"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

This is the key to lasting change

This morning I was lying in bed, thinking about the coming week, knowing I needed to talk to Jesus, because I could feel my spirit twisted up inside me. It’s the kind of fog that makes you think so unclearly you can feel it, when you see the lies you’re believing and know they have to leave, but only Jesus can free you.

My thoughts: they are the dirty dishes, the spilled puddle on the floor, the back of the tapestry. They are the real life that I hide, and by doing so, I take my own poison.

So I needed to hear Jesus. There are times I can’t stop hearing Him; this often seems to be around four in the morning, when Jesus seems especially chatty, or, perhaps, I am especially silent.

But it was seven in the morning, and there was silence.

Jesus, I need you. I want to hear you. Please don’t leave me alone like this.

And suddenly, He spoke. He spoke with the sort of clarity that I don’t always receive but desperately pursue, the Voice that cuts so deeply and so unexpectedly that you wonder if you heard it out loud.

This is the key to lasting change, He said.

I waited for the rest.

Be yourself.

It is not that anything is permissible. It is not that I was being told to skip off and live willfully blind to responsibilities or people or truth, for that would be a sort of death.

Instead, what had upset me that morning was expectations. There was the person I thought others wanted me to be (whether that belief was rooted in reality or my own insecurity), and, even more, she—the “me” I wanted to be—was good. It is hard to fight a good idea, even if it does lead to death.

For I felt to get there, I had to run until I dropped. I had to work harder. Be more. Don’t disappoint. Don’t be a failure. Follow through. Be everything to these people you respect. Just thinking about it made me want to give up, made me die a little inside.

And yet, in all that, I still knew who I wanted to be.

I wanted to bring beauty and peace and grace. I want to operate out of the overflow.

I want the supernatural, the beauty, the laying hands on people and healing them, the miracles. I want to see more pictures for others in my mind and words for them in my heart, and I want to my joy to infect the world. I want to hear Jesus’ voice and go into the realm of heaven. I want everything, all the gifts of the Spirit, to see angels and release power and be the most radiantly loving person the world has seen.

I want everything Jesus and His kingdom has to offer. I want the miracles and signs and wonders, I want to see His face and hear His voice, I want to bring others before His beauty and to rescue others out of their captivity. I want to act and I want to fight.

But all of that is the power of Jesus flowing out of you.

And you can’t have Him flowing out of you if you’re not overflowing to begin with, and the overflow comes from His heart.

It comes from spending time with Him, it comes from sitting at His feet: the one thing that is needed. I want the heart of Jesus, not just the actions or the power of Him, for without His heart, I am just a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. To become who I want to be, sometimes I don’t have to do anything more at all.

Sometimes, I just have to be myself. I have to go for a walk in the woods, or rest for a day, or read all night. Sometimes I have to try against all logic and perhaps then to fall, for to fail is not to be flawed. Sometimes I have to follow where my heart leads in order to find that He was guiding it all along to His own.

For in the end, even if He never gave me power, if He took away everything I held dear, if I never witnessed another miracle or saw another vision, but if He gave me His heart, I would be content. For out of the radiating glory of my life would come all the beauty and joy and calling I longed for when I was pursuing the power and the kingdom in itself so desperately; in His heart I find the victorious life that, when I pursued it for its own sake, became a freakish carnival maze of mirrors that leads only to confusion and death.

For while all of the power and eternal expanse of glory in the kingdom is indeed part of His Spirit, His heart is always where it begins. It all begins there, and it never leaves. It stays. You stay at His feet. You’ll stay there forever. You stay in His heart as it becomes yours, as He pours out of you—as He pours out into your life and world and kingdom, He pours out in power and love and grace.

This is living in the overflow.

This is the key to loving without getting tired.

This is the way to stand against the evil of the world without getting lost in the darkness.

This is the beauty that sets the captives free.

With His heart, I will be content.

Only one thing is needed.

Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Guest Post: Surprised by Time

It was my pleasure to write a guest post for the blog Soli De Gloria on time! This is a subject close to my heart and a subject of both personal struggle as well as victory; I loved writing this piece.


C.S. Lewis once wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. Sometimes I think he should’ve written a sequel called Surprised by Time. He did allude to the thought, once, however: 

If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it that you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Of if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. (“How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up & married! I can hardly believe it!”) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal. 

We are constantly surprised by time, because we are made for eternity. 

So in trying to find “enough time” and create the eternity we’re made for out of the time we live in, we never really live at all. It is not your fault you feel rushed, that time moves too quickly: you are an eternal being surrounded by the suffocating fog of time. 

But what does it get us, all the rushing? Do we ever really get to where we’re going, ever catch up, ever slow down? We hope we will—we lie to ourselves that we will—but we never do, and meanwhile, our hearts are trampled and Jesus fades to the background. “What makes any of us think that the place we are trying to reach is far, far ahead of us somewhere and the only way to get there is to run until we drop?” (~Barbara Brown)...

Read more here! 


Friday, September 27, 2013

When Jesus speaks: stories from my life

And Jesus said, ask about her tattoo. South Dakota sky is the child of eternity, just land and sky and land touching sky, with grass turned gold. The gas station off the highway was the only building from here to the horizon, and outside the door, I licked my ice cream, wiping chocolate from my shirt, and listened to the attendant as she took her break. Her cigarette smoke hung flat. And Jesus said, ask about her tattoo. It’s beautiful, I said—what does it mean? And I heard a story of loss and of pain, every color a different death, and a woman left now alone.

