Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Confessions of a First Time Salsa Dancer

There's moments of being found.

Do you believe that?

When you come to, or become aware, of a situation or a circumstance or a progression forming before your eyes. An awakening, of sorts. A "moment".

I had a moment like that last night. I found myself at a beginner's salsa class. Me, the girl who has less natural rhythm than Elaine from Seinfeld. Me, the girl who struggles to just do Zumba every other Thursday for exercise without keeling over, found herself salsa-dancing with a talented instructor.

One two three. Five six seven.

One two three. Five six seven.

Our small group learned the basic moves. Then there were more girls than men, so we paired off and rotated. The instructor kept calling a reminder to the other male dancer to help him remember to count. "Seven is the magic number!"

Seven. The number of completion.

Well, there were definitely moments I was certain my humiliation was complete....

We kept practicing. Kept dancing. One two three. Five six seven.

The instructor taught us to follow the man's signals as to what step was next based on the slight pressure applied to our joined hands.

Then we added a more advanced step. Then a turn.

The woman next to me panicked over the idea of adding anything more complicated to the mix. After she had tried a few times, the instructor told her with a smile, "But don't you see? You're not worried about the basic moves anymore. See how far you've come? Ten minutes ago you were still trying to count to three. You were worried about the basics. Now that's all muscle memory and you're only thinking about the turn. You'll get this too."

I think that truth blew her mind.

Because it was true. We were learning. What was hard a few minutes ago was now a non-issue. We were pressing ahead.

We kept dancing.

Basic. Sideways. Basic. Sideways. Cuban Open. Cuban Open. Basic. Turn.

I warned the instructor I might step on his toes.

One two three. Five six seven.

I kept staring at my feet. Yet my instructor kept smiling, tapping my chin. Reminder. "Eyes up."
I'd forget, and watch my feet again. Watch His feet. "Eyes up." Oops. Try again.

I stumbled. I faltered. I hesitated. Then I'd nail it perfectly. Stumble. Fail. Succeed.

We learned a new step, and this time he said the women had to close their eyes. Let the male lead do the leading and just feel it. Trust it.

One two three. Five six seven.

This morning, I was struggling in my heart. Why were some of the things I've died to still haunting me? Why was THIS still so hard and why was THAT still in the back of my mind and how come I couldn't shake free of THIS that I wanted to so badly? Why was the battle to be free so constant? What steps were I doing wrong? What was I missing?

And Jesus said eyes up.

He reminded me I've been watching my feet. Focusing on the steps. Trying to get it all down perfectly. Trying to force what should be natural and flowing. Trying to dictate a formula to freedom that didn't exist.

Sometimes there aren't steps. There's just music.

I was so worried about stepping on Jesus' toes I'd forgotten that He simply wanted to dance with me. "You're going to stumble. You're going to falter. You're going to hesitate." And I sensed Him smiling. "But then you're going to get it."

He's there, keeping rhythm. He's there, leading. When I'm weak and unsure, I can close my eyes and trust and feel it. And I can open my eyes and appreciate His nearness and the fact that He has me and lean into His signals. I can stumble and falter and hesitate or perform a flawless turn, and it's all the same to Him.

He just wants to dance with me.

Eyes up.

One two three. Five six seven.

Completion.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Learning to float...

I'm not the best swimmer in the world.

A fact which is possibly quite evident in the way my daughter (six-years-old) somehow managed to teach herself to swim underwater, yet panics and sinks when she attempts to swim above it.

The analogy there could drown my heart in equal measures of faith and doubt.


I went to the lake last Monday.

Labor Day.

Time to rest.

Spent several hours burning off deadline stress, work stress, single-mommy stress, emotional stress, creative stress.

Just me on a boat, with good friends and good food, floating under a periwinkle sky littered with cotton
ball clouds--and a little lizard stowaway we dubbed Marcus.

I realized something while swimming in that dirty lake water, the kind that splashes grit in your mouth and stains your toenail polish and squishes solid between your toes - I realized I am most at ease in the water when floating on my back.

A little odd for a not-so-strong swimmer. I can hold my own in the water, but it takes effort and concentration. I'm not naturally good at swimming. I was never taught professionally through lessons. I tend to get cramps really easily. It's not that I'm regulated to doggie-paddling only, but I get tired easily, and don't like being in over my head without something nearby to grab onto.

But when I'm floating on my back, I can relax. Cease striving. I can let the water do the work, and carry me with ease. I don't get tired. I don't fight cramps. I'm not spitting water out of my mouth or feeling anything unwanted between my toes.

