Expanding the Way We Experience God

I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and part of what sustains me, I think, is that along the way, when in one season my faith stopped making sense to me, when it stopped connecting with me in a deep way, I had the tools and imagination I needed to refashion my faith. I was never presented an all-or-nothing way of faith, but rather a wide vision for how people connect with God—through prayer and poetry, through nature and study, though singing and silence.

Essentially, each Christian needs many tools in the toolbox. The toolbox is not a poetic image, I know. I tried to find a better one. Lots of colors in your palette? Lots of spices in your spice rack? Terrible, I know. This is why I keep coming back to the toolbox.

Because for a while the tools that worked for me were youth group, morning quiet times, singing worship songs. Then for a while the tools that worked for me were poetry, silence, sitting by the ocean. Then writing, then singing again. In this season, centering prayer, truth-telling with my closest friends, meditating on sections of scripture. 

So many people I talk to are trying to find language for what’s happening inside them, and often the closest they can get is that their faith has stopped working. For many of them, I think possibly what they mean is that the tools they’ve been using to experience a life of faith have stopped working. 

I was walking with a dear friend last summer. She became a Christian in her early twenties. For the first several years of her relationship with Jesus, worship music was so important to her—she loved to sing, to hear other people singing, to gather with other Christians at church services or worship concerts. 

Fifteen years later, she didn’t feel like singing. The same albums weren’t connecting, the songs she’d loved then rang hollow now. She was afraid that she was losing her faith. 

As we walked, I told her I wasn’t afraid. I told her I didn’t think she was losing her faith, but rather that she was outgrowing the tools that had worked for a season. I recommended a stack of books—I always do, because books were and are some of the most fundamental tools in my own spiritual growth. I recommended Christian counseling, another tool that has helped me so much in different seasons. 

We talked that day about growing up as Christians sort of the same way kids grow up—you’d never expect a five year old to act the same way as a twelve year old or as a twenty year old, but sometimes we expect our Christian lives to be quite static, and quite similar to one another.

So much of spiritual growth, I’m finding, is adding tools to the toolbox, and connecting with God in ways that are right for each season of life. Some seasons require poetry, and others preaching. Some season mystery, some music. Some seasons call for silence, some for deep connection. 

I’m a church girl, a pastor’s kid. Local church life runs in my veins. It makes sense to me, in the deepest way. For all sorts of reasons, though, in late high school and early college, I needed a little distance from church life. And so instead of going to church, I went to the ocean. It made sense to me, because the ocean is always where I’ve felt God’s presence most acutely—the ocean, the church, and the table, all three. 

So I’d settle myself on a rock at Biltmore Beach, just down the hill from my college in Montecito, and I’d listen for God’s voice, or at least the sense of His spirit. And over time, what was broken in me got repaired, stitched up by the salt air and the silence and the spirit of God, and I started going to church again, with a new love and respect for it, after the distance. 

I think what trips some of us up is the all-or-nothing approach—the idea that if you don’t experience your faith the way you always have, then it’s broken, or worth walking away from. Every relationship changes, and it makes sense to me that our relationships with God change, too, as we grow up and change. That’s good—as long as you have all sorts of tools in the toolbox. 

The tools, of course, are about as wide as you can imagine, but some that have been meaningful along the way for me have been books, poetry, counseling, friendship, spiritual direction, the Enneagram, centering prayer. The most central for me, of course: the church, the table, the ocean. 

Some that have helped my dear friends: theology, solitude retreats, liturgy, guided meditation, Taize, inductive Bible study, seminary, Lectio Divina, reading the mystics and Desert Fathers, travel, silence, serving, fasting, the Prayer of the Examen. 

God wants to connect with us, and He created each one of us so uniquely. It makes sense, then, that we would connect with Him in all sorts of unique ways, and that as our lives change, our ways of experiencing faith would change, too. 

The toolbox, clunky image that it is, makes me feel hopeful, like my journey of faith will be long and surprising, full of discovery and beauty, full of silence and singing, each in their seasons, full of experiences with God that I can’t even yet imagine from where I am right now.

Is Busyness A Drug?

Busy is both my drug and my defense. 

By that I mean that I use busy-ness to make me feel numb and safe, the way you use a drug, and I use busy-ness as a way of explaining all the things I dropped, didn’t do well, couldn’t pull together, as a defense. 

And I’m telling you this because I want to stop.

