Winter, illness, and positivity

It’s been a long winter.

Our first snowfall came just in time for Halloween, and has stuck around until spring. Throw in some -40 windchills around Christmas and a few 8-foot blizzards in February and we had ourselves a good old-fashioned winter, the kind I remember as a little girl, with no 50 degree weeks in January or February rain. Just snow, and cold, and quiet.


Late October snowfall

I love winter: the silence, the clean feeling of a fresh snow. I love strapping on my snowshoes and having whole sections of the Superior Hiking Trail to myself, and snuggling up by the woodstove with a book after. I love stacking and bringing in firewood: the wholesome act of exerting energy and having it be for something. There’s something deeply satisfying about having activity being naturally integrated into other necessities of life, like staying warm.


Nature’s art

I love how people in Cook County love winter: I suppose if you live this far north you have to. When I lived in Wisconsin, though, I sort of dreaded winter. Complaining about winter seemed to be some sort of state pastime, like between the months of December and March everyone got this free pass to be as vocally ornery as they pleased. In my opinion, if you live in the Midwest, you should make the most out of winter or move…but that’s just me.


That’s no puppy

But along the North Shore, where we love our snowshoeing, skiing, dog sledding, ice climbing, skijoring, curling, hockey, winter camping (yes, you read that right), and basically any activity you can fathom that uses snow or ice, winter becomes fun. And to be honest, being around people who approach winter positively has made all the difference in how I see this season.


Snowshoeing the Superior Hiking Trail

Positivity has been on my mind lately, not as a luxury or an ideal, but as a necessity. Somehow in these last few months my health has taken an unexplained nosedive, limiting my ability to work, write, hike, or really do anything more strenuous than sleep for half the day. I haven’t been able to keep up with most anything I’d like to do (including contribute to this blog), but being housebound has given me time to think, albeit foggy, fragmented thoughts. But even scattered thoughts have shown me how, when you’re sick long-term like this, thinking positively is sometimes the only thing you can do to make your days bearable, let alone enjoyable.


Frozen roses

As I was leaving the doctor’s the other day, I ended up behind a car with one of those stickers that says “Wag more, bark less.” Normally I don’t take life advice from bumper sticker tropes, but maybe because I was in need of a happy thought (or because I recently adopted a dog), this one stood out like it were in flashing neon letters. Our world is so full of barking–from the bloodbaths of Facebook and Twitter to the seeming inability of adults to discuss a nuanced topic without it becoming a partisan anger fest. We all fancy ourselves as vigilantes with the one correct view that will save the world…if only we can scream or snark our opinions into other people’s heads. But what is it all good for?


I believe in being kind to people. I believe in standing with the hurting, the abused. I believe in generosity and love and noticing when someone is sad. I believe in looking up even if everyone else is looking down. I believe that acts of kindness within a community, within relationships, are what will change people, and that moments spent online, on concepts and problems that I will never change, are moments wasted. Moments that could be spent calling a family member, engaging with the person sitting across from me, snuggling with my dog, even thinking of the things I’m thankful for. Wagging more, barking less.


Northern Light Lake with Leif

After school got out the other day, I ventured onto Artist’s Point. The sun shone warm on my skin, and sent the retreating snow piles cascading down the rocks in newly made streams. The waves rolled in happily from a sea of imperial blue. I could smell the rocks and lake again. And as I sat there next to that mammoth lake, under the endless sky, I saw once again the reassuring truth of how small and insignificant I was. One small piece of the big, big picture.


I’m not big enough to change the big, or even medium-sized picture. Heck, if you’re into the whole ranting-about-politics-on-Facebook-thing I don’t think this post will change your thoughts on the habit. But I can change me. I can change my thoughts, change my habits of kindness, change how I spend my limited energy. I can wag more and bark less or live and let live or whatever catchphrase fits the picture.

Spring is lovely, but winter is beautiful too, made even more so by seeing it positively. I suppose the same can be said about life.






Life in grayscale

I open my eyes to the light of a new day, blinking at the aspens and background of sky outside my window. Gray.

I stand on the shore at the edge of Superior’s waters, eyes blurring at the miles and miles of steely waves. Gray.

I drive home in a sort of absence, mind numbed by a wintry earth and sky that blend into a monochromatic blankness. Gray.


