Wrestling with Words:Writing, Dreaming, and Comparison

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I know that I must consistently write. I must do it not because I’m trying to become successful. I must do it because I am becoming someone. In this process of becoming, I must grapple for words and throw them back out at the universe. Whether I like it or not. Whether anyone reads it or not. Whatever.


I just have to do it. I have to keep crafting and keep learning to tell stories. Even if the stories feel like a 5 year old’s gibberish when they come out, they still must come out. I’m believing in faith that every time I choose to express myself and choose to tell a story, Holy Spirit is working on me. He’s putting words to what’s going on inside. He’s maybe healing other hearts and saying something to someone else.


For me, writing is an act of faith.

I grew up with a whole lot of comparison in the writing department. My whole family loves words and creating and stories. My brother, five years older than me, was (and is) the fiction and song writer. We both have stories in our bones, but they come out differently. He tends to bring them out in the dramatic – in the theatrical, the magical, and the sometimes absurd. I tend to love reality. It’s why I’m a photographer, because I love capturing what’s directly in front of me in any given moment. I love blogging and memoirs and sharing personal experiences. When I write, I look to put reason to all that I feel. When he writes, he seems to look to put feelings to all that he reasons. It’s beautiful and I’ve come to celebrate his gifts rather than compare them to my own.

I’ve held dreams for writing my whole life, but they always were carried under the shadow of not being alone in those dreams. My parents were always talking about book ideas – ideas that have not yet become reality. My brother was always chasing dreams of writing novels and songs that change generations and poems with power and screenplays for innovative arenas. Dreams became a bit competitive. Accidentally, but it happened.

When I started blogging at the age of 13, I thought that I would be like Alex and Brett Harris and would be an overnight hit sensation. This was back in 2008, when the blogosphere was booming and launching so many names into authorship and conference speaking. As a naive young girl with a history of dreaming too big, I secretly hoped that would be my fate as well.

It wasn’t.

My writing from that era is a bit painful to reflect upon, but in the end, I’m glad that I did it. I’m glad that I started cultivating gifts and communities and dreams within myself without seeing any of the success that I dreamed of. If I was to be extremely honest with you, those dreams of writing books and speaking at conferences are still in my heart.

It’s hard because I know that those same dreams are still in my mom’s heart and she has not yet seen them fulfilled. I know my brother is still dreaming of writing crazy stage productions. I know my dad has a book buried in his heart under heaps and heaps of burnout. I feel almost guilty to believe in the fulfillment of my own dreams.


But that guilt is not only misplaced, it’s a bold faced lie. It’s believing the lie that dreams are competitive; that one person’s success hinders another’s and there is only enough room on the platform for a few. Yet I see a much more beautiful reality play out before me. I see that dreams inspire more dreaming. We help each other accomplish their dreams by being faithful to our own. We pave the way as we walk ahead.

My mom told me the other day on the phone that she’s been inspired by seeing me pursue my dreams of starting a strip club outreach. She whispered to me a long time dream and that it seems like it may be the right time to start moving ahead toward making it reality. WHAT? I’m inspiring my mother? That’s crazy to me, this concept that my steps of faith can inspire others to take the same steps of faith in their own dreams. Not knowing, plowing ahead, and reliance on God – it’s not selfish. It’s powerful. It’s worthwhile.

Hannah Brencher wrote this post in December about her blog turning 5 and I can’t get it out of my head. She says that, “Blogging—to me—is not a trend. It’s exercise. It’s discipline. It’s a way to develop a voice and developing said is absolutely crucial if you want to write on bigger platforms one day.” Okay then, Hannah. I suppose I’ll blog.

Despite the fact that consistency has been a beast to me, I know that it’s a beast worth battling. I’m not blogging to build an audience or a platform. I’m not blogging to save the world. I’m blogging to build – to hone my skills and find my voice and strengthen my writing muscles. It may not be pretty, but hey, you never know what it may be setting me up for in the future.

