twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘Love

walking in the rain

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As has become my custom this summer, I set out to walk the mile and a half to my afternoon coffee meeting rather than fire up my SUV for the journey. I love the walk, it winds through a beautiful part of my neighborhood, big old trees and creeks and streams, well kept-houses, my very favorite local church, and a stretch of busy road that makes me glad I’m experiencing the road at four miles an hour rather than forty. It only takes half an hour, and provides good time to think, pray, listen, and breathe some fresh air. I’ve fallen in love with my neighborhood in this way – in taking the time to see and smell and feel this particular patch of earth. Sometimes I take this walk on sunny days, and on those days it’s advantageous to know the oases along the way, shade trees for resting and streams for cooling down toasty toes.

 


 

Today, it is raining. Not violently or tempestuously, but steadily and often substantially. Rain makes me want to put on some Sigur Ros, drink tea and read something dense. It would be easy to simplify the journey, save some time and effort, and take the four mile drive. But I’m looking forward to this walk, and I know that in saving time, I’ll also lose an opportunity to see another side of the neighborhood. So I pull on a hooded sweatshirt, shake out my umbrella, strap on my Chacos, and set out on the journey.

Along the way my pace slows considerably. On hot summer days I take the walk pretty quickly, so as to avoid sunburns and reach the next bit of shade as soon as possible. I don’t like being very hot for very long. Today, the rain allows me the time to notice how, from the right angle, the old trees form an arch across the road that obscures the buildings and makes the neighborhood look like a forest. The rain challenges me to turn off my music and listen to its own particular rhythms. And my ritual stop at the stream to cool my feet becomes an opportunity to wash off all the debris my soggy sandals have collected. It is good to be in this place. As cars rush past, windows rolled up, climates controlled, pace ruled by the rhythm of traffic, I can’t help but wonder if they know how much they’re missing. 

 


 

It’s essential, somehow, to learn to love the road when it’s raining. Not to see the rain as an inhibition or inconvenience, something we have to protect ourselves from and rush through as quickly as possible, but to see the rain-soaked world as a space that is just as valid for an honest journey as the blue-skied paradise we Coloradans get to experience 300+ days a year. We’ve worked as hard as possible to control our environments, to make sure our experience of the world is exactly the same regardless of climate or temperature. But if we spend the rainy season wishing for the sunshine, we’ll miss an opportunity to move through this time at the pace of our own two feet, to see the depth and beauty and humble sadness of a world where the rain is still fresh. I loved the rain today, precisely because it was, without hope or agenda – immersive, arresting, and revealing another shade of glory on the trail I thought I knew so well.

I’m sad to be leaving this place, because I’ve seen so much sunshine here. Rays of light and goodness and glory, moments that bestow hope and purpose and joy. But I’ve also seen seasons of rain, and loved them in equal measure. Somehow they show the road with honesty, washing away the illusion of invincibility and omnipotence. And they is part of what I’ve loved about the last five years, and so I’m sad to be leaving that too. 

 


 

Often, learning to see Him in the rain is the only way to know He’s here. His love for us is not confined to the sunshine, to the clarity, to the easy paths and bright moments. He is equally present in the rain, the inconvenience, the confusion, the obscurity, the washing away and the vital refreshing. He dances in the fresh and bewildering downpour, even as He delights in the new shoots of life this deluge calls forth. This rain is not simply valuable for what it produces, but for the exact beauty of what it is. 

O my heart, learn to love this place, even if it feels like a season of interminable, bittersweet rain, because He is Here. And because, in the midst of all of it, He Is. 

 

 

Written by Taylor Webster

July 30, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Wedding Season, 2014 (a toast)

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As anyone in twenty-something stage of life knows, summer is Wedding Season. The sun in shining, the birds are singing, and happy couples across the country are tying the knot with vibrant, festive enthusiasm. And the friends and family of these couples are caught up in the tidal wave of bridal showers, engagement parties, bachelorette parties, ceremonies, and receptions. I’m a couple years removed from college, so my friends are really starting to kick things into gear. It’s been four for me this season, including a three-weddings-in-ten-day stretch that inaugurated and defined my July.