And as I heard her story, I saw a picture of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. We sat on the floor, the corner of the church, after everyone had gone home; midnight streamed through the windows. So much shame and so much pain, with broken marriages and hurtful words, of rejection by the church and of forgetting her own worth, and I hated the cruelty of the world. And as I heard her story, I saw a picture of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, a beautiful creature full of hope and of grace. I told her this, and she cried.

And I said, how can I pray for you? A Wyoming trucker, Vietnam veteran, and his semi truck broken down. The gas station crowded, he sat next to me as I ate my lunch from Subway and heard of a life that had been hard and was not getting easier. People mocking his service, wives now gone, friends eternally lost, war nightmares that would not let him go. And I said, how can I pray for you? And he stopped. His body began to shake—he took off his sunglasses, pulled out his gray-worn handkerchief—and tried to hide all the tears that fell. No one has ever made me cry, he said.

And as cancer was destroying her body, I held her hand and prayed. I knelt by her side as three of us women covered her in prayer, each in turn. The doctor had just told her—bad news. It had been in remission and she had seen the hand of Jesus—finally, she was going to be healed, she was going to be free! But it was back, and it was worse, and she was too young to die. And as cancer was destroying her body, I held her hand and prayed. Please Jesus, give her my healthy cells. What grace has been given me, let it pass to her.

And she looked lonely, so I smiled. She was royalty; I knew because she had gray hair. No longer able to leave her wheelchair, she sat in the bead shop, watching the silence, surrounded by walls and tables of purple and blue, pearls that caught the Colorado sun and silver chains two feet long. And she looked lonely, so I smiled. Isn’t it a beautiful day? Do you like to bead? Making necklaces is my favorite, what’s yours? Though her former stroke left the words up to me, the smiles were from us both. After I left the store, a woman ran up to me. Thank you, thank you, she said, for being so kind—that woman is my mother, and though she can no longer speak, what you did means everything.

And my prayer changed to an unknown tongue, and she began to cry. The room was filled with those trying to find their way—the New Pagans and spiritualists and Pleiadians and those desperately seeking hope and truth. This tiny woman sitting nearby was the hardest, coldest, most closed soul I had ever seen; only six inches from me, her heart was galaxies away, and she would let no one through to be hurt again; the strings of advice from the others in the room made her only more cold. But Jesus said, pray. So I turned to her (meeting still going), and I said—can I pray for you? So I took her hand, and I began to pray, and my words changed to an unknown tongue, and she began to cry. She curled up on her chair and I held her hand tightly, and her soul came back from where it had been lost, and she was no longer hard but beautiful. She sobbed in the agony of finally letting herself feel, repeating—thank you, thank you—this Jesus, He comes to me at night, He’s calling me. And I said, yes, yes, because He loves you.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Stay with the pain"

I was struggling with something recently, and in talking with Jesus, He told me something critical: “Stay with the pain.”

Stay with the pain.

That line comes from Fight Club from this scene. (Note: it’s an intense clip with some language—and my favorite scene of the movie.)

Jesus’ words related clearly to the struggle I was going through, but the concept of staying with the pain soon spread to so much more for me. Jesus not only related it to beauty—I’m to focus on the beauty while staying with the pain—but also began to show me it as a guide deeper into my inheritance as His child. So I asked Him—staying with the pain, does this make me more into royalty—the shieldmaiden, the queen, the life I always longed to live?

And He said yes.

Staying with the pain is about allowing the situation—the person—the struggle—the fear—to hurt. To not run away, to not “deal with it as those dead people do,” as Tyler says, but to allow it to cut right through your heart and drive you to your knees, and to numb it with nothing. Not people, food, busyness. Not devotions, church, rituals. To anesthetize it with nothing, and to entirely, completely feel the expanse of the pain.

Part of my difficulty in staying with pain—whether it comes through fear, grief, insecurity, confusion—was that I felt I was a failure, that I had screwed up somewhere along the road. Somehow I’d taken the wrong path (or been too weak? too sinful?), and now, the pain was driving me back to holiness; it was a sign I was to fix something and fix it now. Do something. Don't stay here. Pain is dangerous.

But then Jesus said, no, just stay with the pain. Just learn to feel it, to not run, and to let Me touch your heart. It’s all right to feel pain. Henri Nouwen said much the same thing:

It is important that you dare to say with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart…

Dare to stay with your pain and trust in God’s promise to you.

In this age of medicine, of Vicodin and aspirin and Tylenol, we have little concept of what to do with pain other than to try to stop it. But what if the pain meant something? What if shutting it out destroyed its lesson, its beauty, its transformation? At the end of the Fight Club scene of staying with the pain, there’s one last line: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything we’re free to do anything.” Stay with the pain. Lose everything.

Jesus, take everything.