Yes, I do have some crazy dreams that I can’t believe I’m confessing to the internet because I barely have confessed them to my best friends. I would love to write a book. Or ten. I would love to speak at conferences. Actually, I would love (like x1000000) to preach. I would love to be a part of inspiring, training, and teaching a generation of big-dreaming revivalists. Those are the dreams that I barely dare to say, but I’m learning to be braver.

Because bravery inspires more bravery.

Faith inspires more faith.

Dreams inspires more dreaming.

So I’ll write. Because it’s part of a dream. It’s preparing for the future while processing my present. It’s my little acts of bravery and faith. Maybe it will release you to write more or to dream more. Whatever happens, obedience is success. So every time I write, if it’s an act of obedience, it’s successful. No results or competition or guilt required.

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Love Your Neighbor: Las Vegas Edition

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“Hey, do you have a lighter?” He asked me across the chain link fence and alley that kept my world from his. My world of worship nights and prayer rooms, financial supporters and the missionary label. His world of fasting for Allah and walking to the mosque, smoking marijuana and making drug deals.

In his request for a lighter, I kicked myself for not having one on me or even in the base. As I had to turn him down, I feared that it meant the end to our conversation, but he was back minutes later and called me over to the fence.

The questions started flowing. Questions about the worship night my teammates were having in the courtyard across the alley. Questions about Christianity. Questions about Jesus. He told me about himself – about being Muslim and about being high and about being Minnesotan. The Minnesotan thing got me jacked and formed an instant friendship as we bonded over having met so few Minnesotans out in Vegas.

In the half hour or so that went on, we talked about our state and religion and race and poverty and drugs and Jesus. He told me about making bank selling Adderall to the U of M students during finals week. He told me about how he took care of his 6 younger siblings for two years while his mom was in jail. He told me about dropping out of high school and running away to Vegas with his dad. He told me about being a student of the Koran and fasting for holy days. He told me about his overdose on pills that should have killed him and we both agreed, God has a purpose in keeping him alive.

And yes, he was openly high during this time.

And true to the nature of the neighborhood, a woman walked through the alley drunk as can be and when I said hi, she stopped to talk. She said that she was drinking to fix the brokenness inside. I got to pray over her and hug her and tell her of God’s love for her.

Loving your neighbor takes on a whole new meaning in the ghetto.

It sometimes means hugging a drunk woman or answering the questions of a stoned Muslim.

It sometimes means forgiving the men who call women over into their cars.

It sometimes means tracking down a sweatshirt for the woman who is mourning the life of her baby-daddy who passed away recently.

It’s a little crazy.

Each day is different.

There is no such thing as predictable.

Like on the 3rd of July when the fireworks were going off and our next door neighbor got locked out of her house. As the boys on our team helped her break in, I had the opportunity to hold her precious six year old daughter who was terrified of the fireworks. For about an hour, I just held and prayed and proclaimed that she was safe. As we stood outside of their little home in this rundown mini apartment complex, we witnessed prostitutes going into cars and drug deals before our eyes. This family has the odd position of being situated with darkness on one side and YWAM on the other.

And while loving your neighbors in this context is definitely an adventure, it is anything but glamorous. It’s staring into the face of brokenness that is so raw and in-your-face.

But there is something so beautiful in the brokenness. It’s heavy, it’s painful, it will tear your heart into a million little pieces – but in those moments, I catch a glimpse of God’s heart for these people and for the world. I see how much He hates the pain. He hates seeing people screwing themselves over time and time again. He hates seeing babies grow up in an environment that breeds fear and sets them up for failure. He hates seeing people chasing after a mirage and passing up on the real thing.

It’s easy to ask Him in these moments why He doesn’t do more. I don’t understand how our neighborhood is full of churches side by side to drug houses and illegal brothels. The problem of human hopelessness is the one that causes me to doubt the most. But in those moments, where the situations and environment tempt to overwhelm me, He reminds me of my identity. My identity is that of daughter of the King, vessel of the Holy Spirit, and one who is redeemed and empowered by the blood of the Lamb. We are meant to walk in authority – to see change and to love the socks off of people.

God never promised us that loving our neighbor would be easy. He never promised that they would love us back. He never said it would be clean – in fact, in the story of the Good Samaritan, the man had to sacrifice, be inconvenienced, and get messy in getting to see a man rescued and healed.