I can let the water embrace me. Hold me up.

And I can rest.

When you float on your back, the most vulnerable part of a person - their belly - is face up. Exposed. Our stomachs hold life, our most important organs, the core of who we are as humans. It's considered the ultimate sign of trust when a dog rolls over and offers his belly for a good scratching.

Again, the analogies here threaten to drown me with equal waves of faith and doubt.

In the deep water of life - in those deep waters of deadline stress, work stress, single-mommy stress, emotional stress, creative stress - I can float.

If I stop fighting the tide...let it embrace me...carry me...

I can rest on top of it.

If I surrender my vulnerability and my exhaustion and my gifts to that overwhelming tide...

I can rest right in it.

Who controls the wind and waves?

I know Who.

Who controls the tide that laps and tugs and pulls?

I know Who.

I've got to stop fighting the stress, fighting the current of obligation and responsibility and duties, and consider it my resting place. Everything I stress over is actually a gift. Because that list would include my daughter, my finances, my job, my source of income, my friendships, my relationships, my home, my ministry - all gifts.

What am I even fighting?

It's time to stop fighting. And float.

As I said - I'm not the best swimmer in the world. A fact which is possibly quite evident in the way my daughter somehow managed to teach herself to swim underwater, yet panics and sinks when she attempts to swim above it...

When I try to rise above my obligation and responsibility and duties, when I try to master them instead of going with the flow of them, I panic and I sink.

When all along, all I had to do was float.

Let go. Relax. Trust.

The wind and waves still know His name.

And so do I.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Alice in Wonderland, the voice of lies and telling your past where to go...

There's moments when I think I'm past it all. When all of the hurt and ache and regrets fade long in the rearview mirror and it's just a glimpse into something from another time, a far removed glance at a memory. Memories that rear bittersweet and sometimes downright ugly heads and prompt me into submission. Prompt me to tears. Prompt me to condemnation.

But they're just prompts I can choose not to respond to. Just invitations I can decline and keep moving forward.

But the other moments...

The other moments sneak and slither and don't even bother tapping me on the shoulder before stabbing me fully in the back. Don't even bother with the niceties of introduction, simply assault in full force, full color, full daylight, nothing held back. No fear, no shame, no limits. Brutal.

And they come with lies. So many lies. Hoarse whispers of guilt and death and what-if's that churn and cycle like a full load of laundry. Dirty laundry. Laundry that will never wash clean.

Those are the days I feel like a failure. Those are the days I think my progress is for naught, and that I haven't moved an inch on this dusty, curved road that God is still maneuvering straight. That I'm only inches from the crossroads where I finally screamed "ENOUGH" and chose life.

Those are the days the whispers grow long like the shadows. "What's the point?" "You're still here, see?" "You're still. right. here." "Still crying. Still affected. Still sad. Still trapped. You're always going to be right here. So stop trying."

What the enemy of my soul forgets is that on this journey down this narrow road, I've learned the voice of my Saviour. I know my Shepherd's voice, and this sheep follows Him--often quite dumbly and blindly, but oh - she follows. I know with an intensity that consumes my heart in holy fire the voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart. That can't be taken away from me. The enemy can try to whisper the lies louder but that voice is ingrained so deep within, it can't be removed. We can not separate.

So I choose which voice I allow to hear loud and clear.

And I choose not to believe the lies being flaunted in my face.

I've made a rookie mistake. I've let myself believe that my bad days define me. That my moments of weakness and sadness and tears define my journey, make me somehow less than, not enough, not far along.

False.

I'm changing my perspective. I'm going to view these moments not as failure or lack of progress, but as progress itself. Because when you exercise, you're growing stronger. Yet in that meantime, your muscles are tearing. They're straining to grow and enhance and increase and that is painful. You get sore after a hard workout. But in the next session, you're stronger. And you do it again. Work out, tear down, build up. Work out, tear down, build up.

There's no building of the muscle without it first tearing.

So the tears on my cheeks are officially the ripped tears of my heart growing stronger. Growing. Enhancing. Increasing. My tears and bad days are not an indication that I'm a failure or lagging behind on my journey forward. No. Rather, they're proof that I am progressing and becoming more.

There's a quote in the book Alice and Wonderland, the Mad Hatter saying to Alice "You used to be much more...muchier. You've lost your muchness."

That's what the enemy wants me to believe. That I've lost my muchness. That I'm less than I was before this journey. But no. No more. I've gotten so much more muchier this past year and a half, and especially in these last 7 weeks of surrender, obedience, and change. 

