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.

The Water Is Within: Why Everything You’re Looking for, You Already Have

“If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The high-rises of Dubai Marina (my neighborhood), as reflected in the Arabian Gulf

Have you ever looked really hard for something you were sure must be available, only to give up your search? Perhaps it was a last-minute Christmas gift when all the racks are picked over. Or the perfect dress you needed—but couldn’t find—for an upcoming gala. Nothing’s worse than a search undertaken under pressure. The clock is ticking. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, it will soon be too late.

Life can feel like that sometimes. I don’t know about you, but I am often in a frantic search for purpose, significance, creative inspiration and (yes, let’s be honest) more money. I’m keeping my eyes peeled everywhere I go for that one “magic thing” I want. My search for a marriage partner was like this for many years. Can you relate?

It’s like keeping your eyes peeled for an oasis on a torturous trek through the desert.

If only we can find that thing “out there,” we’ll survive the heat.

Or so we think.

Lately I’ve come to realize more than ever that the search for all of this is never outside of ourselves. It’s always within. The next book, the next course, the next man, even the next gathering at church—all these are good things that can become our own personal definition of a mirage because they won’t slake the thirst we feel.

What if you’re wasting your time wandering around like that, looking for something you’re never going to find outside yourself? If you are a believer, God has already provided everything you need to feel significant, purposeful, loved, creative and financially free. And what if, as a believer in Jesus, you already have all that inside you through the Holy Spirit?

It would be a shame to keep searching for the mirage, growing fainter by the moment, when you’ve got a freely-flowing fountain deep within (Psalm 36:8-9).

And yet, that’s what we do with God. We forget the Holy Spirit is always with us, ready to guide us into all truth, if we’ll just ask (John 16:13). It’s so much easier, after all, to focus on what’s in front of our faces. And if we’re being honest, searching for the answer is addictive in itself.

You can be so hooked on searching that deep down, you’ll do anything to keep yourself from really, truly finding. So what if you bought one less course, went on one less date and cancelled, yes, even that church bowling event—just so you could spend time drinking at the well that is already within you?

In my own search to assuage the pain inside and make sense of the chaos of my life, the running only stopped when I decided to stand still.

The less I did to solve my problems, the more God presented the solutions I needed.

The less I chased people or opportunities, the more God put the right ones in front of me.

The more time I spent with God, the better my experiences became in the outside world, and the more creative I began to feel.

When my inside “woke up” to the reality of the authority, power and provision God had already planted deep within me by His Spirit, my outer world began to take care of itself.

This was most evident in my search for love following my divorce, which was really a three-year journey to heal my own love wounds from childhood through adulthood, and become a clean channel, able to receive the full flow of God’s love to me and give it back to others. (Still a work in progress, but I’m happy to say I’ve come a very long way!)

In this journey, I was convinced once I had successfully created another union with healthier patterns than the last one, I would arrive at the oasis. As a girlfriend, fiancée or wife again, I would have a chance to rewrite my story and change the future for myself, my new husband and my eventual children.

But you know what?

None of those efforts worked out.

No matter how much I changed myself, refined my thoughts and behaviors or stepped outside my comfort zone to embrace healing … all of which was amazing and helpful, by the way … I still didn’t get the results I was looking for.

Then one day, I realized: there was nothing to fix. Jesus took the penalty for all my mistakes on the cross. And He would carry the wounds from my childhood if I asked, so I didn’t have to anymore. I was already loved unconditionally, accepted fully in the beloved; I just wasn’t living my life as a loved, accepted woman (Ephesians 1:6).

And the real reason none of those relationships (including my marriage, I believe) lasted?

Because God loved me so much, He did whatever it took to bring me to the point where I was dependent on Him for love, and not on another human being. Even if it meant allowing the dissolution of relationships I had cherished—even ones that are supposed to last a lifetime.

What felt like pain was really the most amazing form of “tough love” designed to bring me into greater levels of life. The day I recognized my true worth, and the level of love and acceptance God already has for me, was the day I found my freedom from the past and finally stepped beyond the limits of my own need for companionship. My three-year journey to learn how to love culminated in the reality that I was loved already. There was nothing to find, improve or create (Psalm 136:26).

Would I still love to be in an amazing partnership? Absolutely. I still pray and believe for this outcome in my future. But I don’t “need” to be in a relationship to slake the thirst inside, or to heal my past love wounds.

I am God’s amazing daughter, and I walk right now in more radical love, acceptance and provision than any human could deliver me. And I always will, from now until the end of time.

I’m not waiting for the oasis to show up on the horizon.

The fountain lies within.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Expressing my spiritual journey through cut, color and length

I’m in a struggle with my hair right now. The kind of struggle only a prophet goes through, I suppose, as she’s figuring out how to walk out her spiritual journey in her dress and hair choices.

I do believe as a daughter of God, I’m supposed to be distinctive. He loves me, He has chosen me out for a special purpose, and I ought to light up every room I walk into with His grace, joy and yes, even beauty.

In the past, when I was mired in the worst of my trauma and pain, I wanted to hide in the corner and not be noticed. And I dressed to make sure that happened. Deep inside I wanted to stand out and light up the room, but I was terrified of the power of God inside of me, and of my own radiance. It took a few years of sorting through that to really heal those fears, but I’m happy to say that I have. Now, I want to stand up and stand out—and I’m becoming bolder in my fashion choices.

But there’s the matter of my hair.

Current hair, after several months of growth

As some of you may know, in July of 2017, God told me that “Everything you want will come out of Nothing.” This began a systematic season of shedding and loss in my like that took me down to a suitcase and led me to wander the world as a vagabond for awhile. (You can read about it here.) In the process I kept letting more and more and more things go from my life, until basically only one thing remained: my hair and hairstyle I’d had for several years.

Back in April 2018, God told me to let my hair go, too, as a final symbol of letting go fully of my old life and identity. So I did, in the middle of a Nebraska snowstorm, no less, which I have detailed elsewhere on this blog if you want to read the story. I kept it shaved the entire summer. And then, once I had arrived in Dubai and gotten my job, I felt like He was saying to grow my hair out again—mostly because the season of “Nothing” was over and the season of “Everything” was now at hand.

You might say that hair, for me, has always been a barometer of where I was at in my life. Years ago I wore a cut that looked more like a boy’s, because secretly I had serious issues with being feminine. Subconsciously, I wanted to be a boy, so I wore hair like a boy’s and clothes and hats, too, that were inspired by men’s fashion.

The boy years ….

In more recent years since my divorce and the first time the Holy Spirit spoke to me in 2016, I’ve been on a journey to re-embrace my feminine identity and really own who I am as a woman. And part of that journey is making peace with my hair.

Did I mention I hate my hair? It’s plentiful but very fine, meaning it has no volume, none of the beautiful fullness and thickness other women’s hair has. So yeah, it pretty much just “lays there” when I grow it out. It’s also super oily—which means I do a lot of washing of it.

At one point I bleached it and dyed it purple. And while this wasn’t ideal for my hair’s health, it did help with the grease problem …

Wow, that really was purple!

Keeping that frustrating part of my body shaved off entirely was pretty much a dream come true for me. I loved my buzz cut, and by all accounts from the compliments I got, it loved me back. But this is a new season. This is not the season of Nothing. It’s the season of Everything according God—and having a shaved head, I suppose is not a symbol of Everything. Having really long hair is.

So, as of November I began growing my hair out. It’s entering that awkward stage now, from which it will not emerge for, like, maybe years?

Part of me has an urge every day to run to the nearest beauty parlor and ask them to shave it off again, because I don’t have my electric razor anymore!

But I’m not sure that’s what I’m supposed to do.

The big shave, April 2018

Hair, clothing and makeup are all symbols of how we see ourselves and who we think we are. What is my hair supposed to say about myself in this new season of abundance?

I’m not entirely sure, but one thing I do know …. it’s not my decision to make entirely. I am God’s mouthpiece, and therefore everything about me belongs to Him. He’s the one who gets to decide what I look like and how I present myself to the world.

I do know that I’m supposed to embrace an even more radical Bohemian style of dress. And it is true that most Bohemian fashion is traditionally associated with long flowing hair: something I haven’t had since I was like 13 years old.

I was a bald beauty on my first day in the UAE!

Funny about that—when I think back to my childhood ideal, I wanted to have really long, flowing hair “down to my butt,” as my mom always said. As a very young girl, I embraced the deep, archetypally feminine persona as my destiny. But I lost that mojo later when my femininity was attacked, through traumas I experienced as a young woman.

Cutting my hair short was the beginning of my de-association with the feminine—a rift it took me another 20 years to begin healing. Not that every woman needs to express her femininity with long hair. I’m not saying that. But I do believe our childhood desires are a key to who we really are. And for me, long hair had been an ideal I wanted to reach.

So am I really sure what I’m supposed to do with my hair now? Not entirely.

But I have an uncomfortable suspicion I’ll be growing it out.

There’s always an electric razor if I get fed up …

The Truth and the Lies of Sexual Dysfunction

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“I’m sorry, young lady. You have a serious sexual dysfunction. You’re going to have to see a therapist.”

I got this diagnosis when I was 25: a newly minted wife who had been a proper virgin up until a disappointing wedding night. Fresh off a confusing honeymoon, I found myself sitting in the doctor’s office where I got the painful news.

Vaginismus, to be exact. Something I’d never even heard of. The doctor barely had, either.

Thus began one of the worst experiences of my life: therapy visits.

To be fair to the sex therapist, she tried. She really did. But at that time, I was a shut-up, locked-up volume of emotional trauma I did not even know I had. She asked some of the right questions. Others, I realize looking back, were pitiably pointless.

