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The space to hear you.

I am a writer. This much I know. 

I've been told since as early as I can remember that I have wisdom beyond my years. I never knew that wisdom, like most things, must be activated. I spent all this time writing about staying, leaving, and letting go. I wish I knew back then that just because you have an epiphany doesn't mean you've learned the lesson. Just because you have a great thought doesn't mean you've gone out and lived it. 

I want to be the kind of person who walks out what she talks about, not the other way around. Especially today, it's incredibly easy to be unintentionally deceptive with the world.

Last summer I posted all these photos on Instagram of my garden and I. It gave off the illusion that I was watering, weeding, and planting new things all the time. In reality, the garden was suffering from the Georgia heat and dying by the day. I like the idea of glamorizing the garden rather than taking care of it. 

Just because you've talked about gardening doesn't actually mean you've watered something. Just because you talk about hard work doesn't mean you're actually doing it. 

...

So I wrote for a long time about hearing God speak without ever hearing Him speak. I had brief moments of God whispers. I had feelings stirring in my gut that I was making a right decision. But I wrote so much about His voice as if I was hearing it constantly, as if God and I were in a perpetual stream of dialogue. In actuality, I was talking about the voice of God in the morning but listening to lies for the rest of the day. 

...

I remember this one time at the very beginning of the fight with my second depression. I'd taken a trip with my friend Nia and came home exhausted but wired. It wasn't the road trip we were planning on. She'd tried to give me sleeping pills when we got back to her place because I was in so much pain. I just remember wanting to sleep so badly but nothing would work. 

When she drove me home I nearly collapsed on the floor in front of my roommate and her boyfriend. 

"I need prayer," I said to them. "I am sorry to crash into this moment but I need prayer." 

I didn't know what else to do. I felt like I was fighting a war inside of myself without any weapons. I was getting this serious beating from the depression and prayer was my last option. 

My roommate's boyfriend sat me down on the couch between them. He put one of his hands on my forehead and started to pray. 

I just remember him saying, "Come on, Hannah. You know his voice. You know his voice. You are his sheep, you know his voice." 

I didn't know his voice though. I knew how to listen to lies. I didn't know how to say, "This voice that tells me I am unworthy of love and goodness is not the voice of God." 

...

I stood in a sanctuary last night listening to a band that reminds me of warm rooms soaked in twinkle lights and the moment you step out into the California heat. When it hits you, the thick air wraps you in tight, holds you closer, and does not spit you out until the sun rests behind the buildings at the end of the day. 

The woman with the guitar on the stage was speaking about God's voice. She mentioned how in John it says that the sheep know His Voice. They listen. They follow. 

I think the biggest problem we face today is that there is no quiet. There is much time to develop a voice for ourselves. There is little time to hear the voice of someone else. 

There is no peace. There is no easy way to rip yourself from the folds of culture and just be still. We are on 24/7. We wake up to our phones. We go to sleep to the glow of the screen. We say we want to hear the voice of God but we don't ever shove our own thoughts into a corner and demand them to be still so that something bigger can come in and wash the dirt away. 

...

"So when you listen, God speaks?" 

A friend asked me this question last week and I had to be bold enough to answer. I said yes. You don't always hear this loud voice. It's rarely the heavens parting and a booming thunder coming down upon you. It's more like little fragments. It's these brief reminders. It's these nudges to go somewhere in the bible and plant there. 

I didn't know that I would need to entrench myself in the scriptures to understand the way He speaks. That is the thing though, I think God has his own language. I must be dedicated to God's language if I ever hope to translate. 

I didn't know how to stop moving. I didn't know how to listen. It was the biggest gap in my own prayer life up until this past year. I always just thought prayer was rattling off a to-do list to God. I thought prayer was about me being vocal and him being, well, God. 

I don't fault myself for this. I actually never was taught to do anything but talk to God. No one ever sat me down and said, "Girl, prayer is just as much about listening as it is about word vomiting. Prayer is your direct line to God. If you want to hear from God then come prepared to listen."

I told her it took a while for me to listen to the voice of God. Even now, I have to discern whether I am hearing from God or hearing my own voice. I told her the more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know them. You understand whether they are good or bad. You can start to predict their reactions. 

How is it not the same way for God? How can I want a personal relationship with God but never imagine that He might be personable and good to me? 

 

:: A PRAYER YOU CAN STEAL ::

God, move me out of the way and insert yourself in the places I want to take up space in. Push out the lies and infuse me with your voice and your truth. Train me to open up my ears. Train me to push out distractions. Train me to hear you and to know that you are good. 

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When the first mile isn't sexy...

I’ve been on a health journey since April 12.