Liberated.

Stronger.

Muchier. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

A time to bleed

Blood is startling. Unsettling. Makes stomachs roil and nerves turn weak and limbs shaky.

Especially when it's drenching your daughter's pillow first thing on a Monday morning.

Nosebleed, apparently, during the night. Didn't know that right away, just woke to my little's face smeared with dried blood, coating her hands, and soaking her pillow crimson red on snow white.

"It's okay, Mama." She said as I scrubbed her down in the bath, washrag turning pink in my still trembling hands. "I got it all out. All that was clogging my nose inside? It's all gone now. That's good, right?"

So many of us are so scared of blood. Yet, blood is literally life. It's beyond crucial for survival. We're just not accustomed to seeing it.

And when we do see blood, it usually means something is wrong. Because our blood is supposed to be on the inside of us.

When it's on the inside - of sight, out of mind - we take it for granted. We don't give a single passing thought to the pumping of life inside us as we go about our day and our work and our schedules and to-do lists. No, we only notice when that cycle has stopped, when the skin has broken through or the scab has pulled away and all that is life flows to the outside. Staining pillows right on through and drying fast on fingers and matting in hair.

So we stifle it. We bandage it up and clot it up and pray for it to stop. Stop bleeding. Stop pouring. Stop oozing life. We need that life inside us, we desperately want it to stay right where it is. Within. Hidden. Safe.

Out of sight. Out of mind.

But what if...

What if we all bled a little more?

What if the hope that is Christ, the joy that is Christ, the victory that is ours through Christ - our very life - bled through us and right on out and drenched everything we touched in a reminder of Calvary? What if we left behind permanent crimson stains that couldn't be ignored, that shouted LOOK HERE, that demanded to be acknowledged and dealt with?

What if we stopped bandaging our bleeding souls and got real and real honest and said "I'm hurting! I want to make it stop! But look how Jesus is turning my crimson stains into pure white right before our very eyes?"

What if today, we put away the Band-aids of denial, of distraction, of symptom-stopping inside of disease-curing, and bled? What if today, we just bled?

"I got it all out. It's all gone now. That's good, right?"

"So good, baby. So good."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Only read this if you want freedom.

There are days when the struggle is real. 

So real, you don't even need to see the warfare around you with your physical eyes, because you feel it in your soul in a way much more tangible than sight. 

We don't have to see something to make it real. 

In fact, the Bible teaches that what we don't see is actually much more real than what we do.
2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The last few days, my battle was fierce - to the point of literal, physical exhaustion. The urge and temptation to pick back up something I'd (repeatedly) already laid at the altar of Christ was almost unbearable. I had no peace. No joy. No contentment. Determined to obey, yet not sure how much longer my flesh could resist.

I was terrified of losing. 

My days were nonstop, constant battles. I would get away with God, regroup, and be steady for about 30 minutes. Then it would "wear off" and I'd have to do it all again. In my battle, I kept trying to justify the decision/action I so wanted to take, because I felt like that was the only answer to my unrest. I thought it the only cure for what ailed me, yet God wouldn't give me the freedom and permission to do it. It seemed lose-lose. I couldn't figure out why I had this desire to take an action so strongly if it wasn't the right thing to do. 

I was Jacob, wrestling, wrestling, wrestling. And I couldn't help but picture the unseen world around me - the battle, the angels holding their breath. What would I do?

I believe that, by the way. Not because I'm so important. But because we all are. We're all a part of this story, this grander scheme, this larger stage, of life unfolding around us. Your part, my part, matters. And these battles matter more than we will ever be able to fully realize on this realm. 

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted to obey, but that wasn't working either. I just needed something to hold onto. I felt like the proverbial butterfingers - my grasp slipping and sliding off everything I so eagerly, desperately, longed to hold tight. 

I was Job, questioning, confused, begging - until God finally spoke, and when He did, everything else went silent. And I was left with one clear, vivid image. 

Lot's wife. 

(If you aren't familiar with Genesis 9 and the story of Lot's wife, read it here before continuing)

God made it clear to me that if I took this action, an action that on the surface seemed harmless enough, in an effort to give myself rest, to quiet the questions in my heart...if I took that step, it was the equivalent of me looking backward. Looking backward at the past, looking backward at sin, and it would do nothing but paralyze me into a pillar. My forward progress would be hindered, frozen, turned to stone. Rendered still. 

I finally got it. I didn't want to lose momentum. If I am fleeing from a certain direction, why would I turn and look backward? That's when one trips, stumbles, and falls. Then when you  do inevitably get up and keep going, you're limping. Bruised. Bleeding. It just makes the right path even harder to navigate. 