I’ve been avoiding writing this post—or any post—for quite a while. Perhaps I’ve been waiting for something better, something more exciting to jump out of the recesses of my mind and onto my waiting page. Some way to impressively start another year of blog writing. But days turn to weeks, and nothing happens. I watch the slow drip of honey fall from my spoon to the bottom of my teacup, willing some sort of idea, some feeling to come. Nothing. I walk through a hoarfrosted world, breathing the damp air and watching the mist wisp by trees, willing that flicker of inspiration to appear. Nothing. Not even a cohesive thought. I sit down to write, staring at a blank page that I feel I no longer have the words to fill. Nothing.

Gray. And nothing. Not the way I would have hoped to start a new year.

Somewhere between New Year’s and today the colors went muted, and my world has been playing in grayscale. It’s not a strange sensation to me, not really. I’ve had some form of mental health issues for probably most of my life, changing forms from year to year, from my childhood ‘shyness’ in groups to last year’s panic attacks and onto this year’s gray. Sometimes the flip-flopping seems logical: the anxiety reaches such heights my body begins to numb itself in protest, or I start a medication that can make things worse for a while. But a lot of the time, mental illness isn’t logical. There aren’t specific causes you can ascribe to an episode. It just comes and goes like the morning mist. It is what it is.


But this time, things are a little better. Even in the gray, there’s an outline of sun behind the clouds. Call it reconciliation, call it acceptance. It’s the voice that tells me that in this moment, this is how things are, and this moment is desolately beautiful.

My word for last year was see, a nod to awareness and mindfulness. I’m not fully enlightened on the concept, but last year’s journey did breathe into me this sense of acceptance that has made life–even the grayest moments–just a little easier. Like when I got out of bed at some strange hour of the night last week, restless with the weird thoughts anxiety gives you, and really noticed for the first time just how wonderful soft carpet feels under sore feet. Sure, it was a small thing. Just carpet. The anxious thoughts didn’t evaporate. But still, in that moment, feeling the weight of my feet pressing down on the floor, I felt grateful. No huge breakthrough. Just grateful. It was a muted form of gratefulness, sure, but grateful nonetheless. And for that night, thinking about how grateful I was for our house, for its soft, cozy carpet, I was finally able to fall asleep.

In writing this, I’m not saying that mental illness is okay or I’m accepting it as how my life is supposed to be; it isn’t. However, for many years I was plagued by this sort of guilt that accompanied every episode, like I couldn’t believe this was happening again and was ready to exhaust myself trying everything I could to make it go away as quickly as I could. Needless to say, that worked really well at making things worse.


However, it was through my word see that I began to see the value in embracing the present moment, however lackluster it may be. It was through my word that I began to understand that grasping for improvement isn’t always the best thing. It was through my word that I learned the value in less. Less striving, less lamenting, less wishing things could get better immediately, less try-these-five-tactics-for-a-happier-you-in-thirty-days. It was through my word that I began more of the right things: more stillness, more presence, more grace, more patience, more hugs, more jokes.

And so here I am in winter’s familiar gray, only this time with a little less worry and a little more acceptance. A little less impatience and a little more observance. A little less guilt over feeling this way and a little more grace to give myself the time and things I need to make it through. Perhaps I don’t know where my life is going, whether I should go back to school, how I’m going to continue writing with no inspiration, if I’ll be free from this anxiety someday, if this darn sun is ever going to show its face. Perhaps it’s all muddled in a sea of gray. But I’m still here. I’m alive, safe in the quiet woods, and have even written something that sort of looks like a blog post. It could be worse.


In case you were wondering, my new word for the year is unconventional, certainly breaking the rule of picking a quality you’d like to grow in. But in a sense it’s the logical conclusion of last year’s word, for instead of picking something I already have pre-conceived ideas about, this year’s theme is one of observation and discovery. I chose the word wolves for this year partly because of one of my favorite songs and partly because of a recurring dream I’ve been having.

In the dream, I’m walking along a wintry scene, sometimes a curving road and sometimes the forest, and there in the outer edges of my sight is a gray wolf, standing peacefully. Watching me. I go to follow it, each time getting a little closer, but the dream ends before I can discover where it’s leading me.

It’s a little more mystical than I usually get, but ever since doing a Word of the Year I’ve liked the idea of choosing a word that’s a mystery, and embarking on a year of discovery where I have pretty much no idea where it will take me. I have no end goal: I’ll watch and learn whatever it is I need to.