I want to drop the drug and the defense, one from each hand, letting them fall with heavy thunks, and I want to live a new way. 

I know it’s not all or nothing, or all at once.

In the same way that most married couples have like the same three fights over and over throughout their life together, I think each person has two or three issues that rear their heads over and over, and that those issues spike especially when the stress level gets a little bit elevated for whatever reason. 

Some people isolate and curl inward, some people dip back into an eating disorder that’s been held mostly at bay for a long time. Some people become angry, wielding rage as power against all the things that scare them. 

This is what I do: I keep myself busy, for a whole constellation of reasons. I do it because I’m addicted to the feeling of being capable, because I hate to be bored, because I hate having to face the silence, because it might force me to feel things I don’t want to feel. 

What if this book doesn’t connect with people at all? What if there are more bad reviews than good?

What if something happens to one of the kids? 

What if I’ve made the wrong choices, and I’m missing something important, something I could have been or should have done? 

If I stay busy I don’t have to feel those things.

I don’t have to worry about them, don’t have to let them blossom in to full-fledged questions. I don’t have to sit and think about that thing someone said about me recently when they didn’t know I was there, something I can’t get out of my mind. And so I run away from it, and from everything, faster, faster, faster.

And I use my busy-ness as an excuse for why I might not succeed, or accomplish the things I want to, or have the relationships I want to have. 

I mean, I’m juggling a million things here, of course the book’s not perfect. 

Seriously, where am I supposed to find time to work out and become some gorgeous supermodel, when I have like seven thousand things on my plate? 

I probably didn’t get invited because they knew I’d be out of town anyway, right? Right? Right?

The busy-ness is a drug to keep me numb and a defense to keep me safe.

And it works. But numb and safe aren’t key words for the life I want to live. I want so much more than numb and safe. And when I pursue numb and safe, what I get is busy, and after that what I get is exhausted, and after that, fragile and weepy and quick to snap and fearful. 

So much for numb and safe, which aren’t even something to aspire to anyway. 

I think I might not be the only one who keeps herself safe by keeping herself busy. 

I might not be the only one who wears exhaustion as a badge of honor, a way of showing people how terribly fast I’ve been running. I posted this article Brene Brown’s fantastic words about exhaustion as a status symbol, and I know so many of you connected with those ideas, as I did. 

This is right where I am these days, and maybe it’s right where you are, too. 

Today, I’m dropping the drug and the defense, and I’ll do my best to do the same tomorrow. 

Today, I’m shooting for higher than numb and safe and protected by excuses. I want to be present and whole and have nothing to hide, no excuses to be made, because I did my best, and because that’s enough. 

Today, I want to communicate to my kids, through my words and my actions, that we don’t always have to be hustling, plates don’t always have to be spinning, balls don’t always have to be in the air.

What would it look like in your life to lay down busy, both the drug and the defense?

Running Through Dinosaurs

For our son Henry’s seventh birthday, we loaded up the car with his best friends, with snacks and juice boxes, with extra sweatshirts and loads of Batman guys, and we spent a wild, fun, silly afternoon at the Brookfield Zoo.

There was one main attraction for Henry: the dinosaurs. 

Brookfield has this amazing exhibition of animatronic dinosaurs—machines that look and sound like dinosaurs, laid out just like any other animal exhibition. It’s amazing. You walk through the bears and the tigers and the kangaroos, and then you walk through the dinosaurs, arching their backs, breathing and growling. It’s pretty great. 

Henry had been looking forward to it for ages.

His friends were so excited about it. We went to lots of other sections first, to build anticipation. 

When we finally arrived at the dinosaurs, the boys were wriggling with excitement. We handed out their tickets for this special exhibition, and then they sprinted through it. They reached the end in record time, yelping, dragging one another on to the next one, the next one, the next one. 

When they got to the end, we were shocked.

“How could you be done already?” we asked. “We could barely keep up with you. Don’t you want to see it again? Or look at each one up close?”

They didn’t. They were too wound up, too excited about the dinosaurs to actually experience the dinosaurs. It’s easy to do when you’re seven. 

And it’s easy to do when you’re thirty-seven. 

All my life I wanted to be a mom.

I wanted to love and nurture and snuggle little people, to give them baths and laugh with them, to read to them and play with them. 

But I find myself blowing past the most important moments with my children all too often, hardly even there, running through the dinosaurs I’ve been longing to experience. 