All of these festivities made me think of a post of mine from a couple years ago. You can read Wedding Season if you’d like – I still think there’s some wisdom there, even though it was written before I started going to 4+ weddings a summer. This time I’d like to reflect on what a rich experience this wedding season has been, and on the marathon of the last ten days in particular.

If you didn’t click through to the last post, I’ll give you a bit of a background. I’m 23 now, and I think I’ve been to about ten weddings since then, and there’s never been anything to interfere with my single-gal status at these shindigs. I’ve written a fair bit about singleness, some about the engagement bug, but very little about the weddings themselves.

If we’re talking liturgical philosophy, I’ll give you an earful about how the commercialization of weddings and the elevation of the romance narrative is part of a cultural downward spiral of dire significance. But I’d be remiss in ignoring the way in which weddings also play a vital role in combating the tide of cynicism in our world. I can’t pinpoint what it was about this stretch of weddings in particular that I enjoyed so much, so I’m going to try to give you a series of vignettes to capture the week, to share with you something of what it was:

 

It was being my mother’s date to the wedding of my oldest friend, sitting at the table with our first-grade teacher and sharing stories, dancing and laughing and catching up with a family I hadn’t seen all together in nearly ten years. 

It was the fusion of modern zest for life with reverence for tradition, as old hymns, familiar scriptures, and well-aged liturgies ushered in the beginning of decidedly new, twenty-first-century marriages.

 

It was the bachelorette party that was a celebration of friendship and sisterhood, a poignant good-bye to a way of life as we prepared to send the bride halfway across the country. 

It was reuniting a crew of crazies and blasting 95.7 The Party so that we could get our groove on because we knew that at the end of the two hour drive, this wedding wasn’t going to have dancing. 

It was the ceremony where I got to sit next to my best friend, the gal whose imagination during the ceremony turned towards “When you have your own church someday…” rather than “When we’re planning your wedding…” and feeling known, loved, and immensely grateful to be sharing life with someone so wonderful.

It was the way the bride and groom, finding themselves at the end of nine months of long-distance engagement, never let go of each other’s hands during the reception.

It was being seated with a table entirely composed of strangers, despite the fact that I knew a couple dozen people at the wedding, and being able to laugh and talk and enjoy the evening together as through we were old friends. 

 

It was rekindling a dormant friendship with a man who’s always been a big brother and mentor, picking up right where we left off, and discussing long-range life philosophies while slow-dancing to “Closing Time” at the end of the night.

It was the men – some friends, some strangers – who noticed me sitting alone and requested the honor of a dance, knowing that asking for a dance simply means you’d like someone to dance with, and that it’s perfectly acceptable behavior at a wedding.

It was playing Scattergories and Taboo with two of my favorite married couples in a mountain cabin after the wedding, falling asleep in a pile of blankets on their floor at 2 AM, and waking up for a leisurely breakfast in town at a table for five.

 

It was the realization of the beauty and bravery of these marriages, these decisions to say, at the age of twenty-three, “I’m done comparison shopping, you and I are going to do this together regardless of who else we meet, where our careers thrive or struggle, where we have to move, or where we have to stay.” It’s a brilliant, selfless antidote to the tonic of self-fulfillment, convenient, disposable relationships and pursuing one’s own dreams that has permeated the mind of your average twenty-three year old (myself included.)

Yes, it was about the eight folks that I witnessed knit their lives together. But it was also about the reunion of a wide web of friends and family at vibrant celebrations born out of long seasons of difficulty.

During the ceremony of this Tuesday’s wedding, the minister said something like “You two are embarking on life’s greatest adventure – marriage.” I couldn’t help but twitch a bit at that statement. Marriage is a grand adventure, make no mistake. I can’t wait to see all of the joy and glory that comes out of the depth and vulnerability of these marriages.

But what if life’s greatest adventure is just life itself? What if it doesn’t have to be hindered by a fear of odd numbers? What if it’s these crazy moments where single folks and married folks share stories and wedding parties become centers of hospitality and reunion? What if, even in our singleness, we allow our relationships to be vital and risky and intimate and hopeful?