And so I begin 2018, with no breakthroughs or fireworks or fanfare, just a wanderer traveling through a sometimes-bleak world and onto an unknown destination. And I accept that.

Reminder and thank you

First off, many thanks to everyone who has ordered and read my book! It’s become a cheesy thing to say “I couldn’t have done it without you,” but you dedicated bunch of family, friends, and readers seriously rock. Your support has made all the difference in this crazy journey they call writing.

If you’re still interested in my book you can check it out whenever you want, but there are only two days left in giving-back December, where I’ll give 10% of the earnings to support the crisis in Yemen. If you’d like to support a good cause, order before January 1st to help the cause!

Thank you all again, and have a fabulous New Year’s celebration!



On writing my first book

Well, it happened. After years of practice and dreaming of being a writer I finally published my first book. How cool is that? It’s been quite the journey to this point, with more effort than I’ve put into any other project and some fabulous support from some wonderful family and friends. But even considering the late nights, lost GPA points (who cares about math worksheets when you’re writing a novel?), and newfound reverence for anyone who can put up with (what I consider) the frustrating world of graphic design, writing has been the best work I’ve done. A hard job, but my absolute favorite.

I began writing Meryton High when I was in high school, and what began as a fun project on vacation became the first novel I would complete. Meryton High is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic book Pride and Prejudice, which I was basically obsessed with at the time.

Learning to love the classics

Mind you, the obsession didn’t start that way. Until I agreed I would try to choke down some Jane Austen I hadn’t willingly touched classic literature. Heck, I was in high school, and to your average unassuming sixteen-year-old, a title like Pride and Prejudice sounds, well…kind of boring. And boring was exactly what I thought when a friend suggested we watch the movie at a sleepover for the first time. But luckily my friend insisted, and after giving the movie two tries my mind was officially changed and I was hooked.

What I came to realize with Pride and Prejudice–and with all subsequent classic literature I’ve read–is that what can come across as inaccessible to modern readers today is just the extreme surface of most older stories. Beyond aspects like language and setting, the characters and stories depicted in classic books are like anything we experience today. In her books, Jane Austen spent a great deal of time poking fun at social customs, norms, and wacky human behavior. And wouldn’t you know, a lot of those behaviors she satirized still take place today. There is a whole wealth of insight, humor, and wisdom in our culture’s classics, a great depth of material that it seemed most of my peers and I weren’t confident or excited about accessing. Enter Meryton High.

I wrote my book as a way for high schoolers (like myself at the time) to appreciate the characters and themes in Pride and Prejudice but with modern language and in a familiar setting. I understand that the older style is what some people like about classic literature, and that’s okay. But for me it was the characters, the relatable people in the stories that I fell in love with, and the purpose of my book is to help modern readers, especially younger readers, appreciate the classics and see them as relatable to their own lives today.

My hope is that you’ll enjoy this book, and perhaps not only enjoy it in and of itself but that it will be a gateway to exploring some of the great classics that we’re lucky to have. And if you’re already a classics fan, then I hope you have fun with this modern twist on a favorite story.

Giving back in December

In this season of Christmas I’ve been thinking more about giving back, and have decided that for the month of December I will give 10% of the earnings from my book to support the famine and health crisis in Yemen. I’ll be doing this by giving to the IRC‘s work in Yemen, as they are one of the highest-rated and effective humanitarian groups in the world. If you want more info about how this will work please don’t hesitate to ask.

In conclusion

This whole writing-a-book thing has been a wild ride, and I thank all of you devoted readers for your continued support of my writing. Your notes and comments always mean a lot to me, and I’m looking forward to sharing more writing adventures with all of you in the future. I hope you all have a most wonderful holiday season.

Lots of love,


Updates and an exciting announcement!

Hello dear readers,

The days up North have been getting noticeably darker, the waves bigger, and the temperatures lower. Have I hunkered down for hibernation in our cabin under heaps of fuzzy blankets? Not quite yet. Though the temptation has certainly been there, November and (so far) December have been busy months. So rather than napping all day, here’s what I’ve been up to instead:


As is tradition in the writing world, November brought in the madness of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where crazy people like me decide to write 50,000 words in a month. A hefty goal? Yes. Doable? As my word count would say: definitely! With much dark coffee and Lumineers I made a good dent in the fantasy/adventure novel I’m drafting. It will likely be another 30,000 words before it’s done, but hey! 50,000 words is something!



