts with a, “Hi, how are you today?” and ends planted on the sidewalk, immersed in conversation.

Each story I am told, each vulnerable soul I meet softens my heart – something the Lord knows I need. I am humbled by the people I have met, as I’ve realized that we are broken just the same. I am uplifted to experience an overwhelming percentage who are in love with Jesus.

Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39 are reality for me, as I’ve realized that other’s sin and my sin are no different; drug addictions are no worse in God’s eyes than shopping addictions. Neither are outside the bounds of God’s forgiveness; neither can separate us from His love.

I have learned to better love everyone without judgment; to strive to meet the relational needs of others; to understand God’s love more fully and deeply. I yearn for a different kind of justice.

The words I felt God speaking into my heart over a year ago and the words of the poor and powerless have truly changed my world.

I’m putting off a hardened, self-focused self for a new, humbled, loving, empathetic, and selfless (yet still imperfect) me.

This coming fall, I will serve as a leader in a community service ministry team within my Christian fellowship. I hope and plan to make serving the homeless community and seeking justice my life’s work in whatever capacity the Lord calls me to.

This was the great promise.

1654409_10203230162420911_385578085_nBrenna is an aspiring journalist, blogger, and Communications and Economics student. In her down time, she can be found training for half-marathons, dancing around her apartment, sipping coffee, or cooking up a delicious, healthy meal. Brenna is a lover of breakfast, country music, public radio, theological books, and quaint downtowns. Her life’s passion is listening to and telling stories of extraordinary people. Brenna blogs at http://aninterviewwithexistence.wordpress.com/, and you can find her on Facebook.

photo credit: James Lee Flickr – Creative Commons

She Dared Me – a guest post by Tifani Oaks

Friends: I am excited to introduce you to Tifani Oaks, who sent me this post as part of the Words That Changed my World series. I am so grateful she chose to share her story of daring greatly with us.

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Toward the end of my senior year of college, a very wise woman uttered something that turned my world upside-down. She charged me with a task of sorts: to some, it may have seemed simple; to others, it may have seemed almost second nature; but to me, it seemed impossible.

It was crazy. It was far outside my comfort zone. And it was risky.

There’s no way on earth I would actually consider it, I reasoned. She’s out of her mind if she really thinks I’m going to do something like that.

She doesn’t know me: she doesn’t know my story; she doesn’t know what I’ve been through.

And I was right. She didn’t. She didn’t know me at all.

In fact, I had met her just days before: she had humbly offered up her driving services to those of us college students who were interested in attending a book signing event in Palo Alto. And I, somewhat on a whim, had decided to join.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I felt anxious—uncertain about whether my sudden burst of spontaneity was such a good idea after all.

But after spending no more than a couple of hours with her, squashed between children’s car seats and several mounds of Cheerio’s stashed strategically beneath the crevices of the back seat of her minivan, I found myself utterly drawn to her.

It wasn’t because of anything she said, really; it was just her: her passion, her wisdom, her demeanor.

So I shot her a rather lengthy message after the event, hoping my honest [albeit somewhat forward] words would elicit a favorable response.

The following evening, I found myself seated comfortably on her couch, surrounded by a trove of children’s toys, an expansive collection of coffee mugs, and an inexplicable feeling of warmth and acceptance.

There was a genuineness about her: a transparency that I longed to understand.

There in her living room, I began to share a piece of my story with her.

I told her about the breakup, about last summer, and about my honest desire to have and maintain spiritual friendships.

She sat quietly for a moment, as if she were taking everything in.

“I dare you…” she began.

My heart began to race. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I was eager to hear what she had to say.

“I dare you…to be vulnerable with them.”

My heart sank. I hadn’t anticipated that one.

Instead of the usual feelings of eagerness and zeal that would typically accompany the almost-immediate acceptance of such a challenge, her call to action was met only with silence and timidity.

With them? I thought. She was referring to the women in my Growth Group, or small-group Bible Study: the women I admired; the women I wanted to impress; the women with whom I longed to develop lasting relationships.