All my life I wanted to fall in love and live a love story with someone who makes me laugh and makes me think and makes me happy. 

And instead of making rich memories with my husband, who does all of those things in my life so well, all too often I pick at him about small things or waste our time together by complaining about things of little consequence. 

I run through the dinosaurs all the time, and I don’t even realize it till later.

I lay in bed and realize I missed the most important things, the things that really matter to me, because I was caught up in my own head, running circles, having imaginary conversations, forecasting imaginary disasters. 

One of my goals these days: stop running through the dinosaurs. 

I want to be where I am, and be fully there, instead of missing the things I’ve been looking forward to for so long, caught up in my fears and anxieties. 

I don’t want to miss anymore dinosaurs.

What is it in your life that you might be missing, because you’re moving too fast, or because you’re running to the next thing?

Why It Doesn’t Matter How You Feel About Your Friends

My husband and I were talking in the car the other day, and he said something about a friend of ours. He said, “She’s really good at being a friend.” 

And in the silence, we were thinking of a couple people we love very much but who, frankly, are not so good at being friends. 

They are our friends, certainly.

Which means we share history and care about one another and are always happy to see each other, but when it comes down to it, they don’t DO what good friends DO very often. 

And, of course, that led us into a conversation about all the ways we don’t always DO what good friends DO either. Because it doesn’t matter how you feel in your heart about your friends—what matters is showing those feelings through words and actions. 

Aaron had a college professor who said over and over, “It doesn’t matter how much you love your kids. What matters is communicating that love in a way that they can understand and feel that love.”

And the same is true for friendship.

As it is true for marriages and all relationships. 

It’s so easy for me to feel warm, loving thoughts about friends or family members… and then go on about my day, never reaching out, sending a text, or setting a date to connect. 

I think about them all the time, pray for them, and watch the details of their lives spool out over Facebook—first day of school photos, last moments of summer photos. I feel connected and warm, full of affection for these lovely people. 

But how on earth would they know that?

Anyway, back to that original conversation in the car about the person who’s good at showing love and the one who’s not so good at showing it. 

We were on our way to a birthday party for me, and after dinner each person toasted my birthday and said one kind word about me. The not-so-good friend blew my mind, saying something so lovely and sweet and meaningful, something that I had no idea she felt about me. 

How often is that happening in our lives? The things we feel about one another so often go unexpressed, because we’re busy or thoughtless, assuming they know, assuming it’s more than clear. 

Is it?

Since that day I’ve been noticing all the times that I think loving thoughts about the people in my life… and then produce no corresponding action to show that love. 

Since that day, I’ve sent more texts and emails, a couple old-fashioned letters. I’ve scheduled a walk and a coffee and a dinner. I’ve looked people in the eye and said, “I love you. I’m thankful for you.” 

Because at the end of the day, Aaron’s professor is exactly right: It doesn’t matter how much you love someone. What matters is that they know it. 

So let’s do it: who are you going to show love to today? Text, email, phone call, love letter. What would being good at being a friend look like in your life today?

You're Never Fully Ready

On the very best summer days, the beach at our family’s cottage collects boats all day long—little ones and big ones, friends and family, friends of friends. The day starts quietly and then all of a sudden there is music and someone is grilling and boats are rafted off. 

Everyone takes turns on jet skis and paddleboards, and we make sandcastles and jump off the boat a million times in a row. There’s always a fun and crazy puzzle of people.

On one of these summer days last August, a friend of a friend of someone wanted to try paddle boarding for the first time. Her name was possibly Caitlyn. Or Kate. Kathy? It’s a loose operation, clearly.

We gave her the one-minute speech.

Start on your knees, no shame in falling, don’t go out too far, avoid the jet skis. But the next thing I knew, she was really far out. My son Henry and I paddled out to her, and I asked if she needed help.

I can stand up, she said. But then I can’t get stable, and I can’t start paddling till I get stable.

I totally get it, I said. But here’s the thing: it’s the paddling that makes you stable, not the other way around. You’ll never stay up unless you start paddling.

Recently, this image came back to mind because of a conversation we had around our dinner table.

A friend of ours was talking.

She was sharing about all the things she is trying to figure out, arrange in her mind, make a plan for, make sense of. She said, “There are so many things I want to do this year, and I realize that I’ve been trying to think it all through for so long. But you know what? I’ll never have all the information. I’ll never know all there is to know about something. Sometimes you just have to act.”

