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.

A Surprising Life Ambition, On My 41st

By Holly

All those years while working part-time and navigating early motherhood, I thought my life was balanced.  I practically bragged to anyone who would listen about how lucky I was to be a mom with a job I loved away from home three days each week. And a dream of a babysitter.  It looked, sounded and felt like the perfect solution to the mom vs. career battle within me.

Unsplash / Pixabay

But it wasn’t balanced.  When your work is your obsession, it doesn’t matter how many days you are home each week.  While your body works in the kitchen, plays at the park, or hosts a playdate, your mind rehearses the next difficult conversation you need to have with an employee or composes the email you wish you would have written.

I wish I could say that work is the only obsession I’ve ever had.  But my tendency to fixate is pervasive.  In my college years, I spent so much time working out in the gym that a professor called me into his office and gently suggested that maybe I should consider exercising a little less.  “Don’t you think,” he asked with just the right mix of concern and sarcasm, “1000 calories on the stationery bike might be a little overkill?”  I knew he had a point.

At 41, I’ve given up my pursuit of the balanced life.  Maybe my obsessive ways have led me down path of defeat one too many times.  Keeping life’s teeter totter in the air is not how I want to live.

This is why, on my 41st birthday, I declare a new life ambition:  to live in the middle.  To find that fulfilling flow between the extremes of perfectionism and apathy, and to stay there.  This is how I see it:  We all tend to live toward the right or left of middle.  On the left, we avoid, escape, freeze and self-sabotage.  On the right, we obsess, overdo and perfect.  And the middle remains a mystery.  


Not surprisingly, one extreme creates the opposite extreme.  We work to utter exhaustion, then become productivity-paralyzed by stress and fatigue.   We try so hard to control a relationship that it completely collapses.  We go through life wasting our energy swinging from one extreme to the other, all the while missing out on the middle.

Buddhists call it “the middle way.”   Christians refer to it as the narrow gate and the easy yoke.  The Chinese name it the tao.  Whatever words are used, it’s the idea that there is a space – somewhere in the middle – where we can flourish.  It’s the notion that we don’t have to oscillate from good feelings to bad ones or from control to letting go; instead, there is a both/and place where the messy and the beautiful were meant to coexist.  Where we are meant to exist.

In the middle, we:

  • Embrace work with dedication, not obsession
  • Exercise for health instead of numbers
  • Parent with influence, not control
  • Love with openness instead of fear
  • Consume with purpose rather than escape

Staying in the middle means reeling myself in from the tantalizing sea of control, perfection and overwork.  It means holding boundaries that keep me out of resentment and allow me to accept help.  The middle is where letting go happens, creativity flows and there is space for my soul to be filled.

And so I wonder if, at the very end, the good life is being able to say, “I stayed in the middle.I found my flow there, took chances and flourished.I stayed away from fear’s paralyzing edge on the left and obsession’s self-destruction on the right.
I forged a path less traveled –
the middle path.”

Inspiring Stories: Holly Trujillo & Angel Wings Foundation

By Holly

Holly and John

It’s a gift to be able to write about my super cool and inspiring friend Holly (I promise you, it’s not just her name that I love!)  A few words that describe her:  authentic, selfless, driven, encouraging, grounded, and intriguing.  You’ve got to hear her redemptive story about starting Angel Wings Foundation, a local non-profit that supports individuals and families who have recently experienced life changing events and who are “in the middle,” meaning that they may not qualify for assistance or be looking for it.   As you get to know Holly and Angel Wings Foundation here, you will be sure to pick up pearls of life changing wisdom about healing sadness, humility and how God works.

Dreadlocks and Goldilocks (D&G):  How did Angel Wings Foundation begin?

Holly:  Angel Wings Foundation (AWF) began as a gift from my husband, John. We had been dealing with infertility issues and were excited to be welcoming our second child. Sadly, we suffered a miscarriage and I found myself in a place of overwhelming sadness. During that sad time in our lives, John created Angel Wings and gave it to me as a gift. He knew how much I loved to help others, and he knew that by reaching out and helping others would in turn help us heal. Everyone has their own story, their own struggles. Many of these people never share that with anyone and hurt quietly, sometimes alone and without the help and support of others. Starting something wonderful provides a place to focus on the good in the world. It helps us to recognize that we all can do something to brighten someone’s day or help provide them a chance to move forward past a life-changing event.

D&G:  What are you learning about God through your work with Angel Wings Foundation?

Holly:  I am in constant amazement about how He is using me in others’ lives, but more so how He is using others to grow my faith. Each story that I have experienced through AWF has deepened my faith in Him. I can tell you stories that would blow your mind. There are so many times where I’m in my own head and I can hear the enemy telling me that I’m not good enough, that I’m not doing enough and that I’m going to fall flat on my face. Every single time this happens, I pray. I pray hard. I ask Him to bring me peace. Guess what happens? Something unique always occurs that hits me to my core and reminds me that He is in control. He knows my beginning, middle and end. He holds my tears and asks me to trust in Him. So, I do. I trust in the Lord, I trust in His timing and my faith strengthens. I have been reminded that He has given me the personality that I have, to be used in these exact situations. I’m a persistent, stubborn and passionate person who wears her heart on her sleeve.  Those qualities are what makes Angel Wings (AWF) work.