That’s what God calls us all to – whether your neighbor is the drug addict in the ghetto or the middle class soccer mom. Love thy neighbor. Thy messy, broken, and a lot like you neighbor.

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My precious little neighbor girl. She completely and totally stole my heart.

Necessary Paranoia || Life as a Female

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It was around 10:30 pm and I had just wrapped up a collaborative photography project for an anti trafficking group with a local male photographer. We had done some shots with a model and then we took some night cityscapes of downtown to be used for the website for the group we were both a part of. Afterwards, I went to his apartment that he shares with several other guys to load my pictures onto his computer. It was right downtown, only about a block from where my car was parked. Yet after we were done with the photos, I had to ask him to walk me back to my car.

It’s one of those things that as a woman, you are forced to be painfully aware of. We had just talked about how downtown was a major hot spot for human trafficking, so as an eighteen year old girl, walking a block through a dark ally was just not going to happen. It’s not the first time, and as I leave home for a college campus, definitely wont be the last.

I am an amateur runner. This May I started training to run and I love to take sunset runs down country roads nearby my house. I also love to have music in my earbuds to motivate me and I track all my stats on my iPhone. Yet I can’t really go running on bike trails nearby. Once, I tried to go over to this super awesome bike trail about a mile away and ran for about two miles over the hills on a beautiful day. But you know what? I felt so paranoid the entire time. My mother raised me with a heavy sense of Stranger Danger. I used to have nightmares growing up about being kidnapped. Since I was thirteen, I’ve been involved in anti trafficking efforts and have heard so many stories about girls being raped and trafficked in my own state. And yes, I’ve probably watched one too many crime shows that involve a female runner getting murdered on trails.

If I am single in my twenties, after grad school is finished and I’m “settled down,” I have no doubt that I’ll get a large dog. While I am a dog person, I would get a large one despite my preference for small dogs simply for safety purposes. That way I can go running and hiking and can sleep soundly knowing that even if my pooch is a softy at heart, he/she will scare off any intruder.

Within my first semester at college, I plan to take a self defense class. I also feel the need to get my conceal and carry permit. Which as a pacifist who can’t even watch movies with much violence because she can’t stop thinking of the souls of the people, that makes my heart heavy. Yet I am a young, single female who’s life goal is to work with survivors of human trafficking. I also plan to do a lot of work with troubled youth and women who have been abused, including domestic abuse. It’s not the safest life path to take. Therefore, I have to take precautions while also acknowledging that I could do everything right and still end up in an unsafe situation. (Note: because rape is NOT a woman’s fault. Repeat. DO NOT blame the VICTIM.)

And do you know what? I hate everything I had to write thus far. I hate it with a passion in my heart. I hate that I live in a world where I have to remember to “park under streetlights” if I go to a grocery store after dark. I hate that I can’t walk back to my dorm room by myself after working out at the wellness center across campus. I hate that I don’t feel comfortable going to parties in college because you never know when your drink could be spiked and you could wind up waking up with some vague recollection of being raped.

This is not the world that I want to live in. This is not the world that I want my friends and family to be living in. This is not the world that I want to raise my daughters in. I do not want to live in necessary paranoia just because I happen to be of a certain gender. I don’t want to live in this gut wrenching anticipation that my mentally handicapped sister will likely be taken advantage of in her lifetime because she’s pretty and vulnerable.

No, no, no. This is not what I dream of for myself or for women anywhere.

I dream of backpacking through Europe by myself.

I dream of hiking mountains.

I dream of solo camping.

I dream of going on a cross country road trip in a vintage camper by myself.

I dream of being able to walk to my car at night without twitching at every sound.

Not only do I dream of a world like this, but I want to do whatever it takes to get the world even a bit closer to that goal. Because I do not want to have my daughter someday to have to continually ask men to walk her back to her car. I want my daughters to feel as safe on the streets as my sons.

Am I crazy and delusional? Maybe.

Do I still hold on to hope? Absolutely.

