Reflections with wet shoes

Many hours when I am not at work, you will find me on the banks of the Hudson. This morning is no different, with the blue water stretched out in front of me and Ann Voskamp’s words about thanksgiving heavy in my hand and heart (why did I wait so long to read One Thousand Gifts??). Thinking about making lists of graces and teaching myself to obey and rejoice in gratitude: one step forward at a time. My shoes are soaked through with dew and I realize I will be reminded of these moments for the rest of the day as I traipse around work with the sopping shoes and the smile. On the opposite bank I see the trees just starting to turn. Hesitant. Slow. There is no rush. The years seem to fly by, even in singlehood, even in monotony. I blinked and an entire year was gone. My mind skips to Christmas around the corner and a part of me cringes. Every Christmas comes so fast, reeking of loneliness and ingratitude. 25 years old looks like 24 years old, and I wonder what 40 will look like. And I wonder if the lists of gratitude can change all the ugliness that swells up in me. The boats pass slow and steady down the river, crawling along in their progress. Off in the distance a woodpecker headbangs against a tree and I smile to myself because it is a Wednesday morning, and I am glad for its company. It’s just me and the boats here along with the pack of geese all huddled amongst themselves behind me.

And this God is here, too – the One who meets us in our quiet, who tells us to slow down time in our gratitude, who brings healing and joy as quietly as the trees changing on the other side of the bank. Never coming how or when or where we think it will come.

I think of the day, some day, when all of this life will seem like a millisecond gone by. I think of how it will not matter: these Hudson River spots and the quiet Christmases and the wet shoes and the work I had to go to. My heart is what will matter, the praise that leaks out of it in these waiting days. My attitude towards the Lord who has new mercies every morning, who is my portion: this is what will be surveyed. I think of how I tell him often that I’d like other portions and other answers and other mercies than what he’s currently providing. And I think of his response: {the Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.}  Work more on the thing that involves {being patient and standing firm}, like that farmer James talks about, waiting for the rains to come. Fight more for the truth, self: {… put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.}

After all, isn’t this the truth? …

Who could command the stars to sing
Or hold the raging seas from breaking through the doors
And tend the fragile roses with the very same hands?
If everything is yours
I’m letting it go
It was never mine
It was never mine
{audrey assad}

The roses and the river and the geese and I are all in good hands, I conclude. Sometimes that is the only conclusion I can come to, but it seems to be enough for today.

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An introductory letter

Dear people I love who have wanted to read my blog for a long time,

This has turned into a bigger deal than I ever foresaw. I can’t count how many times I’ve been talking about writing with people, mentioned my blog, and the other person is all excited: “You’ll have to send it to me!” … and I’m all, “Oh, I don’t share it with anyone…” (The polite, confused look on your faces is always really amusing.) The thing about hiding yourself is that the longer you do it, the harder it is to rip off that really sticky old Band-Aid and get it over with. All of this to say that this blog has turned into a bigger deal than it was ever meant to be, partly out of my wimpishness and partly for humor’s sake.

I decided to write this post because it’s easier for me to say this once than in various emails, messages, texts. I wanted to post a general thank you to you all. As I’ve thought a lot about sharing my blog, I’ve realized how so many of you have played a vital role — not only in my life, but in my passion for writing. It’s remarkable to me, how God has used so many of you to shape me and my love of writing. I can’t even begin to tell the stories, although many of you are leading characters in these stories, of how words have saved my life.  So many of you have read my writing, even starting 11, 12 years ago. You read really awful poems and lied to me and told me they were good. You wrote me 10,000 letters per day (mom) with no response on my end (but I saved every letter). You instilled in me a love of music and an appreciation for artist’s words that I’ve often claimed as my own.  You read countless letters from me in really tiny print and now I should pay for your vision plan because you’re probably going blind. You muddled through long chains of family emails filled with lyrics you probably couldn’t care less about. You told me to keep writing and said crazy things (many moons ago) like “your writing helps me feel closer to God.” In the more recent days, you’ve asked to read my writing, celebrated with me on tiny steps in the right direction, bought newspapers, bought me journals, and waited patiently for this blog (that is really not that great).

All of this, all of this brings me here.

