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Framework:2019

Believe it or not, I chose a word and verse for 2019 back in November of 2018. Never mind that I am just now writing it down here. As you may have picked up, 2018 was a skydiving kind of experience. Well, at least, as I imagine a skydiving kind of experience gone wrong. I have not ever jumped out of a plane, nor do I plan to.

Here’s how I imagine it to be: excitement, anticipation as you make your plans, go through the training, board the plane and climb into the skies. Complete fear courses through your veins as you find it is your turn to jump. You make your way to the door cautiously and then, because you can’t bring yourself to throw yourself out of a perfectly good plane, you tell the instructor to push. Exhilaration. Overwhelming joy consumes you as you soar through the air. It is better than you ever imagined. But then, your chute won’t open. Panic sets in just long enough to be the worst thing you have ever experienced. Then, thud. It’s over. You are over.

Super dramatic, huh? I know. It’s overkill. Still, 2018 felt much like that. Somehow I survived and was taken into the ICU of my community. Friends kept breathing life back into me. Praise God.

If you remember, my word for 2018 was “cultivate”. A funny choice for a perpetual plant-killer. Nonetheless, cultivate I did. And kill all the things, I did. Or so I thought.

You can imagine how well receive it was when the Lord started whispering my 2019 word to me.

Suddenly.

My initial reaction was, “Excuse me? You think I’m going to believe you for “suddenly” when the slow work of cultivate yielded nothing but heartache? You are out of your sovereign mind.”

He stopped whispering and instead went with he billboard route. Suddenly was literally popping up everywhere. Ev.Er.Y.WHERE.

And about that time, the literal plants in my home, the ones I was certain were goners, started springing to life. I hadn’t killed them. I’d done everything I knew to do and when I thought my efforts were in vain, they SUDDENLY yielded results. So, suddenly it is. I don’t know what will happen with the rest of this year, but I do know that places of my soul that I was certain had died in 2018 have been springing back to life.

And my verse? Well this one came much more quietly that my verses of the past. It is Psalm 112:7.

She is not afraid of bad news;
her heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.

So there you have it. A very tardy post about the framework set for 2019. My eyes are open, watching for the suddenlies and my heart is firm, knowing that even when life hurts, the Lord is trustworthy.

Watermarks: 2018

It is May 2019 and I have just sat down to write my reflection of 2018. Though we are not quite halfway through this year, the last year feels like a completely different era. One which, I quite frankly, would be happy to not remember aside from the very unavoidable reality that it has shaped who I am becoming. This is true of every memory, of course, but it lays particularly heavy on the memory of 2018.

It would be easy to just skip over this post and my 2019 Framework post since it is so late in coming. However, if only for the sake of tracing the work of God for myself, it seems valuable. Better late than never. I’m tempted to tell more of the story since we are months removed from the events of 2018, but I won’t. I will reserve this post for reflection on the past. The present and future are reserved for another time.

As in past years, 2018 was given a framework:  a word and verse to shape my perspective throughout the year.  My word was “CULTIVATE” and my verse, Psalm 37:23-24.

I entered the year with a hopeful bewilderment over the word CULTIVATE. I am known to some (mostly the unkindly realistic voices in my head) as the Botanical Butcher, mass murderer of all plant-life. Still, I knew this was the framework through which I would observe and engage in 2018.  And Psalm 37!  He delights in every detail! He directs my steps! What a promise!

I would surely see life emerge from the dust in 2018. I was sure of it. And I was so very right and so very wrong.

The first half of 2018 was delightful. I was settled into my new teaching job and experiencing such joy and inspiration in the classroom. I was settled into community and watching the boundaries of that community expand. Cultivation was happening intentionally. It did not come without struggle, but was so rooted in joy that the struggle felt more than worth it. Opportunity to invest in others and myself abounded. People spoke life over me. Doors opened for me to write and lead and teach.

Yes.

I had told the Lord that I would say yes to every opportunity to grow in my writing and teaching. I was doing the work, cultivating the seeds.

