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Peniel

God is not fast.

The belief that He is may be one of the deepest misconceptions we have. He can be fast, of course, but He isn’t. Not usually.

The answer to my deepest prayers is, nearly always, no. I’ve wrestled with how that can be when the requests are for good, good things—things God entrusted me to watch over. Just take a peek at this:

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! ~Matthew 7:9-11 (ESV)

But here’s the thing. The answer isn’t no, not really. It’s yes. Yes, He will grant the request, just not with bread or with a scorpion. Because God is in the kitchen making a cake.

Let me put it another way. God is slow because my soul is slow to change, to see, to understand. No, I can’t have bread because yes, He wants to give me abundantly more. It’s hard for my mortal little mind to understand when my belly is aching from hunger and all I want is immediate carbs. If the answer is no, that is all I hear. But God is whispering yes. Yes. He will richly satisfy me.

Yes.

This search for His ‘yes’ has hollowed me out. I feel like Jacob must have after wrestling with God until dawn (Genesis 32). He got a hip out of joint, a new name, and a blessing for his trouble. God could have taken Jacob down in less than a second, but He didn’t. He wrestled, all night long. I highly doubt this was because God couldn’t wait a few thousand years for MMA wrestling to start streaming.

God isn’t slow for His sake. He is slow for ours. He met Jacob in a time of his absolute desperation and said, no. No, I will not answer your most heartfelt desire: a promise that you and your family will spared your brother’s wrath. Instead, God said, yes. Yes, I will show you Myself.

Jacob responded by naming that place Peniel or ‘face of God’. Encouraged by the blessing, he faced and survived Esau, but that wasn’t the point. Meeting God changed Jacob. And that would be the answer to a thousand questions and requests Jacob didn’t even know to ask and make. It was a soul change he didn’t know to seek. It was abundantly more.

That’s the point. That’s the cake.

I asked God for so many things, not least of all physical healing. The answer was no. But what I didn’t hear was: yes, I would have healing. Soul-cleansing, life-bringing healing of my inmost parts. Of course, that comes with a mighty wrestle.

I have been to Peniel; else, I am there right now. Have you?

 

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Hello friends.

Me again. Last night, Animal Planet aired the episode of Monsters Inside Me featuring yours truly. And the timing couldn’t have been stranger.

In the fall of 2010 I was on an emergency flight from my college in South Carolina to my home in Maine, having not left my dorm room for a solid week, with extreme pain, and with a smattering of other bizarre symptoms. I never got to finish my degree at that university and I left South Carolina with much unresolved.

I never thought I’d have the chance to say the goodbye I wanted.

Friendships made there faded. College students have enough trouble keeping up if both parties have the energy to communicate post-school. My sudden absence was a black hole no one could figure out how to cross. I lost myself in a battle to survive.

I survived.

By the grace of God. And sometimes by His stubbornness when I lost the resolve. I survived.

In the spring of 2017 I was contacted by the team from Monsters Inside Me and I used the income from the show to book a ticket back to the state I had left too soon. In the fall of 2017, the same weekend I flew back to South Carolina, the show aired. And it brings a stark contrast to the life I had in 2010 and the life I have in 2017.

I’ll admit to feeling some real anxiety when I was on the plane that would carry me back to South Carolina. As I said, I had a lot of unresolved feelings in regards to friendships and independence. I lost so much of both when I moved back to Maine. And in the years since, I’ve collapsed more than thrived when I attempted to move beyond that little bubble.

The bubble got comfortable.

Routine became my safety net.

But in Maine I found a friend who loved me through my illness, seeing me as anything but ill in days when that was the only way I saw myself. And when friends like that move to states like South Carolina and decide to get married, off to South Carolina I go. Four days in a state I considered my nemesis. I was pretty sure it was a lost cause, but off I went.

And mercy of mercies, I got the goodbye I wanted. Like a kid returning to their childhood home after their family has all moved away, I dealt with so much that needed to be dealt with. Not to mention, along the way, I totally rocked the train-themed Escape Room, ate some delicious cake, drank oodles of coffee, and got lost in Downtown Charleston on a walk that scaled seven miles. And while my body needed a little more rest than the average person’s would have after that walk, I actually survived and slept and laughed and generally thrived, establishing old friendship and new friendship alike.

It wasn’t a perfect trip.

Life isn’t ever perfect. But neither is beauty. Still it was good. Good in ways I didn’t expect.

I’ve been wrestling with Who God really is, never doubting His existence or His goodness or His love, but wondering what those things look like in a world full of a pain and loss that don’t always feel significant.

This weekend I saw that sometimes it takes seven years to find the answers. Seven lean years. But seven years in which God was no less constant or good or true.