And what if, as one of my newlywed friends reminded me, we allow this all to stand as a brilliant metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his Church – the passionate pursuit, the fastidious preparation, the joyous union and the celebration from which no one is turned away. Weddings are as crucial to understanding the present and future realities of the life of faith as they are to upholding traditional social structures.

 

There’s no better way to end than with a toast. So, here’s to wedding season. This crazy season that somehow reminds us to look outside of ourselves, to stop comparison shopping, to commit to the real, honest, hard, fulfilling work of building strong relationships with each other, to dance and laugh and eat cake, to invite folks from our pasts to celebrate with us the great joys of our present moments, and to keep throwing the kind of parties where everyone feels welcome. Here’s to the guests and wedding parties, spouses and singles, old and young, estranged and embraced. May you all live to see a thousand reasons to rejoice. 

Written by Taylor Webster

July 17, 2014 at 4:31 pm

carpenter’s gospel

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This is the story of a table. It was nearing the end of another summer week. And we had been building this table for probably, I don’t know, a week and a half.

And I was Done. D.O.N.E. DONE. When my boss pulled out the sander and asked me to go over it a third time, I just about gave up.

For context: The table was probably the  most complicated thing we built all summer. The top was 3′ x 8′, the legs and lid were each only 3″ thick, there were no center supports, and a person (possibly several) needed to be able to stand on it. It had to be a level surface on a raked stage. It needed to look like the entire thing was carved from a block of solid marble. And it had to be lightweight enough that a respectable team of human beings could move it into place. And somehow, this complicated carpentry project taught me about God’s love in a way that was pure, tangible, and real. This is the story of a table.


Our TD had designed a brilliant structure of interlocking supports, which was light and strong and took about three times as much prep and layout work as anything we usually build.  The skin was triple-glued in place, and instead of our usual RockHard wood putty, we filled all the staples with Bondo. Which. Is usually used to repair dents in automobiles. This is legit stuff. 

We are built strong. Our composition is no mere happenstance – we are the result of careful planning, and every part of us is designed to fit together perfectly. We are not haphazardly nailed together with the cheapest materials available. Each piece of us is lovingly prepared to serve as part of a greater whole. And with the greatest attention to detail, we are built to be strong enough to support much more than we would appear to be capable of.

No matter how tight and clean our carpentry is, we use staples to ensure the strength of  even on the most neatly interlocking pieces. In order to attach the pieces together, we used a pneumatic staple gun, which ensures a firm bond, but also leaves a tiny scar on the surface. We had a couple hundred staple indentations on the face of this table, and each one was covered with a small glob of a repair putty that is designed to dry strong as steel. 

Scars are part of our composition. The layout and carpentry can be modeled after a perfect and strong design, but the fasteners we use to hold ourselves together often leave scars we’d rather not acknowledge. Our souls are covered in tiny wounds where we have attempted in vain to attach ourselves back together. We are convinced that these marks are of no great significance, and that we can carry on just fine as we are. God takes a different approach. No matter how small the scar, He applies balm to our wounds. Using the strongest, most permanent reconstructive adhesives, He applies more than we need, providing abundance where we had only known deficiency.


And then comes the sanding. The first, roughest pass is simply to remove all of the lumps of Bondo that stand above the smooth surface. This can take several discs of 60 grit sandpaper, the kind designed for aggressive removal. For us, this part took the better part of an afternoon.

After he has healed the wounds on the surface, great and small, acknowledged and ignored, there is still work to be done. We cannot simply say “Well, the holes are filled, I’ll thank you for your time and leave it at that!” There are leftovers, pieces we no longer need, remnants from our healing that our now extraneous. No one leaves a bandage on a would that has been long healed – and yet, somehow we are tempted to hold on to these bandages as proof of our healing, rather than allow the roughness of the sandpaper to liberate us from the memories of our wounds.

I thought, “Well, that’s smooth enough. Dinner time!” But my boss smiled, pulled out the 100 grain sandpaper, and told me we were going to go over it again, for finishing’s sake. 

