twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘Friendship

(seven weeks) a lenten journal

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(one)
monday.

all of the Things had been done

and instead of finding peace my heart exploded in a stream of physical fear late night phone calls and in the midst of phrases unuttered and hearts drawn into compassion and great aching voids of understanding unwilling to admit that the wrenching came from anything at all being wrong

everything weight, heavy, heavy, heavy

 

another way presented itself
it was treadwatertreadwatertread.
or accept the hand pulling me into the boat

and the thought that perhaps the best way to handle
drowning
wasn’t to keep treading to become a stronger swimmer to fight for every gulp of oxygen
but to realize that maybe
the drowning could be ascribed
to the size of the ocean
and indicated no fault in the strength of the swimmer

 

on wednesday we all returned to dust
each and every and all

in my weakness, imbalance, humanity

i accepted the invitation into the boat
a clean break
clear start
opening, honesty, redemptive connection

 

it’s impossible to stop drowning if you insist on staying in the water
you’re only delaying the inevitable

a floodgate, an outpouring, made space for grace i couldn’t understand
when the man who knows and keeps the law is wracked with internal shame and guilt and the prostitute shatters her life savings at the feet of an itinerant rabbi
who has found the heart of the matter?

 

sometimes, when you get the queen of hearts, you’ll still have a chance to shoot the moon

 

“i have seen the burden God has laid in men
he has set eternity in the hearts of men
he has made everything beautiful in its time
yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
-ecclesiastes

 

(two)

a gracious, still space.

a room marked “peace”
a back porch and a basement and a bookshelf
generous company, great faithfulness, rescue and shelter
hope unspoken vows and freedom to move freely
binding beginnings and endings into covenant purposes of friendship

 

space to pause, freedom to live the questions as we are brought through

and yet the snare tugs and much is unprocessed and grace is grating and the space is aching

“i remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall
i well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 

yet this i call to mind and therefore i have hope:

because  of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
i say to myself “the Lord is my portion, therefore i will wait for Him”
-jeremiah’s lamentations

 

(three)

honesty long overdue patches cracks in aging friendships

but stories also confirm
the ship is still sinking

perfect hands dig through the mud
uncovering the precise clay needed
the pot is made to be filled, to be emptied, to be filled again
to be rich with purpose
and always rich with hope

 

boundaries become opportunities
which stop patterns from becoming identities

 

ten days is the longest time, and i am a fraudulent mess

refuge in the smallest cabin on the humblest lake
and it is snowing
and i find it easier to wrestle with You than with myself
as i seek to catch an echo

 

none of us can claim full representation
we are tiles in your mosaic
who need each other as others
 blessed, sacred, rooted in holy solitude

my wandering heart is bound in this goodness and grace
caught up in swirling sacred, i call attention to the mystery and find a tangible freedom

 

“God talks quite audibly before one is created,
then walks in silence beside you into the night.
but the words, before one is given one’s start,
these cloudy words are:
guided by your senses you are sent;
walk to the rim of your desire;
be my attire.

 grow like fire behind the scenes
so your shadows stretch and hover,
becoming my cover.

allow it all to happen:beauty and terror.
just press on! no feeling is an error. but don’t get severed from me.

close is this land,
which one calls life.

you will recognize it by its strife.

take my hand”
– r.m. rilke, the book of the monkish life

 

(four)

we are a covenant people

and as i stand before you this is less about me
and more about us

the pulpit was a life raft
a holy and broken hallelujah
a gift that never had to become an identity

a simple, homemade dinner and a pull out couch
extensions of grace
invitations into a family

 

the war is great
but the field is leveled and the ground is solid
we are not given weapons to show our own finesse
instead it is armor

and we trust the strength of the maker who is present with us
and knows where we will go from here

louisville slugger vision retrospective
return to banjosity
interwoven threads of grace
honest feedback
a scrappy band that refuses to give up
mustard seeds cracking pavement

 

as the tender places heal on this scarred back
even the blanket of grace cuts like burlap

i see it as abrasive, ill-fitting-undeserved
and want to prove i’ll never be able to wear it

the healing is slow, almost imperceptible
nowhere near fast enough for what i need
i feel the old coat will never be shed

faith grows from knowing exactly how much i can’t handle
and trusting that there is one who can

against all hope, abram, in hope, believed”
– the apostle paul, to the romans

 

(five)

to go out in joy

to be sent so full and so assured
to build well and laugh together
to see grace, peace and space

ice cream on the kitchen floor

 

all is quieter, less dramatic than what I’d expect
it is also deeper, truer, and far more beautiful
a sweet and subtle work that tints every moment

in the work of months and years and half a decade
this heart is still being redeemed

