LITTLE GUY.

Those of you who read regularly have probably heard a lot about my soul sister, Big Guy

Yes, Big Guy is a girl.

No, it's not really even a great story as to how she got that name. 

Well, the natural order of things would have it that when her little sister joined us at college, she would thenceforth be called Little Guy. It is a fitting nickname, as she is a tiny nugget of a human. She is just barely allowed on rollercoasters, borrows clothes from my American Girl Doll, runs around on toes that are the size of cous cous, etc.

But what she lacks in stature, this girl sure makes up for in heart. In college, she would climb the hill to the apartment Big Guy and I shared, ice cream in tow, and dispense advice and back rubs. Maybe growing up in the Vermont mountains conditioned her tiny legs for the climb, or maybe she's just that kindhearted, but Little Guy never seemed to tire of trekking up the hill to see us. 

Over the years, I've seen Little Guy fight less tangible uphill battles and she tackles them all with the same determination and kindness that kept her coming up that hill to our apartment. She's a scrappy little nugget and I'm proud to be a part of her corner, cheering her on. I couldn't be more excited to give her opportunity to practice yet another one of her great gifts: her writing. 

Rachael (which is what normal people call Little Guy) blogs over at http://icecreamforbreakfastblog.wordpress.com/ so check her out if you dig her style.

 

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I often hear journey and I’m holding a Nintendo game controller. I’m tactfully navigating Princess Peach (myself) to the next level while acquiring as many gold coins, evading dangerous waters and my arch nemesis, Bowser. I am also alone.

I must tell you I played copious rounds of the word (or song) association game in my head using “journey.” It started out rough, but also aided in nailing what I think journey should, in part, mean for everyone.

I’ll show you how this game went:

Shoes
Pebbles
Walking Stick
“Just a small-town girl livin’ in a…” (for obvious reasons)
Pilgrim’s Progress
Bowser        
Obstacle
Unexpected
Deliverance
Epiphany
Rejection
Alone
Epiphany
Rejection
Alone
Epiphany
Etc…
 
Alone?
 
Yup. 
 

From raw toddler status up until maybe a year ago, I thrived—no—I depended on the presence of others, namely the comfort of a simple affirming verbal exchange or even sharing in the silence, as long as someone was there. And ask my mom, I couldn’t do anything or go anywhere without begging her to pick me up.

I do still truly enjoy those things (maybe minus being carried everywhere). I still value human interaction above nearly everything and count all people in my life as a divine blessing. I still beg my roomies to forget their grocery run if it means they stay and watch Full House with me.  But anyone dealing with this same inter-dependence theme may sense a subtle curiosity to find out what true solitude is. God didn’t make me curious, he threw me into solitude without swimmies.

I graduated college last May and it was a downright parodox. One day it was all pomp and circumstance and the next, I felt if I walked across that stage, I had the keys to Disney World. So I had a choice. In lieu of my vacant future ahead, I decided I should treat graduation like the keys to Disney World—magical and boundless. I had hoped and almost assumed that after nannying my favorite little boy and taking a month long trip to New Zealand, a steady job was coming my way and I’d be surrounded by great coworkers. I’d also get to spend plenty of time with roommates.

I successfully did three of those and I’ll leave you to guess which one I did not. But when your roommates all have steady jobs, the little boy only wants to hang out with his neighbor and you navigate much of New Zealand alone, this said, Disney World could very possibly be subpar—and lonely. Then, when you miss out on a job offer while you’re away? I’m not going to start with the utter disappointment and the many that followed.

Often in the form of strangers or supportive family or old friends who reappeared or the privilege of travelling alone, God kept nudging me.

Um, hello Daughter - have I ever let you down?

I could confidently answer no. My bank account disagreed. But little by little the Lord repeatedly allowed me to share my situation to anyone dealing with anxiety. It often sounded like this: “If you told ‘year-ago Rachael’ about her current disposition, she’d be in a state of utter panic.” On top of that, I’d be the Princess Peach pansy fearfully avoiding anything with potential for loneliness and failure. But take this Bowser! Take this gospel from Mark 1:35:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

And in Matthew 6:6 as He’s telling us how to pray:

When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen.

He even urges us to spend time with Him using the greatest miracles, many of which happened when Elijah and Elisha were alone with God. He tells us through John the Baptist, alone in the desert before his going forth at the command of God. Then we all know Moses who encountered a burning bush, get this, alone with God.