My friend Josh Bales* sings these perfect words: “What I long for, what I fear is to know and be known…” This seems to be one of the most common truths of our existence, and it’s something I grapple with daily. I want community, but it also terrifies me. I want to be open, but when given the chance, I go the “I don’t share my blog” route. It’s obvious that the reason I have stalled sharing this so long is that my writing holds so much of me. I can’t hold back with it. I love writing about the parts of me that I usually try to hide. Showing this to others can be terrifying. But it is freeing!  I’m so grateful for how many of you have persistently shown me this, and lived through it with me. Some of you know my story well, and some of you are fairly new to it: what a beautiful mix of life this is.

Just some words on the blog itself: it has changed so much over these two years! I started this blog seven days after accepting Christ back into my life. I came up with the idea of the blog sitting in the same place, on the same river bank, that I’d surrendered a week earlier. I’d suggest scrolling allll the way back to the beginning, June of 2015, and starting from there. The title of the blog actually has nothing to do with much of anything, which is the #1 no-no of blogging (#2 is not having a theme, and I broke that rule as well). But oh well. {Picture in header provided courtesy of sister who didn’t know her nature photography was going viral on my blog. All the sarcasm.}

Bebo Norman (who for some reason has yet to make it into this blog??) has this great line, “I’ve got a little hope here in my pocket/ I want to share a bit with you…” This is the line I leave you with. Such Hope has been given to me by my God: through His words, through your words to me. I want to share a bit with you, and I want you to keep sharing your Hope and your words in return.

— ajb

*I am not actually friends with Josh Bales, but in heaven someday I totally will be.

-Oh, and Matt? It gives me great pride to say I won this battle. Most of my friends associate you as “the brother who scours the internet for Anna’s blog and finds blogs about moms in Texas.” What a role to have under your belt. I hope your life is complete now that you can finally read it. If not for this battle of the wills, I would’ve released it so long ago. Hahahaha.

The Acorn Necklace

My aunt/sister heart was really excited to get a piece published on Still Standing Magazine today. It was my sister’s idea to submit it when I shared this short piece with her, because she loves the story of her boy. I received the email saying it would be published yesterday, the day of my sister’s birthday: a tiny birthday present for the mama of this nephew of mine.

Take a read here about The Acorn Necklace.

This piece is a little rough and raw, something I had written for writing class. It seems rough around the edges to me, but there’s nothing I can take away from it. In its joy and heartache, it is my nephew’s life.

{Acorns} brought her some kind of tangible comfort, and so they brought comfort to all of us, because we were all more scared of losing a piece of her than we were of losing Isaac. The acorn trend caught on with all her friends and family, and the acorn that hangs around my neck reminds me of the little boy I can’t wait to meet someday.

It will be three years next month since they lost Isaac (not 33 months — the writing world is very slow to publish indeed), and we all still have our acorns.

The lines upon your face

I love that this broken world, with all its pitfalls and evils, still mirrors so much of what is to come. I love that through spring and music and birds and books and stars, I catch glimpses of the Other World peeking through. Christ taught about the heavenly while using the earthly, and I love that this still holds true in our lives today. Lately God has been impressing on me how my relationships down here reflect the nature of my relationship with him: trusting and messiness and time and sacrifice and joy and work, all muddled up together to teach us lessons. Always with the lessons.

Some days I fear I love my Savior so poorly. I do not love him and his nature as I love those around me and their natures. I do not worship him as he deserves. I do not spend the time with him that he deserves. But in his grace to me, God has been using these thoughts to impress on me this brilliant allegory of his behind temporal relationships. There is such joy in any new relationship (friendship or other), but the most consistent source of joy is the thought that the relationship will only deepen and thicken with time. If this is true of earthly relationships, surely it is the same with our Father. He grows me so slowly, that I forget that I’m growing at all sometimes. But I love him more than I did two years ago, in a reluctant state on a Hudson River bank. Then there was no love at all, just a quiet surrender when I knew I could run no more, and he was the Creator and I was the servant. In these two years, I have grown to love him – perhaps often a selfish love, but a growing love. In a new friendship/relationship, you know so very little of the other person: you don’t know how they take their coffee, what their favorite shows are, what hobbies make their faces light up. These are things that take time, and with sweet time, the awkwardness fades away and the openness takes root. You go beyond hobbies and start to know their hearts. I can’t speak from experience, but I hear the funny thing about marriage is that you know your potential spouse so very little on your wedding day compared to how well you’ll know them on your 50th wedding anniversary.