Stay with the pain.
Photographer unknown

And breathe. Quiet my mind. Breathe in God. Hear His voice, walk with Him. Breathe. And breathe. And stay present. Think of Jesus, always of Him. Always come back to your breath and His presence. Stay present in His presence… always. My mind rushes and whips around in a panic, all the time, develop the internal discipline of the royal. Breathe into the insanity, the rush, the frenetic panic of what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed and done and proved—and stay with the pain. Don’t rush out or into it. Be present.

This ability to handle pain, the staying present—this is the same feeling I get when I think of the shieldmaiden.

That’s what the Lord is after.

Stay with the pain.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Were you sorrowless, I would still love you

"And Éowyn looked at Faramir long and steadily; and Faramir said: 'Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Éowyn, do you not love me?' 

Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her."

~J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

You don't have to live forever; you just have to live

There is so much of the weight of glory I never even try to verbalize, because it's so, incredibly... everything. It's your whole soul, being, emotions, in this huge vibrant prism of light and color and music, and how do you explain any of that? You can't, quite, so I feel like the prophets of Ezekiel or Revelation who call the glory a sunset, no, a fire, no, a rainbow, no, rushing water, and finally, they just stop trying.

In some ways, you can only feel it; this is where words fail, because, after all, words are not the deepest form of communication. When you try to use them, you just end up stopping and looking at the ground and mumbling, "never mind." Instead of stopping, however, I write: writing forces me to not push away the feeling simply because I cannot describe it. Once, I began here, with “maia.”

You can explain the weight of glory with words like beauty, longing, transcendence, joy, but sometimes that is not enough, and you have to use music and play a track from Lord of the Rings or perhaps use an image of a sunset or a prairie under a thunderstorm, and then that falls short and you turn to story and end up saying something like, "I want to live in Narnia,” and then that sounds fake and childish so you don't say it, and besides, everyone says that, but you mean so much more—it’s not just, I want Narnia or to be Clara Barton, Eowyn, Trinity, Joan of Arc, Queen Susan, but... my soul is there. You are that person—that king or that queen, that warrior or that shieldmaiden—somehow, and you wonder... how did I get here? Like "Hannah" is just a shell of someone who could've, should've, needs to be in that life and adventure and beauty and glory.... Like you're living some sort of dream and are trying to wake up.

You want to fight and be beautiful and be rescued and die in the process, you want to not be safe and you want to look right into people's souls, and the word "adventure" doesn't just mean adventure to you... it means, pure life, the life you always longed to live. Is it not the sort of life that stabs you when you watch a sunset on the beach or listen to a beautiful piece of music or go to your best friend's funeral or talk about Narnia or sit by a fire all alone or get up at 4am to watch the sunrise or what you imagine it might be to fall in love?"

Your absolute greatest fear is dying without having lived.

Yet, that is not the end of the story. There is something greater, a kingdom of miracles, power, rescue, and beauty, where further up and further in takes you only deeper into the adventure you long for.

I've found it now, the weight of glory, or at least, a taste, so otherworldly as to be from my cherished fairy tales and so real as to be the buttered toast I had for breakfast.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The terrible pain of the kingdom of God

It’s the longing that hurts the most, the beauty so intense it will claw your soul to shreds—or perhaps, make it whole.

We all feel this pain at some point. In horses, I am torn by it most in story—in Shadowfax, Flicka, the Black Stallion. In reading about Tsornin and Bree and Hwin. The longing for that beauty, to be caught up in its transcendence, to reach that place entirely beyond words is so deep for a time I thought of leaving horses entirely: the desire for it was so strong if it couldn’t be fulfilled, I wasn’t sure I could stand it.

It’s odd, you know—a beauty, a longing, a glory, a transcendence so great that it may drive you away as much as it draws you in. I am glad the Lord made it that way, because pain—the grief of having lost something we can’t remember having, of searching for the story we were supposed to live and trying to wake up from the dream in which we seem to be trapped—the pain is sometimes more transformative than the joy.

If you’ve ever felt it, you know what I mean; some of you have, with horses, with why you sought them in the first place. It’s to touch magic with horses. Some feel the beauty, the longing, the touch of the divine in other places: my dad knows it in flying, one of my friends in playing flute. Another is gripped by its power in writing and another in filmmaking. They all agree—it’s the same no matter where in the kingdom you are—the same blinding pain with incredible longing, the insatiable desire for the beauty always just beyond your fingertips, the vision of the way the world was meant to be and the life you always longed to live. The transformative power that drives you straight to the face of God.

That is the kingdom of God, after all.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Voice of the divine in a bareback ride

Off to the west, thunder and lightning, but try as it might, the clouds could not fill up the sky with gray. In South Dakota, there is always more sky.

Today was the third afternoon of my bridleless experiment, riding without neckrope, sticks, whips, or anything but myself and my horse; I’d committed to ten rides in a row of this to see if bridleless long term is possible or should stay closed in the realm of the dreamers.

Maybe I’d keep the bridle off for a month. Maybe the summer. Maybe forever. I wouldn’t put any limits on what the Lord wanted me to do.

We face the west, watch the lightning, and Maia snorts into rain-wet wind. Why am I here, Lord? Why do I ride? What am I missing that is beyond just reins and saddles, trot and canter, oat hay and brome grass? There is more—I know there is—there is a reason we long to ride, to be united with the power and the beauty and the sound of hoofbeats in summer grass.