 

we test our limits, argue for out limitations
and find grace is the essential fabric of the coat we’re seeking to jettison

suddenly there are stories to tell and the opportunity to stand firm
to fight it by name
to pray out loud
in quivering moments of boldness

 

aching for rest and permanence, transcendence and glory

 

someday every point of rest won’t feel like a waystation
for the time will come to settle and breathe
the dwellings will no longer be temporary

the goal will no longer be onward and upward, but downward and deeper

sacredness is not found on top of a mountain
but in the sweat on our backs and the dirt under our fingernails
we will see glory in the ash from which we are emerging

it will be a good and gentle place to begin a garden together
beauty and nourishment rise form the compost heap

 

as far as the trains could have taken us
we will never see anything more wonderfully bathed in grace and in glory  

 

for i can not be defined by what i will never be

for the foolishness of god is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of god is stronger than man’s strength”
– the apostle paul, to the corinthians

 

(six)

a return to a home all but forgotten

rivers and roads, hills and hollers
mountain air on the front porch
notebooks and guitars and typewriters

 

and it smells like it’s supposed to

 

the bittersweet tears trapped behind the eyes of monday are impossible to find on tuesday

 

from a great height, the clouds look so very substantial
from the ground they block the sun and act outside of our control

but they’ll never be solid
for the sun persists on shining
the world never remains bathed in darkness
the clouds never hold together

it’s fruitless to focus on the strength of the cloud
what it hides from us, or what it’s essential shape and substance is

because when they dissipate, we’ll realize
our lives have been marked as children of light all along
so we study the strength and substance and character of the sun

 

after three years my heart still knows how to breathe here

you are contrast and consolation
beauty and rage and strength
depth and truth and steadfastness

 

it’s a particular grace, to be remembered
amongst a group of people who make a living out of tossing starfish back in the ocean, one at a time

what would seem a daunting choice  has been taken out of my hands

humbled
called to abandon illusory successes
remove the chip form my shoulder
lay down the mantle
stop defending myself
and come and die

 

here at the last i find boasting only in impeccable and present grace
joining in a family for which faith is a lifeline, not a hobby

the miracle in others helps me find it in myself
in my pride, fear, insecurity, mess and humanity
the invitation stands to be exactly myself

to live the story that is being granted to me
to be surprised by parallels, and delight in intersections

vibrant stories
creativity in simplicity

perhaps i wont always have to do the hardest thing i can think of
you are preparing the place for me, and me for the place
it is a beautiful symmetry of liturgy and history
hope and healing and old-time-religion

 

somehow there is still a burr in my heart
a dominant and particular proclivity threatening to jam up
the process of knowing others and becoming known

 

and yet i recall that a month ago i was basking in provision faster and wider and deeper than i could ask or imagine

 

he has walled up my way so that i cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths.
he has stripped from me my glory, and taken the crown from my head.
he breaks me down on every side and i am gone, and my hope he has pulled up like a tree.

i know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh i shall see god,
i myself will see him with my own eyes – i, and not another.
how my heart yearns within me!
– job

 

(seven)

this week begs for silence.
space.
reverence.

a renewed awareness that nothing in myself will ever quite
fulfill the need for something in which to believe

a twisted ankle humbles
good conversation exalts
in equal and opposite measure

the inclination is to rebuild walls
to withhold to protect
to root out toxicity
to see passion as a fool’s errand

because i cannot keep working so very hard
to not be who i am

i cannot stand as judge and jury and prosecution and accused

and the necessity for a living sacrifice becomes painfully clear

“thistled ground, tomb of my love, heart torn apart  coming God, soften the soil tend now the scars
‘love’, you said, poured out like wine, broken like bread waken us, enliven our minds, unearth the dead

rend this heart of stone and mend it into flesh and let your love bring me to life 
yield this hardened earth until a garden spills the ground and brings us back to life 

open, your love breaks us open  resurrects a garden, a garden “
the liturgists, garden

 

(day one)

 

 

everything. is. new.

emerging from an evening of doubt and fear and uncertainty
radiant, sure, strong hope

the tension of a heart that longs to go without having to leave
but is inclined to leave before it is time to go

placed beautifully in context

which reminds me of the following:
seriousness is  not a fruit of the spirit –  but joy is
the world will never again be flooded with a deluge, an extinction – but with overwhelming light and grace
that partnership and purpose and pure personal happiness are gifts –  not essential rights
that heart and family and community and hope will always carry human tension – but can also be the seat of remarkable peace
that our struggle is not against the overwhelming circumstance –  but against the lies the accuser brings into the circumstance
and that even as our hearts are bent against god –  death has been defeated and the lies no longer define us