D&G:  Your mission statement begins with, “Helping those who need it the most and expect it the least…”  Why did you feel it was important to include the phrase, “expect it the least”?

Holly:  It took me a long time to figure out how to explain the mission that was impressed on my heart. I wanted to reach a population of people who were struggling but surviving in humble ways. Those people who always seem grateful, no matter what is happening. Those people who exude joy in the truest sense. After many conversations and prayer, I knew it made sense to include that piece so that it was clear to everyone what our intention was. 

The other piece of this is that I have a total aversion to entitlement. I grew up in a home where it was part of our family culture to give back, to look out for others and be grateful for what you have. Those key values have carried with me throughout my life and into AWF.

Fulfilling basic needs Wings of Love

D&G:  How have you been changed through your work with Angel Wings Foundation?

Holly:  How much time do you have? I could write a novel about this question. I have never been so afraid and yet so exhilarated in my whole life. Stepping out in faith, and following my children’s brave lead at times, has allowed me to feel that I’m living out the purpose He has for me. I always has a voice inside that wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t want to fail. I still don’t!! Who does? I’m a perfectionist and a pleaser, so if I’m going to do something, I want to do it perfectly and make everyone comfortable.

Through the last 8 years, I’ve realized that being perfectly imperfect is the ultimate gift, that discomfort breeds character, that I’m truly never going to make everyone happy, and I’m ok with that.   – Holly Trujillo

I’m overjoyed and proud to say that I’m doing the best I can and that’s all I can do! If I can change one person’s life for the better, that is a job well done.

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D&G:   What are some examples of what you do?

Holly:  We help families and individuals in a variety of areas. Sometimes we support people anonymously; other times, the help we give is direct because of the size of the need. One example is of a financially strapped mother of two, who had to stop at the local tire shop each morning to fill her tires with air before taking her child to school.  After someone who knew about her situation nominated her through our website, our team reached out for a site visit (in many cases, AWF members meet directly with the nominee to decide on the support needed, as each nomination is unique). When the team came back with a recommendation to support her, we arranged to have new tires put on her car along with some minor repairs. The day after we did this, she called me, in tears, so grateful that she and her children could drive straight to school without worrying about their safety or stopping at the tire shop. She shared with us that this peace of mind was the bigger gift in all of this; she was humbled and grateful to be able to have this unique need met.

D&G:  How can readers get involved?

  1.  If you are local, come join us on Saturday 11/21 at Hope Bags, an event that was created to allow local families to come together and impact our community. It’s a time to involve kids and adults of all ages in creating Hope Bags – bags filled with basic care items for those in need. You will be able to decorate a Hope Bag, write a note of encouragement, fill the bag with personal care items and then take the bag with you to distribute as the opportunity arises. This is a festive, family, open house style event where all are welcome!  (For those who are not local, you can still participate in Hope Bags by purchasing necessary items for the bags here.)

For more information about the Hope Bags free and family-friendly event, go here

2.  Vote for Angel Wings Foundation to receive a grant to continue their wonderful work here.

3.  Follow Angel Wings Foundation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

4.  Make a donation, learn more and subscribe to the Angel Wings Foundation newsletter by visiting their website here.








When Perfection Meets a Messy Kitchen

By Holly

Messy Kitchen

I have a thing about my kitchen.  Ever since becoming a stay-at-home mom a couple of months ago, I have felt the need (um, compulsion?) to bookend my days with a clean kitchen.  I want to start and end my days with counters cleared, dishes put away, and high-maintenance dark wood floor swept free of crumbs.

But one day recently, this thought crashed into my kitchen cleaning neuroses:  The only thing that happens in a clean kitchen is sleep.

When the stains are wiped away from our white tile counters, when the evidence of the God’s gifts of sustenance – love and food – is shoved away into cabinets, and when the footprints that mark our days are swept away, what else is there to do but…sleep?

Yes.  Sleep happens in the clean.  But life happens in the mess.

I have heard similar sentiments before, and I am not about to launch into a “so embrace the mess” lecture.  Because knowing that sleep is what happens in the clean does not make me feel better about the ocean of messiness that surrounds my island of kitchen spotlessness.  And accepting that life is messy does not make the plastic toys that I trip over on my way to the stairs transform into signs of life.

It’s more that I wonder what this means about life.

I suspect there is a deeper truth in this “living in the mess and sleeping in the clean.”  But it’s not about making peace with the mess in my house.  It is more about trying so hard to keep life clean.