There is more than one reason, actually, but today, there is a specific one: I want you to hear My voice, He says.

And so I listen. And Maia and I set off again, and suddenly, thoughts flood through my mind—sit up taller, look ahead now—yes! and breathe and breathe and breathe. Maia loosens, relaxes, and in just a few minutes, we had our breakthrough: long and low at the walk, stretching, forward, softly bent, and utterly, completely bridleless. I haven't been able to reach that state of beauty on my own. Ever.

In itself, this is not new—to walk with God, to converse about my day and yesterday’s breakfast and the e-mail I’m supposed to send by 3 p.m.—but this is different, now, a God-guided horse training. I haven’t read about that in my books.

But do you know what this is?

This is hope.

"She was, for the first few moments, fearful of her own lack of skill [to ride Tsornin bridleless], and of the strength of the big horse, but she found they understood each other… She felt almost uneasy that it was too simple, that she understood too readily. But she was too caught up in the beauty of it to wish to doubt it long."
~The Blue Sword

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

When I fly above the clouds

Flying above the clouds is, I think, something like heaven. Under the clouds is the gray and the rain and the sleet and the snow, smog and car horns, barking dogs and slamming doors; confusion, tears, and we see only dimly through the fog. That is our lives, right now—sometimes the sun tears through the clouds in ransomed glory and we remember, for a moment, what it is to have the sunlight on our face—but for now, we are under the clouds.

We go through lives clinging to those faded threads of glory that trickle through the clouds, and we seek to gather and weave them into things of beauty, to cover others with their peace and the name of Yahweh that is written on each strand.

That is when I think of when I fly. Hurtling forward through winter gray, the scream of engines and ears popping, blinded by a fog of clouds for seeming eternity—then! Ripped through the top to a sun of beauty that blinds and ground made of clouds bleached white as a wedding dress, blue oceaned sky.

And to think—this was always here, even on the darkest days below. The sun always was here, the clouds that glitter always here, the land we were searching for always here, though we did not always remember. Heaven always sends itself down to the dark kingdom of man, the sun does shine, and someday we will see.

When I die, I am not afraid, not for a moment, because I will break through the clouds and see the Son in heartbreaking glory and whisper yes, I know You, I have already seen Your face, because You shone on me when I was not yet above the clouds.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When you've lost your story

Deep within our hearts is an aching longing and desire. It is sad to me how little such longing is spoken of; somehow, it seems wrong or frivolous, yet it is a crucial part of kingdom redemption. This desire is endless longing for a better land, endless aching that you were not meant for this country—an aching that drives you to redeem it, to change it, and to make it a little more like home. We will never quite get there, never "quite get in," as C.S. Lewis says, for we know that ultimately sin runs too deep in creation and can only be removed by having a new heavens and new earth. But until that time, we keep redeeming the land in beauty and glory and in our war against darkness.

I feel I need to defend desire, and it is devastating to me that I need to do so. We have learned to destroy our desire, to hide our heart, instead of guarding it fiercely as the wellspring of life and remembering that true desire may be one of the strongest pulls of the holy within our soul.

Desire is feeling so much longing—the longing you feel when you are supremely happy and yet then aching for the eternal. It is the perfect longing when you see the total glory of this world and the incredible magic in it and love it a thousand times more than you ever did before, yet simultaneously feel your heart is being ripped out for the truer land, the clearer Narnia, the redeemed land where that magic would be made perfect:
When I attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends or as the landscape loses the celestial light...You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. (~C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
That desire is the reality behind every storybook and every fairy tale. Where do we get the ideas for those places, those lands, those adventures? The desire for More, for adventure and battle, heroism and beauty, and a depth so deep it moves beyond all words cannot just come from within us; we know it is true, somewhere, in some world. It must be rooted in reality, as the feel of it is far closer to memory than to make believe, and we are searching for it with every breath we take. We find it in our world, though dimly, though one day those who have lived in Christ’s glory will see it face to face.

Once, I was snowshoeing through my grandparents’ woods by myself. The flakes seemed the size of cotton balls, eternally silent falling, catching on my eyelashes; it was quiet and beautiful and Christmas Eve. The beauty was so intense, the longing and desire to be within that life I always longed to live so strong, I couldn't speak or even think, and all I could grasp was that it looked just like what I thought Narnia should.

And then, I realized, it was—it is. This is Narnia. That is what I sense sometimes, and this is why people are so drawn to magic and fairy tales and unicorns and fantasy, for it strikes a part of us we think isn’t “real”; we think magic isn't a part of this world, but it is. That is why we love the fairy tales, and that is why we love Narnia—because it reminds us of us—of home—of the story we left but once we knew. Because there is magic in this world, there is something so much deeper; there are miracles and true love and mountains and sunsets and families and dreams that come true. It is truly magic, it is another dimension, there is storybook adventure here in this world, but we close our minds to the dimension of adventure and magic, and we do not see it.

I love Narnia because I love the Narnian dimension of this world. We do not have to search for Narnia and magic and adventure any longer, for it is here, and in the new heavens and earth, it will be perfected; it will truly be magic. Now I see as in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face. I feel wisps of the magic brushing by me, of what life is supposed to be like and was like before we fell, before we lost our story, and what it will be like at the end of time.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Windchimes in the night


"I'm not ready to die."