While I was alone, I was forced to keep busy whether it was submitting 20 consecutive applications in one day or networking with academics and veteran journalists. After a series of upsets and realizing I could very well be let down for a year, or even five, I took the tranquility around me as a gentle invitation to converse with God. I love prayer and I always have but I often treated it like the very bed lamp I read under. Once I made my requests, I’d revisit my Savior back at the same place in 24 hours, as if we were catching up over coffee.

You weirdo, Rach! If you could see God you’d talk to Him all the time!

I think that’s true for a lot of people because we were very deliberately made to be relational beings. But who is to promise that these mammals are going to save us? My most recent epiphany was a mere realization that God was my breath, my confidant and my 24/7 solace because what/who else could be? And the panic I thought would set in was victoriously trounced by the power of His presence that soon became my oxygen. Then silence turned into a resounding clarity of His voice.

I even got lost in Boston on my first day of work (yes, work. Thank you Marri!) only to rest my forehead on my steering wheel in laughter. I knew my Father was playing a little joke—maybe a sick one—but I figured He had something up His sleeve just to entertain a conversation we missed earlier. It turns out no one expected me for a half day anyways. I have dreams about getting lost in the Sahara with nothing but a donkey and I laugh. Then my foal leads me to a nearby oasis with streams and waterslides, music and dancing, Michael Jackson, and cheddar cheese tables (many of my favorites things). I digress. Needless to say, solitude has helped me wipe worry from my daily routine.

Good gravy, enough about me. I truly mean it when I say that. It is solely and unequivocally and thankfully about HIM!

The best part? It’s that he wants and longs for intimacy with his children even with our garbage stinking up wherever we are. And we can go to Him freely without shame or fear. He’ll take our loneliness and our worries. He wants to erase them both. This quiet alliance I’ve found is the sweetest morsel of Heaven on a fleeting earth.

HEATHER.

Aloha from Hawaii, readers! As I have been sunning myself, learning Pidgin and generally doing my best to be mistaken for a local, my friend Heather has been working hard on this blog post. So far, the locals are calling me 'hapa', which means half. So, as I continue to pursue my vacation goal, I leave you in the hands of sweet Heather.

I asked Heather to guest post because I thought this blog could use a punch of honesty. I try hard to make you laugh and make you think and sometimes I wonder if I am taking too many creative liberties and scraping off bits of truth in the process. It's hard to put yourself out there, naked and vulnerable in the blogosphere, without coming across as whiny or pleading. Heather manages to do so with such grace and positivity that I am left humbled and inspired. Her lovely writing style and open heart make her blog, My Little Bird, such a joy to read. 

Heather and I are the same age and yet she seems to have journeyed so much further, tackling motherhood and all of its challenges over at http://lettingyoufly.blogspot.com/ . Make sure to follow her and leave comments here if you like what you see. Take it away, Mama Bird :)

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I love how there are some pieces of literature or artwork that resonate with us differently at different times in our lives-- we may read a book three times and relate to a different character each time we take a pass through the pages. Or you might listen to a song a hundred times, and on that hundred and first time you hear a chord or a lyric that strikes something deep within you that you hadn’t felt the other times you listened. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to Psalm 139 as my ‘favorite psalm.’ And at different seasons in my life, God has highlighted certain verses for me that all of a sudden mean something new or challenge me in new ways.

Right now, I’m thinking a lot about verses 13-17:

For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;

in your book were written, every one of them,

the days that were formed for me,

when as yet there was none of them.

I was born with the strong desire to have a plan. I’m not exactly talking about a nebulous idea of where I’m heading; I mean a clear, distinct path towards the future and the direction I’d like to head. I take great pride in the fact that if I work really hard at A, B, and C, one day I will most likely arrive at my destination of Z. I’ve always been like this—it is ingrained deeply in the fibers of my being. I make to-do lists for my to-do lists and thrive with schedules and dreams to work towards. As much as I wish I could live freely and spontaneously, I am uncomfortable when things go awry and immediately come up with a new plan to get back on track.

I don’t think God minds this desire of mine to know what my day will look like or to have big dreams—in fact I fully believe it was part of my inmost being that He knit together, and He delights in the work He created in me.

However, I know He also is not pleased when my desire to have a clear, detailed plan becomes a clinging to clarity and control—it shows that I lack trust in Him and the plans He has for me.