It is not enough to take the quickest, roughest approach. The minute we consider ourselves finished, we are choosing to distance ourselves from God’s work in our lives. We are far too often tempted to give up. To say that we have learned enough, that we have recieved enough love and grace, that we are healed enough, that we are close enough to that glorious marble table we’ve been built to become. In doing so we sell ourselves short, and rob God of his power in calling us into his family as new creations, healed and whole.

Even as I had reached the end of my rope and nearly worked through my patience, I patted myself on the back for completing the finishing. Well. I thought it was complete. Turns out, there are imperfections the first round of finish sanding doesn’t pick up. It then becomes necessary to go over the piece with a damp cloth to raise up the grain of the wood, and finish sand it again with an even finer grain of sandpaper. So I went over the table. Again

The metaphor came to me as I was nearing the end of the last round of sanding, and it was so beautiful I nearly burst into tears. I don’t often hear direct phrases from God. But this time, between passes with the disc sander, I heard quite clearly “Aren’t you glad this is how I have chosen to work on you?”

It’s true. It’s so, so true.  The prophet and savior who spent his formative years as a carpenter knew how to finish tables to the highest standard. And he is committed to going over us again and again, no matter how many times it takes, carefully raising the grain we didn’t even know was there, and gently sanding off the rougher bits, until we are left with a surface that  bears no blemish. Our deepest wounds, the places which required the most Bondo to fill, are now the strongest parts. 
The beauty of the sanding process is that whether you start off with a hunk of driftwood or a 2×4 from the lumberyard, both will require sanding to become smooth as marble. And whether we are a storm-tossed log or a nearly-finished piece of lumber, God will go over our hearts again, and again, and again until His work in us is complete. I asked a co-worker if it was really necessary to raise the grain and do a last pass with the sander. He said “Right now, you’ve got it pretty smooth. If you raise the grain and go over again, it’ll be like glass.” Here’s to never settling for pretty smooth, and to believing in the one that will make us shine like stars.

In the paint shop, several layers of patient faux marble treatment combined with a few good coats of glossy sealer finished off a table that, under stage lights, is indistinguishable from a smooth marble countertop. 

The final step of the transformation is one we were not able to affect without a bit of theatre magic. But I believe that in this story, though our highest ambition on Earth may indeed be to become a beautiful facsimile of a marble countertop, we will one day be pure and clean, finished and whole. We will know why we were built strong. We will see our imperfections fully healed. We will know why it was worth so much effort to continue the work of finishing us. And we will be perfect images of the One in whose image we are made. This may be the story of a table. But it is also the story of us.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Hallelujah. And Amen.

Written by Taylor Webster

August 28, 2013 at 8:44 pm

refrigerator art

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I make plans. I make lots and lots of plans. This summer I have come up with a five year (what?) plan for my life. That feels absolutely ridiculous. Especially because, if you had asked me five years ago where I’d be right now, the answer would be summed up in three letters. MFA. Goodness, how the times change. I was talking with some good friends about what a crazy concept it is to think I know where I’ll be in five years, and this is the analogy that came from it.

We work very hard on our plans. We draw them out as best as we are able, anticipating as many of the inconsistencies and irregularities as we can. We draw them out meticulously  and carefully and thoughtfully, genuinely trying to create a complete picture of something it is actually impossible for us to see or understand. And once we are finished drawing out our futures, we hand them off to God and ask for His blessing.

And I think God does something quite interesting with these flimsy pieces of paper we want to place so much confidence in. Some would assume he takes it as a check list and proceeds to honor each of our specific prayer requests. Others would say he laughs at our ignorance, takes the plan straight to the shredder, and proceeds to continue as though our input didn’t matter at all. I think he takes our plans and does something different with them all together. He puts them on the family refrigerator.

You see, I think he is glad to see that we’re genuinely seeking to engage in the planning process of our lives. We work so hard on these drawings, and we are so excited to show them to him, and he says “That’s wonderful! I’m so proud you worked so hard on that. Let’s take that and put it right up here where we can see it.” And then we’ve got some time to stand back and look at it. We see it every morning when we grab milk for our cereal, and we’re reminded that that’s the direction we want to be moving.