I know the exact date because I opened my laptop that evening and recorded a video of myself talking. It’s a lot of me whining, being somber to the camera, about how I wished I could claim my health back.

I’m not particularly unhealthy. I’ve been a pretty good eater since adulthood. I like clean meals. I’ve always managed to work out consistently. In the last few years it has been harder to stay on track. It’s easier to eat at 10pm when work is finally over and you get a chance to relax. It’s easier to skip a workout because you’re too tired or you can “do it tomorrow.” It’s easier to grab french fries and then script a funny, little tweet about your french fries than to buy groceries and a make a healthy meal.

I’ve started, failed, and restarted this health journey so many times that starting again seemed impossible to me. I didn’t even want to try.

On April 12, Lane took me into the gym. He had a workout planned and he pushed me through it. I did not go through the motions of that workout without causing Lane great pain and agony. I cried. I whimpered. I begged him to let me give up about a thousand times. He dealt with my whining, my anger, my frustrated self.

Every exercise felt more painful than the next. I was pushing against myself and could feel this tangible resistance bundled up inside of me like the cords of the straightener and the curling iron getting tangled in an impossible knot. He kept pushing and cheering me on.

“You wrote about mile 19 today,” he said to me. “How you showed up for Brooke at mile 19.”

It was my Monday Morning email he was referring to. I’d written about showing up for my friend Brooke while she was training for a marathon. During her 20-mile run, in the middle of her training, I promised to meet her at mile 19 and run the last mile with her.

“Push harder,” Lane said to me. “This isn’t your mile 19. This is your mile 1.”

“Push harder,” Lane said to me as we transitioned into mountain climbers on the yoga mat. “This isn’t your mile 19. This is your mile 1.”

I was vividly frustrated. Tears were still coming and I could not control them. I didn’t want to be at mile 1. No one wants to be at mile 1. Mile 1 feels like an eternity; it feels like you are never going to finish mile 1. Nothing about the beginning of a journey feels sexy. There’s nothing to boast over. There’s no testimony post for social media about mile 1.

“Mile 1,” he keeps saying as we lift and row and lunge. “Mile 1. You’re at mile 1.”

It doesn’t even feel sexy to write about mile 1. I feel like I need more adjectives to make this post better than it is. I still feel like I am at the beginning of the journey, though I am technically over a month in. I see little bits of progress but my emotions are still up and down, up and down.

I’m learning progress doesn’t show up over night. Progress looks like learning to mince garlic and sub out sour cream for greek yogurt. Progress looks like those peanut butter energy balls you pinned last week turning crumbly and inconsistent. Progress looks like mornings where you don’t feel like getting to the workout class because you’re already imagining 55 minutes of torture.

 

5 THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT PROGRESS

 

It’s slow.

And that’s okay! The culture we live in is a big-time preacher when it comes to things happening “instantly” and in “5 easy steps.” It’s hard to even graze through a Women’s Health Magazine because everything is supposed to happen for you in 2 weeks or less. Truth told: I don’t remember the last time something happened for me in two weeks. But slow progress is still progress. Enjoy the road you’re on. Don’t give up on mile 1.

 

You’re not alone.

Surrounding yourself with other people who can build you up and make you stronger is key. I don’t think I would be on this health journey if Lane wasn’t constantly pushing me, helping me make meals, and challenging me to go harder. There is community out there for you, even if it is just one person.

 

Writing it down helps.

I have started keeping notes of my progress since April 12. I don’t do it everyday. It doesn’t always have to be notes on what I ate or how I performed in barre class. Here’s the note I wrote for myself on Day 3:

“I'm realizing the answer will never be on social media. It's the first thing I noticed when I woke up this morning, that I look to social media to numb me from whatever I need to face. It's weird... I didn't realize I was actually using it to numb me. When I first keyed into the problems with social media, I thought I was using it to seek the approval of others. Not the case. I am actually using it to numb something inside of me that is meant for the Lord. It was one of the first feelings today that I didn't want that for my life. I don't want this life to be one where I fill my holes with bad habits I have not managed to kick yet.

My prayer for the day is that the Lord would meet me in my issues and my mess. I pray he will lift me up, though I don't deserve it. I pray I can be productive and not defeated. He can help me train for this marathon called Life. It would be a beautiful day and I would start to understand this journey he is taking me on better and more fully.”

 

Don’t break something just to fix it again.

One month into the journey, I knew I was dedicated. I knew I would keep going— even if I never saw the progress I wanted. I kept looking at all these online programs— Kayla Itsines, Body by Simone, etc. I knew I loved taking barre classes but I was worried about the price of Pure Barre. I tried to come up with other solutions.