So many good books, so little time, but here’s a sneak peek at the titles that have been rocking my world lately:

A Year in the Wilderness by Amy and Dave Freeman. If you don’t recognize the authors, maybe you’d recognize them as the couple that spent a year in the Boundary Waters to raise awareness for the conservation of Minnesota’s resources. They had a reading and book signing where I got this title, but you can find it here on Amazon too.

Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver is a set of eloquent and thoughtful poems that I read on our road trip through Canada. Curled up with this book in the mountain mornings was the perfect way to get into the mindset of slowing down and noticing the world.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousfazai was one of the most powerful books I have read in a very long time. A memoir about standing up for education in a terror-torn country, if you haven’t taken the time to read this yet I highly recommend you do. We take so much for granted, including our education, but seeing the life-and-death fight people go through for these basic rights is a sobering reminder of just how far we have to go in much of the world.


If you’re skimming for the exciting announcement here’s where you should stop. While I was working on my most recent novel for NaNoWriMo, I was also putting the finishing touches on the novel that is set to hit the shelves this month.

That’s right.

My first novel, published through Amazon and the newly founded Northernwords Press, will be available on Amazon this weekend. More details are coming soon, but head over to my books page for a sneak peak of the cover!

Changes in these parts

As Northernwords becomes an independent press as well as a blog, you might notice some changes around the site, including links to my books, new writing-themed content, and even some design changes. But don’t panic! I won’t be going all commercial on you and will be keeping the site as easy to navigate as possible.


Lots of love,



And even if dawn be not ours to embrace

The glow of the east not for this abject face

Whatever surpasses in this twilit place

I want them to know

And I hope that they say

That we were the ones who sang through the fight

Who danced for the moon

And drank the stars’ light

We were never the type to drown in the plight

We were the children who lassoed the night.


Autumn: On colors and casting off

Cast off everything that is not yourself.” –Persius

Welcome to October, dear readers. Welcome to brisk mornings and cozy evenings, exhilarating walks and wooly socks. In other words, the best time of the year.

Day by day, the tip of the arrowhead feels more like home. It’s been almost a year since we landed in Cook County, and it’s taken about that long for this to feel like “our place.” But eleven months in, the sense of belonging has begun to grow. We’re making connections and trying new things. Whether that be a construction class or ballet, making tacos or throwing clay, each experience is putting down a little baby root. I’m thankful for this place: for the people, the activities, the quiet, the beauty. Especially here in the autumn, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.


Already the maples are dropping their cloaks of scarlet while the aspens shine in their most brilliant of golds. The glaze of frost, clouds of breath, and sting of early morning cold all made their debuts in this first week of October. Even the lake has begun to look different, with the playful, splashing blues of summer giving way to the steely, churning waters of the approaching storm season. The harbor empties of sails as the nighttime temperatures drop. Autumn is here.


Something about the transition to autumn wakes up the soul. The dreamy, hazy gauze of summer gives way to a clarity like the October sky. School resumes, routines get established, new journeys begin. Lighthearted play gives way to a more serious forward-thinking. Personally, I’ve always thought we should rewrite the calendars so our new year starts in September…it just makes a certain intuitive sense to me.


I remember learning that—for the most part—leaves don’t change color in the sense that the yellows and oranges are conjured up anew. They’ve always been present since the leaf’s beginning in the spring, but for the most part are masked by the green of chlorophyll. It’s only when trees stop producing chlorophyll in preparation for winter that their actual colors show through, so to speak.


Why do we find fall colors attractive? Not because yellow or orange are inherently superior to green—that would be silly. We find them so beautiful because of their variety. Their uniqueness. The way each tree wears its own trademark hue, and each leaf bears a unique pattern of color. People don’t flock to the Northland in July to take pictures of leaves, because at that point they’re all the same. It’s only when a tree’s true colors emerge that we pull out the cameras or simply stop in admiration.


The emerging isn’t free. It comes with a cost, a sacrifice, the willingness to die. But that’s life for all of us. The discovery of our deepest layers involves the shedding of the masks we created when we were afraid of what was underneath. We no longer need them, but that doesn’t mean they’re painless to cast away. The first gasp of raw air may sting, but it’s a moment as fleeting as a gust of wind.