Then a man entered the picture. He seemed to be the fulfillment of long-awaited promises and recently refreshed hope. He felt like a best friend. And I continued to cultivate. I did my best to invest in that relationship with the same intention as the other opportunities of life. And he supported me in my other pursuits. He wanted to know what I know, to learn from and with me. And I wanted to learn from him, from his story, his life, his faith. There were struggles that concerned me but I was listening to The Lord and hearing Him more clearly than ever. Plus, He delights in every detail. He directs our steps. I believed. I trusted. I invested.

Much of the cultivation of 2018 led to visible fruit. Journeying with the women of my church through The Exodus Gospel was by far the highlight of 2018. It was hard work. There was dirt under my nails and blisters on my hands from the tilling and planting and patiently tending. And it bore the sweetest fruit of new friendships, communal growth, and Kingdom impact.

Then there was the cultivation that did not produce, despite the promising beginnings. The man left. From words of devotion to complete disregard in a matter of moments. I was heartbroken. This is the first romantic heartbreak for me, and it is debilitating. Without going into too much detail, the likes of which are reserved for those who walked with me through it, the second half of 2018 was marked by pain. Every glimpse of healing was bowled over by storms grief, which came barreling through without notice, destroying again and again the garden I’d so carefully cultivated.

Long story short, cultivation did not yield the fruit I’d expected. The life I was so sure I’d see rising from the dust instead seemed to wither away. The Botanical Butcher at her finest. Of course, things are not always as they seem. There may be a seed sleeping beneath the surface waiting to spring forth in new life in the right season. We shall see.

Oh, and it turns out that the promise of Psalm 37:23-24 I would be resting in was not the delight or direction, but rather the determined grip of a God who holds onto our hands when we stumble.

(Stay tuned for Framework:2019. Surely it shall be posted before the year is halfway gone.)

Watermarks:2017

Well, here we are once again. It’s the end of another year. The other day I almost wrote 2016 on a document. I’m in trouble come January.

It’s been a quite year in the world of writing but I cannot miss the chance to reflect on the year. This year in particular has no shortage of blessings and difficulties to mine for treasures.

As I have for the last few years, I set a framework at the start of 2017. A word and verse to shape my perspective throughout the year.  My one word was “BEYOND” and my verse, Philippians 2:3-4, a verse about living beyond oneself and stepping into the lives of others. And it has certainly been 12 months of “beyond”.

As I was reflecting on 2017 the other day, I jotted down a short poem that has helped me unpack the past year.

BEYOND

Answers beyond my asking
Provision beyond my plans
Trials beyond my strength
Sight beyond the secondhand
And to finish out the longest year
He is asking for one bit more
Faith beyond the silent fear
That nothing lies beyond the door

———–

 

ANSWERS BEYOND MY ASKING

For those who know me, you are likely aware that this was a year of finding the far side of grief. I knew there would be many changes in front of me as I stepped into 2017, and I was asking for particulars. Only, I was apparently asking small when God wanted to give big.

For example, I knew I would be moving and sane roommates are an important detail. And that is exactly what I asked for: a sane roommate. Only, God had more in mind. Not only is my roommate sane and self-aware, she is incredibly fun. We don’t tiptoe around each other. We don’t simply share space. We share life. It is the sweetest gift.

I asked to live near community. I didn’t imagine that community would live downstairs.

I requested to be near a certain area of town. I’m right in the heart of that area.

Why do we ask so small? Our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). And yet, for some reason, I constantly fear asking for too much. As though I’ve used up my fair share of God’s goodness and should leave some for others. Pro tip: There is no limit to God’s goodness.

PROVISION BEYOND MY PLANS

Ms. Woods. Until this year, the only people who called me “Ms. Woods” were bank tellers and insurance salesmen. Now, in the span of a day, I hear my last name approximately 900 times more than my first. That is because I am a teacher. Wait. I need to write that again. I am a teacher.

I had a short stint of teaching a few years ago, but my students called me “Ms. Erin”. Now, I am “Ms. Woods” or sometimes “Mrs. Woods” because when most of your teachers are Mrs., it can be difficult to remember Ms. I get to teach 5th and 6th graders God’s Word. It’s pretty great. Not without its challenges, but nonetheless sweet.