Either way, this multi-award-winning doctor for women’s bodies knew very little about what it was like to grow up in a Christian home where sex had been an unmentionable as a four-letter word, and my body a source of shame. So when her usual methods didn’t work, she resorted to Kegel exercises—which I didn’t really understand at the time—and forced me to watch something I had never seen before: porn.

I’m not sure which was worse: the diagnosis I’d gotten, the scratchy voice on the kegel exercise tape, or the quality of the sex romps she forced me to view.

Some of you may be shaking your head that I could have been so sheltered, in my middle 20s. It was 2009, for crying out loud! I mean, who’s even a virgin at that age anymore? Let alone so terribly …. clueless … about her own body.

If you talked to women I talk to frequently, it might not be so surprising. Sharing my story has given other women courage to share theirs with me, and the same threads keep coming up over and over again:

  • Born and/or raised in an extremely conservative Christian church (or Jewish or Muslim community)
  • Raised to be “pure” and a virginal until marriage
  • Struggled mightily with sex after marriage
  • Typical symptoms include physical pain, emotional trauma and difficulty with penetration
  • Ability to sense physical pleasure from intimate acts is low or non-existent

Let’s face it, if you’re raised to withhold your sexuality from everyone (even yourself) for the first 25 years of your life, it’s not going to just flip “on” like a light switch on your wedding night. At least, not if you’re a woman from such a background—whose body needs to feel emotional safe, gently-treated and emotionally close in order to begin to open up.

In these conversations, I have heard comments from other women, like, “My first year of marriage was hell.” And “I had no idea what was going on. I just cried every night.” And “My husband wanted me to enjoy myself, but I just couldn’t relax.”

If you resonate with these statements because, too … I want you to know you are not alone.

I also want you to know that the quickest way out of this dark, scary place is to take the diagnosis you’ve been given and set it on a shelf. Act like it doesn’t exist. Let it collect some dust. Forget about it. 

At least for the next few minutes…

You see, getting a diagnosis from a medical doctor did one thing for me, and one thing only. It convinced me something was wrong with my body the way God had made it.

“Your PC muscles are unnaturally tight, and they associate pain with penetration,” was the way one healthcare provider put it to me, in the simplest possible terms. And it’s true … from a doctor’s perspective, my muscles were too tight to allow vaginal intercourse.

But here’s the thing:

Being told that this was the sum total of my problem didn’t fix things. It actually kept me from finding the real cure for eight more years. 

Thanks to believing that diagnosis, I failed that round of therapy. Failed it miserably. And then failed more tries at home. The doctors talked about surgically opening my vagina—but then decided that procedure would only worsen the problem.

I tried every year after to start that therapy again, but the fear always kept me from getting too far. My body only shut itself down further. It became a demoralising cycle of sadness and frustration and isolation.

My marriage dragged on for almost eight more years until it failed, too.

It wasn’t until I decided—as a single woman again, at age 33, on her own, with no therapist—to set aside the diagnosis that I finally stumbled upon the truth:

Yes, I had physical symptoms in my body. But my body was only reacting to what was going on in my emotions and my mind. And had been, for a very long time. (In my case, since birth … but that’s another story for another day.)

Think about it.

All my life, I’d been taught to withhold myself from anything sensual or sexual. I’d been taught to cover up my body, even from myself. No one had had me do mirror work with my vagina or explore my own anatomy so that I’d actually understand how Part A went into Part B. No one talked about sex or taught me how to tap into my feminine energy so I’d be ready for sex.

At home, church and school, the female body was a problem for the male gaze … and that translated into the fact that I as a woman felt like I was the problem. Intimacy was a forbidden fruit that was frequently talked about as a source of sin and sometimes celebrated as a wonderful part of marriage.

I had been taught that if I saved myself for marriage, I would naturally enjoy superior sexual experiences because of this choice. This teaching was fundamentally a lie. Did God want me to save my sexual expressions for marriage? Yes. But shutting myself off from loving, non-sexual touch before marriage, and abstaining from studying and understanding my essence as a woman , actually hindered my ability to bless my husband within it.

In the absence of balanced teaching and a healthy relationship with my God-given sexuality, the concept of “intimacy” had been my enemy from the time I was born. No wonder it and I could not make instant friends after my marriage.

I was taught strictly to obey and achieve, holding back my emotions and physical touch, not to feel and experience and let go, surrendering myself to the pleasure of another’s warm embrace even in an innocent, platonic way.

I was dressed up and paraded as a “good girl” who knew how to look the part. But get past that down to the messiness? Let anyone see me in sweatpants (let alone less than that)? Nope. Not happening.

Even the notion of “experiencing pleasure”–the capacity for which is critical to healthy sexual relations in marriage–was suspect. Pleasure in church was associated with sin, not with healthy, natural everyday activities. Subconsciously, the teachings of my church suggested that too much enjoyment of anything, even godly things, was probably a problem.