Exactly that. One thousand times that. 

Sometimes you just have to act.

Because it’s the paddling that keeps you on the board. It’s the forward motion that gives you the stability you need. Sometimes we just have to pick a direction and start pulling that paddle through the water, and along the way we’ll get the stability and confidence we’re looking for. But you’ll never find it at the beginning, standing there, waiting for the waves to stop shaking the board. 

The waves never stop shaking the board.

Forward motion brings stability. 

I’ve come back to Voltaire’s words a million times: Perfect is the enemy of the good.

You’ll never feel totally ready. The plan will never be perfectly formed. You’ll never have the money you think you need or the support you wish you had. You’ll never feel as strong and prepared as everyone else seems. (Psst: they’re not that strong and prepared, either. No one is.)

Just paddle, because that’s what gives you what you need to stay afloat. Paddle, because forward motion allows you to steer, to turn, to head into a wave, or away from one. Paddling is what puts you in charge of the situation, instead of being at the mercy of the waves, waiting for stability that will never come.

No one feels ready.

No one has every last thing they need. But the people who change their lives, the people who make beautiful things, the people who make a difference in our world—they are the people who paddle, who are willing to do it badly, who give up perfect in favor of good.

Another gem: anything worth doing is worth doing badly. That’s Chesterton, who I just adore. (I read Orthodoxy every year and find a dozen new treasures every time.)

What do you need to start doing badly, instead of pretending that there will be some magic moment when you are able to do it perfectly?

It’s time to paddle.

So what does it look like for you to just start paddling today?

What have you been over-thinking, wiggling like a loose tooth? Are you hiding, planning, and information gathering, because you’re scared to plunge into something new?

Are you letting your desire to do it flawlessly keep you from doing it at all? 

Here’s to paddling imperfectly—badly, even. It’s what keeps us afloat.

Why You Should Stop Waiting for Life to Be Perfect

What we have is time. And what we do is waste it, waiting for those big spectacular moments. 

We think that something’s about to happen — something enormous and news-worthy — but for most of us, it isn’t. This is what I know: the big moments are the tiny moments. 

The breakthroughs are often silent, and they happen in the most unassuming of spaces. 

Weddings are momentous, as are births, especially for moms. Beyond those two, though, most of the really significant and shaping moments of my life would be unrecognizable to anyone but me. 

That’s how it is.

What I’m tempted to do right now is run you through story after story of how life can change in an instant — an accident, a disease undetected, violence. We know these stories. We hear them all the time. But if you’re like me, sometimes you intentionally don’t hear them. You absently stroke your kids’ heads, you murmur a prayer, less a devout show of faith and more a whimper — not us. Not us. 

And then you shake it off, square your shoulders, fasten your mind firmly elsewhere — details of the day: library books to return, oil to change and diapers, too.

You comfort yourself with the mindlessness of it, protecting yourself from the reality that your life is actually happening and you might not be there. It’s scary to be there — present, invested, right there on the front line of your life. It’s easier to numb yourself with details and daily doings, waiting around for things to feel spectacular. 

But this is it: this is as spectacular as it gets, and you have a choice, to be there or not.

I sat with an old friend today. 

She and her husband have endured unimaginable loss throughout the course of their lives, and another very fresh loss in these last months. 

We sat in the golden fading light of a Chicago spring. Our kids ran around and around the screen porch, and the grass was impossibly green, almost glowing. And in the midst of all that wild and lush beauty, we sat facing one another, and she told me the particulars of that most recent loss. 

What I heard in her voice stunned me, moved me, instructed me.

She was present to it, unafraid. She told me about it unflinchingly, and what I realized is that she decided a long time ago that she wasn’t waiting for perfect and she wasn’t numbing herself against the worst case scenario. 

She had seen the worst case scenario, more times over than any of us should have to. 

What I saw in her was a vision for how I want to live:

In the midst of one her darkest seasons, twisted with uncertainty, bruised by the words of former friends, she sat with me, present and unarmed by busy-ness. She looked in my eyes and told me they’d be fine. She told me funny and sweet things about her kids, asked me about myself. 

She wasn’t waiting for the good part. She knows that these are the good parts, even while they’re the bad parts. She wasn’t shut down, going through the motions. She wasn’t holding tight till this season passed. She was right there with me, right there with her kids, right in all the glory and pain and mess and beauty of a spring night in between everything. 