What joy, this unspeakable, gut-wrenching joy, to think that I will have years upon years to get to know my Maker’s heart more deeply – of course, speaking only of my time here on this planet. I will know him next year in ways that I can’t grasp now, and I am so excited for twenty years from now. And in the end… well, then there is eternity.

There is a song I love by a band who has written my favorite words for years now, and this line convicts me every time: “I don’t want to look in a stranger’s eyes when I come into this place/ Let me grow familiar with the lines, the lines upon your face.”   I don’t want to fall at a stranger’s feet someday when I cross over to the real life. I want my heart to sing for joy that I spent my time well, not chasing after the silly things of this life, but getting to know the One who I’ll spend eternity with.  I don’t want to live among strangers in this life, I want to know “the lines on their faces” and the stories in their hearts– and I don’t want to have my Lord be a stranger, either.

The thing about growing trust, both with others and my Maker, is that you have to fight for it. Every day he gives us new mercies to get to know the lines on each other’s faces better: I am living proof. In the last handful of years, I’ve watched people who know me best leave my life. Some for the better, some for the worse. This makes me want to shut the door of my heart and shrivel up inside. It makes trust a four letter word. It seems like I should have earned the right to be fearful and silent. It seems like I have a right to seal off my heart. Right? And then I keep remembering that no greater love has a man than this, to lay down his life for his friends. And maybe this doesn’t have to look glamorous, heroic. Maybe this is choosing to keep loving, to trust and give of myself to people, despite the fear that they could hurt me and leave me again. Maybe laying down my insecurities and trusting the God behind all my relationships is what is necessary in the long run. Maybe refusing to lock my heart up in its ‘casket of selfishness’, as C.S. Lewis would say, is a daily sacrifice I can offer to the One who gave all that he had to those he knew would betray and abandon him. My heart will not stay intact. It will keep breaking and it will keep growing. This is the epitome of relationship; this is how you get to know the lines on other’s faces and seek after the ones on your Lord.

Gray days

A concept I find myself dwelling on often is this disappointing reality: not everything changed in my life when I finally surrendered to Christ. I was smart enough to know this would not be the case with my head, but oh how my heart wanted to believe it. I’m not even referring to the old sinful nature we will constantly have to battle against. I’m talking about how personality traits stay with you. This should be no big shock, but it was a bummer for me to discover. Oh hey, my gloomy personality and tendency towards depression isn’t going to fade right out of the picture! Great.

But what I’ve learned in these two years since my surrender is that the darkness is of a much different quality now. I don’t view it as darkness at all. I like to think of my heavy days as those foggy mornings that burn away when the sun comes (my favorite kind of mornings). For a good chunk of my life, I looked ahead and saw nothing but black. There was this thick hopelessness that enveloped me. This isn’t unique to me at all… this is called depression. I didn’t fight it off; I embraced it. I wrapped the silence around me, I wrote about the darkness, I loved the black hole I lived in. As much as I hated the darkness, it was home to me.

So much has changed, but the dark days still come. Most often times, for no external reason at all! I have a great life that is blessed with the health of the people I love, laughter, a solid job, solid relationships. But the fog still comes — fears of the future, sadness about the past, loneliness, doubts, blah blah blah. But when the fog comes now,  it is not hopeless. Its nature is different, temporary, timid. It has no validity for me a good chunk of the time (although I am not implying in any way that depression is not a valid struggle!). My life is blessed and hopeful, and when I choose to focus on that, the sun burns that fog away. Slowly but surely.

This was reiterated to me the other day while weeding my garden. I don’t work in my garden enough and the weeds tend to take root pretty darn well. I realize I’m probably fertilizing the weeds along with my flowers with Miracle-Gro. It’s hard work to pull them up. But I also have this small, brick patio thing outside my apartment and was pulling up the little weeds that were flourishing in between the cracks of the brick. Those patio weeds came right up, with no effort at all. They have no room to plant their roots; they have no soil. They aren’t being watered with Miracle-Gro. This is how I should feed my sin nature. This is how I should feed the negativity that takes root in my mind! Those weeds are going to come; those thoughts are pervasive. But I don’t have to fertilize them! I don’t have to give them soil to dig deep. They shouldn’t be given any extra space. This is the difference between the old hopelessness (garden weeds) and the new foggy days (patio weeds). I am in charge of what worms its way into my heart. Fighting off the weeds requires many different strategies and techniques, all different for each individual, but what matters is that you are vowing each day to try and pull them up.