Could it be that clean is a misplaced ambition?  Could it be that we, misguidedly, strive to live in the bookends of clean, doing everything we can to avoid the mess in between?

We race through life, believing that freedom will come when our marks and stains are wiped away.  So we set our sights on the ultimate clean:  sinlessness.   This is the finish line we run toward, with our eyes fixed on trophies of purity.  The course is long and hard, marked by the twists and turns of performance, programming and perfection.  We think that once we achieve sinlessness, we will have arrived.

No dirt, no marks, no stains.  Is this what the life devoted to God looks like?  Clean is the evidence of God-intervention?

Or is it more like this?  No dirt, no marks, no stains.  This is what the sterile life looks like.  The evidence of God-separation.

Being free from the mess doesn’t make us free.  It makes us sterile, separate.  Being free from the mess kills the life.

Because God intervenes in the mess, not in the clean.  God is Perfection swooping right into our chaos, showing us that life on our own is sterile.  Out of our oozing wounds and spiritual disarray, out of our shambles of self-medication and shame, and out of shattered dreams and relationships, God creates messy lives of perfection.

But it is not the clean kind of perfection that we are consumed by; it is not flawlessness.  God’s kind of perfection is completeness.  It is the Biblical term for perfection, teleios:  mature, full-grown, complete.  Because maturity is knowing God.  It is being made whole by God, growing into God.  God’s kind of perfection is the kind that makes us depend on Him.

Dirt, marks, stains.  This is right where God wants us to live.  Because we don’t need God in the clean.

*I think of this as a companion post to Kari’s Parable of the Messy Kitchen Drawer…we are all in this kitchen mess together!

My Year of Lent (Im)Perfection

By Holly

I did Lent perfectly once. 

40 sugarless days.  No slips.  No exceptions.

I met Easter morning strong.  Accomplished.  Undefeated.  Reese’s eggs and pastel M&M’s spilling out of plastic eggs weren’t even tempting.

It was my year of Lent perfection.

I had relied on willpower, determination and discipline to give up sugar.  I conquered.  I proved.  And it felt good.

Wait.  This is Lent perfection?

It looks a lot like self-reliance.

I can see it now – this twisted way of wrapping God-reliant intentions up in self-reliant sacrifices – because time has a way of chiseling away stuff like intentions to get to the hard truth.  But, at the time, it felt like spiritual success (kind of like fasting.)  My Lenten efforts felt noble and made me feel worthy.  They felt like sacrifice for all of the right reasons.

And Lent is all about the sacrifice, right?

I’m not so sure anymore…

Because the truth that withstands the years of chiseling makes me wonder if Lent is more about the wilderness than the sacrifice.  And if it’s more about the listening than the wilderness.  Jesus went to the wilderness to be tempted.  But, isn’t that only part of the story?

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness… Mark 1:12

He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…Luke 4:1

He went because the Spirit led him there.  He went because he listened.

What if Lent, the spring of our souls, lies in the listening, not the sacrifice? 


Ugh.  Listening is so….vague.  I can do sacrifice.  I can do tangible.  But, listening?  Listening is so maybe-I’ll-hear-something but maybe-not.  So what-if-I-hear-something-that-I-don’t-want-to-hear?  It’s the thing we talk about needing to do, not the thing we actually do.  And it’s impossible to conquer.  It’s so hard to be good at listening to God.

(I think I’d rather give up sugar and my iPhone.)

But, if I want something more than a brief stint of sobriety and a self-congratulatory buzz from these forty days, maybe I need to stop giving up my medicating and start giving up my pride.  My fear.  My avoidance.  My agenda.

Pride.  Fear.  Avoidance.  Agendas.  Aren’t these the things we need to give up…to listen? 


So maybe the sacrifice is in the listening?

The Spirit told Jesus to go to the wilderness.  Jesus listened.  I have a feeling there are plenty of other places he would have rather gone.

There was sacrifice in his listening.

Maybe God will tell us to go to the wilderness too, into that wide open space of facing.  That place we must go to face ourselves.  To face our many faces.  To turn our one true face to God.

Or maybe God will tell us to stay right where we are.  Maybe listening will bring us home, not take us away.  Maybe we will enter a soul-spring of waiting, not facing.

Maybe God will tell us to give something up.

Maybe God will tell us to take something on.

(Maybe all these maybes are what makes listening so hard.)

This year, I didn’t give up anything tangible for Lent.  But, each of these forty days, I am trying to listen.  Each day, I make imperfect attempts to give up the things that get in the way of listening:  pride, fear, avoidance and agendas. 

If Lent is about listening, I have never known Lent perfection.

Sometimes, I hear
Sometimes, I hear
Sometimes, I hear
Give Up
Sometimes, I hear
Take On
Sometimes, I don’t hear
anything at all.
But, still,
imperfectly still,
I listen.

{the essence of Lent: Listening.}