 

like the resurrection day coming so close after good friday
the grace of this season was all precisely unexpected

though it met exact needs perfectly
though i had been promised it was coming
could not see these graces on the horizon until they were within tangible reach

how much more do we miss because our expectations are limited
to what we can see and feel and touch and understand
unable to see that in two days time our greatest joy will be born out of our greatest sorrow

 

the personal identifiers, the sources of strength
carpentry. liturgy. banjosity.
are being haltingly submitted to hopes of
community. spirituality. service.

this is bittersweet victory
which stems from a strength not my own
and stands to calm the waters such that
the stormy point of ending yields
to a graceful beginning

where less is resolved
less is defined
and more and more is held in hope
and shaped by grace

 

“my eyes have seen the glory of the coming Lord
i
t looks like streets restored after the vicious war
my eyes have seen the glory of the coming Lord
i
t looks like God’s own feet walking along these floors.

my God, you move, and everything is new
the world is changed, never the same
the light has come bearing your name
the dawn that’s breaking in the East shines upon the least of these
and soon, everything is new

 

glory, glory, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah”
-tim coons, everything is new/battle hymn

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Written by Taylor Webster

April 21, 2014 at 9:02 pm

a week in four parts: roots, celebration, obedience, benediction

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I promised I’d write about last week. And so, before last week become two weeks ago, here are some ruminations on a week so thoroughly saturated with a restoration that I’d forgotten it’s important to ask for. I think, for the sake of touching on everything a bit, I’d like to chronicle that week in four particular movements. It’s really more like a journal entry than a blog for me, so that I don’t forget anything, but I’ve tried to highlight and refine the lessons I’m learning in hopes that they speak to your heart as well. If I were a good blogger I’d probably make this a series, publish each of the movements separately so that you don’t get overwhelmed and I don’t have to write anything else for the rest of the month, but this is my story, and i am evidently more of a novelist than a blogger, and somehow I think it all needs to be told together. so pull up a chair, brew some tea, and find the story that speaks to you. it was truly an incredible week.

movement I – remember your roots
“it’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only”

I am realizing more and more that there are two parts of my life that have been fundamentally shaping me for longer than I can remember. One of them is my deep-heart love of music. The other is my tumultuous journey to calling the Church my home and God’s people my family. Both have always been connected to a pursuit of beauty, truth, and community.

A lot of times, when I’m trying to encourage someone or to help them understand how I’m feeling, I’ll send them a song. There’s something about the emotional quality of music that transcends words or chord patterns or form or structure. Music is. That’s all there is to it. I’ve been aching for ages to see and hear songs rise up from the church that are written by musicians, not by praise bands with agendas or rockstars seeking performance highs, but the people who see the beauty and life and breath in music that is layered and complex and interesting and honest and through all of those things, deeply joyful. With the rise of sites like noisetrade, bandcamp, and kickstarter, this is finally coming to life. Music is no longer controlled by an industry – artists are able to connect directly with those who have ears to hear and create something together that brings joy to both of their hearts.

This last week, I was able to attend concerts of two artists who have a remarkable gift for calling me back to where I’m from. I’ve always had an uncanny love for live music, and these bands reminded me why that is a good. thing. (And why banjos are completely essential to any live performance.) These first guys, The Oh Hello’s ( their album is pay-what-you-can at http://theohhellos.com/ and you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice to not at least listen!) are intentionally independent and self produced. They do their own CD art, dye their own t-shirts, and are a beautiful model of radical community. Seeing this troupe of 11 young people playing a sold-out Bluebird show in their first-ever tour stop outside of their home state of Texas, the joy and love and passion were evident. They seemed so surprised and humbled that we were all so excited to see them, and their songs called us to worship with reverence and joy, honesty and love, in a chamber-folk style that far surpasses even the charms and talents of the famed Mumford quartet.
The second group, also playing their first shows outside of their home state this summer, are a trio of gents known as Judah and the Lion. We saw them for free at a church in Littleton, but they play with energy that rivals some of the best arena concerts I’ve seen. It’s Americana at it’s best, with banjo, mandolin, and guitar playfully intertwining, singing true, deep, and pure, straight to your soul as your foot can’t help but stomp and your hands can’t help but clap. Musicians like these, who are so willing to have a good chat with the audience after the show, who have the faith to put their music out for free on the internet, and who have the artistic integrity to create exactly as they are called to. These are the ones who give me hope, that someday our national imagination will be recaptured by the artists who understand how to sing to our souls.