In fact, if you’d asked me what brought me real pleasure—innocent, everyday pleasures to savor such as “the scent of flowers on a spring breeze” or a “hot cup of tea by the fire”—I don’t actually think I could have told you. I was too busy dressing up and over-achieving. And being super sure my head, rather than, my body, did all my sensing for me.

All of this fed my natural self-loathing of my body which every American girl is tempted to every day of her life.

Did I mention that unconditional love for your body makes it a whole lot easier to receive someone else loving it back?

Over those next few months, after making these startling realizations at age 33, and divorced, I decided to try the therapy again.

But this time, I did it God’s way. I asked Him to demolish any theology of sexuality that did not reflect He actually said about me and my body as a woman, and about marriage and about pleasure. I prayed for guidance to the right tools. Then I bought the dilators and yoni eggs the long-ago therapist had recommended once for the physical practice. But I only moved forward with that while totally getting quiet, sitting down with God and actually facing my tremendous inbred fear of intimacy … and my hatred of my own body.

Once I began taking each brick off the emotional and mental walls I had built up against my Real Self, the wall (miraculously) started to come down. Not easily. Not quickly. But it did come down.

One realization led to another. Which led to another. Which led to … well, another.

I discovered that as a woman, who would normally be deeply in tune with her body by God’s natural design, I had no real innate ability to feel into my body or understand what it was trying to tell me. In fact, my body and I had been at odds with each other my entire life. Yet my husband, who as a man naturally lived more in his head, had been looking to me to help him relax deeply into bodily experiences.

I started to learn what it felt like to love my skin exactly as it was. To make friends with all the parts of myself that I had previously not even understood. I learned to get comfortable dancing naked in my room, with the door shut. I took a mirror and stuck it up you-know-where and gave myself an anatomy lesson. Or two. Or five.

Above all, I asked God to unlock the deepest parts of my womanhood that had been locked up in a prison since babyhood, with the key tossed who-knows-where.

He heard my cry. He always does. And praise Him, He faithfully and gently handed me the key.

When I started the dilator work again, this time, my thoughts about myself and my emotional pain were healing first. So the physical practice was a totally different experience.

The body that previously “needed surgery” yielded naturally. No, I didn’t finish the dilator therapy overnight. But dilator by dilator, I retrained those PC muscles not to feel the pain they used to feel. By myself. Naturally. At home. Until one day, I outgrew the dilators and had to buy a genuine dildo. And I felt no pain at all.

(Some other day I’ll tell you about what it’s like putting condoms on a cucumber when the dilators don’t fit anymore. But yeah, that’s a story for another day …)

More than that, I started to feel totally relaxed and comfortable with myself as I was. I had to shed all that body shame, and truly redirect my thoughts to see how God sees me, as a woman. I began to pamper myself, to enjoy feeling beautiful, to lean into practices like yoga and chakra work that helped me get comfortable with who I was and become smarter about “hearing” my body.

That made all the difference in the world.

Now, when I look back on the frightened girl in the doctor’s office, all those years ago, I wish I could tell her to take that diagnosis and toss it right out the window. I would have bypassed the “sex therapist” and never even entertained the discussion of surgery.

Because I believe now that when it comes to our sexuality as women, most of our body’s physical responses result from what’s happening in our hearts and minds.

By telling me I had a “physical condition”—without addressing the fears, sadness, misunderstandings of God’s design for sexuality, and self-hatred in my heart—my healthcare providers encouraged me to see the problem as being outside myself. Which also means I saw the solution as being outside too.

You want to cure for your problems with body love? You want to conquer your fear, reclaim your intimacy, save your marriage? Or ensure that your first experiences with sex in marriage really are the blessed path of discovery I was once promised they would be?

Listen to what the doctor says, yes. Consider the therapist’s advice. Get prayer and counseling at your church. But above all, go deeper.

Go straight to the source.

Ask God to show you—really, truly show you—how you’re feeling about yourself, your body and your sexuality.

Then be brave enough to sit with the answers He gives you. Also brave enough to share what you learn with another woman you trust. And further more, brave enough to do whatever it takes to break down those walls.

When you begin to know yourself in this way—hard as it can be—you can truly take your first step to healing. Because healing this “sexual dysfunction” (really, the physical manifestation of an emotional wound) is an inside-out job. Your body will only be a thermometer for what’s going on in your heart and mind.

Let God heal you within, and your body will be set free.

Have a story to share? Struggling with vaginismus or wondering why you can’t seem to relax in intimacy? I love mail! Send me a note, and I’ll respond:

A Tale of Two Sunsets … and Two Seasons of Life

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Think things won’t change?

Give God a year and see what happens.

I love a lot of things about the new home God has sent me in Dubai. But perhaps the thing I love most, besides the people He has placed in my life, are the sunsets. Last night, I got to enjoy this amazing edition (above) with a friend as we strolled around a local market perched on the edge of the Arabian Gulf. There’s no filter on this photo, other than the little “enhancement” button my iPhone has.