And in the time of seeing this plan on the fridge every day, God works with us through it. Sometimes we have drawn a house that is a triangle and four rectangles (roof, windows, door, house) and he shows us a deeper, more complete way to see things. So that when we revisit the drawing we still end up with a house, but all of a sudden it’s a log cabin with a firm foundation and a back porch and the drawing has a much more sophisticated sense of perspective.
Other times, he looks at the drawing and sees how we’ve been paying attention, delights at our growing understanding of perspective and contour and shading, sees how our gifts are developing, and challenges us to continue in a similar vein.
And sometimes, he allows us to see that for all the effort we’ve put into drawing houses, we’d really be much better at drawing people, and he asks us to create an entirely new plan.
But I’ll maintain, the process is important. It’s much more valuable to work through our plans in any of these ways than it is to focus so much on creating perfect art.

Another tricky thing about this drawing ending up on the family refrigerator – it’s not the only thing up there. Now, all of a sudden our carefully bordered drawing is sharing space with grocery lists, report cards, wedding invitations, emergency phone numbers, and, of course, many more drawings.  Sometimes it is frustrating to find that what we have worked so hard on is partially covered up or overshadowed by someone else’s celebration, joy, or clarity of plan.  The beauty comes when we see our art on the cluttered, messy refrigerator not as one of many things vying for attention and supremacy, but as part of a beautiful collage, a family album that reflects the heart and spirit of how much our Father loves us and how blessed we are to be making plans together.

So as hard as I may be working on formulating this plan, I’m ready to hand it off to God, ask him to put it on the refrigerator with the rest of the family mess, and spend the next five years seeing which parts are erased, which are refined, which are overshadowed, and which are brought to glorious fullness.

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.
Psalm 73

Written by Taylor Webster

August 3, 2013 at 2:03 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

reckless, scandalous, and out of control

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“Do not worry, because God is in control. He has a plan and a purpose for you. “

I have heard these words (or similar expressions) many times before. I have seen them written on home decorating products and facebook walls and internet ads. I have heard them come from the mouths of people I love, respect, and admire. And when I heard them spoken over a worship gathering I attended recently, I was hit with an overwhelming, essential realization. I wasn’t trying to find fault or be contrary, but the assurance came out of nowhere and hit me squarely in the heart.

I don’t believe God is in control. 

Ok. That is a statement. Breathe in and out with me for a bit. Come on in and sit a while. After that, blow up the comments, debate, engage, encounter, seek. But first, let’s walk through a few steps together.

Here is how I think we (middle and upper class USA culture) understand control. At the center of control is immense power. When we seek to control some aspect of our lives, we are often primarily seeking to exert power over it. We schedule our days to the hilt, seeking power over time and space and people. We plan our futures in month or year or 5-year increments, seeking power over spans of time that contain unforseeable mountains and valleys, praying that we will never “spin out of control.” We organize our relationships in rigid categories and strict expectations, seeking to control our friends, family, and neighbors rather than love them. We look down on those in our lives who have “lost control” or are “out of control” , assuming that their inability to align with our proscribed structures indicates a basic human failure. But our lawn is pristine, our house is in order, our shirts are ironed, our retirement is planned, our property is insured. We. Are. In. Control.

So when we say that God is in control, it is comforting to us. We want to know that there is plan, purpose, and meaning, and that God (like we so desire to be) has all of his ducks in a row and that nothing happens outside of his will. We want a King who is powerful, authoritative, and majestic. We want him to have all the answers, make all the decisions, fight all the battles, and always, always win. But our concept of control is a poor choice to frame our understanding of a God who is love.

There is one who seeks complete control at all times, because he does not understand love. Satan, the fallen angel who sought power over God in heaven and continues to seek power over God on earth, approaches people with a desire for control that is unsurpassed. All of the sins that have plagued the world, lies, fear, addictions – they are all fighting for control of our hearts. And why do we give in to them?