That’s how I want to be.

That’s who I want to be: deeply present in the present, in the mess, in the waiting, in the entirely imperfect right now.

But what my friend knows is that there are no throwaway moments — not when it’s easy, not when it’s hard, not when it’s boring, not when you’re waiting for something to happen. 

Throw those moments away at your own peril. 

Throw those moments away and you will look back someday, bereft at what you missed, because it’s the good stuff, the best stuff. It’s all there is.

Change The Story

Someone described me recently as “a confident, outgoing mom and a successful writer.” I looked around for who they could possibly be talking about. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly far-off that description sounds to me.

I’ve realized in the last year that no matter what happens to me and no matter how I change, in many ways I’m still telling a very old story of who I am.

And I think I might not be the only one. 

I want to start telling a new story.

A friend’s mom came to town this weekend. She’s great and difficult, both, and my friend was debriefing the visit with us the next day. 

Someone asked, “how does your husband deal with some of your mom’s rough edges?” And she said, “Well, what’s helpful is that he doesn’t automatically turn into his twelve-year-old self when my mom’s around. But I still do.”

So true, right? There are people and situations that take us back to old, old stories, and even though we’re moms now, not children, or even though we’re business owners now, not adolescents, we find ourselves acting out stories that haven’t been true for a long time, or stories that were never true to begin with.

Two things were true about me when I was growing up:

I was smart and I was overweight. Those two things defined me more than anything else. I was the unattractive person in an otherwise attractive family, but my mind was quick—it was easy for me to remember things, and it was easy for me to be funny.

And so that’s what I became—everyone’s chubby, funny friend. I was easy to be around, agreeable, capable. 

I knew how to make other people feel comfortable, how to draw them out, how to tell self-deprecating stories about myself. 

I learned to be the punchline.

But I’m finding that story and that identity aren’t helpful for me these days. Because what that story really says is: don’t worry, just be friendly and pleasant. Make a joke. Don’t worry about really achieving anything, or doing anything hard, or being great in anyway. 

What you are is a sidekick, a wing-man, a support character in someone else’s story. What you are is a punchline.

And because I’ve believed those things about myself for so long, I sometimes don’t expect myself to be anything other than a punchline. I don’t push myself the way I could. I don’t ask for opportunities or promote my work. Essentially, I don’t take myself and my life as seriously as I could.

This old story isn’t helping me anymore, so I’m writing a new story.

This new story says I can and do work hard, and that I’ve developed my skills as a writer and speaker over the last several years. It says I might have more to contribute than I thought, and that being funny and pleasant might not be the highest things to aspire to any longer.

Even as I write these words, I can feel myself sitting taller, squaring my shoulders, growing up.

I’m changing the story.

Is it time for you to let go of a story you’ve been telling about yourself for a long time?

What’s that old story?

What will you write as your new story?

Stop Hustling and Get Your Life Back

I think I’ve been in a hurry for almost seven years. In January of 2006, I found out I was pregnant with Henry. Later that week, I was offered a contract to write Cold Tangerines. And since then, it seems, I’ve been in a hurry, running against the clock. They say that being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. I get that feeling.

I’ve been stacking things up, plan upon plan upon plan. I’ve been cramming things in—pushing, hustling, scurrying. I’ve been strategizing, multi-tasking, layering commitments one upon another like bricks.

It worked for a while. I like to be busy.

I’ll always be kind of “more is more” person when it comes to my schedule. With one child, the pace didn’t bother me much. So maybe it’s a second kid thing. Maybe it’s a second-kid-who-is-a-terrible-sleeper thing. Maybe it’s the accumulated exhaustion of two kids, two miscarriages, three books, countless trips and events, one marathon, one move. Maybe some weird timer goes off inside you when you turn thirty-six. I don’t know. 

All I know is along the way, I signed up for a schedule that seemed so fun, not taking into account the pace that super-fun schedule would force me to keep. 

I had a lot of fun, but not a lot of margin.

I gathered up some amazing experiences, but I didn’t rest well or often. I gulped down so much life, but at a certain point I was too tired and ground away to taste it anymore. Last year, it stopped working for me.

The changes I’m making this year are not, at the core, about more traveling or less traveling, more flights or fewer flights. The travel schedule is part of it, but really it’s about the hustle. It’s about frantic.