But as awesome as this sunset was, as it happened, it wasn’t the only sunset I saw today. Facebook also reminded me of a memory and sent me another sunset photo—of the one I saw exactly one year ago to the day, in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Could those two sunsets be any more different? Ah, now there’s the story.

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Dream Trip? Um yeah, no ….

Going to Iceland may sound exotic, not to mention the extreme opposite from a sunset in the Middle East!! For me it was definitely a bucket-list dream—but I wouldn’t have picked to go in the nadir of the year: those cold, dark, seemingly-“dead” weeks before the winter solstice. I also wouldn’t have picked to do it with about $40 USD in the bank. This translates to about 5,000 Icelandic krona.

If you know anything about Iceland, you know it’s expensive to do anything there, from taking a taxi to eating lunch. Five thousand krona might get you one meal. Maybe two if you shop deals hard for, like, two hours in advance of each meal. (Who has time for that, yo?) I don’t know, it might even cost you 5,000 krona to eat at McDonald’s. Not that I did … but my point is: it’s freaky expensive to survive.

Frankly, when I arrived and saw what I was really dealing with price-wise, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive at all.

I had money set aside for this trip. Not a lot, but definitely more than $40 USD. And then … as always seemed to happen during this “Nothing” phase of my life … the money had to get reallocated for other purposes. Last-minute financial crises always seemed to hit when I was about to take a trip I had felt led to schedule in the first-place.

Iceland was no exception.

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Last Ray of Hope (or So It Seemed)

I remember that sunset well. December 2 2017. I was pounding the cobblestone pavement of old-town Reykjavik, peeking in windows and snapping photos of the adorable cats and dogs that seemed to grow three extra layers of fur against the biting Atlantic wind. I wasn’t going in many places, because what’s the point when you don’t have money to spend? Stepping inside a restaurant  to get warm and read the menu gets really awkward after awhile when you don’t ask for a table!

There’s only about three hours of sun in Reykjavik any given day at that time of year, and since the rest of my stay in Iceland was totally cloudy, it’s a good thing I snapped this photo before the sun went down that day. Right at the top of the hill in front of Reykjavik Cathedral, the national church known for its distinctive bell tower (among other architectural features).

I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful than that last ray of light amid the grimness.

After I took the photo, I remember deciding to blow 2000 of my non-existent krona on a bowl of lamb stew—the absolute rock-bottom cheapest local food I could find—so I could at least say I had eaten a “traditional local meal” whilst on the island. I walked around for a few more hours before heading back to the silent, empty women’s dormitory of the hostel where I rented a bed. More a hostel for ghosts, it would seem. I never saw another human soul there the whole time I stayed.

The north wind whistled around that traditionally-built wooden house. And even though I knew it had been built generations ago to withstand exactly this kind of weather, I still shuddered every time I heard a board creak.

It was as if the wind intended to splinter not only the house, but what was left of my life.

End of One Life, Beginning of the Next

That sunset has stuck in my mind ever since. Mostly because it reminded me that there was still light, still hope. That even though my life seemed completely out of control, traveling to Europe alone simply because God said to, with no money and no plan, at the ugliest/darkest/most depressing time of year … well, even in the middle of that mental and emotional landscape (which happened to feel as barren as Iceland!), there was still a sun behind the clouds.

Fast-forward 365 days, I was sitting on the pier at a market in Dubai, eating a beautiful meal with a friend whom I didn’t even know last year. There was food in my belly, cash in my wallet, and even a bank card with more where that came from, if I should happen to need it. I was enjoying a holiday from an amazing job, wearing a new dress I’d picked out myself, and was carrying a card in my purse that entitled me to resident benefits and services from the UAE, a country I never even once thought of while I was penny-pinching my way through Europe.

And then there was that sunset, the one I posted at the top of this post. One of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever seen in my life, right there over my head, God’s banner of love painted in watercolors across the sky.

I couldn’t help noticing that everything about it was extravagant: the scope, the size, the layers, the intensity of color. All of it was triple or quadruple (maybe more!) of those same features in the Icelandic sunset.

Between Dec 2 2017 and Dec 2 2018, it’s like someone took the saturation tool in Photoshop and jacked it up to maximum.

My life, too, feels like it’s been jacked up since that now long-ago day.

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Change is the Only Constant

There’s no greater lie than the one we all like to tell ourselves when we’re most in distress: “Things will never change. Because in the walk of faith, I’ve noticed, change is the only constant. Sometimes, as in the tale of two sunsets, you just gotta wait 365 days to really see the full effect.

If I could go back to that girl I was last year, floundering in life, questioning why she couldn’t seem to settle down, and why nothing was working out, and why she was traveling in Europe when she just wanted to be home with people she loved … except that the more she chased home, the more it seemed to evade her … I would hug her and tell her it’s going to be okay.