Wise, old Lane reminded me: It’s important to invest in what you want and what you know works. You must make room for those things.

Within the weekend, I was signed up for barre classes again. I wasted so much energy trying to find a solution to help me become more consistent in working out that I neglected the truth: I already had a solution. I already had a program that worked for my body. Why try to change it?

 

It’s a lifestyle change (and that takes time).

My initial motivation to get healthy was so that I didn’t feel overly insecure sitting in a bathing suit on a beach in Punta Cana next month. That was the spark but that quickly fell into the background when I realized I wanted this thing to last. I had to find something more to anchor myself into progress if I wanted this to be a lifestyle shift, not a 50-day goal.

What are my greater motivations for health beyond a bikini? Well, I struggle with anxiety and depression. Solutions for lessening those symptoms are rooted in health. I have psoriasis— an autoimmune disorder. Solutions for less inflammation all come back to health. I travel a lot for speaking and I often feel sluggish when I go places. All of that is rooted in… you guessed it… health!

It’s greater than a bikini, friends. It was never about a bikini anyway.

 

A PRAYER YOU CAN STEAL 

Lord, make this not about bikinis. It's easy for my mind to wander into places where I want to look good but posture my heart to pursue health, not the prize of being skinny. Show me the areas that are holding me back. Surround me with the right people. Help me change with a humble heart. 

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The Church of Toast.

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The Church of Toast.

 

ONE.

I took a picture of my toast this morning.

Yes, I placed it on a white plate, took it into my bedroom where the natural light floods perfectly through the windows, placed it down on my yellow blanket and snapped a photo. Of toast.

I cropped said photo of toast. Filtered said photo of toast. Added contrast and a little bit of brightness to said photo of toast. I prepared my toast to show herself to the world. This was my toast’s best day.

I transferred my said photo of toast into Instagram and prepared to write my caption. Something about the drizzled honey. Or the Himalayan sea salt sprinkled over it. Or the avocado spread evenly— in delightful chunks of green goodness— across the 27-grain (or whatever amount) Ezekiel bread.

I said, “Little toast, are you ready for your finest moment?” Little toast in that very moment could not have been readier to meet the approval of others who wished they’d eaten breakfast or resisted the drive-thru or also were enjoying avocado toast on a rainy morning as they surrounded themselves with white walls and succulents.

When it came to little toast though, and the blank caption space, there was nothing for me to say. What could I possibly say? Eating toast? Yum, toast I took a photo of? Toast. Be jealous?

I realized in that moment, sitting on a yellow blanket spread across my bed, across from the uneaten little toast that it was pointless to write anything about toast.

Much of social media is like toast— you desire it for five minutes and then it is gone. You consume it and it’s over. You forget about little toast. You forget about the party you didn’t get invited to. You forget about the fact that your ex is finally living on without you (until the moment you check their page again— 2 hours later— to see if maybe their joy has stopped).

TWO.

When it came to my little toast and it’s caption, all I could think to write about was church. Weird, right? Toast is not often synonymous with church but, for some reason, today it is.

I spent the morning reading in the book of Acts because I don’t really wander over there that often. Lane and I started a study in Romans last night and it occurred to me that while I read the letters of a man named Paul— an absolute boss in the faith— I rarely get to see where Paul is coming from. I never explore Paul and his cronies in their most pivotal book of becoming in the bible: Acts. Reading Romans before Acts is like starting to watch LOST in the middle of season 2. You know nothing about the plane crash that brought them to this strange place.

I think the reason I’ve tiptoed around reading Acts is because church has always seemed like a messy word to me.

Maybe it’s the way the media twists and manipulates the image of the church. Maybe it’s my own experience. Maybe it’s the experiences of others who felt burned by the body of the church and walked away to find themselves in isolation, pursuing faith solo until they eventually just gave up. Church used to feel like social media to me: it’s important to document that you went but it rarely leaves you changed enough to speak of it the next day.

Acts 2:42-47 describes the first church. It says these people devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship with one another, and prayer. They ate a lot of carbs together (read as: toast). They were so devoted to one another that they started selling off their possessions in the hopes that they could lift one another up with their monetary returns. They attended the temple together. They were thankful when they got to eat. They were always saying thanks to God and people really liked them. It wasn’t a matter of “if” they would get invited to the next party, it was just a matter of “when.” And, as a result of all this, the Lord multiplied them. More and more people were praying, living life, and eating toast together. Seems like a pretty beautiful life to me.

 

THREE.

How did we get away from this simple and organic idea of church? How did church become this massive, sprawling thing that makes some of us feel ashamed and unworthy and not fit to sit in the pews?