Impossible, I thought. I could never do that.

Sure, I could be vulnerable with her.

But that was in the safety of her home. She was an adult, a mother, a mentor.

She wasn’t a college student, a rival, a peer.

She had been through all of these things once before: she could provide me with insight and guidance, not judgment or rejection.

That was what they would offer me, I was certain—like the others before them.

It was easier to hide.

Easier to hide behind my walls of insecurity and self-doubt: behind perfect makeup and plastic smiles; behind red lipstick and inside jokes; behind sparkling shoes and busy schedules.

“I—I don’t know if I can do that,” I managed to stammer after several moments.

“I’m not forcing you to,” she responded. “Just mull it over—give it some thought.”

And “give it some thought” I did.

For the next 24 hours, doubts about what might await me if I accepted her challenge consumed me.

A million what ifs penetrated my thoughts: What if they hate me? What if they think I’m crazy? What if they don’t understand? What if… What if… What if…

So I prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

It took time and discipline. It took faith and hope. Most of all, it took trust—lots and lots of trust.

Every time a doubt entered my mind, I resolved to give it over, give it up, and trust [and beg and hope and plead] that God would know what to do with it.

And each time I relinquished these doubts, these fears, these anxieties, they were exchanged for peace: peace about my task, peace about my fears, peace about the outcome.

Because no matter how terrifying it seemed and no matter how insecure I felt, God was showing me that He was trustworthy and that He would be there every step of the way.

I wouldn’t be alone: I had a partner, a friend, a Savior.

It’s only been a few months since I accepted her challenge; but the benefits of accepting that challenge have been impressively, surprisingly, astonishingly rewarding.

I have never felt more free, more at peace, more at ease with who I am in Christ.

And I have never been more excited to begin so many new relationships.

Her challenge has truly sparked a desire within me to be real with people: to be open, honest, genuine.

Because my shortcomings, my failures, my misgivings do not define me; my identity is found in Him who is immutable, Him who is immovable. And he will be there through it all.

**********

photo-18As a recent graduate of UC Davis, Tifani spent the majority of her academic career in exploration: her interests are vast and diverse, making her decision to finally settle down in the philosophy department a difficult one. In her spare time, she enjoys spontaneous trips to the countryside and practicing yoga. She has a profound appreciation for hazelnut iced coffee, C.S. Lewis, and driving with the windows down. She will also never pass up an opportunity to dance or to talk about her Jesus of the Gospels.

My Love-Hate Relationship with the Word of God

Lesa Engelthaler is a fellow member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and her warmth and wisdom were apparent from the very first time we interacted on Facebook. When I got to meet her and her wonderful sister Beth in person earlier this year, I realized afresh – it really is possible to get a true impression of people online sometimes – for her warmth and wisdom overwhelmed me once again. I’m thrilled she’s sharing this today. Thanks, Lesa. And enjoy, friends!

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In junior high school I learned how to have a “quiet time” with God. I brought pen and paper with me to meet with Him. An English geek, in high school I diagramed the bible in my quiet time. I’d copy down a word I found intriguing then madly draw lines to other beautiful words discovered. I felt a kinship with the author of Psalm 119 who declared his love for the word of God, over and over again.

 “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”

“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.”

“My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.”

Into adulthood, my relationship with God continued through the written word. His words recorded in the Bible – it seemed just for me. Stories of misfits and screw-ups gave me hope. God’s sarcastic wit cracked me up. His blunt questions stripped my soul naked. A lovely turn of phrase or line of poetry took my breath away. In response, I wrote words, a lot of them, to God.

For years, my grown-up version of a quiet time was to plop down in the old chair in front of the window that looks out on to our backyard. After a few sips of coffee I’d open the bible and drink in its words of life to me.

Things Changed

“’Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” – the Prophet Jeremiah

Not too long ago, things changed. I could hardly read the bible much less enjoy it. No words circled, mostly sighing.