My plans for my life started to go off track for the first time when I moved to New York City after college to pursue a career in professional theatre. I didn’t last there four whole months. The city made me claustrophobic, I lacked community and felt incredibly alone, and I lost confidence in myself as an artist. Almost more than the disappointment I thought others would see and the failure I innately felt in myself, the most overwhelming feeling for me was my fear in a lack of certainty/control/a plan for my future (since this was in fact my plan since I was about 12 years old). I was broke (financially, and my spirit was crushed), so I decided to move home for a few months to get back on my feet without any sense of a plan.

In that season of non-planning, God started re-directing my life. I got to work as a theatre teacher for a local community arts organization. I found an incredible job in higher education and moved in with my best friend Sarah in Boston. I had the opportunity to act in an original musical that ended up winning several Boston-area awards. And perhaps most beautifully, I was reconnected with and fell in love with the man I believe God made for me all along. It took MY plan getting a little bit shattered for me to look to the Lord for where to go next.

The place He’s ultimately led me (and my husband) for right now is living on a farm in Virginia with our sweet little boy, Emmett (who is almost 8 months old!). Becoming a mama has perhaps been the most challenging in my journey towards trust and giving up control thus far. It’s been so good for me to let go and stop obsessing over knowing what tomorrow holds, because living my life according to the needs of a child forces me to give up my plans and schedule and CONTROL on a daily, even hourly basis.

By not being focused on my own grand life plans, I’m learning to be more present in the day-to-day (something I’ve never been good at). I’m enjoying those simple and small joys like taking time to prepare meals (not just eating on the run), and actually tasting the goodness of the food in front of me. Small joys like cups of hot coffee in the morning for my weary mama soul while Emmett plays and I get to watch the sun rise out the window. Little things like phone calls with loved ones, dates with my husband, walking through the galleries at the art museum where my husband works and showing my little one the shapes and colors in my favorite pieces. Instead of wishing Emmett was more mobile/talking/in school and thinking about where we’re headed next, I’m trying to soak in our cuddles, his delight in discovering small things, his hard laughter when my husband tickles him, our beautiful long walks on the farm in the afternoon light, and watching the people around me melt and find joy in him too. I’m keeping track of these joys in notes around the house, journals and on my blog—but it’s in these little things that I’m seeing God’s goodness right now in ways I may never have noticed if I’d been so focused on my own grand schemes and plans.

Instead of dreaming about being an actress, God is molding my heart towards arts education, starting a small creative home business (an Etsy shop in the next few months!), and growing in my creative writing. These are all things that have laid under the surface for a while and desires I believe God wanted me to see from the beginning, but my own plans always got in the way. He is teaching me to have grace in my ‘failures,’ and know that He even uses those to grow me and explore who I am and where He’s taking me and my family on this new journey.

I definitely don’t have it right yet, but I think I’m finally starting to lean into that lesson of trusting God with my journey. I hope that I can continue to grow in that deepness of trust and continue to open my hands up and offer him my dreams (big and small) and find clarity in the fact that He is ultimately in control and I don’t have to be.

LINDSAY.

Dear Readers - it is me, your fearless Writer. Today, I abdicate my throne of blogship and hand control over to my dear friend Lindsay. By the time you read this, I will probably be flying somewhere over your head, on my way to a much needed vacation. 

I am leave you in very dry, very capable hands.

Let's get aquainted.

Lindsay is my southern sister. She has dry hands, long eyelashes and a huge heart. She owns a massive collection of scarves and faints easily, much like a goat. She works with teenage girls for a living and I hope she continues to do so until I have a teenage daughter to hand over to her because, wow, does she love these girls. She teaches them to be passionate and intentional and bold, simply by being herself. As they're at an age where girls often fumble for identity, she takes her students by their faces and looks them in their eyes and tells them YOU ARE BELOVED. THAT'S WHO YOU ARE.

I love the way that Lindsay writes, because it reminds me of the way she lives and talks: with obvious - often hilarious - intensity. She is the fastest talker (and rapper) I know and her sentences often leapfrog, because she is so excited to get them out. Her intensity makes its way into her discipline, which is where she teaches me the most. This girl is hardcore and I'm so excited to unleash her upon you.

Lindsay blogs over at http://www.singingmysongwithgrace.blogspot.com/ so if you like what you see, head over there and follow her too. I promise it will be worthwhile.

