The Truth About Real Time

By Holly

Free-Photos / Pixabay

Truth #1 (Real Time): 

It is Thursday, my scheduled writing day this week. I type that as if it is something I routinely do, but it’s not. Blocking out one writing day each week is a practice I started just last month, and each and every one of them was botched by some version of sickness: one of my daughters home from school, an unexpected trip to the ENT, my own two-week flu. As one after another so-called Writing Days did not pan out in December, I began to wonder if it was a sign. After all, devoting a day to writing feels more like a luxurious desire than something I deserve.

So, when Thursday arrives snag-free, I am not prepared. Where will I go? What will I write? I slide behind the steering wheel and vaguely recall reading something recently about how God gives directions after we are already on our way. Today seems like a good day to test that theory. After a stop at the gas station and a few laps around a Starbucks parking lot, I find myself driving to the nearest library, one I have not visited for many years.

As I walk toward the doors God led me toward today, the words in my head are, “I’m such a nerd.” Loaded up with a stack of books, I awkwardly free a hand to open the door, and think: Only someone like me would end up at a library on a day like this.

Just inside the lobby, I see toddlers gathering for story time. My what-if’s start flowing: What if I run into a mom I know, one who is looking for a respite from the constant tending to an energetic four-year old? What will she think of me, siting in my quiet calm with three hours before I need to be anywhere? What if she gives me one of those “must be nice” looks? 

I beeline for the table in the corner under a stretch of windows overlooking a river and tuck myself in. Rain taps at just the right interval to interrupt my not-so-helpful self-talk and gently remind me that this is where I am supposed to be today.

I am struck by this realization: The very thing that makes me call myself names and sends me into what-if spirals is the same thing I fear will make others judge me. Wait. What?

It’s complicated.

And it’s not.

If I don’t accept myself for who I am, why would anyone else?

Truth #2 (Reality…Over Time): 

It’s Thursday, my scheduled writing day. Today I find myself in a new spot, an unassuming old library set by a river. I am amazed by how God takes me new places when I let him have the steering wheel. I find a row of perfectly sized tables beneath a stretch of windows with a view and settle in with assurance that this is exactly where I am supposed to be today.

As I open my laptop, I am filled with curiosity. What words will God give me to write today? What truths will he reveal? I notice a moss-covered, aging tree arched over the river and connect with its thirst. I feel grateful for a source. Thank you, Lord, for this place and time. Thank you for the way you wired me. I am overcome with a feeling of invitation. Love brought me here. Places like this were made for people like me. Here – now – I receive the invitation to love myself.

I hear excited children gathering for story time and remember what a sweet time that was for me and my girls when they were little. What moms – stressed out or wrapped up in the sweetness – might I see today? To whom could I offer encouragement, love, or a listening ear?

I wonder what good things may flow from the me I was designed to be.

Truth #1: Real time isn’t the only kind of time.

Truth #2: God calls me to his reality over time.

In real time, I go in and out of truth. I trust God with the steering wheel and, at the same time, I tune into the (untrue) soundtracks in my head.

Over time, I grow closer to God’s reality.


What about you – what are you learning to love about yourself? What realities are you growing closer to – over time? 

God’s Sweet Spot

By Holly

I love to ask my daughters about their names. Tweener Maya, who currently wishes her name was Morgan, rolls her eyes while seven-year old Sage’s smile spreads under her lit-up eyes. I want to be sure Maya knows how she was named after two beautiful female writers, one a famous poet and the other who would have been had the drunk driver not taken her life in college. And I hope Sage will understand the multiple meanings behind her name – wisdom, its particular shade of green and the ubiquitous plant of my beloved New Mexican desert.

But it is their version of their name stories that I most love to hear, how the stories evolve over time and the details get mixed up, like Sage thinking she was named after an owl and Maya remembering the National Geographic magazine that came out the week after she was born with “MAYA” on the cover. We giggle as one story leads to another and, in the end, I feel satisfied. While they may not get all the details right, they understand the heart behind their names.

While I am convinced that Maya would be different if she were Morgan, it is how she understands and lives from the heart behind her name that matters. There are details, motives and feelings that I want to pass on to my girls about their names, but it is their own versions of the stories I tell them that will shape how they move through this world.

I like to imagine God asking me about the names he’s given me, listening with smiling eyes and open arms, patiently letting my versions of his naming stories evolve into laughter just as I do with my daughters. I picture God asking me to remember why he named me Free, New, or Wonderfully Made. I hear myself stumbling through my answers and leaving out important details.