Speaking of music. Last week I had the opportunity to worship with the body of Christ in five different communities. The youth camp outside of Colorado Springs, the hipster church in Denver, the student community gathering at the YMCA in Winter Park, the small and focused ministry of a sprawling megachurch in Highlands Ranch, and of course, my home church in Fort Collins. In the past I have attended such varied worship gatherings, but always with a critical eye. Were the people genuine, was the music well done, was the stage design attractive, did the speaker give me something to think about while I drove home? Such questions have their place, of course, but when you attend a family gathering, you shouldn’t be there to criticize your less-fashionable aunt or wonder why the sweet tea was brewed so much stronger than you like it. You should be rejoicing to simply be together again.

And so it was this last week. I saw things in these communities that I’d never seen before, glimpses of beauty and truth and the kingdom bursting forth. And while the differences in background culture, shape, and style were indeed visible, what was more striking were the similarities. Whether we were gathered in a basement, an aging chapel, a mountaintop tent, or a converted gymnasium, so many elements were the same. The call to sing out to our creator, the sense of sacred space even in the most ordinary location, the need for us to teach each other and share our stories, the desire to connect as a family, and all the love that is only possible when it is proclaimed in Jesus’ name. I was raised in churches that met in a good-sized suburban facility, a strip mall/movie theater/ a burgeoning megachurch campus, and a well-established community chapel. And for all the grief it’s given me, for all the heartache and questioning, there has also been more joy in these places than any earthly kingdom should allow. Wherever else I go, the North American church will always be my first home.

movement II – celebrate who you are.
“now i am a heart, with a head on my shoulders, and i’ll say that i’m a different child”

If you had told me one year ago that my heart would grow to be so stretchy, I would have laughed and told you it was time to get back to work. A year ago I was fighting to establish new, grow-up rhythms, and just barely beginning to concede the fact that the only rhythms that matter are the ones which stem from my identity as the beloved child, one of a multitude of beautifully created siblings.

Last week I had the opportunity to reunite both with my newly-formed heart family and with one of my dearest friends. As a bit of background, having a “best friend” has always been inordinately important to me. I have suffered from “Best Friend Envy”. I want to know that I matter to someone else as much as they matter to me, and the label has always seemed to be the surest way to guarantee continued closeness. And what I’ve been learning, most especially in the last year, is that I don’t need to cling to “best friends” any more.

Because I have been invited to join a family. A family who rejoices when someone new is invited in, whether it is a child, a spouse, a long-lost cousin, or a soul sister. Saying goodbye to a family member isn’t so scary, because you know how that no matter how many many miles or months, states or seasons come between you, you’ll always be at home when you’re together again. If you asked me today who my best friend is, I’d have to list probably more than a dozen women. (It’s probably good I won’t have to narrow these fantastic women down into a manageable wedding party anytime soon. But you ladies know who you are – and there’s no question in my heart you’d all be standing up there with me.)

So this heart family. These crazy undergrads who burst into my life unkempt and uninvited. The students I vowed I’d never live with. They have grown my heart exponentially. None of us make sense together – last year it was two sophomores, two juniors, and one recent graduate cohabiting this condo which has its own thoroughly awkward beauty. We represent the math, psychology, biology, hdfs (prepping to run a daycare facility), and theatre design departments of this university, and our personalities are as diverse as our disciplines.

But from these women, I have learned the beauty of seeking God together, cooking extravagant dinners with open invitations, holding hands and giving hugs when words are insufficient, embracing hospitality which calls us to truly love our (next door) neighbors, operating with an emotional range which allows for crying and laughing to occupy the same moment, seeking to love family and friends and those the world rejects with deep passion and a strong commitment, and daily choosing fierce love and friendship which claims family where there should be none. I am humbled and thankful and in no way deserving of how well they love me. The weekend reunion was our last time to all be together (we just shipped one off to Australia for a semester!) and our first instinct was to find a place to pray and simply give thanks. It’s the first time I’ve prayed with a group and heard the words flow so freely and without hesitation from every single person’s heart. What a beautiful, beautiful gift.

And then to visit this dear, dear friend, who has walked closely with me through every twist and turn the last year has thrown my way. What a blessing to have a few hours in the midst of a hurried summer to simply be in the same place. To share stories of triumphs and challenges, to acknowledge frustration and hope, to be able to see clearly that we were both exactly where we most needed to be. To know each other enough to know what was cause for celebration, which circumstances would prove particularly obtuse, and how each other’s hearts would respond and what we needed most to hear. And to rejoice in God’s goodness weaving through all of it. It was a time for city-lovers to rest in the garden, to see the beauty of where we’re from before we rush headlong into where we’re going. (For more on gardens and cities, see Monday’s post at https://twentybydesign.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/garden-to-a-city-living-the-story/)

And so. I may seem to be a bit of a different child. But I am rejoicing at having found my family.

movement III – step. in.
“in the silence, i heard you calling out to me”


Have you ever been asked to do something which seems outrageous, so far outside of your comfort zone and what seems to make sense? In my experience there are two responses to this invitation. The first is to shake our heads, both at the foolishness of the asker in assuming we’d be capable, and to express our own thorough conviction that this is not what we were made to be. The other is to see the joy in the eyes of the asker, to trust that they have considered all of the possible pitfalls and still want you to join in, and to step in. Whether out of hesitant obedience or joyful compliance, step in.