Whether you are in the seven fat years or the seven lean years (see Genesis 41), hang in there friends.

Tragedy will have its end.

God is and always will be good.

And that’s enough.

Mountains

A year ago today they took my father to the hospital. He was so weak he could barely get down half a popsicle and he missed the last day of fishing season (for those of you who know him, you know this is a GINORMOUS deal). The hospital admitted him when they realized his liver, kidneys, and heart were failing. They didn’t even have time to figure out what strain of meningitis it was. We were told we could have lost him; that we’d nearly lost him. The only reason we didn’t was because his doctor’s father had died of undiagnosed meningitis and he was being overly careful.

I’d like to say this was mercy. But how do you see anyone’s loss as mercy?

A year ago today I was weeks from closing on my house. Once they got my dad stabilized, he made legal calls on my behalf to make sure the deal went through. That’s the kind of man he is.

A year ago today I had an agent reviewing my book, my fairytale, my love. The best thing I’ve ever written because it came out unbidden. The agent ultimately turned it down.

A year ago today the world was full of promise and full of despair. I had hopes for career and home while facing serious concerns I’d lose my father. The least of my worries was that we didn’t get to join Sister Kate and family on vacation in New York. We called it the year of ‘it is what it is’. Everything broke and we just kept spinning.

Today, things aren’t much different and they are incredibly different. It’s still the year of ‘it is what it is’. I’m still working toward my fairytale, but I still don’t have an agent. My dad is still sick; we didn’t lose him, but we did lose his brother—a man who set the world on fire in all the right ways, a man I can’t even write about because my words will fall short. My family is still planning a vacation with Sister Kate, and I think we’ll make it this time. I’m still stressing about my house (tenant and renovation issues, not to mention the fly-apocalypse), but I’m the proud owner now.

And I’m still wrestling with this question: How do you see loss as mercy?

My health has failed me. That’s the unvarnished truth. You’ll probably find that out when you watch my upcoming interview with Monsters Inside Me on Animal Planet so I might as well tell you now. And when God isn’t a genie who heals you or saves your finances or makes people behave honorably or allows you to move mountains, what does trust look like? Just what am I trusting Him for?

Because He IS trustworthy. And He IS kind. And He IS good. These things are non-negotiable. And instead of the silence I referenced in the Answers post, I’m getting a very steady answer of, “I’m here.” That’s the extent of the message, but it is message enough.

I wonder, perhaps, if I’m trusting God to be there. Not to prevent tragedy or difficulty or loss, but to be in it with me. To make sure I face nothing alone—not the sweetest joys or the worst terrors. Because, really, isn’t companionship what we crave most? A friend to laugh with. A friend to hold you. A friend to challenge you. A friend that never fails to be there at your best moment and your worst—even if they don’t say a word. And I’ve got the best friend I could ask for in God.

Sometimes, the mountains aren’t meant to be moved. Sometimes they are meant to be climbed. So grab your climbing buddy and get going.

Look Up

I bought a house. It’s awesome. I love living on my own, neglecting to clean in favor of writing and neglecting to write in favor of cleaning–however the mood strikes me. I’m learning a lot about myself and how I spend money (or don’t spend it, as the case may be). I can stomach paying $4.00 for zucchini, but not $50.00+ for wifi. And so I’ll blame the lack of wifi in my house for my lack of blogging.

I could also blame my overly exciting family, who took me all the way to Philadelphia to introduce me to animatronic dinosaurs.

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I was sure two-year-old Evelyn (the sunshine in my world and alternatively very brave and very afraid) would not enjoy meeting the large-as-you’d-imagine T-Rex or the even-larger-than-you’d-imagine Indominus Rex. But oh that sweet little girl couldn’t get enough. Three weeks later and she’s still roaring with surprising ferocity, followed by a meek and endearing, “Don’t be scared. It’s just me.”

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It was a birthday trip of true happiness. And rather like all the good things that happen to me, it came as a backup plan to my original idea. This happens a lot. A lot; a lot. So much so that I have to wonder why I bother trying to plan anything at all.

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In a crazy, messy life that is one giant roller coaster ride, there are lows and there are highs and it is all part of the adventure. Health that hasn’t been good has forced me to narrow my focus, hone in on my priorities, and invest in the things that are healthy–healthy job opportunities; healthy relationships; healthy habits. And so out of a season of sickness I have found health. Strange… isn’t it?

Life isn’t what I expect; but it IS good.

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Look at the floor and you’ll miss the wonder all around you. So look up, my friends. Look up.

Answers

Words don’t come easily when my health fails. Without my strength, I’m so afraid that I’ll share a little too much. Be a little too open. Speak a word that isn’t full of goodness. But, friends, come inside. Because if I seal up my words forever, then… Why am I here?