Then, in the presence of the one who named me, I feel my fears about getting things wrong, and even my shame about not living up to these names, fade away. I understand that God had his reasons for giving us names and, just as my girls will never breathe in the New Mexico desert the same way I do, or feel the way my heart falls into rhythm when I read Maya Angelou, we will never experience our names exactly the way God does.

And this is exactly how it was meant to be.

God didn’t give us names like Cherished, Whole and Forgiven to see if we would get them right. He didn’t call us Washed Clean or Child of God to load us up with expectations and pressure.

God simply wants us to grasp the heart – the love – behind the names he gave us.

He wants to hear our versions of his stories, however crazy and far off from his intentions they may be. Because, more than anything, God wants to meet us in his sweet spot – the place where his story meets ours.

The Possibility that Changed My “Spiritual Life”

By Holly

geralt / Pixabay

I first heard the idea in moments that passed years ago but can easily feel like now. It was deep into fall, that time of year when the excitement of pumpkin-flavored everything wears off, maple trees turn from bold vulnerable and thickening clouds hover low and permanent. It was early in the evening, but the automatic headlights of my minivan had turned on hours ago. As I exited the highway, I could barely see the stoplight at the end of the ramp change to green in the blur of constant rain. My windshield wipers swooshed, letting me see just clearly enough to change lanes and make the turn into the Panera parking lot. Walking in to meet a friend, my old black wool pea coat felt like someone else’s – somehow both too roomy and restrictive at the same time – and I wondered if it was time for a new one.

In those moments from the exit ramp to parking lot, Dallas Willard’s words lingered in the way that perfectly crafted sentences demand rereading before moving on. In my three-decade quest for a flourishing spiritual life, I had never considered the possibility he offered:

The Pharisees defined goodness as doing the right thing. Jesus defined it as becoming the kind of person who would naturally do the right thing. – Dallas Willard

I must have played this section of the podcast eight more times on my way home that night. The idea that Jesus is not the only Living Being capable of oozing goodness without effort was, and still is, shocking.

The Pharisee in me feels more natural than the Jesus in me. I feel good about myself when I follow rules, check boxes and do the hard, right thing. A few years in a row, I wrote out a “Life Plan” and listed specific goals for my spiritual life. It felt amazing. Or at least imagining myself accomplishing the goals did. Looking back now, it reminds me of when I was a teenager who had “church” friends and “school” friends: there was a separation that seemed normal – even necessary – then, but disturbs me now.

Until those pre-winter moments when the view out my windshield was just enough to keep going, spirituality was one of many categories in my life. I treated it like work. Or exercise. It was something I did, not who I was. Some days – and many moments – it still is. Living as an integrated spiritual being, instead of a compartmentalized human doing, is an everyday struggle.

Yet I find solace in the memory of that November day, because Dallas Willard’s words opened the possibility that Jesus-like goodness can flow from me as freely and naturally as my self-doubt and fear, that my faith doesn’t have to feel like a measure of self-discipline. Just believing this is possible – for me, for my daughters, for our broken world – can feel like enough.

Learning to Be Human

By Holly

LaughingRaven / Pixabay

I thought we were going to be the next big thing. Our yin and yang combo of poetry and prose would be the refreshing new blog that changed the world. Surely, we – my dreadlocked poet friend and I – would have thousands of followers and write best-selling books. (The Today Show may or may not have been mentioned.)

And:

Who was I to start a blog?  My formal education was the opposite of literature. Journal writing was my training. Who was I to click “Publish” in this world full of experts and gurus who have already said everything important? What business did I have calling myself a writer? Why would anyone be interested in my small words?

I was both Superwoman and subhuman in my approach to becoming a writer. A moment drenched in energetic self-belief was sure to fade into an episode of self-doubt fierce enough to paralyze. It was a vicious volley of more than, less than, more than, less than.

It is only now, three years later, that powerful adjectives like vicious and subhuman seem accurate descriptors of what went on in my head. At the time, each thought seemed, simply, true. In the brief spans when humility and bravery collided to free me to do the work of writing, I thought my fingers were typing out words despite my polarized self-beliefs. I thought more than served as motivation and less than was something to overcome.

This no longer feels true.

More than/less than is a pattern I can trace across my four decades of being. It shows up most clearly in times of transition or uncertainty. Entries into new things – social circles, college, leadership positions, jobs – swing from grandiose plans to hefty doses of self-doubt. Less than takes up more space in my head and thanks to Brene Brown’s well-known work, I have come to know it as shame – the feeling that we are inherently flawed or unworthy.

