Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blogging and A One Piece Life

I have started a new blog. It wasn't a spontaneous decision borne out of recent posts. It is something I have been thinking about for a while, especially since I read Ann Voskamp's post about a one piece life. I want a one piece life. My vision for the new blog will help to make it happen.

My vision for this blog did not come to fruition. It was to be a resource and a forum for our Sunday school class to delve further into things we were studying. I hoped for discussions via comments and for other class members to post here as well. Clearly, my vision was different from the rest of the class's vision, and I'm okay with that. People are busy.

However, God has confirmed his call on me to write, and I will be obedient. Even if no one reads what I write, the things I learn from the process make it worthwhile, and I trust He has a plan and a purpose in it. Being who I am, it seems appropriate with a new vision to make a fresh start. Therefore, if you are interested, you can now find me writing here.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Painfully Clear Answer to My Writing Question

God has been very gracious to me in confirming that I need to write. I had a sense of direction even before Carolyn Weber's comment and two very loving and encouraging emails from good friends. I had made a plan and had begun executing it. Then one of the same friends who encouraged me by email, who is not afraid to speak the truth in love, directed me to a post today by author Sally Lloyd-Jones at the Desiring God blog, which provided additional direction. (If you are not familiar with Lloyd-Jones work, she is probably best known as the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible.)

The direction was affirming but convicting at the same time. For Lloyd-Jones made clear what I was not able to see: Self-doubt and insecurity about writing are evidence of PRIDE. Thinking and analyzing and agonizing and seeking feedback from others make it all about me. Lloyd-Jones says,
"But if you realize it's not about you—that whatever you have is a gift from God—if in other words, you get out of the way—then you can be fearless. There is no vision too great, nothing too outrageous to dream, nothing too impossible to dare."
So here and now, I confess and repent of my pride and give thanks to God who speaks so clearly when I'm a willing to listen, and who is willing to do more abundantly that I can ask or think, according to the power at work within me, to him be the glory forever. (Ephesians 3: 20-21)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

To Write or Not to Write?

I just read a post by Carolyn Weber that has inspired me to write this. I am home this week recovering from a procedure, and the week has turned into a kind of spiritual retreat for me. My children have been with my parents, so I have had hours each day to spend alone reading and thinking. And I have been thinking a good bit about writing and this blog.

As I scrolled through the few and far between posts here a few minutes ago, it was obvious how little original writing it includes. It's mostly links and quotes. I wrote more for my old blog, but I had more time at my disposal then as a stay-at-home-mom with an indulgent husband. Now, if I really want to write, I'm going to have to make a commitment to it, be willing to sacrifice other interests, and do it for no other reason than because I know it is a calling. Is it a calling? That's what I need to be sure of, and that is where Carolyn's post comes in.

The post is entitled, "Do Childhood Passions Point Toward Adult Gifts?", and towards the end of the post, she writes:
The child is father of the man,” professes the poet William Wordsworth. This child knows the way to the Kingdom of Heaven within. This child holds the promise of God’s purpose and plan: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). In these childhood dreams – in that which we take delight and sense how we might be gifted – we glean our future in God’s purpose for us.
I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I did not have the single-minded drive nor the personal discipline to train myself as Carolyn did through education and practice. I would have loved to have studied English literature in college, but my innate pragmatic streak and my desire for financial independence won out, and I studied business instead. Nor did I have the encouragement needed from others to spur me on. (My mother always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, except a basketball coach.)

Like Carolyn, I have certain events impressed upon my memory. After handing in my writing journal to my tenth grade English teacher, I asked her if she thought I could be a writer one day. I cannot remember her exact words, but her response was sweet and unenthusiastic. In college, I made excellent grades on my papers and other writing assignments, but the only specific praise for my writing skills I can remember was in graduate school when my finance professor told me that he had given me a B on a paper because my writing skills were superior to the rest of the class. Left to my financial analysis alone, I would have earned only a C.

As Providence would have it, I finished graduate school during a recession and my ambitions for banking were squelched. And of all of the jobs I could have possibly found (thanks to my mother pouring over the Atlanta Journal Constitution every Sunday), I was hired by a trade association as a technical writer. The tests I had to pass to get that job made it clear that I had excellent writing and editing skills, but the standardized tests I ended up writing on the job did not inspire, and about a year later I moved into another position within the company. I will not bore you with the list of jobs I had in the years to follow. I did a good bit of marketing and PR, so there was always some writing going on, but nothing personal or inspired—with the exception of a few snippets that might possibly be found in a boxed-up long-forgotten journal.