That’s what I’m done with, that’s what I want to leave behind.

You know what I’m talking about: when your mind has to work seven steps ahead instead of just being where you are, because this deadline’s coming, and the laundry has to get done before that trip, because you can’t forget to pack snowpants for school, and you need to beg for more time on this project. Again.

Kindergarten drop-off is at noon, and that gives me just enough time to squeeze in this meeting and pick up the dry-cleaning and talk through those five pressing things with my editor. While I’m on the phone I prep vegetables for dinner, and if Mac takes a good nap, I can get packed for the next trip, as long as the laundry is dry. 

And on and on and on, times seven years.

Good things like efficiency and multi-tasking go of the rails so far that sometimes I find myself running in my own house, shuttling things from room to room like my life is a timed obstacle course. This is insane.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I think I’m not alone. It doesn’t matter if you work or don’t, or have little kids or don’t, or travel or don’t. So many of us, it seems, are really, really tired of the hustle, and the next right thing is to slow down, to go back to the beginning, to stop. 

I’m adopting a ruthless anti-frantic policy. 

I’m done with frantic. The new baseline for me: will saying yes to this require me to live in a frantic way?

I’m saying no more often than I’m saying yes. I’m asking hard questions about why I’ve kept myself so busy all these years. The space and silence I’m creating is sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrifying. 

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a cartoon airplane when the engine gets cut and the plane hovers for a few long seconds before starting to fall. But then sometimes I feel so strongly like for the first time in a long time, I’m listening to the right voices. I’m remaking my way of living from the inside out. 

Publishing is all about striking while the iron’s hot.

But sometimes you have to trust that the iron will still be hot later, and that there’s more to life than that iron. Sometimes you have to trust that life is long for most of us, and that there will be other irons. 

My inbox is a disaster. The house is messier these days. That’s how it’s going to be for a while. I’m not powering my life with the white-knuckled, keyed-up buzz of efficiency and multi-tasking anymore. The word that rings in my mind is anti-frantic. 

Sleep. Slow. 

Present with my kids. 

Present to my own life. 

Anti-frantic.

 

Originally posted on the Storyline Blog

Don't Be The Next _________ .

I keep hearing things like, “He’s the next Rob Bell.”

“She’s the new Beth Moore.”

“She’s a female Donald Miller.”

“He’s a young Dallas Willard.”

“She’s the next Anne Lamott.”

I get it, what people are saying when they say things like that. They’re trying to describe a certain potential, more ‘this’ than ‘that,’ to define trajectory and tone. They’re trying to pay a compliment—they’re saying, “I think you could do what that amazing person has done.”

But there are at least two problems with this way of speaking: first, there is already one Rob Bell. And he’s great at what he does. There is a Beth Moore, and she’s amazing. Let’s not communicate to them that they’re factory models, a dime a dozen, with newer, younger versions of the same nipping at their heels.

There will never be another Dallas Willard. There will never be another Anne Lamott. These are individual people with stories and families and quirks, not types and caricatures. But we make them that when we talk about them like products. They’re not products, and they’re not replicable. They’re unique voices that God has used in extraordinary ways, and we minimize that when we talk about them like types, not people.

And what you’re saying to someone, when you tell him he’s the next so-and-so, is that there’s a slot you think he can slip into, if he tries hard enough. There’s an identity he can put on like a necktie. Just occupy this person’s voice and identity, and all will be well.

No. All will not be well. We don’t need more of them. We need more of you. God is using so many people in such beautiful ways, but we absolutely don’t need replicas of them. We need you: your voice, your uniqueness, your magic.

And we lose your magic when you lay it down in order to imitate someone else. We lose your voice, your perspective, your story, your strengths, your weaknesses, your dreams, your secrets.

Don’t be the next anybody. Be deeply, weirdly, completely, totally you.

Why do I care so deeply about this? Why does the hair on the back of my neck stand up when someone says, “He’s the next Billy Graham?”

Because some of the hardest work I’ve done in my life is fighting to believe that God’s not asking me to be the next anyone–not the next Bill Hybels, not the next Lynne Hybels. Not the next whoever. God’s asking me to be an entirely new thing, never before, never again. My parents’ daughter, of course, one thousand percent, but not their replica.

You were not made to be a clone or a replica or a version 2.0 of what God’s already done. You were made to be only you, with all the limitations and triumphs contained within that.