In our fallen nature, we believe we would rather be controlled than loved. We would rather be given a simple, understandable set of rules about the way the world works, and, falling victim to the lie that through understanding the rules we will gain control over the system, instead fall prey to the lie of control and it’s immense power over us. We worship control, praising our own ability to order the universe as we see fit, and every grab for power builds the illusion that we are able, of our own accord, to hold everything together. And when the cracks begin to show and our attempts at perfection fall short, we are left with a gaping awareness that in our thirst we have allowed control to supplant the role of love in our lives.

Love is bigger than control. Love is more powerful than control.

Our lives are spent in a vicious spiral of control seeking – beating our head against the wall and screaming “Why isn’t this going my way!” At times, we feel we have succeeded – we are happy, successful, achieving, well off. In. Control. At other times we feel lost, alone, afraid, and as though everything we held power over has slipped from our grasp. And there are only two exit gates from this spiral. One is the aforementioned way of the Controller. To claim control as our right, power as our inheritance, and ultimately fall slave to the power which seeks to control us.

But there is another way. This way is the way of love. And this way is the way of surrender.

God did not choose to control the world. He chose to love it. In a radical departure from the way any ancient or present culture has or does understand what it means to be God. He made us, completely, from the ground up. He should have been able to claim what artists call “creative control” over his creation, the right to oversee how it is used, what it becomes, who can influence it, and how far it can stray from the original vision.

And then, in love, He set us free, desiring only that our response to this freedom would be to choose to love Him back.

In the absolutely crucial, most pivotal moment of our faith, Jesus could have rewritten the story we know so well. He could have claimed control as King, ruler, sovereign, authority. He could have broken the whips and shattered the cross, taken revenge on the men who sought to do him harm, taken the seat of the empire and seated his disciples in positions of power. That would have been a picture of a God in control. None would have been able to stand against him, and everything would have proceeded in exact accordance with his specific will.

But instead, Jesus chose to surrender. He surrendered his right to control his circumstance. He allowed himself to be consumed by the will of God, to be instrumental in communicating God’s great love for his people, and redeemed a relationship fractured by our desire for control. (In eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve sought equality with God, greater control over their circumstance, and power that was only meant to be held by God. This deeply fractured their love relationship with him, their ability to live fully in his presence and to walk in his ways. God has been calling his people back to himself ever since.) 

In surrendering control, Jesus gained a power that control-seekers could never imagine or understand. Jesus is the only human who has ever managed to perfectly exchange control for love. Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” And what a glorious deluge he unleashed. 

Because when we begin to understand God’s love, our response becomes so much greater than a simple acquiescence to a higher power’s control. Yes, God is the god who makes order from chaos, life out of destruction, bringer of peace, hope, and healing. And he wants us to choose to be part of his story. To choose to accept a love that refines, cleanses, purifies, makes whole. We love because He first loved us. And through his love, we are able to join him in the work of redeeming his creation.

So we cannot hold the freedom, the choice, the love that he lavishes on us and wishes to express through us in one hand, and tell others to “Relax, God’s in control” in the other. God’s power is so great, his sovereignty so vast, that he can choose to exert his power through love rather than through control – and it is through this love that He is calling us to come home to Him.

In summary. God created us. God loves us. God has immense power and is fully able to alter any circumstance, change any heart, fulfill any dream. But God does not control us. In him we live, and move, and have our being. We acknowledge and fall prostrate before God, from whom all blessings flow. But not because he has bent our necks. Because his love has broken our hearts. His reckless, scandalous, completely nonsensical and entirely out of control love. And no matter how strong the temptation to be controlled by the world may be, we who have known what it is to live in God’s love will constantly be searching to follow His light home, and to invite as many as we can to join the journey with us.

I feel as though I could write for days on this topic, and maybe I will someday. This is an attempt to follow the grace I’ve been given, to start a dialogue, to scratch the surface. Please, engage with me in the parts that  speak love to your heart, the parts that are poorly constructed , the parts that are jarring, the parts that wrestle and debate. How have you experienced God’s love? How has that shaped your concept of God ‘being in control’? 

Written by Taylor Webster

June 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm