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Reawaken

I’ve been crunching numbers in the last-ditch effort to find another way. With my new job responsibilities and my fuller understanding of publishing, I recognize my role in Rebirth Publishing has to change. For months, I have been prayerfully contemplating a major change. But I’m not down for the count yet. Sometimes, you need to work smarter, not harder.

And that is exactly what I’ve set about. I’m reawakening (which, when you think about it, is kind of poetic. ‘Rebirth’, after all, is synonymous with ‘reawaken’). And in that reawakening I am discovering a new self. This 23-year-old leader of Rebirth Publishing doesn’t have the same time or energy or carefree enthusiasm that the 17-year-old founder did. But what 23-me has is resources, smarts, experience, and savvy. I’ll put all of those to work for me instead.

17-me was passionate and hard nosed and hopelessly hopeful. 23-me is more tempered. I know my limitations. And, for a while, understanding those limitations caused me a potent concoction of shame and fear. (When you’re looking at your own flaws, it’s easy to throw up your hands and say, “I can’t!”) But I’ve learned a thing or two along life’s journey. Instead of fighting my limitations, I’ll lean into my strengths. While its true that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness”, it is also true that He made me with certain talents, inclinations, and strengths to use for His glory.

For years I’ve told students across the country not to be afraid to do big things (or small things) now, not to wait to write the book or record the song or join the team or bake the cookies or start the non-profit. I’ve been telling them not to let their limitations stop them; to focus, instead, on the talents God gave them. Who knew I was the one that needed that message? But if Rebirth Publishing is a company calling for reawakening, it only makes sense that this reawakening should start with me.

Will you join me?

Roots

12039619_801074946669870_4257282269312714570_nSometimes you just need the solace of friendship. Of bringing homemade coffee to your sister’s place and having her make cinnamon rolls. Of watching Mulan while cuddling her baby. Of facing big decisions together so you don’t feel so alone. Of celebrating life and sweetness. Of choosing to be still.

And this Saturday was all that and more.

It felt like the old days, when we both had the time to go shopping and the money to buy fast food and the energy to talk through movies (instead of falling asleep to them). I put so much weight on moving forward that I forget that, every great once and a while, you can go backwards instead. It is possible to recapture the roots of friendship and family. And in those roots is strength beyond measure.

Treasure your roots, friends, as I do mine.

Today is the National Day of Writing, so this is a tribute post to Writing, my trouble-making, soul-inspiring companion throughout life.

“Words are sacred… If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” ~Tom Stoppard

Love is a choice. You feel a spark with a person and you choose to embrace it. Even with family–the biological club you are born into–love is a choice. You have shared experiences and a mutual spark and you choose to love them–for better or worse. And as my recent posts on the value of friends like Naomi and Sister Kate might lead you to believe, I have been made much better for loving these people.

Love is such a profound word to tie to something like coffee (which I adore) or ice cream (which is also pretty much the best) or even a concept like baking (which is one of the most relaxing things I have ever done). Really, the term ‘love’ doesn’t belong with any of those things. I crave coffee; I enjoy coffee; but I don’t love coffee. Writing, on the other hand, I do indeed love.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” ~Flannery O’Connell.

There are times that writing is hard, grueling, painful work. I get headaches from craning my neck at my computer screen (or maybe those headaches come from banging my head against my desk in frustration). My characters can be as illusive as my own thoughts. And writing becomes a chore, something I have to work at instead of enjoy. But I stick with writing because I love it. Every day I choose not to ‘have been an author’ but to ‘be an author’; to put one foot in front of the other and stay faithful to one of the greatest gifts God gave me.

“This is how you do it; you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy and that hard.” ~Neil Gaiman

“Create: verb. The act of banging your head on the desk until something interesting pops out.” ~Unknown.

Writing is the way I discover what is going on inside my own head; the way I decide on a future course of action; and one of the pivotal ways I learn about God’s nature. It has been my faithful companion on late nights and early mornings; in lonely airports and crowded coffee shops; in times of joy and times of abject grief. God put writing inside of me and He lets me use it to connect with the world around me. If I could only tell you all the stories of the impact in my own life and the lives of others…

In July I shared this post on why I choose to write. “I think story-telling, with its power to embolden the hearer and enrich the speaker, is one of the greatest gifts God gave us. Stories… provide a context for situations that would otherwise overwhelm us… (They) are a medium worth a life’s work.”  I still feel the same way. And it is worth noting again this line from Westmark:

“I make nonsense of the world to help others make sense of it.” ~Lloyd Alexander.

It’s only fair this post is wordy–after all, it is a post about writing. So I feel I can sneak in one final quote:

“But whatever you do, find the God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated passion of your life, and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it.” ~John Piper.

I don’t know whether I was born to be a writer; but I do know that I choose–now and forevermore–to be one.

So here’s the thing about life… It’s unexpected. Just when you give up on an idea, that idea reinvents itself and comes rushing into your life.

Case and point: In a large part due to poor health and in a small part due to introverted-ness, I missed out on the whole ‘stay up late with a friend and giggle’ phase of teenagehood. Of course, it didn’t help that the girls who were some of my dearest friends lived in Virginia. So I graduated high school and then college and finished up the ‘I’m-a-starving-artist’ years and settled down into a real job and thought, “There. That stay-up-late phase of friendship and life has passed me by.”