This is provision beyond my plans because I never planned to be a teacher. Not in this sense. However, when the calling you felt when you were 12 takes some sharp turns and derails, you sort of approach the professional world with open hands. I applied for a billion ministry positions and was constantly met with “We love you and you are most definitely made for this job, but we are hiring someone else.” That is always an interesting  conversation to process. All of those really affirming (totally serious) rejections led me to substitute teaching, which in turn led me to a full-time position in the world of education.

TRIALS BEYOND STRENGTH

The first half of my year was marked by social anxiety and fear and grief and internal battles like I have never known. Typically, I speak to strangers as though we’ve grown up next door to one another. Social anxiety was a completely new experience. It is especially strange to recognize exactly what is happening and have no earthly idea how to come to that moment differently.

I had gone back to the church I attended prior to my years in youth ministry. It was a church I helped plant. A place where I knew so many people. So many knew me. And yet, I felt invisible. I showed up over and over, bringing all I had to bring, and just could not find my footing. A lot changes in 3 years. The church had grown and changed. I had grown and changed. It was as though I was attempting to plug in a lamp while being blindfolded. I couldn’t find the connection and feared that grasping around for it might end poorly…fingers in a socket is an unhealthy connection.

It was incredibly isolating and painful to feel like a stranger in a community I was so sure I should be easily sliding back into. Even more isolating was the feeling of being a stranger to myself. Who was this woman who feared meeting people and who floated through days wearing a mask? But, that was the first half of the year. Now, we are here, on the far side, and things look much different. Brighter…the lamp is plugged in, and I am finding more and more of the woman I recognize.

SIGHT BEYOND THE SECOND HAND

There isn’t a ton of ways to unpack this part. In short, much of this year was, and is, learning to see beyond what I feel in the moment. I’m a 4 in the world of the enneagram, which in short means I feel things fully. I once had a counselor explain my emotional experience (and frustration with those who do not seem to understand it) in this way: “You are sharing your experience of painting with oils. There are textures. Your colors blend. It is a rich and complex painting and you are trying to help people recreate it. The problem is that they don’t have the tools you do. They are working with crayons and will never be able to see what you see.” Mind blown. Now, this is in no way meant to belittle anyone. We are all wired differently. I feel everything and am willing to feel every bit of it until I find the treasures buried in the experience. Knowing this and embracing it helps me to also recognize when I am missing out on valuable moments and relationships because I’m stubbornly refusing to look beyond the emotion.

FAITH BEYOND THE FEAR

The details of this beyond are for me and The Holy Spirit to know and sort out. What I will say is that the Lord snuck this in at the wire. He is asking me to be available to things that I apparently had decided were not available to me. This should be fun and incredibly terrifying.

PHILIPPIANS 2:3-4

“Lift your heads to extend love to others…Get beyond yourselves…secure your neighbor’s interest first.”

Do any of us have this figured out yet? I sit;l have much to learn about getting beyond myself. Living in Houston in 2017 provided plenty of opportunities to learn. Our entire city was under water, for days. And somehow, not one member of my family lost a thing in the flood. This told me one thing: Erin, you are free to help someone else. There was nothing keeping me from wading into the lives of my neighbors and anything that was, purely stemmed from selfishness. But let me tell you, there is such joy in coming alongside your hurting neighbors and helping them clear space for new life. It’s messy and hard work and sometimes awkward, but it is also sweet and powerful and good.

There were other opportunities for learning. Some, I recognized and leapt into immediately. Some, I recognized and pretended to not notice. And some, I just didn’t see. There is much room for growth and I look forward t continuing to get beyond Erin’s little world. There is so much life to be shared.

2017, you were a year to remember. A roller coaster. Terrifying turns and steep drops I was sure would send me soaring into the nearest grave. And squeals of delight with feet dangling and hands in the air. And just like the end of the roller coaster ride, the fear seems like a faint memory and the child-like giddiness courses through my veins.