As we walk deeper into this autumn, my own season of casting off continues. When I said no more to Good Christian Woman chlorophyll running through my veins, the transition was certainly not seamless. But now, the acute pains over the deconstruction of my religion have subsided. I’m on the other side of anger. I still have questions, sure, things I disagree with, and moments of annoyance, even, but I don’t see myself as a rebel or escapee or post-evangelical or what have you. I don’t view myself in comparison to that culture anymore—time and distance have made it distant. I’m just here, being me, and for now that is enough.


I want to end with this quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We can be afraid of our colors underneath—afraid of the attention they might draw, the discussions they might spark, the changes they might make. But they intimidate us because deep down we know they mean something. You mean something. I mean something.

Live in that truth.

Lots of love and pumpkin spice,


Sometimes, it’s okay to be sad


It’s been a sad week in America.

I read the news of what happened in Charlottesville a week ago. It cut like a shard of ice, burned in my gut and ached in my chest. It hurts. The thought of the hatred and people living in our country knowing that they’re hated like that hurts.

A few days later, learning about the vandalism of the Holocaust Memorial hurts.

Two days after that, hearing of immigrants in our region affected by this horrible atmosphere and seeing swastika graffiti hurts.

But I guess things like this should hurt. And I’m okay with that.

Like clockwork, the actual events of Charlottesville and what they mean for millions of people gave way to all sorts ink being spilled over topics that ultimately shift the focus away from the real tragedy. And I get it; it’s easier to envision this all being about two extremist groups fighting each other than it is to feel the pain of real people being hated because of the body they were born into. It’s easier to focus on an idea like media bias than it is to contemplate the fact that people in our country are still willing to commit violence or even murder because of others’ skin colors. It’s easier to turn a horrible event into political rantings than it is to imagine your own friend being killed by white supremacists. We like to shift the focus away because we really can’t bear the topic.

Resentment and cynicism are powerful anesthetics. They dull pain better than anything else I know. But sometimes, the pain demands to be felt. Sometimes the only way through the pain is to lean into it rather than lean away from it. That leaning into it is where courage is born, where empathy is forged. Where we begin to see hope for the problem that we may have missed by fleeing to lesser problems.

I remember hearing about a German man who began to create memorial stones for individuals killed in the Holocaust. He would make a gold brick for each victim and place it at the house they used to live in, the location they were most likely captured from. How difficult such a process would be: to see the individual names, the actual homes, to begin to fathom the horrible atrocity committed by people from your own country. It would be so much easier to not think about it, to focus on the issues at the sidelines of the Holocaust, to question the sources from where modern people have learned about it. But that’s not what this man did. He leaned into the pain, and by doing so thousands of people can understand in more human terms something most of us read about in history.

There’s something incredibly human about taking on the pain of someone else. It’s an equalizer in a way; a reminder that we all fear and love and hope for essentially the same things. That behind the tribalism and the politicization lies real, breathing people.

I don’t believe in drowning in despair, but I don’t think we should be afraid to lament. And this time, that’s what I’m doing. I’m just feeling it for what it is.

Because sometimes, it’s okay to be sad.


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

When the church needs transfiguration


neonbrand-265875Last week the Church celebrated Transfiguration. The miraculous event where Christ revealed his divine glory is considered a major feast day in the liturgical year. Historically, this event took place during the Jewish Festival of Booths, and the timing of the transfiguration illustrates the co-dwelling of the glory of God with humankind. In the Orthodox church today, Transfiguration is the day when the faithful bring fruits to church to be blessed, symbolizing the fruitfulness of a creation that has been transformed by Christ’s kingdom. It is a day where we look upon the magnificence of God, not as something other, but as something that has been revealed to us, dwells with us, and changes us.

This year, I think it’s my favorite holiday.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the need for transfiguration. This last year has been a year of faith struggle, of evolution and change, and I’m sure I’m not the only Christian who’s felt fed up with Christianity. It’s been painful, even sickening to witness the polarization, the fear, the cynicism, the lack of empathy, and did I mention fear?, and the American church’s love affair with political power all being committed in the name of Christ. I watch people my age (heck, of every age) finally throw in the towel and walk away from all the hypocrisy, indifference, religiosity, and exclusiveness that marks what is supposed to be the body of Christ, what is supposed to be the place of healing and respite in a world of division and fear and power struggle. And I get it. All too well I get it. Some days end in me wanting to walk away too. Some days all I can do is sink to my knees thinking Lord, have mercy.

