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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

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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.

Dear Dianas

Once in a while, there is a movie that stirs you. For me, Wonder Woman did just that. As the credits rolled and the crowds poured out of the theater, my eyes adjusted to the sunlight and my mind turned over the lessons of the life of a female superhero. I’ve continued to think on the story of the compassionate heroine and all the words I would want to speak to my future daughter and every young girl I come across.

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Little Dianas,

We will want to tell you are safe, that there is nothing with which you should concern yourself. We will want to tell you this because we will desperately want it to be true. And in a sense it is true. You need not fear. And yet, we must clarify. You are both safe and unsafe. And, while we wish it were not so, there is much with which you should concern yourself.

Safe and unsafe. Let me explain. As long as you keep to the path that is yours to walk, you need not fear. There will be trouble, but if you keep to your path, the trouble has already been overcome (John 16:33). As you face it, you will find this to be true. You will encounter pain. People you love will wound you. People you do not know will wound you. They won’t understand your heart and that will feel like the deepest cut. Remember, victory has already been promised (1 Corithians 15:57).

There is another lie wrapped up in this statement of safety. It is the lie that threatens to keep you controlled. The world often doesn’t know what to do with a woman who knows herself. They don’t know what to do with a woman who is willing to take on the injustices she sees. They will want you to be small, unthreathening, agreeable. Even those who love you will be afraid of your strength at times. When we try to keep you small, we are wrong. You may need to remind us. You may need to silence us. You may have to forge ahead without our approval if we are not able to overcome our own fear. Like Deborah, Ruth, Rahab, Mary, and others, you are a woman of valor. Do not let the fears of others diminish your courage.

People will not always deserve your help. You help anyways, because it isn’t about deserving. It is about loving as your Father loves. Here, on our little island, we may mistakenly teach you that love is about ideolgy. If you speak love, then you have loved. That is not true. Love is more than words. It is more than agreeing with what should be. Love requires action. It requires sacrifice. You have the tools to love well. It is up to you to use them (1 John 3:16-18).

There will be days you feel overwhelmed by all the pain, all the needs. You will walk through the battlegrounds of this world on your way to what you were certain was the mission, and you will see wounded on every side. You will see the fearful, the hungry, the broken. You will want to help them all and this may cause you to feel paralyzed and helpless. You will have to decide: do you turn your eyes back to the mission you set out on or do you stop to help? And if you stop to help, who do you help when everyone is hurting? Which wounds can you help heal? To which soul can you bring hope? You will not be able to stop all the pain, but you can choose to try (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

And no matter what, remember, you do not do it alone. Look for the people of love. There are others who will stand with you. Their strengths will be different than your own, not less than or more than, but different. And you need them. You will learn from them, and they from you. You cannot do it alone (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

There is much with which you should be concerned. As long as there is injustice, there is work to be done. You have been equipped for the work. You are called to be a hope-bearer, carrying truth and love to a hurting world. We will want to protect you from the pain, but if we succeed in protecting you, we will also have kept you from life, from learning to truly love, from growing into the woman you are meant to be. So, I’m writing this down now, because when the day comes for you to step into your calling, I will likely not want you to go. I will worry. And yet, I will be overcome with pride, watching you link arms with others, for the cause of others, in the name of love. You are no ordinary woman. You are a wonder.

 

May The Force Be With You And Other May Blessings (Parenting in Summer Edition)

I have a treat for you today. Welcome my friend Michelle Discavage to Bedrocks and Borderlands. She is here to share more May blessings as we wrap up this crazy month. Michelle is the author of “Unnamed Women of the Bible: Lessons of IMG_1893Value, Belonging, and Worth,” a speaker, and certified life purpose coach. She can often be found laughing, and is known to be somewhat of a pot stirrer. Michelle is on a mission to gather #brokedownhomegirls across the country to rise up and take their rightful place as God’s daughters. You can read more from her at www.SparkedLiving.net.


The questions. There are so many questions. They are hurled like heavy artillery in the heat of battle. Surely, a breath will need to be taken. Maybe exhaustion will take over. Dry mouth? Maybe the need for water will cease the never ending barrage of questions.

Summer is coming. No school, just three months of days waiting to filled with activities. The blank calendar stares at me sinisterly. It mocks me to fill in its small, white spaces. I like the routine of school life, but I also like the freedom of summer. Do I fill in the calendar, for her sanity as much as my own? Or do I allow each day to be its own adventure.
Why is summer so long anyway?
We melt on the pavement in summer’s heat. Why do we live in Texas? I question our decision every summer as the sun beats down causing us to slowly roast under its rays. There does not seem to be enough sunscreen to protect our pale skin. Even the water in the pool will fail to be refreshing. It is too hot. Too hot to move, too hot to swim, just too hot.
And the artillery of questions will not cease.
Can so and so come over? Can we go to (insert fun, overly priced adventure here)? Can I get some ice cream? What are we doing today? Do I have to practice piano? Why do I have to make my bed, it’s summer? Are we going to the pool today? Will any of my friends be there? What’s for lunch? What’s for dinner? What can I do, I’m bored?
Working at home sounded so glamorous once. My need to work will evoke an outpouring of needs and questions. At no other time of the day has she needed anything, but the moment I begin speaking with a client, or sitting down to write, everything becomes urgent. With furrowed brows and snapping fingers, I’ll point towards the door, and she’ll walk out angrily. When work is done, I will remind her of what I told her before the call began: do not come in when I am on the phone unless you are bleeding, or near death. The rules are pretty simple.
Can I blame her though? Can I blame her for wanting constant interaction? She is an only child, and the most social creature in the house. I do my best to bring friends over, to occupy her time with the things she enjoys.
I will try not to lose my temper as I have become a walking sweat stain attacked by her many questions. The wretched heat will not create a foul mood in me, not this time. I will enjoy these moments, as simple as they may be. We will splash in the pool, wipe ice cream off of our chins, and be thankful for our working air conditioner and fans. I will listen to giggles coming from her room when a friend is over, and try not to laugh when the cupcakes they tried to sell around the neighborhood melt in the heat.
This summer, I will survive! I will rejoice in these moments! My patience will be long and my joy unending! Yes, I will enjoy the blank calendar, well, right after I’ve furrowed my brow, snapped my fingers, and motioned her to exit.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phillipians 4:4-8, NIV)

May your sweat stains be light, and your water be refreshing. May you dip your toes in the pool with delight, and may the questions be few.