What I mean when I say I’m a Christian

The labels we choose for ourselves are, at best, shorthand for the full story of our heart.

An abstract painting of a mouth and a megaphone surrounded by colorful swirls and shapes

When I say that I am a Christian, what you hear is probably not what I say.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that I’m alive when I wanted to be dead

that I’m married when I should be divorced

that after thirty-five years of the horrors of war—of attack and betrayal and torture and mutilation of self—that there is peace on this battlefield

that I finally recognize the voice of my enemy, which used to sound like myself but now sounds like sweet honey over a worn-out clutch grinding in the distance

that nothing is wasted, not failure or success, not disorder or delight, not bitter or sweet, not time before or time after

that it’s all been worth it.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that lost and found aren’t fixed states but an ongoing game of hide and seek

that fear nips at my heels when it should be crushed beneath them

that I still swear and drink and ignore the homeless man at the intersection and eat my feelings and hurt people sometimes

that I am broken

that I am holy anyway

that I am made of words and earth and breathe borrowed breath and wield power I have not yet begun to grasp

that I am reclaimed and remade, translated and transfigured, chosen and changed

that I am myself.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that I don’t have all the answers and never will and am learning to be okay with that

that what I do know is that there is a love longer and wider and higher and deeper than any and every poets’ ideal

that such love has a name

that I am more interested in the vibrancy of your soul than your partner or your politics

that I love you whether you believe me or not

when I say that I am a Christian.

State of the Ellie: August 2019

A (not so) brief summary of my July. Featuring a nagging case of FOMO, professional maturity, toddler attitude, and being bored with my health updates.

Another Way by Justin Peters - A man in a black leather jacket holds an umbrella with a road and landscape on top

The State of the Ellie is a monthly reflection on what’s been going on in my world for the last 30ish days.

Since the last one was late, this month’s update is of the quick ‘n’ dirty variety to avoid belaboring past points. Also, while July wasn’t calendar-busy, it was internally busy, so buckle up.

Florida

The news here is the same as last time: we’re shooting for November. As we get closer to Thanksgiving, I’m sure things will get nuts again, but for now, we’re back in hurry-up-and-wait mode. Which has given me existential whiplash. It took me a while to figure out why I’ve been feeling so tender, distracted, and lost after the timeline shift, but it’s so obvious now. We were running full tilt getting ready to go for August, then had a concrete wall slam down in front of us. Of course I’m discombobulated—going from 100 to 0 hurts.

I’m also coping with a nagging case of FOMO (as inadvertently evidenced by the story I wrote last week). Most of our team is heading south this month, and frankly, I’m jealous. The delay in our departure makes sense (for more than just immigration purposes—see “Family” below), but there is a huge part of me that just wants to go. To be there, to be starting. There’s another, crappier part of me that’s sulking about feeling left out. I know God’s using this to root out pride and abandonment issues, which is good, but uggggghhhhh. Unpleasant. Right now, I’m choosing to be excited for everyone else and to be as patient as possible until our number is called. It’s not how long you wait but your attitude while waiting that counts, right?

Work

There’s a serious leveling up happening here right now. While I don’t have a full slate of clients (yet), the work I’m doing with them, the way I handle my schedule, and even the rates I charge are morphing from wobbly-legged amateur to sort-of-confident professional person. I’m taking on challenges that make me uncomfortable but not uneasy. I’m valuing my time and skills more. I’m finding new ways, places, and times to work that seemed impossible five years ago.

I’m growing, you guys.

There’s still a fair amount of chaos, and I’m still looking for clients, but there’s a new undercurrent of competency I’ve never felt in my business life before. And I kinda like it.

Also: I wrote my first fiction last week for the first time in two years. I had to double check the dates because that doesn’t seem real. I miss it so much. I have tons of story ideas, and I want so badly to finish Forgotten Relics. But I can’t seem to pull my mental/creative/temporal shit together. Then I fall into the comparison trap—“XYZ author person writes all their novels while working 40 hours a week and homeschooling their five kids and…”—you know. Anyway. The desire is there. I can’t make any promises, but I will say there’ve been inklings in my prayer time that full-blown fiction is returning. Someday.

Family

Less than a week after we had to delay Florida, we found out why we needed to: Lino’s mom was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night with heart issues that resulted in her getting a pacemaker. I’ll spare the long story, but the upshot is that we’re really glad we decided to stay. She’s facing a lot of changes in her life that we need (want!) to be present for and to support. On top of that, my sister-in-law is expecting her second baby mid-August, so we get to be present for and to support her through that newborn season, too. So it turned out that what we’d been angsting about as a setback to building the Kingdom was actually a green light (reminder) to be doing it here, now.

Parenting

I always feel like I should have so much more to write here. How do those mommybloggers do it?!

Each month that goes by intensifies Mackenzie’s toddlerness. The last couple of weeks, her attitude has ratcheted up to teenage Valley Girl levels, including once telling her daddy “don’t worry about what I’m doing and mind your own business.” I….what. We’re at a bit of a loss as to how to discipline that, but are doing our best to be consistent with what we know to do. We also suspect that, after six months of not needing a nap, she might need one again. The couple of times we made her lay down due to a late night, her attitude was markedly improved. Hrm….*strokes beard*

Also (TMI ALERT): Mack’s big accomplishment this month is that she all the sudden decided to start pooping on the little potty in the morning and then get right back in bed to wait for her wakeup call. WHAT. She’s been daytime trained since May, but we’ve purposely not started night training because we don’t want to deal with any stress-based regressions in the mattress department due to moving. But, hey, if she wants to poop on the potty, I’m all for it.

Health

Guys, I’m so bored with this category. It’s one of the regulars, but honestly, it’s the same stuff all the time. Cold symptoms, aching joints, weird stuff doctors don’t care much about because it isn’t bad enough. Blah, blah, blah. You guys deserve better than this. Suffice to say, I’m on sinus infection #2 of the year. Two more and the ENT will give a crap about what I say. Hooray?

Miscellaneous

  • My reading life is picking up! I wrestled that Tolkien to the ground, finally, and rewarded myself with Redshirts and a few YA graphic novels I randomly grabbed at the library. Going on to Murakami shorts next. Gotta retrain my flabby brain after four years of basically just reading nutritional labels.
  • Our local libraries show movies for free in the afternoon, and we’re taking Mack to train her up to go to the Real Theatre. Moana tomorrow. Let’s see if she can sit still for the whole thing.
  • It’s starting to be too dark at 5:30am for me to safely walk our neighborhood. This makes me sad because a) I need to exercise, and b) it reminds me that winter is coming. Argh. I might have to find some room in the budget to get back to the gym.

That’s it for me this month! Now it’s your turn.

Jump in the comments to tell me how YOUR July went and what you’ve got planned for August.

Choosing to value who I am, not how I feel

“What are your values?” I thought I knew. But it turns out I’ve been wrong for my entire life. I just needed to shift my perspective.

Waaaaaaay back in my past life as a headologist, in the wilds of 2013, I was doing some business planning. But not your usual, make-a-speadsheet-and-color-coded-calendar kind of business planning. This was deep stuff.

What do you most want to FEEL in your business?

I’d never considered that before, even in terms of my personal life–everything was framed as how I didn’t want to feel. The question sparked my curiosity, and I spent the next hour searching my soul and abusing the thesaurus.

I finally came up with four core desired feelings: affluent, sovereign, dynamic, tapped-in.

Mixed media artwork of my 4 core desired feelings for business

These words felt perfect. They reflected not just the limited scope of my business, but how I wanted to feel in my life as a whole. I breathed them in, letting their promise wash over me, seep into my blood, and become reality.

Except I never did get there.

I shuttered the business not long after, disillusioned by how tiny and helpless I felt in the face of trying to “make it” as a solopreneur.


Flash forward to last week.

I’m surrounded by a couple dozen of my nearest and dearest at a women’s workshop about dreams. The kind you set aside to go to school, to start a career, to change cities, to take care of the kids–because life happens and you discount your dreams as less-than compared to everything else. The kind of dreams that break your heart.

“We’re going to discover our core values,” the presenter says as volunteers hand around a list of 100 words. “Knowing what you value will tell you who you truly are. And when you know who you are, those stalled dreams can start moving.”

Inwardly, I roll my eyes. I’ve beaten this particular bush many times since that first go-round and not much ever comes out of it. Whatever I end up with seems to crumble too fast or change too often for me to build a real dream on. But I’m here and determined to stay open, so I play along.

We get two minutes to read through the list and circle the ten words that leap out at us right away, the ones that we think most strongly represent us.

Doing my best to dig deep and be honest, I choose accomplishment, connectedness, creativity, curiosity, ease, joy, orderliness, spirituality, truth, and understanding.

But the next step makes me realize this isn’t my mama’s values-finding exercise.

“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your top three core values. The ones that represent your truest self.

“You have thirty seconds. Go!”

My brain leaps into panic mode. How am I supposed figure out my truest self in half a minute?! There are so many things to consider!

“Ten seconds!”

I tell my brain to stuff it, close my eyes, take a breath, and ask. The answer comes without dissection, without debate–without my help at all.

