The Real Reason Mr. Right Hasn’t Shown Up Yet

Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.” – Isaiah 54:5 

Hello, Beautiful Sister, I see you there.

You have a deep desire to be married, to create a family that honors God. 

Perhaps He has even given you a word confirming this is indeed His will for your life. You’ve been working on being the best version of you, dating as the opportunity arises and always keeping your eyes peeled for the arrival of your Mr. Right. 

So why is he taking so long? I mean, Southern sweet tea cures faster in a patch of sunshine than your future man showing up. And the way things are looking right now in your love life, that’s exactly what he’s doing: either drinking his sweet tea under a tree somewhere in Alabama … or worse, still waiting for it to cure. 

Either way, you’re getting impatient. 

Where is God in all of this? Why are you still as single as a stand-alone song on iTunes? And what are you supposed to DO now to hurry this along? 

Well, beloved woman, I can’t answer all those questions. But I sure can tell you this:

Sometimes the questions we ask will reveal the answers to us naturally, if we have the ears to ear. 

The first two questions, I truly can’t answer for you. I CAN tell you that God is here, in the midst of your singleness, and that He has an answer to the WHY that He may or may not choose to share. And that’s all I can say on that front.

But that third question … the one of the “What am I supposed to do now?” variety.

Your answer to your question is right there, plain as day. That question in and of itself IS your answer to why you, the Rebekah marked out for marriage by God Himself, are still waiting for your Isaac. Or his servant with the ten camels. (Take your pick, it all ends up the same way.)

Let’s face it: you are a goal-oriented, driven woman who sees what she wants and goes after it. If someone who seems successful says, “Jump, and you’ll get my results!” Your response is always, “How high?” I bet you’ve already hired a dating or feminine energy coach, read all the books on relationships, attended every church singles event, perfected your online dating profile until it POPS on the internal search engine and pray hard every day.

Bottom line; if you could do something … anything … to make this guy show up, you’ve probably already done it.

Which is why it’s time to stop approaching this marriage process like a man, and start approaching it like a woman. 

Yes, you heard me right.

Our culture today is sooooo sneaky. As women, we have been sold a lie that in order to be successful, we have to DO more. In the process, we get taught to behave like me: to set goals, check stuff ruthlessly off of lists, sweat hard and demand results. Which, as it turns out, are all masculine ways to get things done.

Yet this is NOT how we as women are wired to relate to God, ourselves or others. And when it comes to relationships, where our feminine energy is the REAL gift God has given us to bring to the man we’re dreaming of, we are rarely if ever showing up as soft, receptive, open space. 

Instead, we show up to the party trying to drive our agenda and get the man our way.

How can God send us a real man, when we’re so busy trying to be one? 

You see, feminine energy—the essence of our womanhood that God gave us as our “superpower—is all about being OPEN. It’s about receptivity. It’s about being able to “dance with the flow” of life and trust that God will guide our steps. NO striving, no struggle, no sweat.

And it’s actually the exact opposite of our goal-driven, “girl boss” culture. A woman who is truly in her feminine essence may not be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, no. But she has most definitely learned how to stay present in her life, exactly where she is right now, loving exactly what God sends to her and immersing herself in the full sensory experience of what is on her plate right now. 

In other words, a truly feminine woman—the kind of woman a “real man” wants to date and marry—is not in fight mode, conquer mode or competition mode. She’s busy enjoying her life, and nothing is more enticing than a beautiful woman who naturally helps a man rest from his own God-made goal orientation and relax into “the flow” in her presence.. 

Plese note, dear heart: this does not mean a feminine woman cannot be a successful visionary with dreams and plans God has given her, or a woman with “a lot going on.” But it means she accomplishes all these things by grounding into her life exactly as it is right now, not by deciding in advance what’s supposed to happen and pushing her agenda.

So, you still want to know why Mr. Right hasn’t shown up yet?

Part of it is timing. God isn’t going to bring him until the exact right moment … and you can get down on your knees and thank Him for this, because His way is best. But beyond that … God won’t bring Mr. Right into your life until you are fully surrendered to where you are right now. 

You’ve got to love your life to the fullest extent, RIGHT NOW, whether or not your man is in the picture. 

“But Lisa,” you say, as your eyes fill up with tears, “You have no idea how lonely I am. I just want to be loved, to be part of a team. Is that so much to ask?”

Oh, my beautiful friend, I know how you feel. God knows the nights I cried myself to sleep wondering if I would ever experience love—both before my marriage, during it (because it was never strong), and after it unexpectedly ended in divorce. 

As I speak the truth in love to you, I speak it from a place of deep tenderness and knowledge.

I didn’t want to hear that I needed to love my life, right now, before Mr. Right showed up. But once I dried my tears and accepted this word, my life actually began to change.

You see, Mr. Right can’t be your everything. He can’t be responsible for your emotion well-being, for cheering you up every second of the day, for taking away your loneliness, for giving you a purpose, a hope and “an expected end.” 

He’s a man. Like, a real one with flaws as well as features. And he’s going to need you to minister to him as much as he ministers to you. 

The only One who can satisfy all the needs you have is God. And since He’s all you’ve got right now … right now is the perfect opportunity to change how you approach your life, so you can (ultimately) watch God change your situation. 

A feminine woman doens’t have to fight or strive for what she wants, because she knows the Lord her Maker, the Lord of Hosts, is fighting on her behalf.

Believe me, I used to think it would be IMPOSSIBLE to love my life as a single woman. Yet, when I asked God to help me ground into what He’s given me, right now, and stop treating my love life like a mountain to be conquered, He answered me by literally SHOWERING His grace, His presence, and dynamic power, right into my situation. 

I still hope to be married, yes. God has told me this is my future and has given me many specific dreams and words about it. 

But I don’t need that man to make me happy. He will only, ever, be a complement to my happiness: the cherry on top the sundae of an already-amazing life.

Your life will be what you make it, with or without a man. So start making it extraordinary now, as-is.

And while you’re doing that, my dear friend, let Mr. Right off the hook. Let hims sip his sweet tea in Alabama, or better yet … wait for it to cure just right so he can bring you a glass to share.

He’s only a man, after all. And you’ve already got the Lord of Hosts for your husband. 

Let Him be your all, and when you do, you will see how He gives you more than you ever dreamed possible …

Maybe even the man of your dreams!

Little Paper Pieces: On the Tearing Up and Rewriting of Your Life

NOTE: The following is a featured post from 2016 which first appeared on my former creative blog, Scrappy Storyteller. I’m sharing this as a way of embracing my past creative self and sharing ideas she had that, well, still matter today. Enjoy!


Anyone who knows me well knows how much I hate the process of revision. Ideas tend to flow through me like freight trains, complete thoughts barreling down the track that is my early phases of writing. They’re coherent and prolific. This blog post itself is mostly a first draft, composed on-the-fly with a few stolen moments of time.

Generally after composing such a first draft, I walk away satisfied that I got my meaning across. This is probably the only real reason I write: not for the beauty of language itself, but to get something off my chest. 

And that is where things start to get messy.

Because the process of polishing my thoughts is never as straightforward or simple as the getting them down in the first place. I hate chaos, so there’s something inherently horrific to me about taking my neatly ordered ideas and tearing them up. Why un-make and re-make again what was decently adequate to start with—especially when it involves such violence?

To me, revision feels like a death: my beautiful first drafts get torn up into “little paper pieces” and scattered on the wind. Why can’t I just write it well the first time?

This is of course the purest form of creative impatience. Nothing on the planet (not even my words!) show up in the world fully formed. It must be shaped and fashioned, nurtured and evolved. Many sentences and paragraphs must die and rise again in new forms before the final product emerges.

That’s just not how the creative process works in real life. I think the same can be said for our inner stories as well.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about The Other Side of Storytelling. In this post, I explored what it now means to me to refashion my personal narrative of my own life experiences—so I can actually live with myself and move forward. Author Jean Houston has called this the process of “re-mythologizing your life.”