Relatable Scenario A: When random internet browsing across the blog of a songwriter you’ve only recently discovered yields a book recommendation that intrigues you, step in. Don’t look up the book, delight in the first few chapters, but assume the $12 Amazon price tag won’t be worth it because, I don’t know, you were going to use that money for a cheeseburger and a milkshake or something. Get the book, not knowing entirely why, but knowing it’s going to be important. Devour it, letting the words and stories and experiences wash over you like a tidal wave. And then, respond. 

When I ordered Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor, I wasn’t expecting my heart to find a home there. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly realize that this book expresses, clarifies, and confirms so much of what has felt both called and disconnected in my own heart for so many seasons. As I wrote in a letter, attempting to describe this joy and confirmation:

“You know how it is once you admit something that you’ve been unsure of inside of yourself for a long time and all of a sudden it just seems to make sense? That’s what reading Eugene’s book was for me. Verbalized a lot of things I have discredited inside of myself because no one ever gave me words for them before
Outside of God, I can’t explain it, but I do know that whatever happens from here on out, and whatever form it takes, somehow there is nothing I am more deep-heart excited about than serving, loving, and growing with the Church. Nothing sounds more challenging. And nothing sounds more worth it.
I know I am young and I have so much to learn, and life experience has taught me not to get excited or have dreams or hope for things or ask for things. I am excited about this. I am hopeful about this. Learning to verbalize my dream is helping me to find a new joy in reading, praying, and living – and even to be challenged by the vastness of what I don’t know and seeing how growing as a disciple of Christ is going to be a series of small arrivals as He continues to stir up and turn over the rock-riddled soil in my heart.”

The steps of becoming that this book is inspiring in me have been beyond expectation. Writing that letter sparked a conversation which was more honest than any I’ve ever had about these dreams that I have. And in that conversation, my heart was encouraged and affirmed and given space to continue growing. I am beginning to take the first small steps of doing, when up until now thinking and understanding have always seemed more important. And the joy in finally doing what your heart and soul were made to do is so indescribably full. All I can do right now is stand in awe, feeling just as thoroughly unqualified as Jeremiah and David and Moses. Who, through their following, didn’t turn out so bad in the long run.

Relatable Scenario B: When a close friend asks you to pray for a friend of theirs who is facing a tough season, step in. Don’t stop at the “Yeah, of course I’ll pray for them, mmmm, that sounds so hard” response. Recognize that perhaps you are being asked to be part of the answer to that prayer. You have unique gifts and resources, and you are being asked to actually do something about the needs of this person who up to this point has been only a marginal acquaintance.

When I sent the message I knew I had been asked to send, I knew I couldn’t control how it would be received or anticipate what it would mean. But this simple act of obedience has become a wellspring of blessing. I have since had the opportunity to meet with this incredible young woman. I was able see firsthand her passion and vision for the work God is calling her to do, and to be encouraged by her affirmations of what He’s been doing in my own heart, and to feel thoroughly blessed and humbled by the opportunity to partner with her in the next steps of her journey.
I’m learning that the absolute best kind of generosity is the relational kind. As much as I wanted obedience to look like writing a facebook message and sending a gift from the comfort of my own home, the beauty of generosity is the way that it calls us into each other’s circumstances as we begin bearing one another’s burdens and learning to walk the road together. Give as freely as you have received, all the while praising God from whom all blessings flow.

movement IV – benediction
“whatever may pass. whatever lies before me. let me be singing when the evening comes”

there are no clean endings or conclusions to these stories. all that is left is to continue living, to continue sharing our stories, and to remember. there is always a reason to sing.

i will sing, sing, sing to my God, my King
for all else fades away
and i will love, love, love, with this heart You’ve made
for You’ve been good always

garden to a city – living the story

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last night i was driving down the highway after spending a night giving praise with a group of people who have committed themselves to walking the road to recovery. context is everything – you haven’t really felt “brokenness aside” or “beautiful things” until you’ve heard them bookended by stories of radical recovery, transformation, and healing.
i’ve spent probably twenty hours on the road this week, and for most of them i’ve had the lyrics and melodies of others as my traveling companion. on this drive, i was prompted to let the silence have it’s day. and, to quote the oh hellos, “in the silence, i heard You calling out to me.” lyrics began to flow from my lips that i’d never sung or composed before, and i was swept up in the beauty of a story that was at once both deeply my own and thoroughly belonging to all of us.

this is the only phrase i can still remember upon waking this morning.