I was talking with a friend recently about how neither of us are much good at poetry, and how much we respect those who are! My “poetry” tends to lean more towards broken up sentences that are supposed to sound flowery and instead sound like I’m trying to be someone I’m not. But this is “a poem” (should you label it as such) I scribbled during work last week when reflecting on the different kinds of darkness:

On the gray days
I try to remember the old gray
More like black
More like suffocating
No hope and no way out
Tangled in silence and lies
Hibernating alone

The gray days still come
But with a much lighter shade
More sun peeking through
More like a fog that gives way
There is Hope in the end!
Wrapped in words and laughter and truth
Reaching out, reaching out

 

P.S. Punctuation is what confuses me a great deal about poetry, so for the most part I try to leave it all out or throw random exclamation points around.

Conformed to death

Nice title, right? They say that when it comes to writing, you’re supposed to leave the reader wanting more. I think the title of this post either accomplishes that magnificently…OR terrifies everyone away before they even give it a chance.

I have felt this discouraged itch to write on here lately: discouraged because most all of my stuff feels unoriginal to me, and the itch because I can never outrun the writer’s itch. I start to write about some stories in my life, and end up backspacing more than I’m writing. This morning I prayed that God would give me something that would be of him and not me, that would bring him glory and not me.

And he did. More specifically, I felt the nudge of him saying, “Um, I’ll give you a couple more hints, but you’ve already passed up quite a few of them, Anna.” How patient he is.

And so I sit down to write about two subjects I haven’t been able to outrun: the death we are called to (that we try to ignore) and the life after this one (that we forget to long for).

My mom and I are memorizing the book of Philippians, and thank goodness we have made it to chapter 3. I’m not even up to these verses yet, but I was reading ahead yesterday and my calloused, church-kid eyes saw these verses for the first time. They are so well known, so “overused” that I’ve often heard them read as tritely as if we’re discussing the rain forecasted for tomorrow.  “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” (Phil 3:10 NIV) The NASB writes it as “being conformed to his death.”

Being conformed to his death?!

I don’t see a lot death in my life. I don’t see me conforming to his death. What a strong image this blazes in my mind, yet it is not the image of my Christian life. Death? Is that really what I signed up for? Is that really what I surrendered to? Because what I feel like I signed up for is easier. It’s one where I’m allowed to live a nice, moral life externally. I’m supposed to go to a nice church and sing happy songs. I’m required to be nice and courteous to people, and to spend a small amount of my time in God’s word. Can’t that be what I signed up for instead?

Death as a whole is uncomfortable. It makes us squirm in our seats and try to change the subject as quickly as possible. The death of self-will is just as uncomfortable. I want to escape from it. I wish Paul hadn’t written these words. But even if he hadn’t, I’d still have my Savior’s call to reckon with. He made it clear that following him meant self-denial and picking up our crosses (Luke 9:23). I am not sure this is the call the American church is making: I see a whole lot of room for an easy lifestyle that revolves around me and what I can get from a loving God. I am not sure this is the call I want to listen to: I see a whole lot of selfishness in my heart, and a whole lot of reluctance to give it up.

What does conforming to Christ’s death look like? This is something I am working through, although at the simplest level I imagine it must be a much greater love for the Father and others (since this is the epitome of “knowing Christ” as I see it played out on a cross).  I think of Romans 12:2 commanding us to not be conformed to this world. If we actually believed that this isn’t the real life down here, and if we actually yearned for the Real Life ahead…we wouldn’t mind all this self-death, I don’t think. The death I’m called to down here only seems like such a big deal because I keep thinking this is all there is. This isn’t it. This isn’t Home. This is a tent! The famous C.S. Lewis quote comes fresh to my mind: “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you get neither.”

As I was already finding myself unable to shake these verses, I finished the last pages of a great book titled Bruchko today. Bruchko is the autobiographical account of Bruce Olson, who surrendered his whole life to bring Christ to the Motilone Indians in the 1960s. As Olson is translating the book of Philippians into their language with his best friend and pact brother, Bobby, the two men focus hard on the wording in chapter 3. Bobby asks Olson if Christ really is Olson’s expectation in life. Is he all that Olson wants?