But what about the more than feelings? If I had to name them, I would call them the ugly fruit of pride. Until recently.

From TED talks and books, I learned that shame was about inferiority and a lack of worthiness. Friends, wise counselors and the media taught me that I was not alone in wondering if I was enough. So, when I first came across these words penned by shame expert John Bradshaw, I was skeptical:

Toxic shame, with its more-than-human, less-than-human polarization, is either inhuman or dehumanizing. The demand for a false self to cover and hide the authentic self necessitates a life dominated by doing and achievement. Everything depends on performance and achievement rather than on being. 

More than and less than human? And more than as shame?  I wasn’t so sure.

Looking back at my writing journey from this point in time, I feel sure of this: Authentic words come in the space between grandiosity and self-doubt, not despite them, like I once believed. For me, writing is not an act of overcoming unhelpful beliefs about myself. I do not spend time convincing myself that I will never be on air with Matt Lauer, nor do I positive self-talk myself into believing my typed words will matter. Where I thrive is in a space of surrender, not battle, and I find that space somewhere between more than and less than. I enter it open, curious, unsure about outcomes and with utter reliance on a power greater than myself. This truth leads me closer to a belief in Bradshaw’s words about shame: if being human is finding, embracing and living as our authentic selves, then anything that prevents us from doing this is not human.

Another certainty: I needed to believe I could do Big Things, that I could change the world with my words, because this was my path to worthiness. Such success would be proof that my humanness was not as flawed as I feared it could be. Ambitious goals can look a lot like dreams – even to ourselves – but a plan born from our own self-worth questions is more than thinking that distracts us from the work we are meant to do.

Shame wears many masks.

These days, I try out my growing belief in Bradshaw’s words with a prayer. It sounds something like this, “God, help me find the space between. Help me stay human.” I pray it in on my way to an uncomfortable social situation, before I speak in a work meeting, as I sit down to write a blog post. God, keep me human. With this prayer, I become more aware of my mind’s tendency toward extremes, I see my shame disguised as pride or dreams. I listen more, and better. With this prayer, I relax into the surrender that is being human.

Feel Like You’re Going Backwards in Life? Try this.

By Holly

LincolnGroup / Pixabay

Everything about my body’s movement felt backwards despite my intention to go forwards. Both hands braced on the machine’s railings, I checked my feet: forwards. This specific ramp/resistance setting on the new elliptical at my gym tricks me every time. Trying to make sense of these feelings, I watched as my feet continued, one in front of the other. Reassured, I looked at the monitor but immediately felt like I was going in reverse again. Only my eyes could tell the difference.

I decreased the ramp by one level; my body and mind synced again. I continued, undistracted.

Whether my legs were going forwards or backwards did not affect my workout goal. After all, exercise on a stationary machine is about activity, not direction.

However, I want to move forward – always, in everything. I need to feel like I am making progress.  Look ahead, grow up, power through and move toward are phrases I utter to myself. But when company sales decline, three weeks of sickness wrecks my to-do list, the needle on the scale moves to the right, and anxiety-driven habits resurface, a backwards feeling comes on fast, one that can’t be fixed by pressing a button.

Whether we are progressing in life or not, chronological time marches on. Humbled by the truth that earth will continue its orbit regardless of my accomplishments and the logic that backwards is not possible, I find comfort in this:

 There must be another way to look at time.

            I step out of the shower – my first after the initial three days of mothering sick children – and I feel as if I reemerge into a life that left me behind. My mind is adrift with thoughts like, “How will I ever catch up?” At the same time, I feel an unexpected certainty that I am exactly where I need to be. I imagine God’s view of time, so different than mine. I wonder if it is like the wacky dreams of my sleep, where I am an ageless version of myself, unsurprised by the convergence of friends and strangers from various periods of my life, roaming through impossible landscapes built by subconscious slices of real experiences. Time doesn’t exist in my dreams; only stories do.

Despite my faithful intentions to use time well, the ticking clock can feel more like pressure than opportunity. Dreams offer another way: they show me that the human brain is capable of experiencing time as something other than linear.

I become less sure of my forward-moving need. I become more sure that our timeless God simply sees me whole.

God did not intend for us to wrestle down time in constant pursuit of progress. Nor are we created to disregard our numbered days. There is a middle way:  we can choose to step back, to breathe in a big picture view of time, to take it in like a dream, to imagine how God sees it. We will see that our stories are made where long, barren stretches meet transfigured moments. We will be reminded that God is not linear.

Backwards is not possible.