“you called me child, you called me shepherd, you called me out from elder son
though you knew the depths and agonies of all the wrong i’d done
and no, i’ll never understand the way you love the ones who roam
but i’m your child, they’re my brothers, and i’ll welcome them back home”

this is my story. much more specifically, it is the story of this past year. i am blessed to find myself at the end of a week that was saturated with joyful reflection, reconnection, and restoration. and in this time of pause from the rush of daily life, i was able to see just how far this weary traveler has come this year. what a wonderful thing to begin to learn how to live into this story. i’m going to do a follow-up post in the next couple days reflecting on all the beauty of this year’s journey, but for today, it is enough to breathe deep and give thanks before plunging headlong into another year.

here’s one of my favorite anecdotes this week, which sets the tone for upcoming reflections. in the midst of a conversation with a city-loving friend about how she is learning to cultivate a love for the colorado mountains which have always seemed to speak so clearly to her peers, i had this realization (an offshoot of a seed that’s been planted in my church community). “well, the story of creation is a journey from a garden to a city. and so we love the garden, because it reminds us where we’re from. but we love the city because it reminds us where we’re going.”

this week, i was in the garden. that place of beauty and peace and simplicity, where our hearts will always ache to return. i was reminded of where the seeds in my heart were planted, and given time and space to water what is just beginning to blossom. and now, i’m returning to my city. this place of chaos and collision and complexity. here i will be about my father’s business in declaring the coming of a new kingdom as heaven and earth collide. what a wonderful place to be.

Written by Taylor Webster

July 8, 2013 at 8:32 am

a baffling level of other-ness

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As most good things do, this bit of writing was inspired by a surge of brilliance from a dear friend, a welcome moment of clarity in a scatterbrained heart to heart. So, all the credit belongs to H,  for an insight that prompted an extended series of interpretations.

The hardest thing in the world to do is to love someone who isn’t like us.

That’s why we favor cliques and affinity groups and soul mates and best friends. We long to find those who will validate our existence simply by being like us. We shape our careers around those who share our passions and dreams, we build our lives on a foundation of people who know where we’re coming from and want to walk with us into where we’re going. We want to be known and loved and valued and not as different as we know and feel that we are.

And yet. In spite of our preferences and predilections and comfort zones and levels of experience and cultural upbringings. Whatever we have about us that validates us personally, gives us a level of confidence, competence, or certainty. No matter how all-together we feel on a good day.

When we face God, we are all alike in that we face a baffling level of other-ness.  And when he looks at us, He must see creatures that are so woefully unlike Him that they would be completely incapable of carrying on anything resembling a relationship.

In any other relationship, this alone would be cause to have no further interaction. Familiar phrases like…

“He’s not really my type.”
“We just didn’t hit it off.”
“We don’t have anything in common any more.”
“Have you heard what kind of trouble they cause?”
“I can’t believe  they’d say/do/believe something like that.” 

are all accepted as quite valid excuses to cut short our relationships with each other, or never to start them in the first place. When a friend gives us these excuses, we nod and smile and wish better luck next time in the quest to find the perfect friend/mate/community  where they will find sameness and commonality and love…right?

It seems so often we expect the same from God. As though he is standing on some distant pedestal, scoffing at our efforts, waiting until we have it all together and we are enough like him to be worth his time.

And that. That. That is not true, my friends.

God took on the challenge most of us refuse to approach. Looking at us, in full recognition of our otherness and the potential for separation that may cause, He reached across the barrier of our humanity. Unable to wait for us to be enough like Him to be worth His time, He became like us. 100% human.

That is what it took to change everything. The kind of love that abandons right and privilege and comfort for the risks of true connection.

As a twenty-something woman who is single, recently graduated from college, engaged in an ever deepening relationship with my local church, and wondering where the trades of design, carpentry, ministry, banjo music and teaching all collide, let me say unreservedly. I am beyond eager to find others like me.

It seems my particular combination of talents and interests is not altogether common (is anyone’s….?) and I often dream of what it would be like to meet someone who not only thinks my passions are interesting novelties worth contemplating, but vital and important and worth pursuing together. If any of you have already met this clan of smoky-mountain-dwelling, flannel-wearing, book-devouring, folk-music-playing, theatrically minded, local-church-serving, carpentry-appreciating monks and nuns, you let me know.