Looking back, I think I thought my time had come as a writer when I began my old blog, Logoscentric. God had clearly called me to be a teacher of the Word, and like any teacher, I was eager to share what I was learning through whatever means available. I knew I was a decent writer, so a blog seemed like a good idea. Pretty early on I developed some online friendships that provided encouragement and feedback. I had a few followers and pretty regular comments. Not a lot, but enough to keep me going. My closest friends and family members thought I was brilliant. I was off to a great start!

Unfortunately, I became consumed with Logoscentric. During our summer vacation in Orlando that year, I read Blogging for Dummies to figure how to attract more readers. It became more about comments and readership than about being obedient to write what was on my heart and trusting God with the outcome. In contrast, look at what New York Times bestselling author Ann Voskamp says about her foray into blogging:
I had journaled up until that point as a young mom, taking Scripture that I'm reading and laying that down in a journal, and how am I living this out, and where is the sin in my life that I need to confess and work through—so never journaling apart from God's Word. Blogging came out of that: If God could use in another mother's life what I was wrestling through, that was a way to go into the world while still being a stay-at-home mom and serving my husband and kids. ... I've never had comments. I've never installed a site meter on it. So I was never thinking there was anyone really out there. Now and then you'd get an email, but up until fall 2010, the screen was black. I saw it as a dark, quiet space. —World Magazine, July 14, 2012
So less than a year after I started it, I gave up Logoscentric. Some time later, I went back and deleted a number of posts: those with no real substance wherein I was trying to be clever or attract another blogger's attention, silly lists— I don't even remember now. The best way for me to describe it is that I deleted all of the crap. I left the posts that I was pleased with, that I knew were primarily motivated for the right reasons, and that may benefit others if they happened to stumble across them out there in cyberspace.

The years that followed can best be described as my "dark night of the soul." I struggled with depression and had no real sense of purpose. I resigned from all teaching responsibilities at my church, and other than a couple of short-lived part time jobs in ministry, I was little more than a church member with excellent attendance, above-average knowledge, and an outward morally upstanding life. There was spiritual growth at that time—in spite of myself. I still did Bible studies and had stretches of regular daily quiet times, but I was spiritually dry as a bone and emotionally pathetic.

My lack of a sense of spiritual purpose beyond my family led me to consider becoming an artist. I knit, crochet, and embroider, and I do it well, so it wasn't that much of a stretch. I started a blog chronicling my creative efforts and established online friendships with other crafty types. I soon took up drawing and painting, which culminated in a week-long painting class at the John C. Campbell Folk School for my fortieth birthday. It was a defining moment, but not the one I'd hoped for. My skills were average, and if I was going to be a painter it would take work. I knew it wan't realistic for me to do a painting a day for the indefinite future. Now what? This led to what was probably the worst time in my life. I was miserable.

(At this point, you are most likely thinking, what does this have to do with writing? I'm getting there.)

In retrospect, I have no doubt that I was clinically depressed. Most days, after I took my children to school, I came home and went back to bed. I was tired all the time, and I cried constantly. I was at the end of myself. And when we come to the end of ourselves, that is when God can do something with us. That's what He did for me. While I was depressed and miserable, within weeks of each other, God called me to start a new women's Sunday school class at my church, and he called me to be the executive director of a new women's ministry that was opening in our town. God chose a time for these things when I was under absolutely no delusion that I was worthy or had done anything to deserve these positions. It was all grace.

Once I had a sense of calling again, I had a desire to write and to share the things God was teaching me. So I started this blog. (The name of our Sunday School class is Berean Women, which explains the blog name.) I remembered my lessons from my Logoscentric experience, so I decided that it would be a blog just for our class—to share things, to encourage them, and to enhance our studies. No delusions of grandeur this time! Therefore, in the past couple of years, I have posted if and when I've been inspired to and with very little original content. I get a positive comment about the blog occasionally, but my sense is that no one is really reading it. And why not? There are only about 25 women on our class roll. I am writing for an extremely limited potential audience.

All of this leads to the question prompted by Carolyn Weber's post: Does my childhood passion for writing along with my tendency to keep coming back to it make me a writer? Is it a calling? If so, what should I do about it? Discipline myself to write more and to provide more original content here or start another blog altogether for a broader potential audience? (There have been many false starts that I haven't bothered to mention in this post.)

Or should the lack of feedback and encouragement dissuade me? Should I see it as confirmation that I shouldn't be wasting my time? Something that has been especially difficult over the years is the lack of encouragement I have received from spiritual mentors in my life. Is God sending me a message or encouraging perseverance?

In the World Magazine interview quoted above, Ann Voskamp says she doesn't really know what she thinks until she writes. That she has to write to understand life. That's what I've been doing here: Writing to understand why I desire to write and if I should bother continuing. This exercise has made it clear to me that my desire to write and what I write about are inextricably linked to God's call on my life. When I know I am called, I have a voice. But what is the point of having a voice, if no one is listening?

"Ask Jeremiah.", is the response that comes to mind.

Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart, 
for I am called by your name, 
O Lord, God of hosts.
—Jeremiah 15:16

Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Week Revelation and Resolution

On Monday, I wrote in my journal one of those entries that I can hardly bear to go back and read again. My quiet time that day was a prayerful struggle that lead to my downloading Tullian Tchividijian's  Jesus + Nothing = Everything. I now have absolutely no recollection how I ended up there, but it soon became clear why I did. I needed to be reminded of the Gospel.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with  him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. —Colossians 2:13-14 (ESV)

I read Tullian's book in about two days, and then proceeded on to J.D. Greear's Gospel, which I am still in the process of reading. Greear says the effect of not staying focused on the Gospel is to live in the extremes of pride and despair. That's where I have been for a long time. I have not been living moment by moment believing the Gospel in my heart—no matter how firmly established it is in my mind. Continually believing the Gospel in light of the circumstances of life is how to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). I must struggle to believe in spite of a natural inclination not to, a fall back position of performance-orientation and self-preservation, and feelings that I seem powerless to overcome. We Christians are quick to assent to the fact that the Gospel saves us from hell, but we are extremely slow to understand that it saves us from ourselves. I desperately need saving from myself.

So on this Good Friday 2012, I resolve to preach the Gospel to myself every day, as often as necessary. And as I do this, Lord, please save me from myself.

(Photo was taken in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Christian Growth Defined

"I used to think that growing as a Christian meant I had to somehow go out and obtain the qualities and attitudes I was lacking. To really mature, I needed to find a way to get more joy, more patience, more faithfulness, and so on.

Then I came to the shattering realization that this isn't what the Bible teaches, and it isn't the gospel. What the Bible teaches is that we mature as we come to a greater realization of what we already have in Christ. The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it's not itself a message about our internal transformation but about Christ's external substitution. We desperately need an advocate, mediator, and friend. But what we need most is a substitute—someone who has done for us and secured for us what we could never do and secure for ourselves.

The hard work of Christian growth , therefore, is to think less of ourselves and our performance and more of Jesus and his performance for us. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our effort instead of with God's effort for us make us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.

Again, think of it this way: sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification. it's going back to the certainly of our objectively secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button a thousand times a day. Or, as Martin Luther so aptly put it in his Lectures on Romans, "To progress is always to begin again." Real spiritual progress, in other words, requires a daily going backwards.

...Christian growth, in other words, doesn't happen by first behaving better, but by believing better—believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners."

—Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything

(Emphasis in bold is mine. –KS)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ten Things I Learned in the Middle East

I've been back for more than a week from a recent mission trip to the Middle East. I hope to post on some of the spiritual insights I gained from the trip, but for now, here a ten things I learned that are of a more practical and humorous nature.

  1. PMS plus jet lag makes for many tears!
  2. All Middle Easterners do not hate America and Americans. In fact, there are many who feel quite the contrary.
  3. There is a breed of human being that I did not know existed—the Turkish salesman. Whether it be jewlery, rugs, scarves, pottery...beware! Flattery gets them everywhere.
  4. Camels are still a commodity in negotiating for women. This was confirmed first-hand on more than one occasion.
  5. NEVER underestimate the value of an excellent local driver. He can whisk you through military check points with smiles and laughter.
  6. There is an increased potential for lost luggage not attributable to air travel. See photo.
  7. If you take Jesus's admonition in Luke 6:30 seriously, be sure to budget accordingly. You will be approached much more frequently than you are at home, and the petitioners are much more persistent.
  8. Just because a hotel has WIFI doesn't mean you will be able to access the Internet, especially if your traveling companions are using up all of the bandwidth Skype-ing. ;)
  9. Rugs purchased in Turkey can be safely transported throughout your travels and back home, given you are traveling with selfless men who are willing to indulge a woman's weaknesses.
  10. Five women and one bathroom. It can be done.