And so, my dear friends, promise me that you’ll be you–deeply, weirdly, totally you, not the next _____.

That’s where life is. That’s where freedom is. That’s where peace is.

Burn the Candles

Happy New Year! I’m one of those people who loves resolutions. I make like a million a year. I make them in January. I make them on Tuesdays and in the summer, and in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. Part of the reason I think I like making resolutions is because I also love breaking them, and because I forget about them without an ounce of angst. So I make them and leave them behind, willy-nilly. If you know me, you know that willy-nilly is sort of how I am in a lot of ways.

I have a few goals for the year—mantras, phrases, guidelines. I have some fresh starts and intentions, and like everyone else in America, I did tell myself in no uncertain terms that I must go to the gym today.

I won’t pretend that this little phrase is my deepest or most urgent resolution of the year, but it is one thing that I’m trying to run through my life, like yeast through dough: burn the candles.

You know the ones I mean—that fancy one that your friend sent you, in a beautiful box. Or maybe for you it’s the lotion, the special kind that someone knew you loved. Maybe it’s perfume or wine or jam or mustard. Maybe it’s a lovely brand-new journal that sits on your dresser while you scribble on bent and frayed index cards.

I know all about this. I have fancy lotions that have gone unused for years, given to me by people who know how much I love all things lavender-scented. Instead of using this fancy lotion—slathering it on my cracked and dry knuckles, smearing it on my neck or elbows, I keep it all untouched, and I use the bottom of an unscented bottle of hand cream I bought at the grocery store who-knows-how many years ago, or a tiny bottle from a nameless hotel so many months ago.

Listen, I’m not saying be fancy and spend crazy money on candles. You’re talking to a girl who keeps hotel soaps. What I’m saying is that when people give you things—and most likely, in the last month, people have given you things—allow yourself to receive them.

Burn the candles. Not just when people come over. For you, because someone gave them to you. Open the wine and have a glass tonight while you fold laundry. Wear the perfume, the pretty scarf, the whatever that you have tucked in a box, too fancy for you.

For Christmas I bought Aaron a subscription to Blue Bottle coffee, his favorite. And this is the magic of it: a whole bag arrives every two weeks. He has to brew his coffee, or we’ll end up with a delicious-smelling hoarding problem, a glut of coffee we don’t know what do to with. I love this.

Because it’s not about candles or coffee. It’s about believing that you’re worth the good stuff, that someone wanted you to feel loved and seen and known. I bet that someone didn’t want you to hoard your candle or your fancy tea or your beautiful lotion. I bet they would love to know that you’re drinking fancy tea all day and all night, reveling in the feelings of being loved and noticed. That’s how I feel, when I give someone a gift—I don’t want you to put it on a shelf for when someone else comes over. I got it for you, for you to feel loved and seen and known.

My dear friend Emily and I went to London together this year. It was a milestone trip for all sorts of reasons, marking an important finish line for me, the last of a long season of trips for me. It was the longest she’d been away from her darling girls, and across the ocean at that.

On a Sunday afternoon we wandered through Covent Garden—a stop for champagne & cheese, poking in and out of shops. We stayed forever at the Jo Malone store, smelling their heavenly perfumes. Honestly, I wanted to buy one, to mark the moment, to celebrate the milestone, but it felt extravagant, so I didn’t. And then last month the most beautiful box arrived, and it in the candle in the fragrance I’d fallen in love with (oud & bergamot—a heavy, other-worldly, spicy dream of a fragrance), and a thoughtful note from Emily.

I was delighted. And I immediately wanted to put it high on a special shelf, all the while burning whatever old candles I got on clearance at Target.

Not this year, pals. This year, let’s burn the candles. What are we saving them for? Who are we saving them for?

This year, brew the good coffee, wear the sparkly jewelry, crack open that fresh journal. Gifts are to be loved, to be burned, to be eaten and used up completely, reminders that someone loves us, that someone thought of us.

What would would it look like for you, this year, to burn your candles, to allow yourself to be as loved and worthy as the people around you believe you are? What are you hoarding away for another day, for someone else, someone more deserving or special or fancy? What have you been given that you won’t allow yourself to enjoy?

Open the jam, the journal, the wine. Slather that fancy lotion all over your feet. Put on those sparkly earrings even if you’re just going to the grocery store. Because someone gave them to you out of love. Accept that love. Burn the candles.