In the glow of my nightstand clock blinking 11:32 p.m., I set down the purple pen and the bedside notepaper kept there to record thoughts and images and prayers that flit at the edges of consciousness, appearing only in the filmy gauze between awake and asleep. I don’t want to forget those words, because they often contain truths I don’t realize when the sun is up and there are friends and bills and books. But just before I fall asleep, I drop my guard for just long enough to, sometimes, hear my spirit like windchimes in the night.

And tonight, I realize I am not ready to die, which means I am not truly living.

An hour later, my flowered sheets are nearly ripped off my bed with continual tossing and my Bible lies open to Psalm 61 and outside, a blizzard sets more snow on top of 7” already fallen.
And if I can rouse myself from the trance of what’s wrong to find something stable in this world, something either awake or asleep and not this place of in between, perhaps I will be all right. The snow is falling harder now, at 12:43 a.m., and as a child on Christmas morning I need to be out in it, within the beauty I see. Or within its war, or pain, or fighting, or longing, I don’t know.
I unlock the sliding door, push back the curtain (soundless, now, with roommates asleep), and without thinking, abandon my socks in a heap on the carpet.

Outside. The purple sky is a halo to the glittered white world; if I am trying to be asleep, I can pretend I’m Alice down the rabbit hole, but if I want to be awake, then it is just city lights on city clouds with smog, sometimes, and sirens.

The patio soaks cold through my bare feet, but just wet, not snow, and in one more step, I am barefoot in the storm. The snow over my feet is not as cold as expected; it wakes me from my fog to focus on one thing: ice, slush, April, and what it is to stand in your nightgown barefoot in the snow in your apartment by County Road D.

I wait to hear from God, in the snow, as if somehow it is more holy to be there. And in a way, perhaps it is: it is more holy because I can hear. In the parking lot are seven lampstands, twenty-three entombed cars. I feel snow turning to ice water under my toes and wonder how many millions of snowflakes I have just melted by standing there; each one unique, they say, and I have destroyed them. And the wind blows my hair from its braid, and I wait for God’s voice.


And the silence is beautiful.

There is no less of God in silence than there is in words; there is no less beauty in mystery as there is when all is known. The grass withers, the flowers fade, not one sparrow drops apart from Him, and are they not all clothed more beautifully than ye?

And God does speak.

Because as ten trillion million snowflakes pour from the sky in sunbeams of snow and a thousand land in my hair and my hands and on bare feet and I behold infinity, I hear Him say, “This is how much I love you.”

Standing barefoot in the snow is my small act of rebellion against a normal life. Pathetic, vulnerable, alone, and not enough, but tonight, at 12:43 a.m., it’s all I can do.

And at the end of my path from bed to snow perhaps I’ve walked the way of God.

The freedom experiment (and a coconut on the fridge)

I have a coconut sitting on top of my refrigerator right now. I’m not really sure what to do with it. One of my friends told me to hit it with a hammer, and another suggested a saw and screwdriver and drain out the milk.
I was thinking more along the lines of dynamite.

But regardless of how I actually manage to eat the thing, it’s actually indicative of a much larger part of a journey I am on: the quest to find my boundaries, the edge of the box, the brink of heresy, and to move beyond. To discover what rules I live by and to test them to the utmost as to whether they are indeed needed rules… or if they are just my own.

The desire is to cultivate in myself a radical freedom; in a way, it is the freedom experiment. Albert Camus said it best in that, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

And it starts with a coconut.

The freedom experiment began small enough: every time I went grocery shopping, I bought a food I’d never bought before and, preferably, had no idea what to do with. I found myself with the most bizarre vegetables you’d ever seen (even the cashier didn’t know what they were), mushrooms with unpronounceable names, and, most recently, a coconut.

I did it because I needed to break out of the box I’d been living in regarding food and my habits therein; there was so much life to be lived even in as forgotten a place as the grocery store aisles, and I was going to find it.

But then, the freedom experiment grew.

Now, I examine everything—not just food, but theology, schedules, conversations, relationships, finances.  When I come upon something from which I shrink back, I ask, “Why? What rule is that, who said that? Is it the Lord? If not, why am I giving it power?” I write down my answer, I write down a way to break that boundary, to push my limits. In every area, I look for the edge of my comfort zone and seek to find the life beyond it. (So that way, when I’m the only girl in a gym with a dozen sweaty men mostly twice my size, and we’re all practicing wrestling and jiu jitsu and kickboxing and how to choke each other until we black out in my quest for me to get beyond my comfort zone—well, I remind myself that the terror is helping me grow.)

This is a kingdom life, for as my dad told me this afternoon: “Risk is overrated.” If I am living a Romans Road gospel—a gospel of John 3:16 and nothing else—then risk is a great enemy. But if instead, I am living in the kingdom of God, risk is overrated; that life has far less to do with sin management than it does with the glory, will, life, battle, and beauty of God Himself and His kingdom—then my life is one of exploration and adventure. This is the kingdom; live in its entirety. Do not be so afraid of sin or error that you never seek truth; never fear being wrong more than you fear not finding what’s right.