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hello readers!

i am the biggest fan of marri's. this is such a treat for me to write on her blog, to be a part of her story, to partner in her journey. you have no idea, this is such a gift for me to virtually be here.
so since i'm here, let's be honest with each other. i'm an honest writer, words are how my soul breathes, so let's just dive right in.

i'm having a really hard time writing this.

i look back over my recent journey, over the last 3/4ths of 2012 and ponder and wonder and literally stand, mouth agape, at my life and at where He's led me. i couldn't begin to describe the heartache but the joy, the confusion but the peace, the uncertainty but the knowing God is God.

and since i can't untangle and process through all of what God is doing with this part of my journey because it's not done yet, can i share someone else's journey? one of my favorite journeys, the journey of Jacob? would you so terribly mind that? (terribly mind? who am i, downton abbey?)

i've always been confused by jacob. he's a biblical character i haven't always understood. i think he's greedy and sneaky and selfish and prideful and his story is weird, isn't it? but then. that's who God loves to use. jacob always seemed like a wild card who didn't fit anybody's mold, a troublemaker that God was pursuing like crazy.

so in the story of jacob, he steals his brother esau's blessing and runs off to work seven years to marry rachel and has a dream about ladders to heaven. then he has lots of kids and becomes wealthy, runs away from his father in law, and then he finds out that his brother is after him. and he's afraid. he's distressed.
and so jacob is left alone in his camp and a man comes in the night and wrestles with him. and he keeps wrestling with jacob and jacob won't let go. the man touches his hip and jacob's hip is put out of joint, but jacob keeps wrestling through the pain. the man says, let me go! the day is coming. and jacob says NO. I WILL NOT LET GO UNTIL YOU BLESS ME. (i always gasp at this point in the story - the audacity!).

but then the man responds by asking him what his name is. "i'm jacob," he says. and the man says, "your name is no longer jacob, but ISRAEL, for you have striven with God and man and have prevailed." and then jacob is blessed by God. and jacob says, "i have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered."

i've been so intrigued by this exchange lately, this leg of jacob's journey. he wrestles, he doesn't let go, he's given a NEW name, he's blessed. i fear that if this had been me and if the man (God) had said let me go, i would have dropped the fight immediately. but he kept going. ann voskamp writes in her book "one thousand gifts" - "wrestle with God and beg to see the blessings."

and i think that's my biggest takeaway from crazy jacob. we can approach God and we can be real and we can say no! help me! blessings!? and we can cry out loudly. because we can believe that. He promises to be a God who not only hears our cries, but delivers and restores. i think this exchange can mean a lot of things. it means we can believe that God is a God who gives us blessings. and it's God that's in every wrestling - even and especially with people - and where there's God, there's good. how we respond to people is how we respond to the Lord.

we've striven with God. not against, but with. we're wrestling with God to find the 'what for, for what' of the brokenness we face. we're made new, given new names, and we're made more in the reflection of Jesus.

and the story continues. the next day, jacob meets his brother esau. esau runs up to jacob and embraces him and kisses him and they weep together. and in their exchange, jacob remarks, "God has dealt graciously with me." isn't that so good? the wrestling is grace.

so keep going. keep going. keep going. keep wrestling, keep fighting, keep honestly, boldly coming before God each and every day. He's not a friend who will gossip about what you've said, He's not someone you have to explain how you're feeling, He's not neutral about your existence. He loves you with a fiercely passionate love and He's good, He's really, really good. And it's your journey, your story - He's perfectly ordained it. He's gone before, He's right beside you, and He hems you in as you go.

blessed journey! may you wrestle and see all the many blessings of yours.

AFSHAAN.

The great moments in my life are marked by redheads. My younger brother, much like a delectable salad dressing, is an Asian Ginger. I married into a family of wild redheads. Most of the awesome people I know rock shades along the spectrum of strawberry blonde to deep auburn.  Redheads are a rare and extraordinary people.

So when my redheaded friend Lydia set me up on a friend date with her redheaded friend Afshaan, I knew it would be legendary. Double the ginger, double the awesome, right? Right. 

Afshaan is a delicious mixture of seeming contradictions: she is a redhead from India. She is softspoken and sarcastic. She is from Dorchester, but she is stylish (Southie burn!) And she is a writer who doesn't blog! 

I had my first taste of Afshaan's deep and ancient wisdom (probably absorbed via osmosis while she roamed the hills of rural India) in a college creative writing course. I have been jonesing for another hit ever since, so when I saw an opportunity to force her into guest blogging for me, I jumped at it. 

I was not disappointed. 

Afshaan does not regularly grace the world with her writing, so if you like what you read, make sure to leave a comment to guilt her into doing so more often. Peer pressure is a powerful tool and together we can make a difference. 