So instead of giving me permission to take a backward action step that God knew would hinder me and paralyze me, He instead pressed it on my heart to take action in another way - a way that essentially served as a giant step forward. Only God. He took my urge to backtrack and transformed it into a way to get me even FURTHER along in the right direction. 

But it was a step I've never been able to do before. A step of faith and surrender that before, when prompted to take, I couldn't even fathom. I justified my way out of it, made excuses to avoid it, and reasoned it not logical. 

Until Sunday morning, God reminded me that partial obedience is still disobedience. And if I wanted freedom - true freedom, and peace - I had no other choice. The choice was mine. But I had to make it. Once again, He laid before me life and death, and asked me to choose life. 

Despite knowing exactly what I needed to do, I asked for confirmation in church. Five seconds after praying that request, my pastor (who hadn't even started preaching yet) randomly said in his greeting "There's things today that need to be surrendered and laid down at the foot of the cross". 

Ha. Okay, Lord. Loud and clear. 

During the sermon, which was mostly in Galatians 6, I looked down at my Bible and this verse in Galatians 5 leaped off the page at me. (I don't mean in expression or cliche, but literally, when I glanced down, it was as if this verge was raised above the others in black and white)  You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you.

Okay, Lord. Got it. 

Nope. He wasn't done.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

(Apparently, the moral of the story is, be careful what you pray for! ::grin::)

During the altar call, I prayed with a soul-sister of mine who knows my story, and she told me today I would march in victory. So that afternoon, I marched myself to another soul-sister's house and with her support, took the step I had to take for freedom. 

It was pretty anti-climatic. There wasn't confetti. Or balloons. But there was a sigh of relief from my spirit. No more wrestling. No more questioning. Peace. 

And there was this, bubbling from my heart. 

A wounded soul,
A sinner worn
Temptation's reach
Weary and torn
And all of heaven held it's breath

Fighting despair
Gasping hope
Temptation's reach
Fraying rope
And all of heaven held it's breath

Broken shards
Shattered dreams
Temptation's reach
Nothing as it seems
And all of heaven held it's breath

Nail-scarred warrior
Burning light
Temptation's reach
Out of sight
And all of heaven held it's breath

One war fought
One victory won
Temptation's reach
Vanquished by the Son
And all of heaven released it's breath


Friday, August 8, 2014

Trading for wings


In this exhausting and exhilarating season of change, transition, and letting go that I'm in right now, I keep coming back to this picture.


That's me, top right, in the blue hoodie. I can honestly say I have NEVER been more terrified in all my life than I was right there. In that moment. 

EVER. 



That's a rope swing I did in Colorado, at the Captivating Advanced retreat, last October. I committed to the swing before realizing exactly what it was, and the next thing I knew, I'm saddling up with these two dear sisters and hanging on for dear life. 


I was strapped into that rope swing, and as the minutes ticked by toward our big release, the more I wanted out. Pure panic, sheer terror. Wanted. Out.

This is me, the girl who hates roller coasters, hates the sensation of falling, hates adrenaline and the unknown...WHAT was I DOING? I was tied to a flimsy chair swing with ropes, wearing an ill-fitting helmet, that was going to DROP ME in a free fall and then PROPEL ME toward a mountain some ridiculous number of feet in the air.

I actually invited the man you see in the top picture, the one getting us all set up, to my funeral. I was so convinced this was it, I was done for. The End. Peace out. He laughed. Then realized I was serious.

When we were all "secured", the man asked if we were ready, and all three of us shouted "NO!"

I was beyond terrified. I can still vividly remember the emotions, the rush of adrenaline, the sound of my pounding heart in my ears, the panicked choking in my throat. I wanted to do it because I want to prove to myself I could.

But in that moment, all I could think was NO NO NO. I had changed my mind. I wanted the safety of that platform, I wanted SOMETHING under my feet, I wanted security - even if it was security in the world. I wanted to be safe in the familiar and the known. I realized the fall and the swing would be probably one of the best things I could ever do.

But it seemed too scary and impossibly out of reach to ever get there.

I'm back in that rope swing these last few weeks. Terrified of the fall, fearful of the release, with everything in my flesh screaming for safety and security and the familiar. The known. Even a bad familiar and a bad known, in my weakness and limited perspective, can at times seem safer than the free fall.

There's a quote I keep seeing around the internet.



That's me right now and it was me in October on top of that platform and it's most of us at some point in our lives.

I had to choose to stay in the swing.

And somehow, against everything me, I stayed put.

And I flew. 




I have a tattoo on my right rib cage. An anchor, with the word Yashab written in rope. Yashab is Hebrew for "stay" or "abide".



I never connected the symbolism before, of that rope, and how it connects back to that rope swing. How everything in my heart right now goes straight back to that swing. To that choice. To that fear, adrenaline, and pure terror.

And to the joy of flying.

Freedom.

Life.

Some days I still just want OUT of the swing. There are so many days I still have to consciously, intentionally, trade my fear and my flesh and my insecurity and my doubts for wings.


And on those days, when I choose correctly....

I fly.



Monday, August 4, 2014

A quick game of tag ;)

TAG! I'm it! :)

Last week Laura Smith tagged me in a game of blog tag, where writers share what they’re currently working on with each other and with their readers :) Fun stuff!

Laura is about to go on tour (!!!) with Christian recording artist, Holly Starr. They'll be traveling through the Midwest in September sharing the message of finding true identity in Christ. The tour is called Through My Father’s Eyes Tour and is being sponsored by Sisterhood Magazine.
   

Picture    
This tag game requires some Q&A, so here's my go at it...

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
I think every author puts a fresh spin on their individual work, regardless of genre. It's been said before you could give ten different authors the same plot - "start with this, have this many characters, have this situation happen in the middle, and end with this type of scene" and you would still end up with ten very different novels! :)  I love that about writing. For me, I'd like to think my novels share my heart, which is also unique, and reveals a bit of the struggle or spiritual lesson I'm going through at that time in my life. I never want anything wasted, and it seems like God always has me tie that personal element into my stories in some way.
WHY I WRITE WHAT I DO?This ties into my first Q&A. I write to share God's grace, God's love, God's mercy on us. I write to entertain and provide quality stories of romance that speak to the heart and inspire hope for those still searching for their own - hope that despite the failings of men, they have a Lover of their souls in Jesus who will never fail or disappoint or neglect. And I write to remind myself of all of the above.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
What process? Ha! I'm a single mom of a 6 year old, with a full time job, who freelances for a local newspaper on the side , has another part-time side job online, and is involved with a weekly ministry group. There is no schedule, or routine, or organization to the chaos - nope. There is only desperation and deadlines and please-God-pleas and middle of the night Pringle binges with my Netbook, trying to get word count in and a million interruptions and distractions and sleepy-eyed afternoons. That's my life in this season, and it's absolutely fine with me.


WHAT'S NEXT FOR ME?
My first contemporary romance with Zondervan releases in a few weeks!! ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE & CUPCAKES is available now for pre-order and will release officially on September 2, 2014. I'm working on writing the sequel now LOVE ARRIVES IN PIECES which is scheduled for May 2015.




Description:



Kat Varland has had enough of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
At twenty-six years old, Kat is still living in the shadows of her family in Bayou Bend, Louisiana. Still working shifts at her Aunt Maggie’s bakery. Still wondering what to do with her passion for baking and her business degree. And still single.
But when Lucas Brannen, Kat’s best friend, signs her up for a reality TV bake-off on Cupcake Combat, everything Kat ever wanted is suddenly dangled in front of her: creative license as a baker, recognition as a visionary . . . and a job at a famous bakery in New York.
As the competition heats up, Lucas realizes he might have made a huge mistake. As much as he wants the best for Kat, the only thing he wants for himself—her—is suddenly in danger of slipping away.
The bright lights of reality cooking wars and the chance at a successful career dazzle Kat’s senses and Lucas is faced with a difficult choice: help his friend achieve her dreams . . . or sabotage her chances to keep her in Louisiana.


I also am still celebrating the release of my novella with Zondervan, FEBRUARY BRIDE, which released last January and was part of a super fun Year of Wedding series Zondervan produced.

Description:
A year’s worth of novellas from twelve inspirational romance authors. Happily ever after guaranteed.Allie left the love of her life at the altar—to save him from a lifetime of heartbreak. When a Valentine’s Day wedding brings them back together, she struggles against her family’s destructive history. Can Allie ever realize that a marriage is so much more than a wedding dress?
Now for the fun part - I get to tag two other people!! :)
I'm tagging ERYNN MANGUM (my dearly loved YA author and friend and fellow blogger at www.scribblechicks.BlogSpot.com and KATIE GANSHERT (another dearly loved author buddy who once threw mugs and vases at my barn with me. You know that's a true friend)
TAG, girls! You're it!! :)