Yeah, even when you’ve landed in a country where it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit in December and there’s 20 hours of darkness every single day.

Seasons come, yes. But they also go. There’s no guarantee that next year’s sunset on December 2nd will be anything like this year’s. If you’re smart (and you know how God works), you know better than to say, “Nothing’s ever gonna change” out loud. Or in your heart. Or even in your deepest, darkest thoughts.

Because words have power. Expectations are the fence we try to build around what God can or will do next. You have no idea what’s coming next in your life, even if it seems as bleak and dead as a frozen island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

So don’t build a box for God that you don’t want to live in.

For every dead twig, salt-soaked rock and gust of killing wind I felt in Iceland last year on this same day …. I’ve been repaid a hundred-fold in flowering trees, warm Gulf waves between my toes and endless sunshine. Not to mention amazing friends who feel like family, a steady income and the prospect of once more trading my suitcase for an address.

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Are you really ready for your big shift?

Honestly, I’m kind of glad no one told me about the Dec 2 2018 sunset back on Dec 2 2017. Because no matter how much they would have tried to encourage me with it, I wouldn’t have been ready to believe it was possible, or even receive it into my life.

Maybe you’re not ready, either, for what God wants to send you in the way of prosperity, love, community, ministry and purpose by this time next year.  Maybe He knows it’s gonna take a WHOLE year of wandering to prepare you for your blessing.

Don’t fight how He chooses to work—even if He sends you on what seems like a fool’s errand.

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One year later, at a market on the Arabian Gulf!

What if I had to be in Iceland last year at this time, and snap that one precious sunset photo, because He knew it was the only way I would fully appreciate and worship Him for the shifts in my life?

That’s probably not the only reason … but even if it were, the “fool’s errand” is starting to look quite a bit less foolish.

Waiting for your big shift? In the meantime, trust the process. Watch the sunsets. Guard your heart, your mind and your words against thinking change will never happen. Thank God in advance that you’ll be seeing next year’s edition from a whole different vantage point.

Oh yeah … and don’t forget to take a lot of photos. You never know when God might use Facebook memories to help you remember!

Want to reach out? I love to get mail! Send me a note:

Dancing in the Footsteps of St. Hildegard, Part 1

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Names matter.

I’ve always loved asking people about their names, and what they mean. People, too, often ask me where the name for this blog–“That Fiery Dance”–came from.

For me, “That Fiery Dance” has many meanings. And I’m sure it may have some totally different for you.

First, for me it’s a nod to freedom. (Because what do I do when I’m totally free in body, mind and spirit? I dance!) It’s also a nod to the Holy Spirit. (Listening and following His Voice is a dance all its own.)

But mostly, it’s a nod to the woman and the prophet whose memory has inspired my own journey over the past few years: St. Hildegard of Bingen. Here’s her whole quote:

“I will tell you a secret about that divine light, about creative fire.
The more you nourish it in your heart, the more it radiates out from you.
The more you release it through your words, your deeds, of wisdom, of
loving compassion, the brighter the flame burns … and in that fiery dance,
you will find that you are, as I myself discovered, no longer aware of your years.”
St. Hildegard of Bingen

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Freedom transforms us.

It causes barriers to fall away. It lifts off our masks. It gives us the courage to get up off the sidelines and dance under all the lights where everyone can see us–and we don’t care anymore what they think.

Freedom gives us the courage to go after the dreams God has put in our hearts. To own our gifts. To stand up and let His power flow through us however He wills it to… and not to fear the outcome.

Above all, the freedom of God takes away the weight of years–literally–from our hearts, minds and bodies. It provides us a continual wellspring of Living Water within that renews and refreshes us.

No matter how dry the desert she dwells in, a truly Free Woman is young in spirit, and spry enough to dance, because she drinks from the water of eternal life.

St. Hildegard is, to me, the picture of that kind of Freedom.

Almost a year ago, I got to walk in her footsteps.

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I first learned about St. Hildegard’s life when I was researching medieval convents for a writing project about five years ago.

Even though she was born almost 900 years before me, I resonated immediately with her isolated upbringing, her love of books and learning, and the creative determination that defines her story.

In a time when more men than women made headlines, St. Hildegard became an advisor to kings and the pope, a preacher who toured Europe, the first recorded female to found a spiritual community for women in Europe and an icon of her generation.

Armed with the courage that marked her 70-some years, Hildegard became one of the first practitioners of modern medicine, a gifted herbalist who contributed treatments for women’s sexuality and health issues, a dietitian who saw the relationship between food and health in an era when many did not make that connection–and a composer whose music is still performed today.

She was also a prophet, theologian and writer who recorded original visions from God that are still not entirely understood today. And she became the spiritual mother of several convents full of women. Together, these women defied the church’s tradition for nuns to dress in plain habits and ugly veils  by donning red dresses, letting their hair down and decking themselves with pearls–because, as Hildegard insisted, they were the bride of Christ, and ought to look like it.