For three years I went through an experience some describe as a “Dark Night of the Soul.” For me it meant that God said no to most of my requests and then went silent (not the quiet time one hopes for from the Almighty). During that horrific time I became uncomfortable reading God’s words.

At the beginning I continued to read the Bible. It was as much a part of my morning routine as looking at my face in the mirror. Unfortunately, rather than being life giving, the words were deadly. It added new meaning to the bible’s own description of itself, “the word of God is…sharper that any two-edged sword.” It pierced my already wounded soul. The New Testament’s Apostle Paul felt unbearably accusing and I could not stomach God’s harshness in the Old Testament. Eventually I read it less. I remember wondering if I would be okay with never reading it again. I knew people who were.

Things Got Better

 After a few years of darkness, my relationship with God got better. And yet, one of the side effects was a lingering fear of the Bible. My friend Sharon gave me the little book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I started there. It seemed safer to read God, filtered.

No bright lights, and yet with time instead of avoiding it I noticed that I was restless when I stayed away from the Bible. For me, that was a miracle.

This summer, I started reading the book of Acts. Around the third morning I looked down at my scribbled word “chosen” then at the many lines drawn to words like “gift” and “restore.” It was as if I had never before seen such gorgeous words. And I began to cry.

Smack dab in the middle of Acts the desire to want to read the Bible, even more so, to delight in it’s words, was a grace. I told my sister Beth about the experience and she said, “Do you remember that old hymn Wonderful Words of Life?” I said I did.

PS

If you are in a dark place spiritually right now I am so sorry. You are not alone. I wrote about my experience for Leadership Journal, “Growing in the Dark.” I hope it helps.

 I’ve been asked if there were any Scriptures that comforted in the Dark Night. Here are two:

1.) King David’s psalms were safe. One whole summer I camped out in the Psalms of Ascent with the companionship of Eugene Peterson and his grace-filled classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

2.) I stayed awhile when I discovered expressions of honest disappointment with God. I found a home in Lamentations: “You have made me to walk in darkness. Even when I call out for help, he shuts out my prayers. You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through” (Lam. 3:8)

 

Lesa Engelthaler is a Senior Associate for Victory Search Group, assisting nonprofits to recruit executive leaders. Lesa is also a writer for such publications as The Dallas Morning News, Christianity Today, Gifted for Leadership, Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman and Prism. Recently, Lesa started blogging at Faith Village.  Her friends would say that Lesa is passionate about empowering women. For the past several years, she has lead a trip to partner with the House of Hope a nonprofit in Nicaragua helping women escape prostitution. Today, Lesa finds herself completely taken by one small girl — her first grandchild Lucy. You can connect with Lesa (and I heartily recommend that you do!) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@lesaengelthaler).

A Different Life

Please welcome Hannah Vanderpool to the blog! Hannah sent me this submission for the Words that Changed my World series a couple of weeks ago, and I have been SO EXCITED to share it with you. Leave her some comment love, won’t you? (It should be easy… I loved this post!)

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It was cold in Vienna.  Winter had snuck up on us and I could no longer crack the window in my tiny dorm room.  I lay on my bed staring up at nothing.  Like a treetop perch it stood six inches from the ceiling to make room for storage underneath.  I counted the holes and hieroglyphs students before me had made, their own versions of ‘Starry Night.’  I waited for direction, measuring the silence with the beating of my 20-year-old heart.

I slipped off the edge of my bed, feet bracing for a cold landing.  I wrapped a robe around my shoulders.  I was glad I’d thought to pack it months ago.  I could hear the buzzing of male voices outside my room and crossed an arm in front of my chest before creaking open the door.  The studentenheim’s community phone was attached to a concrete pole just around the corner and stood unoccupied.  I surveyed the open room where students had gathered to smoke and sip cheap wine.

A moment later I shuffled across the hall, ignoring the pair of Swedes kissing on the dingy couch, and grabbed the receiver.  I typed in the country code for the United States with shaky fingers and waited, shifting my weight from one frozen foot to another.  It was the middle of the night but the town and its students were still going strong.  I tried to imagine what he might be doing now.  I chewed my lower lip and rubbed the place where my engagement ring would be if I hadn’t left it at home.

A familiar voice lit up the line, amber and clear.

“Hello?”

I swallowed, hoping my own voice sounded normal.

“Hey, Jon.  It’s me.”  Swallow.

“Hey, babe!  How are you?” he replied.  “It must be, what? the middle of the night there.  Is everything OK?”

My young fiancé was carrying on in the US, getting though college and part-time jobs until I returned from my study abroad semester.  He was steady and kind.  I was twisted in knots.

“Well, I…no.  I’m not OK, actually.  I got this opportunity to audition for a big musical theatre company here.  I’d be an understudy at first but they think my chances of landing a lead are good.”  I paused.  Static filled the heartbeats between us.

“So anyway, I guess I look just like the girl who sang the part of ‘Belle’ before.  She left the company to do other things.  I’d be singing and acting in German.  It’s…a good opportunity.  I’d be crazy to pass it up.”

In an instant my mind covered all the old ground.  Our first date, the way his hand enveloped mine, his proposal.  I loved him.  But this chance was everything my voice teacher could have hoped for.  My parents, both musicians, would be so proud, wouldn’t they?  I was headed somewhere and I couldn’t turn this down.

Finally he spoke.

“I will come be with you.”

“But you have to finish school and then…what will you do—in Europe—for no reason?”  I heard my voice inching upward.

“We’ll get married and then we’ll figure something out.  I’ll finish up here and then I’ll buy a plane ticket.  We are more important than a location or a job, you know?  I promise it will all work out.”  He sounded sure.

Fifteen expensive minutes later I hung up the phone.  The couple on the couch had moved on and curls of smoke trailed from an ashtray they’d shared between moments of passion.  I shivered and half-skipped back to my tiny room.  I lay on my bed all night, struggling and praying.  But by the time the sun had slipped over the buildings outside my window I knew that I couldn’t stay in Vienna and pursue this life.  It wasn’t my dream, not really.  Jon had given me permission to try, had promised that he’d do this life with me whatever that meant for the two of us.

And somehow, that had helped me to be brave. It had given me the courage to say no to a once-in-a-lifetime offer.  I finished my semester abroad and came back to the United States.  And then, to borrow the words of Jane Eyre, “Reader, I married him.” We grew a family together, sending tender roots down into the soil of the mundane. We are living a quiet life.

I have never looked back.

 

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Married to her college sweetheart, Hannah Vanderpool is a Jesus-follower, mom of three interesting kids, writer, and world-traveler.  She can’t imagine a world without sisters and books.  You’ll find her at www.prayingwithoneeyeopen.wordpress.com or on Twitter @HannahVpool.

I Can Raise An Army

Please welcome Liz Mallory to the Words That Changed My World series. I met Liz through the College Ministry I served with for a few years, and got to know her as a fantastic person in real life, long before I knew she was a fantastic writer too 🙂 I’m delighted to have her over in my corner (pun intended!) today.

I really wanted to play soccer. So I signed up. Doesn’t sound that crazy, right?

I was 12. Long past the age when kids start soccer. In San Diego, maybe it’s the Latino influence, but everyone plays soccer and everyone starts when they’re 5 years old. Except me.

Oh, and no one starts later than 5 years old. You just don’t. Either you start as a kid and get good by the time you’re old enough to play in real leagues, or else you don’t play at all.

Except me. I wanted to play.

Soccer Field, by Shena Tschofen

Soccer Field, by Shena Tschofen

I didn’t know one thing about the rules. I didn’t know the names of the positions. I learned about throw-ins and corner kicks, forwards and sweepers. I learned how to dribble and how to aim…well, roughly.

My teammates ignored me. They were experts and I was a liability. My coach didn’t bother with me and stuck me in the goal. I had one friend who taught me almost everything; I didn’t make friends with anyone else. They didn’t want me. I was the lousy one who knew nothing.

It was a horrible season, too. We didn’t win a single game. But I was initiated now. For some reason my parents couldn’t fathom, I wanted to sign up again.

Over the course of the next four years, I went on to play 10 seasons of soccer. By the end, it didn’t matter that I’d started years too late; I was as good as the rest of them. It turned out to be my favorite sport, and my best sport, too. I never would have known if I hadn’t taken the risk.

I started playing soccer because I wanted to, not for anything else. And I reaped rewards.

But unbeknownst to me, other people were watching. Listening. My mom shared with other moms how her daughter was playing soccer even though I was by anyone’s standards too old to start. The story got around.

A few years later, an older girl who I knew from homeschool was telling me about her soccer experiences. She hadn’t started until she was 14. Whoa! I laughed with her about how hard/brave/crazy it is to start playing so late.

“You know, Liz,” she said, “I started playing because of you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. I heard you were starting soccer and I thought, if she can start late, why can’t I?”

That comment stunned me. She was brave enough to defy soccer culture because of me? I hadn’t known she’d heard my story. I hadn’t been trying to set a precedent for late-bloomers. I just wanted to play soccer.

But what I’d done for myself had laid a path for other people. When I thought I was doing things for my own sake, I was being watched. And followed.

Even though it was just soccer, maybe because it was “just” soccer, it was that comment that made me realize what I do has an impact on other people’s actions and attitudes. I am a role model even when I don’t mean to be.

At any moment, my innocent actions could be the catalyst for someone else’s courage.

The story still heartens me. As a freedom fighter, I try to make every word and action of mine count towards ending modern-day slavery, but sometimes it doesn’t seem enough. My small actions of buying used items and trying to mention sex trafficking at every opportunity so people will be aware—how can my small voice and my one pair of hands mean anything?

But it’s not just my voice I’m raising. Every time I speak out, someone else might really be listening. They might realize for the first time what slavery means, that it’s real, and that they want to stop it. Next time, it’ll be them speaking out against slavery.

I can’t stop slavery alone. But I can help raise an army. If I can get one girl to play soccer, I know I can get people to join me in the fight against slavery and sex trafficking.

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Liz Mallory is a writer, editor, and abolitionist. When she’s not drinking tea and writing stories, she writes about how hilarious and surprising life can be. Follow her at elizmallory.com.

 

 

“Do you have a tent?”

Fresh off the plane from Haiti, Genevieve Pearson called and told me this amazing story, and I wept listening to it. I cried hot, streaming, worshipful tears all over again when I read it again, even though two years have passed since that day. I’m thrilled to have her writing this week for the words that changed my world series of guest posts. G is a precious friend and kindred spirit, and this story is remarkable.

(For the Anxious ones.)

After seeing the Haiti trip mentioned in the church bulletin, I penciled in my initials and a question mark, showing it to my husband, Matthew. My excitement swelled for about ten minutes and then was quickly overtaken by the fears and anxieties that crowd out anything requiring of me risk and a departure from the safe and the familiar. In fact, for years I had been quietly, carefully limiting my experiences (and those of my family) to accommodate the growing fear in me of all things uncertain. The following month was filled with prayer for wisdom: should I go? While praying with my sweet friend and neighbor, Donna, she said that she felt compelled to share an “odd verse” with me, one she’d never thought to offer to someone before:

Isaiah 54:2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” I prayed through this verse, finding in it the injunction to go and to see how my fears and doubts might be met with His grace.

On our first full day in Haiti we met a woman named TiFiyel who was living with several of her children and her four grandchildren in a deplorable sheet dwelling filled with mildew and ants. Her three-month-old granddaughter was born in this dark place that had no ventilation and that leaked terribly every time it rained. Our team set to work pouring a foundation for her new home, knowing it would be months–a long rainy season–before her home would be ready. That night as the team discussed the day and prayed for TiFiyel, I turned to Chris, an American intern working in Haiti, and asked: “When we go back, can’t we just bring TiFiyel a tent to use until her house is built?” With irony and gently exposing my naiveté, she said: “Do you have a tent?”