Connection. Joy. Truth.

This time, there’s no surge of power, no tingling sensation. Just a quiet sense of yes. Tears sting my eyes as I recognize myself on the page.

As people read out their three core values, shouts of “that’s so you!” ring from all corners of the room.

The presenter quiets us down, though the excitement is still rising. “These values are who you are, the core of who you are created to be. If you think back, you’ll see that whenever you’ve felt most alive, most yourself, you were operating out of these three values. Make them your guide as you unfold the dreams in your heart, and you will be amazed at what happens.”

My completed worksheet for finding my 3 core values

It took me a few days to figure out why my core desired feelings from 2014 are so dramatically different from the values I chose in that exercise.

It isn’t that I don’t want to feel affluent, sovereign, dynamic, and tapped-in. I do. Everyone does.

The problem is that when I’ve outlined my values in the past, my focus was on what I want to feel. Projecting desires into the future for what I thought would light me up, fulfill me, save me. I was focusing on something that didn’t exist and trying to manifest it into being.

This time, I let myself be shown what’s actually in the core of my being. The truth of who I am, the essence of myself–that which already exists and has for my entire life.

Who I wanted to be versus who I am.

What makes this such a huge freaking deal is that, now, rather than grasping at what isn’t and striving to make it so, I can simply stand on what is. Each choice, each interaction, each feeling and thought, each relationship, each project can now be built on a solid foundation that’s uniquely keyed to my spirit.

Even better: It gives me an incredible inner compass.

Whenever I’m uneasy or uncertain, all I have to do is take a step back and ask, “Does this serve my true values? Where is the connection, joy, and/or truth in this?” If it matches up, great! Then I’m in alignment. If it doesn’t, it’s got to go. I’ve spent too much time, energy, and life chasing the wrong things. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I walked away from that workshop feeling empowered in a way I’ve never experienced before–confidently peaceful rather than antsy to start something. It’s the difference between trust and fear.

And that is where dreams thrive.


If you want to do this value-finding exercise, too, here’s a worksheet. Take the test, then report back!

What are your three core values?
Share in the comments!

35: Thanks and Yes

For my birthday this year, I tattooed the most dangerous prayer on myself. What have I gotten myself into?

For all that has been: thanks
To all that shall be: yes

I first heard this (roughly translated) quote by Dag Hammarskjöld in high school. It followed me through my teens and twenties, bouncing around in the junk drawer of my soul, until I hit my thirties, when the drawer got opened and Marie Kondo-ed by God.

It’s one of those feel-good type sayings that people throw around to sound ultra-spiritual, right up there with “the universe provides” and “WWJD?”. It makes us feel faith-full and righteous. At least for a little while.

It’s also an incredibly dangerous prayer.

For all that has been: thanks

The first part is truly beautiful. It feels impossible, but it’s so necessary for us to find even the tiniest, quark-sized piece of gratitude for our painful pasts. God orchestrates those moments (or years) of suffering into a symphony of wonder if we have ears to hear it—each trauma, each loss, each failure becomes its own note in a holy composition.

That second part, though. Ay, there’s the rub.

To all that shall be: yes

What are you agreeing to without knowing?

Heartache or joy?
Bankruptcy or abundance?
Famine or feast?
Abandonment or community?
Sickness or health?
Persecution or protection?
Cursing or blessing?
Death or life?

All of it. You’re saying “yes” to anything and everything that God has planned, even if it hurts, hoping that it’s good, trusting that it will be great, with absolutely no hints about which paths you’ll take except the small circle of light around your feet.

It’s giving up your will, your way in total surrender to His will, His way.

Like I said: a dangerous prayer.

And despite knowing all that comes with such a bold, foolhardy statement of faith, I was compelled to tattoo it on myself to mark my birthday this year.

This past year, one I (stupidly) considered barren and fallow, God has done a work in my heart.  And every time I found myself weeping incoherently on the floor, no matter what I thought of myself, my situation, or my god, it was this prayer that bubbled up. Over and over. Its oddly balanced weight of gratitude and trust comforted me like a familiar sword in my hand as I faced off against enemies in the dark. And every time, I won. Because of this prayer—this battle cry.

As I close the book on 34 and open the pages of 35 with these lines written on my arms, I don’t know what I’ve said “yes” to. But this is a milestone year. That much is clear. And as I take small illuminated step after small illuminated step towards the things I have been shown, I trust that what I haven’t seen is part of heaven’s plan, even if sometimes it might feel like hell. 

Two forearm tattoos in handwriting script font. "For all that has been: thanks/To all that shall be: yes." Dag Hammarskjold