Therein was the freedom experiment. Who said I couldn’t learn pole dancing? Where was that in the Bible? An unspoken rule I didn’t need to adhere to. So I took a workshop and met some wonderful women. Why did I not want to watch a horror movie? There were far more graphically evil scenes in my beloved Scripture. I let go of my prejudice. Why didn’t I confront my friend on a serious relationship issue? Because I usually wasn’t that abrupt; another rule of, “Be nice… too nice”—a rule I was clearly not intended to live by. So I confronted my friend and broke it.

And I took martial arts by myself, decided to move halfway across the country, trained horses with previously taboo methods, read books I never would’ve touched, ate raw cookie dough at 11 o’clock at night. I became more confrontational and more reconciliatory, tried beer and alcohol and wine, sought out untraditional spirituality, changed my schedule radically, learned about sex, and told people to their face that they were dead wrong. I went to a bar, changed my wardrobe, prayed with a total stranger, wrote down my dreams from the night before, started my business, wrote this blog post. I have become more angry, more joyful, hate more, love more, pray more… live more.

And every time I find the edge of my comfort zone, I find the rule or fear or belief keeping me there, and I pray over it, and I seek whether or not it is a stronghold that should be broken for me, a rule I was never meant to live under, a burden I was not supposed to bear, or if it is truly a grace to me, my Lord, and others, and should be kept.

The freedom experiment seeks a radical freedom, a radical grace.

But most of all, it seeks a radical God.

Recent encounters forced me to confront my own version of heresy in which I locked Him in a box instead of embodying what one of my friends says: the truth is endless. I was haunted by the C.S. Lewis quote, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.’” If we are finite, and He is infinite; if we never are uncomfortable with who He is, it means we have choked Adonai Elohim down to a small box roughly the size of our comfort zone.

I don’t do the freedom experiment because I am particularly brave, because I am particularly radical. I do it because I am not. 

When airports are better than convents on Pluto

caribou coffee
You know it’s going to be an epic day when you actually go to Caribou Coffee like a normal human being. Not as the token “here, I spent $3 so I can use your Internet for the next 7 hours straight while I see 3 shifts of workers come and go and pretend I’m homeless,” but real live, “I woke up at 5 a.m. and am getting coffee like the elite urban socialite I am while drinking it in my snazzy car on my way to my awesome life.”

It’s a truly empowering feeling.

Actually, if I were the Instagraming type, I’d have made my roommate photograph-and-photo-filter the occasion with her plaid-backed iPhone for the world to see, but I don’t really see the point of documenting my eating habits like some sort of exotic zoo animal: “Here sits college graduatus adventurous, thriving in her native habitat on the addictive, mind-altering drink of her people.”

Not something to be proud of.

But we only went to Caribou because we decided an audacious day needed to start with a scandalously expensive coffee, and with a quick hug to my roommate and toss of the empty almond latte container into the garbage, I passed through sliding doors into yet another adventure—the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport on my trip to Orlando. Though my flight didn’t leave until 2:56 p.m., I was walking through the doors at 7:14 in the morning due to my roommate’s work schedule, which meant I was set for one of the best days I could remember in a long while:
Reading. All day. Reading. All. Day.

Seriously, this was going to be incredible.

But first, I had to get to my gate. Happily, my roommate and I couldn’t remember which terminal I was supposed to be in, so we obviously went to the wrong one (in accordance with the 50-50-90 rule: if you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there’s a 90% probability you’ll get it wrong), which meant I was able to embark on the glorious adventure of wandering about, finding the Light Rail, riding it the wrong way, turning around and riding it back (sneaking about hoping no conductor would ask about the ticket I was then supposed to have by riding the wrong way into the city, while preparing a long defensive speech in my mind in case he did), nearly walking into a glass door (not my fault, obviously, as it wasn’t well marked), going up the wrong escalator, riding it back down, and finally arriving at my correct terminal.

Apparently the coffee hadn’t particularly helped me wake up.

But it didn’t matter, because after the Light Rail I had come to one of the best things an airport has ever invented: the moving sidewalk. Seriously, it’s like having seven league boots. Forget the fact that walking on my own power would be all healthy and good exercise and whatever, because if you have the choice between exercising and being super awesome magical, I’m totally going with super awesome magical. So I pounded along on that sidewalk, the only person on the entire thing, no one to slow down my flight, reveling in the fact that every step whooshed me an extra 10 feet down the hall like a superwoman.

The worst part, of course, was getting off, because I’ve never quite gotten over my little girl 5-year-old fear that I’d get sucked under the conveyer belt or trip or not coordinate all my steps right and fall in a disastrous heap, even despite the helpful disembodied voice shouting overhead, “WARNING! YOU ARE COMING TO THE END OF THE SIDEWALK! WARNING!” I always hated that voice. It was sort of like someone saying, haha, so sad, no more magic for you.


But even with magical powers stolen from me when I step off (barely), I continue on. At 7:32 a.m., there’s not a single person in the security line, so after I strip off my coat and my shoes and my cell phone and my purse and my one-quart bag of carefully measured liquids and whatever other murderous items I have in my purse, I start a lively chat with all the TSA agents within earshot. How are you? Is it always this quiet? How long have you been here? Isn’t this fun? And we chat and talk and laugh and I proclaim that my flight isn’t leaving for nearly eight hours. Eight hours! I crow. And then another five hours to my final destination! And I brought five books! Five! And my Nook! And my Bible! This is bliss.