And then the strangest thing happened.  My Virginian friend Naomi fell in love with a boy from Maine. She ended up at my church in Belfast, on my worship team in fact. And then she and I found ourselves roomies for a women’s retreat this last weekend. Both being relatively early-to-bed people, we turned off the lights without much more than a ‘sleep-well’ wish. Ten minutes later, the talking and giggling started. Not the silly, adolescent kind. The deep, soul refreshing laughter that I only find with fellow believers. And it was very, very good. Far better than if we had tried to do the same thing in high school.

Dreams and wishes often don’t come true. They die in their original form and we do feel loss. It’s part of growing up. But the wonder of a God-led life is that He has better, fuller dreams for us that will come true.

“I cry out to God Most High,
    to God who fulfills His purpose for me.” ~Psalm 57:2 (ESV)

God has a purpose for me. And He has built in joy along the journey–because He is just that good, that loving, that thoughtful. His perspective is bigger than mine and He hasn’t forgotten me or the little things I long for. So I’m hoping I’ll stumble across this post the next time I feel the loss of a dream and be reminded that God is good. God fulfills His purpose for me. And He can bring back that dream long after I’ve given up.

Life may be unexpected, but God is good.

Day of Birthday

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m starting to feel a return to normality. My creativity is peaking its head out of its shell. Oh the sweet relief of writing again! Just a little writing, true, but sometimes a little is all it takes.

Sister Kate and I have a birthday tradition. When we are out shopping, one of us usually finds something we adore but won’t spend our own money on. So the non-birthday sister buys the birthday sister that gift, on the spot. It could be a month before the birthday or a month after; it doesn’t matter. Whatever fun is lost in the absence of wrapping paper is reclaimed in the joy of being together and steeped in tradition. Of course, life changes. And shopping time is such a rarity that this year I decided to break with tradition.

Enter the Day of Birthday celebration. I woke up excessively early to sneak coffee and donuts into Kate’s house (I love my sister, but how on earth does she survive without a coffee pot of her own?); left a card IN her fridge (because, why not?); and then skipped over to her office with a photo collage mousepad. With more than an hour to kill before I could be at work, this was the moment that I pulled out my laptop at the local Dunkin’ Donuts and got back into writing.

Blog Bonus Feature: I was perfectly peaceful until I opened up my laptop at that Dunkin’ Donuts. Then my mind went into flight mode. Any and every excuse came to me to abandon my pursuits. But I pushed through. Even to authors who love their craft, writing isn’t always fun. Fellow writers, stick with it anyway! The results were/are so worth the effort.

Later, I managed to sneak a few more presents into her life: chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting (a family tradition), more pages in our joint scrapbook, and a book she should enjoy. My creativity was thoroughly tapped between baking, card writing, and scrapbooking. And I think my sister got the message: I’m really, really glad she was born.

Friends like her are a rarity in life, to be treasured and held onto. They laugh with you; they weep with you; they struggle with you; they pray for you; they examine Scripture with you. They are the iron that sharpens iron. They are true gifts of God.

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Dreamwork’s The Croods follows the journey of a family of cavemen. In the wake of an earthquake, fearful father Grug leads croods-profile-grughis family from a world of dust and rubble into a lush, green forest. They stand over the precipice in awe, but for different reasons. Eep, the heroine of the story, is full of wonder and excitement. She can’t wait to leave the old behind to embrace the new. Meanwhile Grug is standing there in abject terror. The newness is overwhelming to him.

I’ve always pictured myself like Eep–bold, confident, excited at the sight of a beautiful new playground. But having just experienced enough newness to last a lifetime, I have discovered that I am actually more like her father. And just like Grug, I’m wishing I could throw back time and hide in my cave.

Truth is, as much as we all want to be Eep, most of us have serious Grug-like-tendencies. We like the status quo, even if with our lips we cry for change. And we’d rather have the certainty of rubble than the uncertainty of forest.

Of course, the truth is also that change is necessary and, often, beneficial. On the other side of that forest, the Crood family found survival, new friendships, and deep bonds. Far be it from me to cling to my cave at the cost of all the good that change can bring. So while being like Eep may not be my default setting, here is to becoming a little more like her.

croods-profile-eep

New Places

“Jess, what time did you need to be up?” asks my mother this morning, exactly thirty-five minutes after my alarm clock should have woken me. I sprang out of bed with a good deal of alarm, scurried around the house, and leapt out the front door with my hair still wet. (And yes, I did manage to make it to work on time.)

Honestly, this is the most exciting thing that will probably happen for a while. That’s a huge change for me. For a bit of time my life was rather grand. Book tours, concerts, trips to Jordan, pictures at the Louvre… You get my drift.

Don’t get me wrong. It is not that life is really any less grand. It’s just that I’m worship leading instead of performing my own songs. Working outside my home instead of pouring all my passion into my craft. My time and energy are going into new places and that elicits a panicked “oh-no!” reaction. But here’s the truth. These new places where I am exerting myself–they are places God ordained for my talents.

Far from giving up on my dreams, these new efforts will help me stabilize those dreams for the rest of my life. Even better, a sweetness comes (I know from experience) from stepping outside the comfort zone and accepting the responsibilities God has given. (Ps. Worship leading is a LOT more fun than performing concerts.)

So, I admit, my mind is struggling to grasp my identity in the light of so much change, but my soul… it knows. I’m just where I’m supposed to be.