Ah. In a country with such systemic poverty, one can’t just go buy a tent in town. It doesn’t work that way. I felt a bit foolish for having asked. Nevertheless, while we prayed her question rang in my head over and over–and the voice asking it wasn’t Chris’ voice anymore, it was the Holy Spirit’s voice: Do you have a tent? Yes, Lord, I have a tent. A nine-person tent. It’s in my basement at home… And I have a husband who can drive it to my Pastor who is flying to Haiti in a day and a half!

A flurry of international texts and less than 48 hours later, my Pastor arrived with a tent, a tarp, stakes and cord to erect for TiFiyel and her family a dry place to live through the months of rain. Our team hardly had to lift a finger to pull down the old tent, to make the ground level, and to put up the new tent: the village did that with great joy–one woman cried out in Creole “Halleluiah! Halleluiah! I know God is real! I know He is here! I have prayed for Him to help TiFiyel and her children for so long! Halleluiah!”

"Yes, Lord. I have a tent."

“Yes, Lord. I have a tent.”

Storm clouds rolled in quickly, requiring our team to race against the rain back to paved roads lest our bus get stuck in the mud. Our team leader, Carine, yelled, “get in the tent, Genna!” I stepped inside where it was clean, dark, and dry despite the rain; and I saw only TiFiyel’s silhouette, thin, barely covered by her long nightshirt. Carine said to her, “She brought this tent for your family.” TiFiyel wrapped her arms around me and kissed my face. I wept as she blessed and thanked me. Me! The anxious one, so uncomfortable with the idea that this act would get me credit for generosity and ingenuity, when all along this amazing trip I was painfully aware of how deeply I was hoarding and idolizing safety, health, comfort, and control.

As we drove away from the village, Carine held my hand while I wept and grinned and recalled that verse Donna had given to me many weeks before: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” Our sweet Lord gave me a word picture of a tent being erected. I laughed out loud at the beauty and specificity of it. He knew the plans He had for me, for our team, for TiFiyel.

I could leave the story there. It is tidy and beautiful, and it points to God’s tremendous and intricate weaving together of stories and words, just because He can and it brings Him glory. But I wonder if there is more. What does that question, “Do you have a tent?” mean to me today? I wish the answer were as obvious as it was that day in Haiti, when the question was meant to point out the problem and the lack, but prompted creative energy and provision instead. While I sit in my quiet house, kids at school, husband at work, my dissertation languishing unfinished, and my thoughts pleading, “Lord, DO I have a tent? What do I do now with my life? Who needs that thing I happen to have?” Increasingly, I feel as though the only real “tent” I have to give is myself: my anxious, limited, small self who loves a really big God.

I am so afraid to enlarge, to stretch, to lengthen, to strengthen, to NOT HOLD BACK. What if it is scary there? What if I fail? What if I am just too afraid to dare? Those are the questions that keep my tent very small, indeed. And so I remember the stretching times, when God shows up amidst the storm and fills the dark, holy places with tears and embraces and answers to prayers I didn’t even know to pray. And He lets me see how much He loves me.

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Genevieve Pearson is a wife, mom of 2, and a sort-of graduate student working on a PhD in Early Modern British Literature.

(Also, she’s the girl I call when I have a secret or a lament or a silly story to tell. Leave her some comment love, will ya?)

Words that changed my world – Kelly’s Gift

I’m thrilled to introduce a new series on my blog: Words that changed my world.

I’ve been stewing on this idea for quite some time: the notion of telling the stories of little words which changed our trajectory.