“Bobby took the same powerful grammatical construction we had just used — something already done, yet lying in the future, in a superlative form — and applied it to the verb for conformity to Christ.
‘I’ll be completed in conformity to Christ’s death,’ he said.
I felt burdened, as though I was carrying both Bobby’s weight and my own. What had I done? I had brought Jesus to the  Motilones, yes; but was I ready to bring them this kind of conformity — conformity to the death of Christ? Had I brought death as well as life? I was eager to pray. Bobby was even more eager. But Bobby’s prayer sent chills down my back.
‘Christ Jesus, I want to be conformed to Your image. You are my expectation.’
In the danger-charged atmosphere, that prayer seemed audacious. Bobby was saying, I don’t care whether I live or whether I die; I want to be like Jesus. He was giving his life away.”

Is Christ my expectation? Am I willing to share in his sufferings, to count all else rubbish? What in my life points to the fact that I am living for another World? What in my life mirrors contentment because Christ is my expectation and I already have him?

My hope is that God continues to hit me over the head with these verses and truths. It is so easy to shake them off and get bogged down in the mundane. It is so easy to keep feeding the life of my self-will instead of conforming to Christ’s death. My hope is that someday it gets easier to fight “the easy” I choose every time. My hope is that as I strive to be like Christ in his death, my eyes get off of this tent-world and onto Home.

Mapless and honest

I haven’t written on here in a while, and there is a distinct reason. The bolder I get with my writing, the more I’m faced with the desire to shrink back. I have never held back with my writing. What I never say verbally, I always say when I write. It’s a gift and a curse, as one of my favorite people says.  Since my earliest days of clamming up, you will see it: the journals and the notes to friends and the poems said everything I wouldn’t say out loud. They screamed when my lips never moved.

But it’s hard to always be so open. I’ve gotten so used to shutting out and clamming up that to drain myself of this poison is exhausting. As I think about sharing this blog with people besides strangers, the doubt creeps in: “What if my people don’t like it? What if they read it and never say anything to me – gasp – then I’ll never want to share with them again! What if the people who come to know my story never look at me the same again?” Well? What then? These seem like valid questions for an introvert whose writing holds her heart, but these are really invalid, selfish questions. I’m not writing for me. I’m writing because God planted this dream in my heart from my earliest of memories (I just never paid attention until about 23). I’m writing because it’s how I lay my heart before the Maker of the stars and marvel at his grace and sovereignty and also his humor. I’m writing because it’s how I heal; it’s always been how I’ve healed. And I’m writing because there might be 99 people of mine who don’t get my words or don’t like them, but there’s gotta be that 1 out there who needs to hear them.

My words don’t matter because they’re so great. They’re not great. They’re not eloquent. I don’t know how to use commas properly and I tend to ramble on. My words only matter because our stories matter. And our stories only matter because they speak of the Author of our lives. My words only matter because my story is all I have to offer – in all of its ugliness. My words only matter because God has redeemed my words and my story, and he has used other people’s honest stories to shape my own.

Last night I was sitting by the riverbank by my home, because something about the lapping of waves on the shore makes me think clearer. Just last week I was at this very riverbank’s environmental center, writing an article about it for the paper and soaking up all the information from its conservation manager. It’s fascinating how much is known about the river itself: its sediment, its fish, its plants, its eels, the birds that swoop in and out of it. All of it is so well known by these ecologists and conservationists. As I sat there last night thinking about this, the thought came that I wish my life could be so well known and mapped out for me. Ecologists can tell you much more ab1107161706out the Hudson River than I can tell you about my past or my future. There’s no easy, neat map of our lives that we can reference. Our stories don’t have the pretty little keys that make sense of it all. For every aha moment I’ve had concerning my past making sense, there are a dozen more fearful moments I have about my future. But the same God who knows the Hudson River estuary perfectly knows my life. He knows every ebb and flow of the tide, every storm when my heart is empty, every sunny day when my heart is full. I have no map, but he does. He created it. Oh, what peace we often forfeit…

It’s because he knows my life so well that I don’t have to shy away from the ugly moments and I can believe that he’ll keep redeeming them. It’s because he holds the map that I have peace writing about scars and songs and counseling and relationships and depression. He is the Redeemer and I want my story to remind people of nothing but this.

I’m going to keep writing in the aha moments and in the doubtful moments. I’m going to keep myself honest and real because I need other people to be honest and real with me, and someone always has to go first. I’m going to keep trusting that the One who knows every inch of a riverbed is the Author of my life, and this will continue to be the driving force behind why I write.