Just as cultures tell themselves stories to make meaning of their collective experience, so we individuals do the same. Just perhaps, more unconsciously. But as I’ve learned since I wrote the post, re-mythologizing an inner reality is much closer to the traditional process of creative revision than I imagined at the outset.

Revision is nothing more than a process of Getting Your Story Straight. To get your story straight, you must be willing to revise it, a thousand times if necessary. You must not fear the violence of ripping paper or the whine of the shredding machine. You must, in short, be willing to tear every unsatisfactory draft up into tiny paper pieces and scatter them to the wind.

Oh, the mess it makes!

Despite this mess, over the past few months, I have been blessed with so many angelic individuals coming into my life to help me “see” myself properly and retell my story at a crucial moment. Some of them are friends. Some are clients. Some occupy other capacities altogether in my heart and mind. But they all share one thing in common: 

They have, each one of them, forced me to tear up and rewrite my story—again. 

Every time I am tempted to settle for a less elegant rendition of what has happened in my life, or put up with a self-destructive turn of phrase, they pull out their red pens and call me on my bullshit. It’s editorial license of a breathtakingly destructive kind.

The funniest—and perhaps most grace-filled—part of it, is that most of these editors don’t even know they’re on the job.

They don’t know how many times I go home from being with them, feeling like my soul has been ripped up, ripped out or ripped open. They never see the tears I shed, or the long journal entries in which I force myself to reframe experiences that I have always naturally avoided, or seen in a particular, self-destructive light. Inspired by their nudges, I’ll start writing my story again, thinking this time I’ll get the final healthy version down pat. 

But it just doesn’t work that way.

There’s always another draft I need to write. And pronto.

Despite my frustration with the slowness of this process, there is hope. In my most private moments I find myself gradually being filled up with a story that (while different from the one I originally wrote) is probably far stronger. Yet in the presence of my editors, I still find myself frequently at a loss for words, or saying the wrong things, or losing my power of self-expression altogether. 

I do not have just the right turn of phrase to replace the part of my story they just redlined, or marked up with that dreaded bit of commentary: “Unclear. Rewrite!” 

Paper pieces start showering down everywhere, and no matter how fast I chase them with broom and vacuum, I can hardly keep up with the mess.

Of course, I hate the mess. And I worry that my friends and clients and others in my life will soon grow impatient with all the flotsam in my wake. Don’t they hate breathing in wood pulp? Don’t they get tired of red ink-stains on their fingers? And aren’t they going to revoke our contract when they get another horrible mid-revision draft that’s just north of complete drivel?

Then I remember, that they don’t see what’s happening in my soul. They aren’t inside my process of re-mythologizing my life. 

The paper pieces are likely invisible to everyone except me.

My mess, self-made, is also only self-seen.

So this is a thank you to all those brave souls out there who engage with me at a level I’ve never experienced before. You know who you are. You know how much you matter. 

What maybe you don’t know is just how painful (in the best of ways) your kindness is. 

I’m reminded of a quote from A Course in Miracles, which states, “Discomfort is not the final result of your perception.”

I trust wholeheartedly that this time of new perceiving of myself, and of rewriting my understanding of my life, will bear fruit in the years to come. I trust that the discomfort of my new perception, inspired by your collective kindness, will be rewarded with a great joy that I can give back to you a thousand fold. I trust that the sea of red ink you help me splash all over my internal narrative will deliver us at last a clean, fresh story that is satisfying all the way to “The End.”

I trust this, yes. 

And still , I grieve a bit every time a new draft splits into a thousand useless scraps.

Then again, maybe re-mythologizing not about getting the story “just right.” Maybe it is not about the death of the old drafts at all, but the celebration what might come in the next. And maybe—just maybe—that’s where I’ve always gone wrong with revision.

One can view the act of writing as a tearing up of the old, or as the welcoming in of something brand-new and wonderful.

Little paper pieces, I suppose, make their own kind of confetti.

Weightless Warrior: On Fencing Well at 30,000 Feet

NOTE: The following is a featured post from 2016 which first appeared on my former creative blog, Scrappy Storyteller. I’m sharing this as a way of embracing my past creative self and sharing ideas she had that, well, still matter today. Enjoy!


“Be fully present. Feel your heart. And engage the next moment without an agenda.” – Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change

I’ve always considered myself an armchair fencer.

My well-loved collection of fencing manuals attest to my ongoing interest in martial history. Then there’s my multi-year, still-unfulfilled intention to take an actual historical fencing class. At least, this year I started yoga again, so I can at least get back in shape for this new level of martial commitment.

One might say my interest in fencing to date has been mostly intellectual. After all, reading a manual does not make one an actual fencer. Book knowledge alone will not win a bout. Nor does intending to take a class replace for actually taking one.

Until now, I’ve been okay with that.

Let’s face it: the armchair version of combat is pretty safe. The armchair is grounded on terra firma. My backside is flat on that seat. The stakes are low, the danger nonexistent. While it’s quite entertaining to speculate how I might parry a blow or wrestle an opponent to the ground, I do not really have to do these things.

I do not actually have to dance with Death.

In fencing, there’s a fine line between fighting and dancing. An even finer line between dancing and falling flat on your face (with a sword in your back). As long as I’m tied to the armchair, I don’t have to risk much of anything. 

It’s combat, without the very thing that makes combat so exhilarating: risk. 

Recently, I’ve realized that my approach to fencing is rather indicative of my general approach to life.

While some might call me a risk-taker, and I do have a history of unconventional choices, I know deep down that I manage my level of risk pretty heavily. I only take on projects I feel have a decent chance of succeeding, according to whatever standard I’ve set up. I don’t step out very often without a lot of pre-consideration. And whatever else I do, I make sure I’ve got good old terra firma underneath my feet. 

But that was before I read Pema Chödrön’s disarmingly bold little book Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change. Chodron recasts the traditional Buddhist Three Commitments—known as the Warrior Tradition—for a modern audience.

In practical terms, she argues that uncertainty is actually the only certainty in human existence. The suffering we experience is tied to our resistance to that uncertainty, not to the uncertainty itself. She renames uncertainty as groundlessness, and invites us to welcome this sense of constant shift as a welcome sign we are truly alive.

 Tallhoffer’s fechbuch is one of my favorites. Don’t these two chaps look like they’re fighting in a groundless space?

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet,” Chödrön writes, “to realize our dream of constant okayness . . .”

I love this mental picture of groundlessness. For me in my current stage of life, groundless often feels not just like shifting ground, but like no ground at all. When things are uncertain in my life, I feel like I’m a fencer levitating en garde at 30,000 feet. All I can feel, see and sense is the sheer lack of anything between me and the pinprick landscape below.

This, Chodron says, is exactly how things should be. And exactly how we resist them being.

She goes on to argue that groundlessness is our best training for the Warrior Tradition: the place where we really learn to live with courage, radical openness to all beings, and love that always says, “yes” to what life sends our way. In other words, for those fencing-inclined among us who are series about enlightenment, groundlessness is the perfect place to fight.

But what the heck does it really mean to fight well at 30,000 feet?

I don’t have a manual for that in my collection.

While I’m no guru on the subject, I have a few theories. To me, under these circumstances, fighting well means learning to walk on air and love the feeling. It means living each day as if you’re dancing through the clouds, knowing every lunge or pivot could break the nothingness you balance on and send you plunging to your death. 

To me, fighting well at 30,00 feet means parrying with your own mortality—and enjoy the thrill.

We can choose to see this as terrifying, or we (like Kate Winslet in Titanic) can spread our arms wide and welcome the wind.

“If we can get in touch with the sensation as sensation and open ourselves to it without labeling it good or bad,” Chodron writes, “then even when we feel the urge to draw back, we can stay present and move forward into the feeling.”

The remedy, in other words, is to stop resisting the discomfort of life at 30,000 feet. To stop looking down, and to start sitting with our anxiety, erasing the thousand storylines our brain wants to concoct about why it is “good” and “bad,” in that moment. 

The remedy, then, is to simply be.

Like warriors, we must train ourselves to fight well in any circumstances. Instead of running from the pain of uncertainty, we actually advance into those wispy clouds, blades lifted confidently, feeling the fact that we have absolutely no ground under our feet, delighting in it, and moving forward anyway.

The problem, then, is never our anxiety about uncertainty. It’s the fact that we think there’s something wrong with anxiety.

“But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it,”Chödrön says, “when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature . . .”

She promises a sense of rest and peace, of exhilaration even, that come with cultivating this practice of acceptance.

All this sounds wonderful enough between the pages of a book, of course. But what happens when life throws you a few curveballs, as it did to me just days long after I determined to start practicing my 30K-foot fencing skills? 

I can’t say as I was thrilled to see huge challenges loom up in my face. But I was not surprised, either. This sort of thing always happens after you decide to try on a new way of being. Some of the challenges, predictably, were tied to recent life situations that are still very painful for me.

 Yes, occasionally women did get in on the fencing action in late medieval society.

In that space, huge old fears loom large despite one’s own best efforts. It’s far easier to panic than keep a clear head.

But this time, instead of resisting the panic twisting in my chest, I decided to dance with it. I shut my eyes for 90 seconds and just sat with the feelings in compassion. No judgement. No sweeping it under the emotional rug. No suppressing it. (Which, by the way, only makes the panic worse.) 

I erased my mind of stories about whether these events were good, or bad, or anything at all, and just felt the sensation of groundlessness moving through my body.

And that’s exactly what it did: move through.

To my surprise, each time the panic evaporated, after about 90 seconds of focused concentration, I was able to release it completely and feel calm again. Occasionally, I was even able to get to what Chödrön calls “blue sky”—the place where you can see beyond fear-based storylines completely to consider how the anxiety-inducing event might actually open up new horizons.

Most of all, I felt a curious tickling in my chest: an urge to throw back my head and laugh out loud in sheer joy at the insanity of it all. After all, if you’re going to dance with chaos, you’ve got be able to laugh. 

When I did manage to truly laugh out loud, I felt a rush of freedom and a sense of exhilaration I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my life. I flung open my arms and said, “Bring me whatcha got, world. Bring me the biggest brand of crazy you have. ’Cause this time, we’re going to dance.”

I cannot remember the last time I genuinely laughed in the face of my own uncertainty and pain. Not a laugh of derision, spite or anger . . . but a true laugh of joy that this beautiful, crazy groundlessness means I am no longer asleep. 

I am fully awake now. And to be awake, to me, means so much more than to be “not asleep.” It means to be alive.

In those precious moments, I knew everything would be okay. Because to laugh with joy, and welcome with open arms,the opponent you fear most, nothing to stand on, is the truest form of fighting well. It also the path to freedom.

At 30,000 feet, there may not be much ground. There’s no armchair to keep me safe, and we’re fencing on a landscape of clouds.

It’s all blue sky up here.

Where Souls Cry: Walking the Berlin Wall

My entire life, I’ve heard about the Berlin Wall.

I was just six years old when it fell. Before 1989, it was something the newscaster spoke about on my mom’s radio programs. After 1989, it was something everyone looked back on. I vaguely remember my parents reading voraciously about the circumstances around this historic event which led to the reunification of Germany. 

Twenty-eight years later, I got a chance to see and touch it for myself. 

On a blustery day in December I bundled up myself and leashed Sam the dog—the Aussie shepherd I was pet sitting, who already had a bundle of fur to keep him warm. It took us about twenty minutes to walk to the Wall Memorial from Sam’s owners’ flat.

Later, I found another Wall guard tower right in our neighborhood an learned the Wall ran almost literally under the flat itself. But I didn’t know that yet. So I took Sam for a walk in the park where parts of the Wall are now preserved for posterity, along with gravestones and various sculptural pieces. Nearby also stood the Wall Memorial Museum, a chapel dedicated to the memory of victims, and other sites of interest.  

I’m glad I took Sam with me. I cannot now imagine having done the Wall Memorial without his gentle, steady canine presence.  

Mostly because for the first time in my life, I could hear the spirits screaming.  

Let’s face it: the ground of Berlin is soaked in blood. 

It’s not just the blood of Jews. It’s also the blood of Germans trying to cross from East to West. The blood of the Roma people who were slaughtered en masse, and other nationalities too. I told someone later that Berlin, to me, seemed like a giant collection of “apology monuments”—places now dedicated to memorial, for atrocities committed against some internal group who had once found shelter on that ground.  

The Berlin Wall Memorial just happens to be the most famous.  

I found it particularly moving to walk past the names and photos of individuals killed while trying to cross the Wall. As I viewed each face, I wondered, “Whose son is that? Whose sister? Did their families ever know what happened to them, or did they simply leave—and never return?” 

The atmosphere in the park was appropriately subdued. People walked from place to place, murmuring to one another. Taking discrete photos that seemed less voyeuristic and more commemorative. Over it all, a weak European winter sun shone down, its diffuse light softening the harsh contraption of concrete-and-wire that was all now left of the wall. 

I think perhaps the most bearable part of the whole experience was the chapel.  

Somehow, in the middle of a space where the spirits of the dead still cry out for full justice, that place was a refuge. I could not take Sam inside, so we only stood at the threshold. But even as we stood there I drank in the serenity of that faith-designated ground.  

In the middle of despair and chaos, the church represented hope and peace.  

In the middle of loss, the church represented eternal rest. 

In the middle of pain, the church was a balm for the soul.  

Though what happened in Germany during those terrible years cannot be altered, the future still remains to be written. It would have been easy for me to avoid the Wall Memorial altogether during my time in Berlin. But I’m glad I went. The chance to pay my respects. To understand more of what happened and gain greater perspective. The opportunity to hear those souls crying out from the ground and know that spiritual warfare is real. 

Sometimes the most uncomfortable places are the most important ones for us to visit.  

Just … take a big, empathic Aussie Shepherd with you if you can.  

I promise, it makes all the difference. 

On Emigrating in the 21st Century

Me, my first week in Dubai — August 2018

At the turn of the 20th century, a young Polish woman got on a boat bound for America. She was a land-owner’s daughter, likely accustomed to some amount of privilege, and even possibly to an ancient title of minor nobility. Yet she left it all behind to join her sister—who was already settled in a far-off place called Ohio.

The reason? An intolerable home situation. Her mother had passed away, and when her father remarried, he chose a woman not much older than his younger daughter. The two women, it turns out, didn’t get along so well.

I think I’d get a boat for the same reason. Probably more so because I’m related to that young Polish woman—as her great-great granddaughter.

Fast-forward one hundred years, and I got on a plane in Chicago this past August with the same intention my ancestor had when she said goodbye to her native land. Except that instead of going to the “land of promise,” as America was then known, I flew east, past Great-Great Grandma’s native land to a place that, back when she lived, hadn’t even yet met Lawrence of Arabia.

I doubt Great-Great Grandma ever thought much about Arabia, except perhaps to see an old lithograph or two in a Polish geography book in school. But here I am, also an emigre, just for different reasons.

Perhaps some things really do “run in the family.”

I should probably clarify at this point that no one really immigrates to the United Arab Emirates. You come here to work. Or you come with someone who’s been hired to work. And when you don’t work anymore—or your sponsor doesn’t—you leave. Period. This country doesn’t give permanent residence visas, unless you’re a property investor or a retiree with more than $300,000 US in the bank that you strictly don’t touch.

Still, every day, this dusty jungle of sand and steel welcomes the world’s misfits, from West and East alike, with open arms. And we embrace this once-forgotten, now-flourishing desert as our own, for as long as the strength of our hands and the economy will allow. Or in my case, as long as God chooses to keep me here.

I’ve thought a lot about Great-Great Grandma since I arrived here. I honestly don’t know her name, other than that her last name was (oddly enough) “Organic.” Probably a butchering of some beautiful Polish name an Ellis Island officer couldn’t spell, yo. But I now understand with much more empathy how much courage she must have had, and the dreams she must have entertained coming to the U.S.

My mother has a few memories of her great-grandmother, caring for my mom when she (mom) was very very young, at her Ohio home. Great-great Grandma married and built a life for herself in the U.S., yes. But she never learned much English. To this day, occasionally my mom uses a Polish word (like “yaitsa” for “egg”) which she learned at Great-Great Grandma’s house.

I, by contrast, landed in a country that favors Arabic as a political policy, but where in practice English is the national language. I could talk to almost anyone upon arrival. (Of course, understanding their accents has been another exercise in itself.)

Like Great-Great Grandma, however, I rub shoulders every day with people who came from vastly different places than me. And we’re all here for one reason only:

Opportunity.

(Or for some of us oddballs, the call of God. But that’s another story for another day.)

It’s a strange day in the world when a girl with an American passport leaves home to seek opportunities elsewhere. I’m sure Great-Great Grandma never thought she’d see such a day come when America was not the only real center of opportunity. For many it still is, but for me, in God’s good plan for my life, it was a worn-out door swinging shut on rusty hinges.

I don’t regret coming to the United Arab Emirates at all. The pace of life in Dubai is insane—let’s just get that out there—but it’s also an amazing place. I’ve made incredible friends from all over the world, traveled easily to places that take forever to reach from America, and been blessed with a new measure of financial stability after several years of relying solely, like Elijah, on the ravens of God for food.

But I still can’t help feeling a pang of homesickness every now and then. The people, the places, the food. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid vision of some place in Milwaukee—the verdant slopes of South Shore Park, for example, on the beach of Lake Michigan—that I deeply love. The last summer I spent in Milwaukee was a glorious finale to ten years of loving that place very deeply and experiencing the very best of it.

Then, one day it was gone. I took off on a plane and, three planes later, got off in Ellis Island, which for me was the glittering marble and chrome of Dubai International Airport, where I was suddenly in line behind Indian women in colorful kurtas and Arab women, their whole bodies covered in black.

Life is strange, isn’t it?

Perhaps wanderlust is just in the family genes. Or perhaps God really does allow us to play out experiences of our ancestors, all over again, redeeming them for His purposes. I don’t know anything about my great-great grandmother’s spiritual life or beliefs. I don’t know if there were any other God-fearing prophetic women in my lineage.

But out of their experiences, God birthed me. And though I traveled here for Him—and not as an escape for an intolerable home situation—I still send love and respect to the memory of Great-Great Grandma.

Her courage was an example for me, long before I knew I’d even need that same courage myself.

Turn of the 20th century. Turn of the 21st …

The cycles of life continue.

4 Things Instagram Won’t Tell You About Traveling the World

I don’t know about you, but I really hate false advertising.

I mean, yes, I work in the marketing industry. But I still like to inject the truth in my marketing copy as much as possible. Well here’s a truth no Instagram travel feed will ever tell about wandering the planet:

It’s the dumbest, craziest, most exhausting, most stressful thing you’ll ever do.

Forget glossy photos of mountaintop conquests, bicycle rides through rainforests, and the obligatory compassionate shot with the locals. Those photos may have #nofilter, but there’s hiding a few things about what went into taking that shot. This is why I intentionally don’t improve my photography—or use a lot of filters to make it look better.

I want it to be 100% real.

So here’s the 100% bona ride truth about this sexy, everybody-wants-to-do-it thing called living out of a suitcase.

1) Prepare to be disoriented.

Sure, as a world traveler you develop the skills to drop into any culture and get your basic needs covered before you go out to explore. Local currency, check. Local SIM for your phone, check. A basic roof over your head and a working knowledge of whether or not you can drink the water? Preferably vetted by someone else other than your first bout of dysentery? Absolutely.

But that’s just the beginning. Your days and nights are probably turned around. Words even in English may not mean the same thing. And the number of possibilities for getting a ticket or fine for something that’s known by everyone else—but not posted on a sign for your benefit—are almost Code Red level.

For the better part of my year of traveling, disorientation was my status quo. I didn’t always get a lot done. Even when I had work, I struggled sometimes to be efficient.

No, being a “laptop entrepreneur” for me did not mean sitting at the beach, coding on my iPad, while I slurped my cocktail out of a coconut.

It meant fighting jet lag while I dodged from location to location, looking for reliable WiFi and trying not to get hit by a bus, taxi or tuk tuk in the process. All while calculating what time it was in my client’s country and whether or not I had missed a deadline.

I dare you to find a travel blogger who posts that photo. “Oh look, here’s what’s left of my shattered ankle after my jet-lagged self ran in front of a bus accidentally when I finally saw a Starbucks with a Free WiFi sign.”

2)  Most suitcases don’t come with space for your personal makeup artist and wardrobe assistant.

Oh sure, I love a great travel blogger’s Instagram feed as much as the next person. But clearly they’re not traveling Economy on a budget airline. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I can’t fit a whole MAC makeup store in my one small suitcase. Or the entirety of H&M (for all those obligatory third-world photo shoot wardrobe changes). Or the staff it would take to look that good on site.

Maybe I missed out this course in World Traveler School: “How to Look Amazing in Every Single Photo 101.” Or maybe that was the class after I skipped out because I had a plane ticket somewhere.

Either way, that hasn’t been my experience.

There’s a reason why I choose to show “normal” photos on this blog, and always will. I mean, there’s no reason not to at least try to be presentable. But I live my normal life in the Goodwill wardrobe God provided for me before I left America. And in case anyone’s wondering, the Arabian desert is just waaaaaay too hot to be sporting much makeup. (I need to ask the amazingly-air brushed Arab women I meet exactly how they manage to do it… because they do look amazing!)

Bottom line: living abroad is just living a normal life with all kinds of extra complications. And less space for all the cool, extraneous stuff we forget we have access to at home.

 

3) Everything takes way more time, for possibly less results. (Other than your increase in patience and a plethora of good stories to tell.)

Somebody, please show me the travel blog where the blogger highlights what it’s like to spend 1.5 hours on a metro to go what would take 30 minutes by car. Or what happens when you stand in line at the visa office, only to be told the official you need is “out for tea.” And let’s not talk about all the sleep you miss, showing up at midnight to wait for the 1 AM bus to Berlin, so you’re absolutely sure you don’t miss it.

Yes, my specificity betrays me. I actually did do that once. In the middle of freaking January ….

Time is a hard thing to represent in photos when there’s no time lapse. It’s like a movie: all the hard work, plus months or years of failures and growth, get reduced down to a montage with upbeat music.

I sure wish my job search in Dubai could be collapsed into a montage. Preferably with a Tina Turner song behind it to keep my eyelids open while I fill out more applications.

But no such luck. Living in a place whose norms you don’t fully understand will always require a price in time.

Sure, the great stories and a lot of personal growth come from these experiences. But if you’re looking to do things the most efficient way possible, don’t travel abroad.

3) Sandy feet. Sandy legs. Sandy hair. Are you sensing a theme here?

Honestly, I never need a shower so badly every day than when I live somewhere I’m not accustomed to. Grime from bus exhaust. Crusted sweat from the heat and humidity. And here, in the UAE, so much sand everywhere all the time.

I love it all, because it means I’m fully living and showing up for my life.

But WOW is that a lot of weird grainy gunk going down my bathtub every day.

Somebody take a photo of THAT. I dare you. Just once, show the world the real uncensored truth. (Of what’s going down the bathtub drain, not you IN the bathtub, please.)

But I’m guessing no one will take me up on it.

I mean, there are some things even I won’t put in my Instagram travel feed. Mostly because, well, I have my travel blogger image to maintain.

 

A REAL TRAVEL BLOGGER ON A REAL DAY. I’M GUESSING THE HAIR WAS COURTESY BERLIN WINTER DAMPNESS, THE BLOODSHOT EYEBALLS CAME FROM JET LAG. AND THE LOOK ON MY FACE? WELL, ASK THE CAT. HE CAN PROBABLY GIVE YOU MORE DETAILS…

2)  Most suitcases don’t come with space for your personal makeup artist and wardrobe assistant.

Oh sure, I love a great travel blogger’s Instagram feed as much as the next person. But clearly they’re not traveling Economy on a budget airline. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I can’t fit a whole MAC makeup store in my one small suitcase. Or the entirety of H&M (for all those obligatory third-world photo shoot wardrobe changes). Or the staff it would take to look that good on site.

Maybe I missed out this course in World Traveler School: “How to Look Amazing in Every Single Photo 101.” Or maybe that was the class after I skipped out because I had a plane ticket somewhere.

Either way, that hasn’t been my experience.

There’s a reason why I choose to show “normal” photos on this blog, and always will. I mean, there’s no reason not to at least try to be presentable. But I live my normal life in the Goodwill wardrobe God provided for me before I left America. And in case anyone’s wondering, the Arabian desert is just waaaaaay too hot to be sporting much makeup. (I need to ask the amazingly-air brushed Arab women I meet exactly how they manage to do it… because they do look amazing!)

Bottom line: living abroad is just living a normal life with all kinds of extra complications. And less space for all the cool, extraneous stuff we forget we have access to at home.

3) Everything takes way more time, for possibly less results. (Other than your increase in patience and a plethora of good stories to tell.)

Somebody, please show me the travel blog where the blogger highlights what it’s like to spend 1.5 hours on a metro to go what would take 30 minutes by car. Or what happens when you stand in line at the visa office, only to be told the official you need is “out for tea.” And let’s not talk about all the sleep you miss, showing up at midnight to wait for the 1 AM bus to Berlin, so you’re absolutely sure you don’t miss it.

Yes, my specificity betrays me. I actually did do that once. In the middle of freaking January ….

Time is a hard thing to represent in photos when there’s no time lapse. It’s like a movie: all the hard work, plus months or years of failures and growth, get reduced down to a montage with upbeat music.

I sure wish my job search in Dubai could be collapsed into a montage. Preferably with a Tina Turner song behind it to keep my eyelids open while I fill out more applications.

But no such luck. Living in a place whose norms you don’t fully understand will always require a price in time.

Sure, the great stories and a lot of personal growth come from these experiences. But if you’re looking to do things the most efficient way possible, don’t travel abroad.

3) Sandy feet. Sandy legs. Sandy hair. Are you sensing a theme here?

Honestly, I never need a shower so badly every day than when I live somewhere I’m not accustomed to. Grime from bus exhaust. Crusted sweat from the heat and humidity. And here, in the UAE, so much sand everywhere all the time.

I love it all, because it means I’m fully living and showing up for my life.

But WOW is that a lot of weird grainy gunk going down my bathtub every day.

Somebody take a photo of THAT. I dare you. Just once, show the world the real uncensored truth. (Of what’s going down the bathtub drain, not you IN the bathtub, please.)

But I’m guessing no one will take me up on it.

I mean, there are some things even I won’t put in my Instagram travel feed. Mostly because, well, I have my travel blogger image to maintain.

7 Things That Happen When You Get Emotionally Free of your Past

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Sometimes, on the healing journey, it can feel impossible to believe that you will ever be free of what happened to you. You’re a goal-oriented woman, and you love to have a target to aim your arrows toward, or a finish line to run for. But when it comes to your emotions and healing from your past, that target, that line, always seems to move.

Some days are okay. Some days are terrible. You’ve been told it will “get better,” but what does that even look like? How will you KNOW when you’ve reached a place of freedom?

At one level, freedom is a lifelong event, and it’s entirely personal. Each day, we can make choices that take us closer to God and closer to total surrender and joy in Him, which will naturally break off the bonds that have held us back. That exact path may look different for each woman, of course. But the process is the same.

However at another level, I can testify from my own experience: you WILL know, that you know, that you know, when you become emotionally free. You WILL start waking up each day with the significant conviction that you are no longer moved by what happened to you: that your life is blank slate now, not a museum to the past.

Believe me, it’s the best feeling in the world.

“But wait,” you say. “I feel like a one-woman triage unit every day of the week, and that still doesn’t give me a lot of help.”

I totally understand. I did too, when I first started this process. Here are seven (concrete) things that you can also expect to happen when you break away from the pain of the past and allow yourself to be totally renewed. If you haven’t experienced these, don’t feel bad. Rejoice that this is what you can look forward to, and keep walking forward on your healing process.

1) You have no desire anymore to talk about “what happened.”

The biggest hallmark of emotional bondage is the fact that your pain will always come spilling out of your mouth—not matter how hard you try “not to talk about it.” Ask your girlfriends; if they are honest women, they will tell you if every coffee or wine date devolves into your personal trauma session. When I was in the worst of my pain, I instinctively looked anywhere I could to get relief. (Anywhere, that is, except to God!)

Stopping yourself from speaking when you are dying inside is not what I’m talking about. When you are in the midst of your pain, you must speak about it long and freely to whomever will listen. But the MARK of having received full healing is when your past wounds no longer define your present reality.

When you get to the place where you are truly no longer moved by what happened to you, and you rest in total peace that God has transformed your pain for good, you won’t even remember to talk about it. People will bring it up, and you’ll be thinking, “Wait, what? Oh right, that thing …” You might even be startled when people bring it up, because your former pain no holds you in a vice-grip deep in your soul.

Please note: I am not referring to activism on behalf of abuse victims, giving your personal testimony, or other types of important “speaking out;” I am referring to the obsessive need to share your pain with others in order to somehow get healing “from” their attention. The attention can’t heal you; only God can!

2) When you think of the people who wronged you, you feel only compassion.

Yes, what happened to you was terrible. Perhaps it was a collection of “somethings” that happened and there’s a parade of perpetrators a mile long: at home, at church, at school, in the community, etc. You may struggle to believe it will ever be possible not to feel the rage and grief that rise up every time their name or face flashes before your mind. But believe me, beautiful woman, it is.

You will know God has healed you emotionally when you can remember these people in your life or walk past something that triggers their memory and yet feel nothing but compassion for them—because you recognize that their own tremendous pain drove them to what they inflicted on you.

3) Your IBS, upset stomach, digestive issues and anxiety heal themselves.

Please keep in mind I am not a doctor and cannot give you medical advice. However, I can offer the laywoman’s observations: in my own life, and those of other women I watch heal emotionally from the darkest, most painful events you can think of, I have witnessed physical symptoms completely break off of those women as they reach healing.

In my own life, when I was in the worst of my emotional pain and disempowerment, I struggled with stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, digestive issues and unstoppable anxiety. As I submitted to the healing process by opening up to God’s love, taking control of my thought patterns, shifting my diet, incorporating gentle yoga, praying daily, etc. I began to notice a drastic reduction in symptoms. Ultimately, this resulted in several miraculous healing experiences. Today, I am symptom-free … without the aid of doctors, surgery or expensive drugs.

4) You naturally stop self-medicating with TV, greasy food, social media or shopping.

Many women tell me they admire my choice to eat meat-light and wish they could do the same—but they say they can’t keep themselves from “cheating” with junk food. If staying consistent with healthier eating choices, managing your spending, limiting your TV and social media time is hard … then you can mark it down, you are still in emotional bondage.

Each of these “indulgences” is perfectly okay and enjoyable in moderation but can quickly become an excuse to get our good feelings from somewhere other than God and ourselves. Needing anything outside of ourselves, exactly who God made us to be, to feel good is by definition a form of bondage.

When you are emotionally free, you won’t “need” these things any more and/or can enjoy them in moderation. Or choose to give them up altogether and not feel deprived at all.

5) You reclaim “painful places” and create new memories in them.