If you think her writing sucks, just do the polite thing by keeping your stupid opinion to yourself and instead harass her cool (brunette) musician boyfriend at http://reverendmusic.com/ . After all, he put her up to this. 

Take it away, Ging. 

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I've been reading my way - slowly and not too surely - through Genesis. I find the stories can be confusing and sometimes downright infuriating. As these people, these Israelites, are making their rambling way across the literal and personal deserts of their lives, I find myself getting a little... well, judge-y. Time and again I'm so annoyed and disappointed with these characters - why don't they keep their word? Why do they ignore God? Why do they live in fear? Why do they do these terrible things?

I was starting to get a little fed up with these so-called people of God when I was struck by something. What if - for some crazy reason - someone decided that my life was worth writing about and documenting for the ages - an account that people would read for the next, I don't know, thousands of years, over and over again to try eke out some meaning, some spiritual truths. What would the story say? Well, first of all, kept to the bare facts, it would probably be a little boring. But also, it would probably be confusing and infuriating (sound familiar?). If someone were to actually write down my daily reactions (or non-reactions) to God, my repeated bungling of my life, my absolute forgetfulness of the amazing promises of God that are waiting to be claimed, they would probably be disappointed. Why didn't she keep her promise to that person? Why did she take the easy way out in that work situation? What is she so afraid of in life? Wait, HOW old is she and WHY doesn't she have her drivers' license yet? (This is a fact: I am 26 and haven't gotten my drivers' license yet.)

What if the petty little mistakes and deceptions of my day to day life, the lies I tell others and myself, the lack of regard I show to God and my friends (not to mention enemies!) - what if they were written down into a story and read by millions of people? Oh, it would be embarrassing, devastating. What I've grown to appreciate about reading through the Scriptures is that they don't shy away from the complete and utter failures of their characters. How was - on the one hand - David a man after God's own heart, and - on the other hand - a coward, an adulterer, a deceitful and disloyal friend? How am I - on one hand - called beloved, a child of God, worth fighting for, worthy of even death on a cross, and - on the other hand - an anxious, petty, fearful person who often chooses the path of least resistance even if it means being deceitful to myself or to others.
How is this possible?
What I've realised as I'm reading through these ancient stories, is that what makes these stories beautiful is God.
Are the stories of the Bible tales of perfect, sinless people who do perfect, sinless things? No, because it's a story about humans - and let's be real: perfection, sinlessness, and humans just don't coexist. No, it is a story - a journey, if you will (see, Marri, I'm incorporating the theme!) - of broken people traversing broken lands and making mistakes and being redeemed by God. Time and again God is faithful to them - allows for and covers their ugly humanity with His grace. Is a story about a group of brothers throwing their brother into a well and then selling him into slavery a beautiful one? Nope, not if it stops there. Is a story about God saving that forsaken brother and raising him into a position of dignity and power and growing him into a wise, compassionate, and godly man so that one day he might save the lives of those very brothers who betrayed him and relieve them of their hunger and shame - is that a beautiful story? Yes, absolutely. God consistently makes the small magnificent, restores the forsaken, emboldens the fearful, is a companion the lonely, makes the plodding pilgrimage into an adventurous journey - in short, He makes the unbeautiful beautiful. 
 
And the most amazing thing - the Big Story that all these little stories are woven into - is that through Jesus, God did the impossible - he broke the time-tested equation that sinlessness and humanity do not coexist. He gave us a saviour who was human and could understand the daily aches and pains of being in these not-too-trusty bodies of ours. But he also gave us a way out: through his life, showed us an alternative way of living that was so beautiful it seemed (and is) impossible but for total reliance on God. Because God understands that weare beautiful and capable of acts of immense dignity and compassion, that we can grow - but he wants us to understand what we often sort of vaguely keep at the back of our minds: that true goodness, true dignity, true holiness is only possible through Him. Without His grace flooding our lives and filling in the broken, empty spaces, our lives - my life - are sort of just disconnected episodes of failures, half-hearted attempts at "being better," unkept resolutions, frustrating relationships.
No, he refuses to leave us at that.
He comes in there and adds colour and depth and joy and bravery and ADVENTURE! He says, "Come with me!" and we sort of look at him a little befuddled and scared and he's waving his hands and saying "No, seriously, come here!" and then we enter into His presence and you know what?
There's nothing like it.
He is calling us into His presence to make sense of our boring or maybe brazen lives, to take us in and make us beautiful. He is weaving our stories into His.