As I think back on my own life – there have been a few conversations where someone said something which changed everything. Often their words were just a casual part of the conversation: they have no recollection of having said something significant or profound, but I remember it as being one of those illuminated-signboard-moments as they gave an answer, an insight, a grace, a perspective which I had desperately needed at the time. Like Alan’s casual question: “Have you ever considered going to bible college?” which was the final signpost in a series of little nudges towards seminary. Or Kelly’s off-the-cuff words which began the slow work of rebuilding my teen-damaged self-esteem…. read on to find out what they were.

Of course Alan and Kelly have no recollection of those conversations. But I remember. Their words were so important: I treasured their investment in me. We have great power to do good with the words we say to one another: words of encouragement and care sometimes mean more than you could possibly know. I was stunned, after my 20 year high school reunion and the flurry of facebook (re)connections that brought, to have two classmates tell me that something I had said at high school had made a significant impact on them. I was amazed. Humbled. And more convinced than ever that these are stories we should tell: stories of acknowledgement and thanks to those who spoke kindly to us, stories of encouragement that we should continue to speak good things to each other. Because you just never know which of your thousands of words could be used to change someone’s world.

These are stories I want to tell. And they are stories I want to read– so this is an invitation to submit a story of something someone said which changed your world. It can be a story about how you chose a career, how you came to faith, the little something that made you decide to get married. It can be about how you started a hobby, or forgave a friend, or had an a-ha moment which has brought you great joy. Please, share your story. I’d love to hear it. (Check out the Be My Guest page for more details on how to contribute!)

Old typewriter keys. ©Robin Nelson

So, without further ado – I’ll kick off with the first of this new series: Words that changed my world.

Kelly’s Gift

It was my second year of college and I sat, boyfriendless, with my friend Kelly as she prepared to go on a date. I watched her put on mascara, aware of the pillow I had self-consciously pulled towards my stomach in an effort to hide it. She looked glamorous. I felt gormless. We chatted about this and that: she combed, I coveted. The intercom crackled to life: “Kelly, you have a gentleman visitor.”

“Thank you,” she sang. I took my cue to leave, releasing the pillow I’d been kneading. I said my goodbyes, and was already out the door when her voice came from behind me: “Bron, I don’t know why you don’t have a boyfriend,” she said. “You’re quite lovely, you know.”

I think the world must have stopped spinning for a second. Decades later, I can still remember noticing the checkered black and white floors beneath my feet as I heard those quick, parting words. They changed my world.

black and white floor

Despite years of constant love and encouragement from my parents, despite self-esteem building classes from guidance counselors and accolades-on-paper… the fact that I, in my second year of college, had yet to attract the attention of even one guy I liked, had left me feeling there was something intrinsically wrong with me. If I was prettier, more attractive, less snarky, thinner, more damsel-in-distressish, more smart, less smart… anything other than what I was – surely someone would have been interested in me?

No one was interested. I assumed it was me.

Until that day in the hallway with the black-and-white floors – where a kind friend, who (unlike my mother) did not have to say nice things to me – made an off-the-cuff remark which made me think for the first time that perhaps, just perhaps, there wasn’t something fundamentally unattractive or unlovable about me. Perhaps it wasn’t that I wasn’t the right person, perhaps it was just that it wasn’t the right time. Because if Kelly, who was wearing mascara and a swishy skirt and going on a date, couldn’t see anything wrong with me – and more than that, could use the word lovely to describe me – perhaps I was being a little too hard on myself.

I look back on my 18 year old self now and know that there is no way, looking from the outside, that people might have known how unlovely and unlovable I felt. I worked hard to come across as confident and smart: I wore assertiveness as armor, all the while hoping someone would be brave enough to like the person within. Kelly’s words were a gift: a kindness to a friend who may have made snarky remarks about the dating scene, but could not confess how very victimized I felt by it.

Almost twenty years have passed. When I look at college students now, I wonder how many of them wear the armor I wore: confidence masking crippling self-doubt, snarkiness veiling vulnerability. To those women, especially to those young women who seem to “have it all together” and “have an answer for everything”, I want to leave a sprinkling of kind words affirming that they are quite lovely as they are. I want to give them Kelly’s gift.

photo credit: fiadda.it