How did I know I had fully healed from the pain of my divorce? When I sat for two hours in the very same coffee shop where I had my last private conversation with my ex-husband … and didn’t even remember that event for about two hours of sitting there. I was SO in the moment, enjoying my work, the coffee and the space, that I did not even recall that my marriage had essentially dissolved in that space. This was not an act of disrespect to my marriage or that conversation; it was a marker that I had finally move on to create new memories in that space.

That is what it truly means to reclaim a space for your own after trauma has marked it. When I came back to my hometown, Milwaukee, after nine months of traveling, I felt that my emotional “set point” had been reset, because I could walk into places that preciously were emotionally loaded from my marriage and divorce, and feel totally free to “own” them again and make new memories that aren’t mixed up with what happened before.

6) Other people’s poor choices no longer affect your joy.

This is a fairly simple one, but wow is it powerful! When you become emotionally free, you reach a place where you realize that YOU are the only person you are responsible for. Yes, you can pray for others. You can seek to be a positive influence. You can give of yourself. But at the end of the day, you are the ONLY person you can truly change.

When you relax into that space where you are no longer responsible for everyone else’s well-being, you can truly release your emotional bondage and your attachment to the idea that other people need to change … which is nothing more than a distraction from how YOU need to change.

7) You feel genuinely happy for no reason.

I know, dear heart. I know it’s hard to imagine this when you are in so much pain right now. But the day will come when all those “weights” on your heart will come lifting off, and you will float down the street, truly in love with you life, no matter what is going on in your material, lived experience.

This will be possible because you will know, that you know, that you know, that your Redeemer lives, and that you are being held by the Everlasting Arms, in the grip of the Everlasting God who never faints or grows weary. The ancient yogis spoke of BLISS, and I believe this is it: the ability to dance your way through life, amid sunshine and rain, because what is happening inside you is no longer contingent upon what is happening outside.

Reading this list and feeling like you could never scale this impossible mountain of emotional healing? Wondering how to let go of the weights that are holding you back — so you can enjoy these seven signs of emotional freedom?

More on that another day.

Breaking the Bondage of the “Good Girl” Habit for Good

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“Little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice …”

From the day you were born, you were everyone’s darling.

The frilly dresses. The cutesy toys. Daddy adored your dimples and Mama fussed about your hair. As you grew older, they bragged about what a “beautiful young lady” you were becoming. They applauded all your accomplishments and went to great lengths—perhaps even personal sacrifice—to ensure you had what you need.

Or perhaps your experience was the opposite. Maybe you knew everyone else’s needs st home came before yours. Maybe you spent a lot of time propping up other people’s emotional insecurities. Maybe you had to keep it together, at least on the outside, because no one else could have coped if you really, truly needed something.

From all this attention, or lack thereof, you learned one thing early, and one thing only:

Being a good girl was the best and most reliable way to make sure you had a good life.

“Survive” might be a strong word. But let’s face it: the human brain is wired for survival. Perhaps you never went hungry or felt like your physical safety was truly at risk. But there were still emotional risks in your home. A lot of them.

Maybe it wasn’t really as happy on the inside as it seemed from without. Maybe you watched your mom “perform” for your dad in order to get acceptance and attention. Or perhaps their relationship was truly great—but as strict disciplinarians, they made sure you knew that you had better comply.

Whatever the reason, the verdict is clear. You were a certifiable Good Girl for most of your life.

The problem is … did you really ever stop?

The “Good Girl Complex” is common. If you identify as someone who has shaped her identity based on the needs and wishes of others—what makes them happy and therefore keeps you emotionally safe—you are not alone. And indeed, being a woman of integrity who follows God and brings joy to others, as much as she can, is an admirable goal.

But the Good Girl Complex is so much more than that. It’s not about a heart overflowing with gratitude to God. It’s about a performance based on what other people want. If you’re stuck here, you already know it. You don’t need me to give you 25 more signs to help you decide if that’s you.

The biggest clue is really this: can you say with 100% confidence that you are who God made you to be … Or would you have to admit, instead, that who you are is really more whom you allowed others to shape you to be?

If you are experiencing this peculiar (and insidious) form of emotional bondage, you know exactly what I am talking about.

  • The endless stressing about what others think of you.
  • Striving to meet impossible goals for your body, love life, family and career.
  • A perfectionistic obsession that drives you to insane levels of achievement—without much sense of fulfillment.
  • The constant shaping of your words and actions to accommodate what you think other people want to see and hear.

I can only write this article because, for much of my life I was a Good Girl, too. I learned very early that the way to get love in my house was to comply. Without compliance, there would be no affection. And the older I got, the more my compliance earned me.

I complied at home and got adoring parents.

I complied at church and got adoring friends.

I complied at school and got adoring teachers.

I complied in my marriage and thought I had an adoring husband–but this is where all my masks ultimately fell away, when I realized how unhappy he was with (among other things) living with my masks.

By the time I was 30, I had built up what looked like a really great life … but inside, I had absolutely no idea who I was. I and felt it. I lived constantly with this sneaking suspicion that I was not even half of who I was meant to be, but who was that even? Would I even know the Real Me if she walked up to me on the street corner—and slapped me in the face?

For many years nothing changed. But when I decided that I would no longer tolerate being someone other than who God made me to be, everything shifted.

This was a big moment for me. I came to a point where I was sick of my own compliance, sick of saying ‘yes’ when I wanted to say ‘no,’ sick of looking and acting and sounding like ‘someone else.’

So for perhaps the first time in my life, I decided I would do … not simply what others wanted me to, but what God truly desired for my me and my life.

This was the shift that changed everything.

Now please understand: I am not advocating AT ALL that you simply blow off your spouse or significant other, family and friends, and leave on a world tour just because you feel like it. There is a VERY fine line between self-discovery and selfishness.

However, all those caveats aside, most of us as women don’t really know ourselves or who God made us at all. As a result, we can’t possibly love ourselves by basking in His love for us. Our lives and relationships suffer deeply because of it.

When I decided to do what I wanted for a change, I wasn’t simply looking into my own selfish heart and chasing whatever I found. Instead, I asked God to show me the desires HE had placed in my heart, that I was completely ignoring. 

Psalm  37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

I had always loved this verse, but I never really understood it until I made that big decision. It wasn’t that God would give me everything I wanted, if I delighted in Him. It was that by delighting in Him, I would discovery all the desires He had already tucked into my heart.

THOSE desires are not the selfish desires. They are the ones He has given us for big, real, awesome purposes because of the plans He has for us.

And I can pretty much guarantee you: those plans are the direct opposite of what your inner Good Girl thinks you should do. And probably the direct opposite of what people in your life are expecting you to do based on past experiences, and the unwritten “code” of how your relationship with those people operates.

Now, I wasn’t able to make this switch overnight. Mostly because I had been so busy pleasing other people for so long, that I had no idea what I really wanted anyway. First, I had to ask God to strip away all the layers of detritus so I could actually find those genuine, godly core desires.

When I asked Him to do what He said He would, He delivered more than I ever could have thought.

Of course, this shift also totally rocked the life I thought I had. It showed me all the ways I had built my life on a false foundation of other people’s expectations—not on who I really was in Christ. Now, I was stepping into my true identity in the love and purposes of God. And that was, essentially, like taking a jackhammer to the foundation of everything I thought I had built.

I’m no engineer, but even I know, under those circumstances, the structure in question is destined to fall.

So I’m not hear to tell that if you lay down everyone else’s desires, Good Girl, and start chasing the ones God has purposed for you, that it’s always going to be easy.

It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

But if you know the pain and emptiness of being a Good Girl who’s really just a shell of the YOU God created to you be … you know that sometimes, as Anais Nin says, “The pain of remaining tight in a bud is greater than the pain it [takes] to blossom.”

You can break your Good Girl habit, my friend. But only when you drop what everyone else has handed you and ask the living God to help you open your hands and let Him fill them.

The Good Girl Habit may feel safe, but it’s really just the long, slow death of your beauty, joy, passion, prosperity and purpose.

Break that habit … and quite possibly, you’ll lose your life as you know it.