Along the way, Hildegard escaped being buried alive in an anchorite’s cell and almost losing her life because of her prophetic gifts. When she left that cell, after almost thirty years trapped inside it, she never looked back. Instead of letting her long confinement break her, she made it a stepping-stone to full freedom.

She also felt extremely misunderstood and, for long periods of her life, was shut away from most of society.

I was enchanted with Hildegard’s story right away. While I could not relate to her many achievements, I aspired to them. But I could connect with her experience of feeling isolated and misunderstood in my creative gifts. At that time in my life, God had not yet begun to speak to me. But as I read books about her and watched Vision, a recent German film based on St. Hildegard’s life, I wrestled with whether or not I thought this strange but magnetic woman really could have heard from God.

Foreshadowing doesn’t just happen in stories; it happens in real life. I believe God used these experiences, bumping up against St. Hildegard’s amazing story, to prepare me for the beginning of my own.

After my divorce, when God began speaking directly into my day-to-day life, St. Hildegard’s experiences didn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.  And One day, He spoke to me about her directly. When I was in Italy in September 2017, God told me to go to Germany that December, after the solstice, and retrace St. Hildegard’s steps through her home town.

And so it was, December 26, 2017, I found myself both homeless and penniless, riding a train from Frankfurt, Germany, to tiny Bingen am Rhein, Hildegard’s hometown.

I had just enough money for the hotel and food for the next three days. The German countryside was blurred with endless sheets of rain, and my soul felt just as grey. Here was the nadir of the year. I had been in Germany for almost four soul-crushing weeks. I was struggling with horrible digestive issues, not to mention a heart-wrenching lack of purpose. I had never felt less ready to make such a pilgrimage.

Though I had dreamed of visiting St. Hildegard for years, I never wanted to do it under such duress. Here I was fulfilling a life dream of following her footsteps, which had been a direct command from the Voice of God Himself. And yet I felt so beaten down. So unsure of what my own future held.

When the train pulled in to Bingen, I dragged my little red suitcase and a bag of food the 1/4 mile walk to the hotel I had booked. I remember having hot tea, prunes and a bath for my digestive condition, and going straight to bed.

I should have been excited about what was going to happen the next day. Yet I was feeling so unwell, I could hardly even think about it.

But then morning came: Wednesday, December 27, 2017.

I woke up to find that my digestive issue had been miraculously healed during the night. And I remembered one of those large facts in life that one tends to forget when they come associated with so much pain: December 27th, 2017, was also my 9th wedding anniversary.

Or would have been, anyway, had I not been divorced exactly 14 months to the day prior.

I laid there, listening to the rain on the hotel roof, remembering the hopeful young girl who had donned her wedding dress–still not entirely sure she wanted to be married, but putting on a brave face and doing what had to be done. A thousand thoughts and feelings flooded through my body at that recollection. And at all that had happened since.

Seven-and-a-half years of a life that had been aborted without warning. The roller-coaster ride that came after, including the first time of hearing God’s voice. Hildegard’s writings had carried me through that maelstrom of personal reinvention.

In many ways, I felt that, like Hildegard, I had found the key to my own cell and stepped out of it, as I began to hear the Voice of God and follow it.

And that obedience had led me here: broke, alone and empty-handed, to the womb of earth that had birthed my spiritual.

In that moment, I heard God say to me, “It’s your wedding day once again.”

I knew instantly that I had come to another kind of wedding: not the wedding of myself to someone else, but my own wedding to the vision He had given me. Coming to visit Hildegard wasn’t just another act of obedience. It was the beginning of a whole new life.

This date, which had been loaded with so much sorrow, was now reborn. December 27th will forever be “the day I visited Hildegard,” and I intend to celebrate it as such each year. Because why allow our past and our pain dictate what a day means?

Encouraged, I tramped across the rain-soaked cobblestones of Bingen, trying to imagine what it was like to be here in Hildegard’s day. Of course the town was much smaller then. And there was no railroad, nor any ferry across the Rhine River to Rudesheim, a town that also existed in Hildegard’s day, and is now dominated by a hilltop abbey of which she was abbess for many years.

I started my visit by stopping in at the permanent Hildegard installation at the Bingen City Museum, where I was able to see many artefacts I had only ever seen photos of: original paintings from Hildegard’s visions, letters she wrote to various kings and the Holy Roman Emperor, mockups of the now-destroyed monastery and various abbeys where she lived, and other documents.

Perhaps what I admire most about St. Hildegard was her willingness to be exactly who God had told her to be and speak exactly what God had told her to speak. This was her true freedom. Even as I read letter after letter where she delivered His words to popes and kings as honestly as possible … I was in awe of the authority she moved in.

“Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong,” Hildegard wrote. For many years, she herself gave testimony that fear had bound her and kept her caged in that tiny cell. But when she decided to let go of fear, she stepped into her voice and her power.