The blonde TSA agent who’d brushed the dirt off my jeans a minute earlier stared at me open mouthed, probably considering whether she should shuttle me through the security check again. Clearly something was wrong with me mentally. Don’t you want to look around? Go shopping? You could try the overlook in the other terminal. You couldn’t possibly want to sit in that seat at the gate for the next eight hours.

Oh, yes I could. Just you watch.

And two hours later, I’m doing exactly that. The seat beside me is strewn with the evidence—one teal pen nearly dry and another blue pen not so dry and my Nook turned on to one book of the Bible and my travel Bible opened to another, then the journal lying smashed on its face full of scribbles a few inches away while The Omega Conspiracy lies staring up at me in my lap, and the page protector full of sticky flags used and reused since freshman year of college four years ago with a half-eaten apple on the ground and my feet dangling over the armrest as I sit propped to the side. And no one knew me! No one would talk to me or bother me and my phone is something King Tut would’ve used so no one will text or call and I can’t check Facebook, and it’s basically like living in a convent right in the middle of Minnesota (even better than the one I’d often threatened to start on Pluto).

And there were still 10 hours of reading to go.

One week later, I walked back into the MSP airport, Hubert Humphrey Terminal, not even burned from the Orlando sun, having satisfactorily completed fully four of the five books brought along (all 374 pages of The Hunger Games read in one fell swoop) and plowed well into the fifth. My brain had more information than it could hold, I’d drained two pens dry, and life was very, very good.

And within hours of returning to my apartment, I was tempted to start at least another, oh, three or four books.

Which is why I’ll have to go on another flight sometime soon.

A hateful love

I shuffled barefooted into the kitchen. Down came the pewter bowl with blue flowers (the pretty one, obviously), filled with the ¼ overripe pear (no throwing away food) and the generic brand shredded wheat (cheapest in the store) and the GoLean Crisp (to pretend I was eating something exotic), because I couldn’t possibly have a normal breakfast. (It was that or eat the frozen vegetables, which I’d been known to do some mornings in my less-awake moments.
But at 7:20 a.m., I’m not thinking about breakfast.

Mostly, I’m thinking about hate.

Not just hate, but hate and anger. The afternoon previous, I listened to a Mark Driscoll sermon: “If you don’t ever get angry, something is wrong with you.”

I pour Almond Breeze (three years old, left over from my family’s acute almond milk craze) on my conglomeration and try to remember the last time I was angry at someone. Hated their actions—beliefs—words. Seething anger, absolute hate.

I couldn’t remember.

The fridge door closes.

I’m ashamed. The depth of my anger, the trueness of my hate, reveals the intensity of my love. The more I love goodness, truth, beauty, and the fight for abundant life, the more I will hate evil, lies, and deception, the more anger I feel at the people and the world and the demonic that seeks the destruction of all that is good and right and pure.

If I have no hate, do I truly love?

Jesus, teach me holy hate, righteous anger. Give them with an intensity that shocks me. Drive me out of neutrality into war; light a fire within me with all the threat of inferno. Don’t let me be a safe person. 

Good, Jesus, but never safe.

Love isn’t always the other side of hate. Sometimes, it’s the same thing.

Waiting for your story

If someday I ever decide to live in one place for more than three months (maybe the nursing home?), there is really just one thing I want in my house.

A window seat.

My grandmother had one in the green-papered room I stayed in as a eight year old, and I’d always clamber up on top, look out at the birch and maple woods, and make up stories of valiant adventure. I was a princess—I was a Jedi—I was a princess and a Jedi. I was being rescued through the glass-paned window—I was fighting some great dark evil—I was riding away on a unicorn.

This window seat was different, Room 220 of Owatonna Microtel Inn and Suites (the room with the Tempur-Pedic bed! the receptionist crowed). The second-story view was of the Fleet Farm gas station and the truck drivers’ parking lot instead of the magical woods with the scrabbling turkeys, but of course I didn’t care, because you can make up adventures about Fleet Farms and truck drivers, too, if you’re practiced enough (and I am quite experienced).

Only I wasn’t making up stories this morning—I was asking the Lord about my own.
Waking the Dead lay next to me, scribbled all over in Barbie-pink pen, bent open to the section on the healing prayer, chapter 8, page 142. The pen marks had paused here as I set the book back down, swirly green cover against flat white sheet.

Lord, what part of my heart is still broken?

I received an instant answer, one word, unmistakable. I continued to question, to search, to let the Lord reach into my heart and tell me why I had not allowed healing there. It had to do with something I deeply wanted, had dreamed of for years.

Why? When will it come? I twisted my fingers into the sheet.

The Voice sliced into my mind.

It will. You’re just not at that part of the story yet.

Sometimes what you want is beautiful and true, a longing the Lord has deeply set within you, and that is holy. The longing for it is real, and it is good. Maybe it has to do with horses or music or marriage, or perhaps a friend or a skill or a dream. Don’t be afraid if it hasn’t yet come. It still may.

Perhaps, you’re just not at that part of your story yet.


Footprints through snow, eight inches deep, but the air is too cold to allow water to pool. Just snow—plain snow, old snow—to step through, sink in. Six footprints press from arena gate to ATV-plowed path, and I arrange my feet in them as I go.