I’ve seen what the church can be: people shouting “Christ is Risen!” at the top of their lungs at midnight, people welcoming travelers of all languages and cultures into their homes, a group of campers and volunteer staff pooling their spending money to raise thousands of dollars for a church across the ocean, for people they’ve never met and likely will never meet.

I’ve seen many, many beautiful things from this group of people we call the church.

But the ugly things?

The ugly things are hard to ignore. And as much as we try to, they still exist.

I’ve seen a kind of utilitarianism crop up in churches when issues are brought up. Someone raises a legitimate question only to have it quickly shut down by reminders of all the good things the church does for other people. For example, a recent discussion of church misogyny yielded responses like: Things Christian women hear: God loves you. As if one good ol’ patronizing fist bump is all it takes to wash away a lifetime of mistreatment. Like as long as the good outweighs the bad, then the bad doesn’t exist. But guess what?

Life doesn’t work like that.

Good outweighing bad isn’t the same as healing. Good outweighing bad isn’t the same as renewal. Good outweighing bad isn’t the same thing as transfiguration.

I recently finished Sarah Bessey’s book Out of Sorts, and I had a eureka moment when I read her section about spiritual development. She cites James Fowler’s stages of spiritual development, which an average person roughly follows during their journey of faith:


  • Stage One: Intuitive-Projective (the faith of young kids; fantasy and reality are intertwined).
  • Stage Two: Mythic-Literal (simplistic, cause-effect understanding of faith; may view God like a vending machine).
  • Stage Three: Synthetic-Conventional (adopting a systematic belief system; high level of conformity; deference to authority; feels fear or threat when exposed to alternative views).
  • Stage Four: Individuative-Reflective (questions, doubts, faith struggle, leaving the box of Stage Three).
  • Stage Five: Conjunctive Faith (making peace with mystery and paradox; uncommon to reach this before middle age).
  • Stage Six: Universalizing Faith (perfected love and empathy; very few ever reach this stage).

In her book, Bessey points out that most of our faith communities function on people arriving in and remaining in Stage Three for life. She writes, “It’s telling that our faith communities are often structured not only for people at this stage of faith development but, in fact, often unwittingly work to ensure we remain there”. Our faith communities are often structured to keep us in spiritual immaturity. To keep us in fear of others. To keep us from reaching perfect love and empathy.

I’ve heard a lot of theories about why people are leaving the faith, and I’m not here to add to the cacophony of how the world is going from bad to worse or “it’s our horrible culture” or anything like that. Rather, I think that we as a church need to look inward at what we can do better. We need to break free from this overarching adoration for adolescent spiritual maturity. We each need to be fully transformed by Christ so that we as a church can be a fully transformed body. I think that concerns about the church’s lack of love and empathy are genuine concerns. And I think that we, as Christians, need to grow up.

I’m no longer sure we’re good at loving.

I grew up Orthodox Christian (you probably already figured that out), and even though I live out in the sticks with the nearest Orthodox Church far on the other side of Border Patrol, I still consider it my faith identity. In college, I gained exposure to American evangelicalism, or more “mainstream” American Christianity. It was an exciting and confusing and ultimately troubling time. What was confusing and troubling to me was that I began to realize that to several people I met, I wasn’t viewed simply as another Christian. Nope. I was That Orthodox Girl. Which meant I was…scary. I guess. And I was disheartened at the level of fear that was spooned out to and against outsiders.

All those comments of “We have Jesus but ‘traditional’ denominations have religion” don’t go unnoticed.

All the sly, manipulative words meant to undermine things I think and believe don’t go unnoticed.

All the questions asked out of a desire to appear more spiritually “in the know” rather than out of genuine curiosity don’t go unnoticed.

All the unsolicited “advice” that is really just plain arrogance doesn’t go unnoticed.

People thought they were passing as being loving. Heck, maybe they thought they were being loving. But as an outsider, I could tell. I could smell the difference between love and fear a mile away. I knew the difference between having a real conversation and wanting to get your point across. I might not have acted like it in the moment, but I knew what was happening.

I knew if people were scared.

This experience left me with a new perspective, one that could no longer affirm the church as an always-kind, good-at-loving group of people. Suddenly, when others would comment about how Christians could be so judgmental, I found myself saying, “Yeah, I get it.” I may not be that far on the “outside,” but I do see how to many, many people, the Church is a hurtful, fearful, even abusive place. I don’t think this is limited to one denomination or “flavor” of church, but rather happens in all of Christendom when people are expected to adopt an all-encompassing belief system without question. This is not what Christ wanted for us, but is something we did to ourselves when we became afraid to grow up, and afraid of others around us really, truly growing up. And I think it’s turning so many people away from Jesus.