God gave me words. Thank the Lord He did. They spin stories of truth into fiction and fiction into truth, an ever-steady undertow of grace multiplying my shaking efforts the whole way.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially entitled, I ask God a question along the lines of, “Can’t you just make this one thing easy?” And because He is too good to engage in an argument when I’m not really listening for an answer, He doesn’t say much. But sometimes, oh those sweet sometimes, I get a little glimpse of what that answer would be if I’d listen.

Some people wait a lifetime to meet their best friend. I grew up sharing a room with mine. She was given a four year head-start on life so she’d be extra awesome. Kate, she’s an answer.

Some people never know the sweetness and freedom of expression. Writing, it’s an answer.

Some people never know love. Family, it’s an answer.

See those things, and the things like them, they are the answers. The whispers of God’s truth that I get too embroiled to hear. They are His answers when I think I’m shouting to an empty sky. They are His answers when, in my efforts to be holy, I don’t speak at all. And they are still His answers when I turn my face to Him.

The same, yesterday, today, and forever.

There is good, friends, if we will but open our eyes to see it. There are answers, even when it seems like there are none. And there is reason to be brave and express your deepest self.

Blog Bonus Feature: It Is Well is, in my opinion, one of the most profound hymns in existence. David Dunn puts this spin on the classic in his It is Well:

When the heartaches and the headaches take my breath away
When the sunshine and the moonlight burn my skin
When the sadness overwhelms us and troubled water rises
When the reason for my bleeding don’t make sense

And I’m not, I’m not in control

When my world comes crashing down around my head
And I, I feel like I got nothing left
Oh, Oh, I’m not in control oh oh
But it is well with my soul

It is well with my soul.

Veg Day

My first serious attempt at a short story is a lovely little tale that has been years in the making. Just ask any of my students. The inspiration comes from a teaching device I use to explain ‘the twist’, an important tool for writers of all genres. Without too many spoilers, the story is about a knight who races across a rickety rope bridge to a tower where a dragon holds a princess hostage. Only, when he gets there, the knight discovers that the dragon is the hostage and the princess is the fire-breathing villain.

There never seemed to be enough story there to write until I sat down and tried. Then I met Fenn, the heir to a line of hapless adventurers, and his sister Clementine. The dynamic of a brother-sister relationship was a LOT of fun to play with. Throw in each one’s motivations & limitations and I found myself falling in love. So when the short story was complete (just in time for the annual Writers’ Digest fiction competition), I couldn’t end the characters’ adventures. Fenn and Clem were only just beginning.

And so it is that on this fine Friday, I find myself pulled into the continuing adventures of these new friends. Things are turned around this week. Thursday became my dedicated writing day leaving Friday to become my sole veg opportunity. While Urban Dictionary offers a less than glowing description of the word veg (“state of being vegetable-like: unmoving and slowly degenerating”), I firmly believe in its value. A day to recoup your resources and let your brain wander where it will. A time for restoration of your soul, body, mind, or all three.

Blog Bonus Feature: A lot of my veg days have turned into writing days–but I only undertake writing that feels like fun. So, for example, you would never find me editing on a veg day. If I write today, it will be because Fenn and Clem are too irresistible. Or, perhaps, more irresistible than the couch.

For me, veg days usually involve a lot of quiet and solitude. I pamper the introvert that gets ignored in the priorities of the daily grind. And if I miss a veg day? Oh I notice it–in my attitude, my energy, and my spirit. God certainly had it right when He orchestrated a Sabbath.

So, sweet & faithful readers who keep looking for my inconsistent posts, that’s my advice to you this week. Carve out a little time to be a vegetable. Find a little quiet for your spirit, a little nourishment for your mind, a little restoration for your body. You won’t regret it.

After a weekend of being completely absorbed in the writing world, I returned to ‘real life’ on Monday–hoping that being a paralegal (while a fabulous job, it can’t compare to writing) is a short lived profession. One of the many benefits of a three-day work week is the ability to turn my focus back to writing on my extended weekend and still get one solid day of rest. Today, that rest is given to my sweet niece. Since she was born two Decembers ago, I’ve been doing all the things with her I would want to do with my own daughter, from trips to the bounce house, to dog-watching at the park, to pulling out all the old toys.

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Come on. Isn’t she darling?

Those toys bring back all kinds of nostalgia. They were my first imaginative companions, the best teachers of creativity and story telling, the most patient of friends. With them I wove countless story lines and learned to practice character development, not to mention how to tie all those characters and story lines together. It is my joy and my delight to pass the skills (and toys) onto the next generation.

So, for today, I’ll immerse myself in sharing the wonder of imagination with family. And tomorrow, I will be back to the wonderful world of writing.