Maia steps behind me, chooses one path as I pick out mine. Braided mane, loose rope, and a sparrow picks through hay on the ground.

What are you doing? she asks. Walking to the pasture gate, what else?—but that is the wrong answer.

That is what will happen, but what am I doing?

I am stepping into footprints in the snow.

And when I become present to stepping through snow for no other reason than to be present to stepping through snow, I realize Maia’s breath on my neck and jewels glittering on ice and boots sinking deeper and the weight of the rope on my glove and that someone once said that forever is composed of nows.

When stories are truer than reality

On the flat screen on the wall (just right of the fireplace, just under the horse painting) flickers Shadowfax in the meadow, Rohan of the hills, and Eowyn in the great hall. 

Aragorn: What do you fear, my lady?
Eowyn: A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.
~Lord of the Rings

And I sit on a couch of faded blue as the credits trickle down and Enya sings about the West, and I wonder—is this it? Is this life I have chosen all there is—to get up early, to work through the day as the sun brightens and fades, to go to bed early and sleep in the same bed as all the days before, to make enough money to buy the same food to live the same life to cry the same tears until all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire?

When the Lord has put such a desire in me for so much more—to fight for Middle Earth, to bleed for my people, to set souls free from the spitting snakes that bind them—then I can only believe that He has made me to pursue it.

I have to believe it.

For if life is less than my greatest dreams, if the truth about this world that goes straight to my soul is a liar, if Middle Earth has more inherit glory than Planet Earth—then fiction is better than reality, my God is not who I believe Him to be, and I dedicate myself to living in my made-up world:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

And with that decision, life opens to me—all of life—the life that makes this world as wild and breathtaking and terrible and beautiful as any Rivendell or Mordor or Shire. The battles just as great, the risk just as high, and the love just as real. The same cutting feeling of maia that causes me to dig my fingernails into my palms when Sam talks about the great stories, the same agony that makes me bite my lip when Aragorn goes to certain death at Mordor, the same desire that makes me curl up and sigh when Eowyn goes to war—those stories only affect me because they were meant for me to live.

I don’t know how to live them, sometimes. But I don’t think that always matters so much, in the end. Because once you believe in the greater stories, the stories seem to then find you.

Aragorn: What do you fear, my lady?
Eowyn: A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.
Aragorn: You are a daughter of kings, a shield maiden of Rohan. I do not think that will be your fate.

~Lord of the Rings

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Gas station miracle

I suppose, to some, it would be a stretch to call it an adventure.

But it was to me.

It was just a gas station. A soundless Shell station on the south side of County Highway 22, with exactly six pumps, and it always had the lowest gas price of any station in the Chisago County area. Actually, I could never understand that, because it was out in the middle of nowhere, and if I were a greedy gas station owner, I would hike the price and force everyone to pay a fortune and then cackle happily over my piles of money.

But I wasn’t a gas station owner, and whoever owned this one apparently wasn’t greedy, because the place always had the lower gas prices on the highway.

And today I stopped there.

I’d always wanted to go simply on principle, because it looked like a pleasant place (as far as gas stations go), and it was inexpensive, and I’d driven past it many times—rather like the street vendor who offers you a newspaper so many mornings that one day you just buy it, because you feel obligated.

3 p.m. sun squinted through my filthy windshield (my grandmother would be scandalized, awful dirt), and the gas gauge was below ¼ tank. I couldn’t concentrate on account of this unforgivable sin, gaze flickering between snow-covered road and dipping gauge needle: it seems for as long as I can remember, Dad had told me to not let the gauge get below ¼ tank. Not in the summer. But never in the winter. In Minnesota, you could always needed gas, in case you got stranded or a snowstorm descended or you went <whoosh> out into the ditch because you were trying to adjust the radio and drive on ice at the same time and were stupid.

(Or because you needed gas for a car chase. That was my personal philosophy. Always have at least ¼ tank of gas so when the bad guys are after you, you can fly off on an epic 20-minute chase and still get away with time to kiss your true love.)

There weren’t any KGB agents behind me now, but I wasn’t taking chances, and my Shell station was up to my right. A few seconds later, the car is off, fuel cap wrestled away from its petulant hold on the car, and the pump is interrogating me: Shell rewards card? Zip code? Credit or debit? Car wash? Receipt? No. 55079. Yes. Good grief, no, do you know how expensive those are? Yes, duh.

But then, life switched.

Maybe you feel it sometimes; I’m getting more aware of when it happens. It’s when you suddenly look at the trees around you, and feel January through your jacket, and your necklace is cold on your throat, and you realize with a start, you’re in an adventure.

No one else is at the gas station, driven away at my approach—no people in a solitary place. The sun slants low, flickering branches with the magic of golden hour. The wind wakes up, and I am cold, but I don’t flinch, and the not flinching is important. A field (plowed, covered, waiting) is behind me, a forest (watching) in front of me, and it is strange. And new. And alive. And exciting and calling to something you thought you’d forgotten.

And the world is beautiful, with new life happening every moment, when you least expect it, if you allow yourself to feel when at a lonely gas station buying 9.4 gallons of $2.99 gas.