As a church, we need to love. We need to have empathy. And to do that, we need face our fears.

Transforming the church: Walking with Christ

After reading Sarah Bessey’s book, I fully believe that we all have the potential to be perfected in love. However, if we, as a church, are spiritually stuck in Stage Three, we cannot love people well. We aren’t loving people well. You cannot love someone well if you are afraid of them (1 John 4:18). You cannot truly, fully empathize with people you see as a threat to you and your beliefs. You have to learn to face your fears so that other people no longer bring you fears. The way to love comes not by shoving all of our questions, doubts, and deviations from the way we were raised under the rug. Rather, it comes by persevering with Christ through these very things.

The Apostle Peter describes the process of maturing spiritually in his second letter:

“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (1:5-9, NKJV).

Peter portrays spiritual growth not as something that happens instantaneously, but as qualities building upon one another. Even though much of Christian culture is preoccupied with “knowing the faith” and “defending our views,” knowledge here is not the destination but is, in fact, rather far down in the process of growing up. The destination is love. Peter specifically notes that love comes after perseverance. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he states that perseverance is produced by “suffering” (5:3). Suffering. Struggle. Not safety, not living in a Christian bubble, not shoving away the hard things with easy answers. Not sleepwalking, but wrestling. Not remaining static, but transfiguration. The kind of transfiguration that happens when we decide we have no other choice but to commit to the hard work of maturing. That we need to be changed by the glory of Christ to effectively love and heal the world.

What we need in the Church, to be a place of love, is for people to persevere in boldly following Christ for themselves. To leave the fearful obsession with Stage Three and courageously walk with God. We need more people who are brave enough to grapple with the hard things and tough questions, who aren’t content with platitudes and easy answers. We need more people who wrestle with God, who let the Spirit drive them to the wilderness, who go to God with the mysteries and paradoxes and face their fears with him. We need more churches that embrace this stage of growing up and see it not as a problem but as an asset. We need more people who celebrate the different ways people relate to God and the wisdom found in different church traditions. We need more leaders who wish to inspire rather than to control. We need more people who will stand up and say fearlessly, “I know you are different, but I also know that is not a threat to me.” We need more people who believe it is only direct interaction with the Divine Presence that will eradicate our fears and grow us in love. Not this elaborate Christian culture that we’ve built around our faith communities. Not engagement in the culture wars. Not all the sermons on the worldwide web.

We need the presence of God as far as we can bear it.


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Taking the Plunge



I sat on the shore in the sunshine, haze finally lifted after a humid week, waves leaping, and nothing to do but soak. Soak it all in.

In the distance, I watched my siblings decked in their swimsuits, standing near the edge of the cold, splashing water. They waited, watched, and then leaped in, screaming and swimming to shore only to jump back in a few moments later. They braved the cold, the waves. They took the plunge.

It seems all around me that the winds are shifting. The wheel is turning, bringing us from a time of haze to a time of taking plunges. So many dear family members and friends seem in a place where life is moving up: new freedoms, new jobs, new life plans, new marriages, new education plans…it’s the time for courage, the time for jumps. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.

I also feel at a turning point, a trailhead. I’ve spent a while looking at where I came from, looking back at the road I no longer wanted to be on. No longer could be on. I looked back to see what went wrong, to know who I was not and what I did not believe, could not support. It’s a crucial step, but standing looking back forever is not the place to live. Living can only be done in the present. In the moving forward.

And so now I find myself at the trailhead, shoes on my feet, air in my lungs, heart prepared for the journey. It’s an exciting leap, a hopeful bound. I can walk as far as I want to, wherever I want to. I can choose what to add to my pack and what to throw out. Where to camp for the night and when to keep going. The feeling of possibility is as thick and sweet as the July air. Who knows the adventures ahead!

Stephen observed the other day that that it feels like we’re at the end of a long chapter. Yes, yes it does. And some things, some forms of ourselves are dying with the end of that chapter. And I think that’s as it should be. But with the new beginning we are being reborn for something better.

The winds have shifted over the sea, the haze has lifted, and into the waves we plunge.