My Story in My Hands Ends in Sloppy Crayons

 

I am a story.
I have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
That end isn’t yet. It may not be a “happy” ending, but it will be beautiful if I let it.
I need to slowly pry those white knuckles from the pen. That death grip isn’t doing me any good.
My story, as I want to write it, is sloppy. It looks like a 4 year old who thinks that he’s spelling, “I love you, RieRie,” when he’s simply carving out hieroglyphics with his crayon in his fist. No one but him can see his purpose and everyone but him can see that his message isn’t getting across.
Yet as I lighten my grip in order to listen to and follow the odd code of, “stick, circle, stick, stick, bubble,” that’s coming through – the message can be seen. “Love,” is spelled out onto the construction paper. I don’t understand how these marks convey so much, but somehow they do.
When it comes to life, I’m a crazed four-year-old who has no idea what she’s getting herself into. I’m weaving the underside of a tapestry, unable to see the bigger picture that’s made by my messy knotts. That’s precisely why I can’t do this alone. I can’t scrawl blindly my life story or it’ll be a mess, only fit to be forgotten because it cannot be read.
Instead, as I take the instructions that make no sense to me from a loving, compassionate God that knows the end from the beginning, my life takes on a beauty and a purpose. It’s one that I don’t really comprehend. It’s one that looks like a foreign language to me and certainly to some that are watching. Yet to the realms of heaven, my story will become something deep, worthwhile, and yes, it will be something beautiful.
Yours will be too. We’ll be a collage of beautiful stories written by the expert story teller. Together.

The Boy with the Trampoline

“Bounce me Livy-ya!” He squeals with his blue eyes radiating his very soul. So I bounce him. Using my four times his weight to launch him high into the air, stocking clad feet slipping from beneath him as he slips to his bum, a fit of giggles emerging – the kind that’s purely infectious.

When we purchased a trampoline this week – my first reaction was to tease my parents.

My brother and I are twenty-one and sixteen respectively and my parents had us when they were still young and had energy. Well, by the time they survived adopting a beautiful, but crazy Romanian girl who’s changed our lives by bringing the beauty of disability to our home – they got tired. They were considered crazy when three years ago they brought two little boys into our home – 11 months and 2 years. My parents are much more tired than they were when I was young.

Because of that, they’ve got some things that Sam and I never had. Like video games. We were told they’d rot our brains out – so we were content with our imaginary friends (or mops in Sam’s case) and watching Arthur every day. My little brothers are growing up on Mario Kart Wii and Angry Birds. When I was young, I begged for a trampoline. My grandmother’s neighbor girls, who were like cousins growing up, had one and we spent uncountable summer days learning to do flips and playing those endless games of “crack the egg.”

And now my little brothers are growing up with a trampoline. About 70% of the reason is just for my mother’s sanity. Harper – Mr. Blue Eyed Giggle Boy is a four year old “all boy” who’s filled with enough energy to tire out a twenty-year-old mom, let alone an *ahem* age-not-to-be-named *cough* mother. The question of, “how can we find a way for him to release his energy while keeping him safe(ish)?” was asked and a trampoline was the best fit.

The very thing that made my mother cringe when I was eight is now her sanity reliever for her four-year-old wild child who drinks milk from the carton and who we find ourselves saying things like, “you can’t go outside without clothes on!” to. He’s the child that has the nickname of “frat boy” due to his party-hardy toddler years. Sometimes, you look at him and all the energy in your body magically drains out.

He’s a boy that was born to have a trampoline.

You are Not Alone

It was somewhere in the mess of the last two years that I’ve found a stunning truth.
Somewhere between the nerdy boys who’ve spilled their guts to me and the childhood family friends who have said, “me too.”
Somewhere between all the intimate conversation in public places and the one-on-ones with campers, fellow counselors, and youth group leaders.
Somewhere between all the, “I thought I was the only one” and the,“you too?” responses.I realized that we aren’t that different.

Sure, we’re individuals and unique and snowflakes and yada yada yada, but really – in our hearts – we’re more alike than any of us tend to think.

I crave love.
I get hurt and feel pain.
I try to put on a strong face.
I am more than what I appear.
I dream of brilliance.
I don’t think I’m the only one anymore.