But run to Jesus, and you will find the life your soul craves.

 

Telling Your Story Is Great, But Which One are You Telling?

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Apparently wanting to shoot your alarm clock (or your iPhone) when it goes off isn’t a 21st century experience? 😉 Photo taken at Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in Berlin.

It takes a great deal of courage to tell your story.

In my old life, before Nothing, the suitcase and cross-continental moves, I used to do a lot of coaching for women. Telling your story was something I preached and taught. And to a certain extent, I lived it.

But I did not understand then what I have come to see since: that telling the story you have lived is so much easier than telling the story you are living.

When we start out on this journey, with God toward greater intimacy and vulnerability with others, it feels like a “big thing” to finally talk about the parts of our story we may have kept hidden for years.

I personally found it revolutionary to speak of the night God spoke to me in Tuscany, of my healing journey with sexual dysfunction and many other aspects of my story. Receiving love from others and knowing that they still cared for me despite what I had been through was revolutionary for me, given where I had come from.

Yes, vulnerability comes in layers. And telling the story of the past is one layer. If we are not willing to start there, we will never find any other form of intimacy in our lives.

There’s a leap that must be taken, and the leap from the past is perhaps the most accessible.

But telling the story of the present is another kind of leap entirely.

Intimacy with others—the healthy kind, where we feel truly seen and known and loved in spite of what has happened in our lives, and also because of it—is a such a rare gift. And it prepares us to get braver, say more and let others see more of us, too.

Though sharing the story of our past is indeed one powerful form of intimacy, it still allows us to stay hidden. We can craft a narrative of transformation and change which may be genuinely true … but enables us somehow to still avoid speaking about the mess we are currently facing.

The story of our past transformation, if we are not careful, can become a beautiful image that unlocks for us admiration, not connection.

There is a powerful difference between those two which I cannot overstate. But it’s taken me years to recognize it.

Admiration is an external quality. People stand beside or around us and gaze at us, loving the qualities which we have carefully put in front of them for their review. It’s a good healthy start to something more in a relationship … but it’s also just that. Only the start.

If our relationships never get past admiration—and that’s very easy, by the way, for those of us “good girls” who know how to placate everyone by doing what they want and need—they will perpetually leave us unsatisfied. Because admiration does not require true understanding, or a sense of  empathy. It only requires awe.

Awe is so much easier to manufacture than understanding. Just ask any of the world’s dictators. Or celebrities…

Connection, on the other hand, is a much messier proposition. It requires a great deal more courage, because to speak of the mess that absorbed today, is a heck of a lot more challenging than to speak of the mess tha absorbed the last decade. Or even the last week.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to write about last week’s or last year’s or last decade’s mess. But to write about the tears I shed last night (yes, I actually did) over the love of my life I lost fifteen years ago? And the aching realization that I never …. really never …. got over that relationship?

And that at age 35, I have somehow only just realized I still desperately need the healing of Jesus for a huge mistake (which I could be so bold as to call it a “massive fuck-up”) that happened at age 20?

Dear God, save me from having to admit that to anyone.

And yet … I need to. And I did.

Because the story I lived is just my narrative. The story I am living now is my battleground. And wars are rarely won alone.

So maybe it’s time we stopped. Trying to win them alone, I mean.

Maybe it’s time that the story we lived becomes a platform for telling the story we are living. And that we recognize that all the wounds we drag ourselves back home with, and all the wounds that have never healed properly, whether from the actions of others or from all those “massive fuck-ups” of our own, are the very stuff of which real relationships are made.

When we refuse to share the story we are living, we cut ourselves off from having a warm hand in ours, and feeling the safety of a human hug, and the sweet relief of a voice that says, “Me too. I’m there also.”

At the end of the day, the only person who can deny us this sweet relief is … us.

The stories we choose to tell will determine how connected we feel. But perhaps the biggest mistake of all is not to realize that you can tell your story, and still stay completely hidden.

Maybe it’s time we came out from hiding behind our stories of triumph.

The unfinished, unedited next chapter is so much more powerful.

_

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How Everything Began with Nothing


IMG_0258 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness
was over the face of the deep.
G
enesis 1:1 (ESV)

Walking up Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, you wouldn’t immediately call it a great place for meditation. Especially not at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday—when suit-clad office workers come streaming out of the buildings, scrambling for the car keys that will whisk them off into another lazy weekend.

The tallest buildings in this small-big Midwest city line that street. One end of Wisconsin Avenue stretches all the way past Marquette University and out to the suburbs. The other, which was the direction I happened to be heading, dead-ends in the white wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum, spread against ribbons of Lake Michigan blue.

No, Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee is not at all a good place to meditate on a gorgeous day. But it’s where I happened to find myself, pairing my even footsteps with my uneven heartbeat that Friday afternoon. My headphones were in. The worship music was blaring. I had just come from a routine trip to the local bank and now, on my seemingly routine trip home, I found all sorts of reasons to “meditate.” Which was, at that time, really just my shorthand for asking of God how long, exactly, until He sent me everything I wanted.

At that point in life, I felt I had some decent reasons to demand something good.

The year of 2016 had been brutal but transformative for me: an unforeseen divorce, business highs and lows, the carving of a new life from the rubble of the old. I had faced each challenge head on. Brave (with a few lip quivers) Uncomplaining (well, mostly). My body was bruised from repeated falls from grace, and my fingers bled from clawing my way back. But claw I did, fighting every day through that crazy year to create a different future for myself.

By early 2017 I had moved into a brand new apartment I actually liked with a sliver of a Lake Michigan view. I had built my freelance marketing business up to a bona fide small agency with twelve contractors. I had new clothes to hang on a body I actually felt good in, had just bought my first-ever designer purse and driven home a new-to-me Fiat that represented the first car I had not relied on a man to buy on my behalf. I had even just gotten my dream couch: one of those delicate antique settees with scrolling mahogany woodwork. (I considered this my personal down payment to myself on settling in to an altered existence where I had finally achieved some semblance of peace and prosperity.)

Yet something was missing. Well, actually somethings, to be precise.

Money was flowing in, but thanks to all the contractors it took to actually do the jobs I got, my bank accounts always looked anemic. The business had grown, yes, but I was now chained to a desk twelve hours a day selling projects and managing what I had sold. I had finally begun to rediscover the artistry that went into hiding after my ex-husband broke my heart.

Yet even there my progress was fitful at best: the one-off pieces of art that sputtered from pen and paintbrush were a shadow of the complex projects I had once finished regularly. I had even gotten a new handle on body love, health and exercise—things that had plagued me from childhood—but the stress from the divorce and its fallout had taken a toll on my health. Chronic digestive issues and fatigue seemed to eat up every little physical gain I made.

And then there was the matter of my love life. I had done a ton of work on myself post-divorce: really delving in to where I was blocking love from my life, not just romantically but from friends and family too. I had made a lot of changes. I had learned to be really present with the people I love. And yet, I found myself burning from the heels of two broken dating relationships, both of which had started out with great potential.

Oh yes—that sultry, blue-skied Friday in July might not have been the most opportune moment to tell God all of my troubles. But while I dodged the suit-clad on their rush for the suburbs, tell Him I did.

The strange thing was, in my heart of hearts this time, I knew He would answer.

Leaving the bank, I wound my way up Wisconsin Avenue, past the twelve-story, rust-red Railway Exchange Building, Victorian architecture at its ornate finest. On the tenth floor, less than a year prior, my ex-husband and I had sat in separate rooms while his lawyer gave mine an ultimatum: accept the paltry settlement he was offering—far beneath the amount stipulated by Wisconsin law—or face an ugly divorce trial that would wipe out what little I had left. The memory still burned in my conscious as I stepped quickly past the door. Less painful for the resources in question than for the agony of realizing my tender college sweetheart had become my stone-faced enemy.