But  (at least in my two decades of experience) it seems such a perfect community is only reserved for our mental images. So we’ve got to stop asking the real world to be like that. And I think part of that has to be expanding our willingness to engage with the dreadfully frightening “other.”

How would it transform our workplaces, homes, places of worship, if they were not simply safe spaces for like-minded folks to find refuge, but radical communities where those who appear to have nothing in common find love and encouragement at a shared table? What if friendships between the poor and the powerful,  the parents and the childless, the academic and the laborer, the musician and the biologist, the recent graduates and those long past retirement, the athlete and the artist, became not the stuff of fantasy but the fabric of our everyday life?

I had the privilege over winter break to attend a global conference with 16,000 young people where we participated in arena-style worship, sang in multiple languages, listened to testimonies from young and old, students and professionals, missionaries and everyday saints, Kenyans and Brazilians and Canadians. It was a big, crazy mess of people, and my introverted self was often overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all. But beautifully so. Because it was so much bigger than my imagination of what the church could look like.

And what was most wonderful was not the times when I met other people who are the same kind of crazy that I am (though I was grateful to meet other artists, sing some folksy hymns in English, and meet others working in the grad student/faculty sphere). The most beautiful thing was to see God moving across so many languages and cultures and preferences and styles and backgrounds. Chasing us across all the chasms we see dividing ourselves, and calling us back together as one big, beautiful family.

So, friends. Even as we all have unique strengths and giftings that deserve strong encouragement. Even as we all find ourselves in a particular stage of life that demands the support of companions along the way. Even as we are tempted to take pride in our own individuality or despair in our inability to find deep-soul companionship. May we accept the calling to love those who do not appear to be at all like us, reaching into the world as our Father has done, seeing no barrier capable of preventing a new, deep, surprising, and breathtaking love.

And may we find that, as one conference speaker so beautifully put it, that the party we have been long searching for can already be found in the house of our Father. That the hope, encouragement, and support we seek from sameness would be radically multiplied in our interactions with those we see as others. And that those seeking the Kingdom would know us by our surprising love for one another.

Written by Taylor Webster

January 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm

(Sling)shots, Maturity, and Freedom

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Well, by some suggestions, it’s time to rename this blog. One week ago I turned twenty-one, and was granted some legal benefits on the presumption that with age I had acquired some sort of maturity. I count myself among the few who went twenty-one years without consuming an alcoholic beverage, so it really wasn’t the bar-hopping I was excited for, though I’ve since enjoyed the freedom of a couple mild-mannered nights out with friends. It’s interesting that we equate freedom with the ability to abandon responsibility and self-control. This week was about embracing a different and far greater sort of freedom. Freedom to be bold, to be genuine, to reach out with confidence from a firm foundation, and to leave worry and insecurity far behind.

In our culture, we reserve the responsibility to fight the greatest battles and earn the greatest freedoms for our heroes. The ones who have been born and bred for glory, the ones who are noble in the public eye and live an exemplary life full of easily forgivable sins. But the heroes of our faith were never the prepared ones, the ones who thought they were ready. For that matter, they were not the ones from whom anyone else would have expected greatness. The outcast and exile who was called back to lead his people out of slavery. The youngest son and shepherd who slew the giant and became king. The uneducated fishermen, despised tax collectors, and women with impure pasts who were all among the first to see and spread the news of the coming of the savior. The militant persecutor whose writings to early churches were later codified as scripture. And, not to be forgotten, the son of a carpenter who laid down his life so that we might be set free.

Since writing Wedding Season, I’ve had a flurry of interesting and thoughtful conversations. It’s amazing to see such a simple topic strike a chord in so many people, regardless of faith background. I think the strong response was mainly due to the fact that singleness is rarely addressed in a straightforward manner and with dignity in either religious or secular culture. Regardless of the current, and without waiting for someone more well known or well spoken or well trained to come along, I wrote about it because it needed to be written in a way that only I could write it. I am no hero. I am simply a person who followed a call to reach out with the written word and speak the truth that had brought comfort to my heart.

The Bible tells of how David, eschewing the sword and shield and traditional battle gear, instead picked up the simple slingshot he had been using since boyhood to protect his sheep from lions and bears, and with it struck down the opponent who no other Israelite had dared face. We are often so preoccupied with not having or knowing how to use a sword that we forget the strength of our slingshot. The more time I spend with people, and with God’s family in particular, the more I see that we’ve all been given unique and wonderful gifts that would be of no use to anyone else, and which are absolutely necessary to bring all the fullness of beauty into the world.

The freedom that has come out of this week has been the freedom of learning how to identify and use my slingshot. For so long I’ve been carrying burdens of what I’m not. How I fall short in comparison to other people. How I’ll never be as effective in the areas where I see my friends thriving. How there are certain tools I’ve just never been able to get a handle on and figure out. But pouring so much energy into wishing to be like other people is exactly counter to the idea that there’s been a slingshot in my back pocket all along.

Writing is one of my slingshots. I write better than I speak. Writing allows me to process my feelings and thoughts, and to share them with others in ways I simply can’t in conversation or public speaking. I’ve had some incredible conversations that were sparked off of a blog post, though more often than not when someone mentions the blog in person I’ll sheepishly thank them for reading and not know how to further the conversation. Writing is not a gift everyone possesses. It’s not the most common hobby for folks my age. But God has done some beautiful things through the abilities he has gifted me with and encouraged me to develop since youth.

The other slingshot which finally started to make sense in my life this week is the capacity I’ve always had for deep, honest, respectful, sustained, and loving friendships. There are two women in my life who I cherish deeply and with whom I have had the privilege of sharing life since we were eight years old. There is the friend I hold closer than a sister, who held my hand in my tentative first steps back to God four years ago and who has encouraged me every step of the way ever since. There are those few I’ve had the privilege of walking deeply with in college and who I can see standing beside me if God ever calls me to the altar (I also feel there should be some sort of occasion for single gals to bestow the same honor on their friends that brides bestow upon their bridesmaids. Still brainstorming that…).  And there are those I’m still getting to know but somehow feel as though our souls have been companions for ages.

In all of these relationships, as much as I’ve abused them in the past, elevated them past their natural purpose for good, and burdened hearts with overwhelming expectations, God has been at work. No matter how inadequate, lonely, or unloved I’ve been tempted to feel in the last year, the truth is that He cares so deeply about you and I. He has brought us into each other’s lives and each other’s hearts for a reason. This week I’ve had the freedom to share my heart with some of you, and I pray that if I can ever be an aid or resource that you would not hestitate to ask. This week’s greatest blessings have been the opportunities to help with homework, answer late night phone calls, drop everything and pray on a moment’s notice, offer a listening ear to a troubled heart, and, most of all, to share the faith which holds the center of my heart with a friend whose questions outnumbered my capacity for answers in a dialogue where we both left feeling respected and enriched. The joy in all of these situations has been abundant, and the temptation to respond with a boldly declarative “Amen!” was often too much to resist.

My prayer is for these conversations to continue, for these friendships and this blog to continue to be my slingshot, and for God to open the hearts and minds of my friends to chats about this most important of topics. Two years ago on another blog I put out an open invitation for a chat about God to anyone willing to meet, and recieved some really great responses. I want to throw that out there again, because good conversation is the only way we’ll ever really understand each other. So yes. Let’s talk. Because this love and freedom has my heart on fire, and it’d be selfish to hold out  on the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. I am not a hero. I do not have all the tools or hold all the answers. But I’ve got my slingshot

In the most direct phrasing, this is the love I’m coming to know:

Everlasting. All Consuming. Burning Fire. Glorious One.
Risen Saviour. King Forever. Love Unending. Beautiful One.

This is my God. And until you’ve met Him, these words won’t have much meaning to you. I’ve grown up in church singing hymns and boldly declarative CCM anthems, but until you have a name, a face, an experience to put to those stories, they’re just words coming out of your mouth. Some of the greatest joy in my life right now is coming from being able to see , recognize, have a sense memory of the feelings behind these grand words.

Christianity is not a set of arbitrary rules. It is not a one-step safeguard against eternal damnation. It is not a tool to be used in political arguments or to condemn those who are not like us. It is the acknowledgment that there is a completely powerful, completely good, and therefore completely trustworthy God at work in the world, and that through the grace extended to us in the sacrifice of Jesus we might be brought back into union with this God from whom our nature would separate us. It is the most beautiful instrument of love and restoration the Earth has yet seen. It is a journey towards becoming like the father, extending complete love and forgiveness to those around us, and accepting that a father disciplines those he loves.

If only considered as a religion, it falls short as every human construction inevitably does. When considered as a lifestyle centered around pure, free-flowing grace, it becomes the only foundation worth standing on. All the songs we have heard, stories we have read, and natural beauty we have seen finally clicks into place as our hearts are drawn towards  the author of creation. And, washed free of the fear, shame, and guilt which has been holding us back, we are welcomed to join in the joyous dance of the redeemed. That is a story worth sharing. That is a legacy worth fighting for.

Written by Taylor Webster

February 5, 2012 at 1:13 am