This isn’t to be insensitive to your pain, to your story, to your heart – no, those things still have their sparks that I may never be able to relate to, but there’s probably more to your story that we share than either of us knows. Sometimes, I’m pretty sure God gave me a life where He decided to throw in a little bit of every crazy (and tough) thing possible just so I could relate to people.

  • When I was seven, my mom got sick and almost died.
  • I have 3 adopted siblings – two of which have mental disabilities.
  • My dad lost his job and we were homeless for six months when I was 9.
  • I’ve experienced Christians who’ve burned me deeply.
  • I’m a diagnosed mental basket case. Depression as well as some lovely self diagnosed anxiety, PTSD, and ADD on the side. This has resulted in some other issues in my life over the last several years.
  • An extroverted personality has left me with an ability to make friends and connections quickly, but a struggle to maintain deep relationships.
  • My family has moved about 7 times in the last 16 years.
  • I’ve been home schooled, private schooled, and public schooled.
  • There are things I’ve experienced that I may not speak of – thinking they’re too big or too small to be worth sharing.
And you probably relate to at least one of these things. We’ve shared shoes at some point without knowing it. You are like me. I am like you. Don’t you see? That’s brilliant! We aren’t alone.
Every time I hear “no one understands what I’m going through,” I want to run to that person and give them the best hug of their life, then grab their shoulders and tell them that they are not alone. I may not be able to relate to everything – but I can empathize with something in your story. I want to hear it. I want to hear what makes you yourself. I want to hear what goes on in that brilliant little heart of yours and why your heart pitters and patters the way it does.If you don’t want to share with me – simply take a moment and think of this: there are 7 billion people on this planet. You are are one of them; somehow completely unique and yet you belong to this beautiful collage with a master fit. There is someone out there who will get you. You will find them. Open up your heart, expose who you are, and you’ll find people just like you at every turn.

And if you needed to be told again: You are NOT alone.

Growing Up – Facing the in Between

To curl up with a stuffed puppy and chocolate milk.
To get to spend the entire day reading and have no stressful consequences.
To sleep in and eat chocolate chip pancakes.
To not worry about my messy hair or if my figure is pleasing to others.
To go back.
To be innocent.
To be a child.I was always a girl who was eager to grow up. I still am a little girl who’s been a bit too eager to grow up. Some aspects of growing up I absolutely love. I love adventures, working toward crazy goals, helping people, coffee at night, and being able to spell. Yet at some point, I look at my schedule, my to-do list, and my heart – and I find myself feeling a bit weary.

I’ve found myself in a state of tension as these last few teen years are upon me. It’s a bit like purgatory, a limbo in between two different worlds. On one hand, those pudgy fingers of childhood reach out to me – wishing me to stay with them a little bit longer. To blow off everything that grown ups deem important and just go pick dandelions all day. On the other hand, I see this world that is at my fingertips. I see backpacking around Europe, college in a big city, fixing problems, pursuing my dreams and getting somewhere with them.

This is an exciting time. I’m experiencing so many first; everything from my first internship to my first solo road trip. I get to do so many things that I used to only dream of with faraway longing. Yet part of me is still this little girl. The little girl needs to go to the park and swing. The little girl needs to take time to read good books. The little girl needs a giggle fest with a gaggle of girls on a Friday night.
  Today, I played soccer in the backyard thanks to the eager requests of two boys with huge eyes that I can’t say no to. At one point, Harper and I had climbed up on our “epic tower of awesomeness” and with a thumb in his mouth and cuddling in my arms, he turned to me, blue eyes radiating insane energy and said something about growing up. He’s turning 4 next week. He’s been my boy for 3 years and they flew by. Before I know it, he will be writing about not wanting to grow up anymore. He will be in this situation.
 I want to go back to being that little girl. I want to leap back into time, grab her shoulders and tell her to slow down, but I can’t. Instead I have these two boys begging me to take time away from my homework to cuddle or kick a soccer ball around the yard.
And I shall do my best to help them slow down; to teach them to enjoy being little. It doesn’t last long.