In her willingness to be exactly whom God made her, and be completely transparent about it, she made an impact that is still felt 900 years later.

In late morning, I walked up the side of a steep hill, through “downtown” Bingen, to the famous St. Rochus Chapel where a shrine stands to Hildegard’s memory.

Along the way I walked through a “garden of saints”–statues representing all of Jesus’ disciples, the Apostle Paul and others–and found my way through a muddy forest to the chapel road.

The door to St. Rochus was open, but no one was there. I stepped into a dank, chill medieval stone sanctuary, where a row of benches and a locked set of iron bars separated me from the priceless relics in the church itself. The famous icon of St. Hildegard was lit by single lightbulb on a timer; I had to keep flicking the switch to get a good look at her from afar, behind the bars that separated us.

But I was okay with the distance and the darkness, mostly. It gave me time to sit in silence, to contemplate all that had passed in the previous years and what coming to this place really meant. I felt pricked in my conscience that God was saying something me here, in this place.

Something, perhaps, about coming out of hiding myself.

Though I had not been locked up in a stone cell like Hildegard was for many early years of her life, I had been locked up in more invisible prisons than I could count. I had found the key when I had begun to find my voice, and (more importantly) the voice of God within me. But there was still a part of me that was silent and hiding.

Sitting here in the darkness, with St. Hildegard on the other side of the bars, I came face to face with that. I knew I wanted to be free to dance again–maybe for the first time in my life–and like St. Hildegard, help free other women to dance themselves.

After leaving St. Rochus, I visited the nearby nunnery, where I enjoyed a lunch cooked by the nuns from Hildegard’s original recipe, complete with wine from grapes grown on the property.

Side note: I’m in love with Dornfelder wines now, but I’ve never been able to find them in the U.S. (And good luck finding any particular kind of wine in Dubai.)

As I enjoyed this meal, I thought about St. Hildegard’s work as a healer. I myself had seen first-hand how my body had reacted to the tremendous sadness and stress I underwent during my divorce. I had enjoyed good health up to that point but found myself at the . mercy of terrible digestive issues that continued up to this day.

Every aspect of the meal I was eat was designed to heal the body. Though St. Hildegard had incomplete medical information, and not all of her medieval ideas were medically factual, she had indeed made a lot of sound conclusions. And she understood the root cause of such issues: the connection between mind, spirit and body.

What happens in the body affects the mind and the heart. And Hildegard had not been afraid to treat them together.

I have seen in my own journey how working with these three elements together brought me incredible freedom. And I want to pass that freedom on.

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As I completed my first day in Bingen, I felt that same tug in my heart that had drawn me to the city in the first place from more than 5000 miles away.

It was the tug to step into a life bigger, more courageous and more authentic than anything I had previously lived.

And just as it had begun for St Hildegard with owning her voice, her gifts and the visions God had given her … I knew it would begin there for me. This blog is the beginning of that journey. It has now been almost a year since I walked with St. Hildegard in Bingen … and God has brought me to settle in a new country and given me an entirely new life.

But have I truly stepped into my voice and my gifts? Have I really acknowledged who I am, and owned it to the whole world, regardless of what anyone thinks?

That’s a level of transparency hardly any of us reach. But this transparency is exactly the reason Hildegard’s life shines so brightly almost 900 years later.

Today, I resonate with St. Hildegard’s story more than ever. I understand now that my first attraction to her story was really God’s way of drawing me deeper toward my own calling. Like her, I hear from Him. Like her, I write down what He says–though I often am too afraid to share it. When people ask me for advice, I tell them exactly what I heard God saying to me about their situation.

I have stories to write, visions to paint, dreams to turn into dance. Not everything I have to say will be popular, or even appreciated. And I hope my life can shine brightly for some other woman who needs hope that God can transform her.

You can’t make an impact when you are sitting in silence behind prison bars. And I can’t make an impact while I’m silent, either.

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Like St. Hildegard, I found the key to my prison, and it’s time I leave it behind–and don’t look back.

The last almost three years were my first lessons in what it’s like to live without prison walls and without limits. What remains now is for me to pick up my pen, open my mouth, step into the work God has given me as His daughter and His prophet.

Because it is not in silence that we reclaim our lives. It is only in transparency can the light radiate out from us. It is only in the midst of THAT FIERY DANCE with God’s Holy Spirit and with the life that He has given us do we find that we are no longer aware of our years.

I’ve told you parts of the story but I haven’t told you the whole story. That begins here, today, in this space dedicated to speaking freely.

“I will tell you a secret about that divine light, about creative fire,” St. Hildegard once wrote. “The more you nourish it in your heart, the more it radiates out from you. The more you release it through your words, your deeds, of wisdom, of  loving compassion, the brighter the flame burns … and in that fiery dance, you will find that you are, as I myself discovered, no longer aware of your years.”  

May this blog be my sacrifice of praise and my platform of transparency.

It’s time to dance.

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