I told Lane last night that I only used to attend church as a little girl for the bread and donuts. When the communion was over, myself and a few other kids would run down to the kitchen to eat the leftovers of Jesus’ body (look up communion if you think I’m a cannibal in this moment). But when Lane dug deeper with me, I found myself getting agitated and upset. I didn’t feel like studying anymore. I gave him massive stank face, as if to say, “how dare you make me dig deeper into a topic I don’t feel comfortable with?”

My earliest memories of church, up until after college, were of a place where I didn’t belong. I didn’t feel seen. I didn’t feel like God was actually mighty or real in this place. I felt like I was going to watch the girls around me get married young to good, holy men and I would be left behind. I felt like God had blessings for others but not for me.

I wouldn’t have told you it was a safe place where I ate carbs with friends and sold my things because I loved them so much and really, actually wanted to worship alongside them. That might have been the first church but that was not my church reality.

 

FOUR.

People are lonely and looking for something. I know this much, at least, to be true. People are seeking relationships that don’t look for the backdoor after the first disagreement. People are hoping— and sometimes even praying— that this life is not some lonely journey where you make a lot of mistakes, drink too much, never lose the weight, and always come up short on cash. On the adverse, the people who seemingly have it all are hoping— and sometimes even praying— that this life is not some lonely journey where you always climb a ladder, always make the grade and come up with empty applause, always feel the need to be skinny, and never have a decent thing to do with all this money.

We are living in a bit of a distorted reality and I don’t think it’s our surroundings that always need to change— it’s our perspective. It’s where we are digging for treasure. It’s where we are planting our seeds.

 

FIVE.

I got an email from two girls last night who are hoping they can start a group on Monday nights where they can sit, eat with people, and basically have an honesty hour once a week. They’re planning to devour breakfast food and talk about real stuff together. I think it’s really beautiful. They want to be Jesus to people— slip into the shoes of Jesus instead of just talking about Jesus. They see the story of Jesus and they are eager to make it louder than their own to the lonely, broken people they find.

To me, these girls are the first church. They are that Acts 2:42 church I mentioned above. They get it. They are craving real life off the screen. They are invested in the idea of friendship, and real conversation, carbs (read as: toast), and the building of a safe place where anyone can come in and say, “Hey, I’ve got this darkness. Could you help me clear it out for good?”

I wish I knew two girls like that in college. I wish I could join their group. I wish I could meet more people who are devoted to the reality of life, rather than the perception of perfection we give our lives to on the screen.

They realize they are one piece, one piece that needs to do its part of loving others, communing, asking tough stuff, and singing back to God with pretty, robust songs of gratitude.

To them, it’s not about crafting an experience that will leave others out. It’s about something real. Some real kind of toast you can gather and eat, not just watch and ogle at from behind a screen. To them, it’s about bringing people to the table and saying, “I know you’re hungry… eat.”

 

SIX.

Back to social media (and toast): our ancestors didn’t have it. They didn’t document toast. They didn’t feel this need to one-up one another with a status about an engagement, or a baby, or a piece of kale on a white dish. It wasn’t perfect for them but it was definitely less crowded and diluted by some idea of what real “living” and “church” should look like.

The first church didn’t document their toast. It wasn’t a priority to them, people were. They wanted to love people so well— so deep and so wide— that eventually their own self-obsession would get swallowed up by a bigger story. I think it’s a million times harder to get to that place today because our culture legitimately measures us. It sizes up. It tells us to keep chasing this thing that isn’t real.

We have to fight harder to live real, authentic lives than any other generation before us. What’s crazier to think than that though? It’s never been easier to spot the lonely and lost than in 2016. It is 2016 and we wear our loneliness like a raincoat in Seattle. It’s 2016 and we need to capture each other— refusing to let go— more than any other picture we think is worth taking. We need real church: real, I’m-not-letting-you-go, you’re-gonna-sit-and-eat-with-me, we’re-gonna-have-an-honest-hour-and-then-thank-God-for-breath, you-cannot-make-me-run-from-you church.

It’s 2016: capture someone and make them sit at your table. Tell them it’s okay to eat. Feed them toast. Tell them you’ve got darkness too. It’s okay… That’s all you have to say to someone today: It’s okay, we are going to clear this mess out together. I won’t run.

 

A PRAYER YOU CAN STEAL: 

God, make me hungrier for your people than my need to convince people I’m living better than them. God, strip down the bones of church for me and make me see where I need to lessen and you need to grow. God change this heart of mine— at a slow, steady pace— to want community more than I want followers. God, give me something real to call your “church” apart from a filtered photo and a standard I’ve never been able to stand inside of.

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