Beyond that was Amalinda, a red-and-gold painted lintel the only announcement that the city’s finest Spanish and Portuguese food might be found within. Here, in the midst of my divorce, I had sat the previous July with a dear friend. We had talked until midnight over the dessert of the day. Dating soon followed. Being seen and heard for the first time in my life, I fell for him. And I fell hard. But by September, we were parting ways in deep anger and disappointment. Just the thought of eating another dessert there still left a bitter taste in my mouth.

The memories flew by me with each passing buildings, each of them more painful than the last. There was the Pfister Hotel, where I had spent the day roaming with my most recent boyfriend, a gifted professional photographer. We had broken up just one month prior. And then there was a cramped little Starbucks, where one of my best business mentors had encouraged me to up-level my freelance business into an agency. In my heart, I blamed him for the overwork and constant stress that had been mine since adopting his recommendation.

Further beyond that soared the tallest building in Milwaukee, the U.S. Bank Building, though soon not to be the tallest anymore, its rigid white bones were knit together with glass. I ignored the twirl of the revolving doors as I passed them, trying to ignore, as well, all the times I had tried to get inside the upper eschelons of that building, seeking any toe-hold for my business in the endless climb for entrepreneurial success. All I had gotten was after fall. More blood. And more bruises.

“When is it all going to show up, God?” By now I was asking the question out loud, not caring in the least which fleeing office worker chanced to overhear. “I’ve been asking You for so long. Doing all the things You have told me too, as far as know. But did I miss something? Am I not obeying you in some way?” The tears came now, unbidden. “What am I missing here, on the path to everything?”

At the moment I let these words escape, I was still traversing the U.S Bank Plaza. Just then, I happened to glance up to the left. I was startled to see a series of limos, lined up bumper to bumper at the curb. The nearest one’s license plate read THINK 1.

Seriously? Did I just really see that?

“Okay, God.” I took a deep breath. “I’ll think.”

So I thought.

Nothing came to mind.

I glanced at the next limo’s license plate. It read THINK 2.

“No really, God. I’m thinking. I promise. Okay?”

Still, nothing came to mind.

THINK 3.

“Seriously, God. This isn’t funny. I’m thinking, okay? Thinking thinking thinking! Do you see me over here thinking? You can hear my thoughts. I know You can!”

God was mercifully silent in that moment, relegating Himself to satisfaction of a visual joke. No matter how hard I thought, I came up with Nothing. And yet, though I kept walking, I could guess by now where this was going. Limo after limo, each had the same license plate with the same minor adjustment:

THINK 4. THINK 5. THINK 6. THINK 7.

Seven limos, altogether. Seven calls to think.

Seven is the number of perfection in the Bible, I knew. But I wasn’t perfect; that much, the last year had taught me. Now, as if I any doubt left, my feet hurt and the rising stress in my gut was making short work of my lunch. I could feel another of the endless digestive attacks coming on. Suddenly, all I wanted was to be home, stretched on that antique couch with a blanket pulled over my head.

“I’m not perfect, alright?” I shouted to the Heavens. “You should know this by now! And I cannot figure out what you are saying! If you’re going to answer me, You’re going to have to just say it Yourself, God. Just say it!”

I shouted this last sentence so loud, even the most frazzled commuters paused to stare.

Leaving the limos in the wake of this last plea, I rounded the bend in the street. To my right, the orange arms of the Apostrophe Statue spread over Spaight Plaza, punctuating the wings of the Calatrava-designed Art Museum behind. Just a few nights prior, I had gone to this park in the cool darkness of an early July night. I had kicked off my shoes, rushed the grass and danced with manic ecstasy to the tunes in my earbuds. The same tunes that, now, mocked the warm tears streaming down my face.

Ahead was the corner of Prospect and Mason. This, to me, was the end of Wisconsin Avenue, the place where it turned sharply east into Prospect, while Mason stretched to the east, to the east toward War Memorial Plaza, overlooking the Lake, and to the west toward the jagged glass column that would one day become the Northwestern Mutual Building.

In the shadow of this monstrosity, the soon-to-be tallest building in the city, I stopped to cross the street. The no-walk signal flashed. I held myself at the corner, all the pent-up anger and sadness burning inside. Finally, a walk sign. Relief! I stepped into the street. But as I did, a rattle-trap car pulled up at the intersection in front of me. It was so unremarkable that I hardly noticed it, save for the fact that it was a jalopy in every sense of the word.

I had had enough with license plates for one day, thank you very much. But sometimes God causes us to look where we don’t want to, if for no other reason than to remind us that He is still in control of all things, even the trajectory our gaze.

The car was a broken-down wreck, yes: a peeling blue Buick so beat up, its very presence on the road was clearly an exercise in faith. It grumbled and growled at me as I passed it. I made it a point not to look the driver in the eye; to this day, I still don’t know if it was a man or woman. But there was one thing I could not help noticing: a license plate so unmistakably clear, this time, that I stared in spite of myself.

EXNIHLO.

That was the license plate, yes. Due to letter restrictions, the Latin phrase had been shortened, but my mind immediately filled in the details.

Ex NihiloOut of nothing.

I knew that phrase, oh yes.As a good little Bible college girl years ago, with one of those good little theological educations, I knew the phrase Ex Nihilo. Though it never appears in the Bible, it is often used by theologians when debating the origins of life. Some say when God created the world “In the beginning,” as it says in Genesis 1, this means creatio ex materia—creation out of something that already existed. (A few versus in the chapter appear to suggest there was water or some type of matter already present in the world at the creation.) But other theologians say no, it was creatio ex nihilo—an artistic act that called up everything we see around us out of absolute and complete Nothing.

My purpose here is not to convince you of one or the other theological takes on Genesis 1. But if you’re curious, yes, I do come from the lineage of the Ex Nihilo. God knew this when He sent a beat-up Buick with a crazy license plate my way. And when I saw that license plate, I knew that God had decided to answer my prayer.

Before my foot even hit the opposite curb, I heard His still, small voice thunder in my spirit.

Everything you want will come out of Nothing.

I paused on the opposite curb. This was my answer; I knew it even before the voice of God had coiled again into its majestic silence. I glanced back. The light changed; EXNIHLO was rattling its way on up Prospect Avenue, spewing black clouds as it went. I had never seen that car before, and I have never seen it since. Sometimes I wonder if it really existed at all—or whether it might be some sort of joke, a cosmic illusion conjured up by God’s considerable humor and powered by angels for the sheer purpose of putting me on notice.

My prayers had been heard. The season was shifting.

Everything you want will come out of Nothing.

Had I been more perceptive at point in my life, or perhaps more receptive, I would have seen immediately that “nothing” had already been my portion for some time now. From the first day my ex-husband announced his desire for a fast, surgically-precise divorce, everything in my life had been receding like the slow ebb of a tide. But I had fought the tide. This was the supreme lack of perception that, at this point in my life, had kept me from seeing the truth so long that on July 21st, 2017, I actually had to ask for it. For every inch of bare sand in my life that the ebbing wave had exposed, I had scooped that same water into a jar and splashed it back over the sand, trying to keep it all wet. Now, even the jar itself would soon be swept away.

But I was neither that perceptive nor that receptive back then. Instead, I took comfort in the explanation, though I did not really understand it. My stomach settled. My feet softened. I had no idea what this directive meant, but it didn’t really matter. I walked the last four home, utterly content with what I had heard from the Most High

As miraculous as this experience had been, there was an ominous edge to it. What I did not understand on that boiling-hot Friday of July 21, 2017, was that my attempts to grab hold of everything were not just premature to my personal process. They were in direct violation of how God actually enacts transformation. He cannot bring us everything He seeks until He wrests from our grasp everything else that keeps our hands balled into a fist.

The visitations of THINK and EXNIHLO—and His subsequent pronouncement—were the only warning He would give me that the hour of complete Emptying was now at hand.

There would be no art without destruction. No progress without regression. No making of anything without the unmaking all that had come before.

That day, God said to me,“Everything you want will come out of Nothing.” And I am here to testify: He always makes good on His words.

This is the story of how I lost and gained it all.