Friday, April 18, 2014

An Effort Toward Wholeness


Sighing deeply, I slide my fingers through the pages of my notebook, glancing past the numerous words strewn across the pages, scattered and disorganized. The scribblings present on each page are snippets of song lyrics and ideas. Across the room stand two old friends, acoustic guitars that have traveled with me through my youth and adult life. There are moments where my hands caress them the way I once did as a daily habit. Everything in me misses those seasons when I could cradle them and choose a song from memory to play on their sleek-stringed bodies. There is a quiet ache that arises when I begin to think of songwriting, when my eyes glide over the binders of collected sheet music, or when I hold my dear friends again. There are days when I begin to create, begin to piece together chords, voicings, and scales that make up a familiar tune, either one from an artist or something I've written. But these types of days are so intermittent and unplanned. They do not last. My hands do not play the guitar as they once did.

  I am fragmented. I have been like this for quite some time. Only in recent months have I given myself the time to mourn this. There are so many reasons why I am in pieces.

Seasons of investing in others. Seasons of long and tiresome waiting. Seasons of walking with those who grieve. Seasons of distraction. Seasons of disappointment. Seasons of drastic and sudden change. Seasons of having to grow up for the very first time. Seasons of forgetting. Seasons of coming face to face with the reality of how harsh life can truly be, not merely to me, but to everyone I love. Seasons of no fruit.

 Emerging from this scattered state, I feel disoriented, no assurance or direction for finding wholeness again. Was I ever even whole? I feel like I have been searching for it my entire life. But I used to think wholeness was defined by mountaintop moments, when life was all as it should be, or as I wanted it to be. My obsession with perfectionism hasn't waned into my adulthood, but has steadily increased with its demands. Through maddening moments of depression, heartache, and disillusionment, my spirit awakes again with ten times the resolve to continue this ongoing pursuit towards wholeness, to experience a fulfilling resolve in every area of my life that is scattered, divided, and broken. As long as I have been breathing, this militant passion has driven me. It makes me bold even in the face of defeat and heart-break and fear. It drives me to even demand and question my Maker, not at all questioning that my fleshly honesty is really too much for Him, even if I fear it might be. Partly, this is a fire of pride. Pride that says no one and nothing will snuff me out. The other part to this fire is that it is a deeply ingrained need and desire for perfected wholeness, much in the same way a child will not rest until her entire world is "as it should be," nestled close in the safety and affection of father and mother.

 Recently, I read something that revealed to me the heart of the Father in my demands for wholeness.

  I know you've already discovered much of life isn't as spectacular or satisfying as the anticipation. I've watch this break your heart. It will actually serve to draw you to me. I've built into you this longing for a world which doesn't disappoint.

  I take whatever your race has brought on, and I redeem, refashion, and rework it all into beauty beyond anything you could have possibly imagined. All things. Horrible things. Evil things. Chronic things. I decide what is allowed through and what it will accomplish. I decide what needs to be refashioned. But I mostly stand in the arena, where you cannot stand, defending you and protecting you. I do not lecture; I do not mock. What I do is love you, no matter how angry you are at me, no matter what you imagine in your heart about me. I enter into your pain more deeply than even you. This I can do. This I will always do. Until we are home together in the land where tears cease.
 [On My Worst Day, John Lynch]

The knowledge that He stands with me, unwavering, even when I'm wanting to pick fights with Him, is astounding. This foundational characteristic of God is not often taught, written about, preached on, or portrayed in what we know of Christianity today. I need to know this is Who He is because I will act out on Him in a million different ways. At the end of my day, I need to know, we all need to know, that He isn't surprised or disgusted or exhausted by us. He is patient with us. He waits for us. 


Then, I am confronted with the knowledge of something that cuts straight to my heart...

Increased devotion and diligence will not make me feel close to God again. Believing his never-changing affection will renew my joy. [John Lynch]

In these words, I realized the same can be said for experiencing renewal and wholeness. Willpower will not bring me to that place of experiencing rest and wholeness in the core of who I am, nor in any of my creative endeavors and dreams. If I am to ever experience abiding wholeness in my spirit, I must come to a point where I accept this never-changing affection of my Father. At the same time, He is fully aware that I am not going to come to that point on my own. He has to bring me there because I do not rest. It is not my nature to lay down and take a nap when there are passions and dreams to be pursued and lived out. My heart views resting as a passive, foolish thing, when it actually means my safety, my protection, and my maturity. Everyday of our lives, this is the invitation of our Savior:


Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
[Matthew 11:28-30]

We wrestle through the resting. The wrestling part is more of a learning to accept and receive our true identity in Christ, the gift of His ever-faithful, always present love for us.

Creating is just like this. Whether we are writers, musicians, or artists of any medium, creating is a journey towards wholeness that involves us learning to be at rest. Creating requires humility, patience, and a gentle assurance that, even when the vision is not be obtained, the slow process of creating is undeniably significant to the formation of our character, the maturing our souls. 


I do not play guitar as I wish I could. I have not completed all the songs that fill up my notebook. I have yet to experience a fulfillment to any of my pursuits. I do not even know wholeness in my emotional well-being. I will continue to the make the mistake that striving will get me to that perfect stated. Somewhere along the way, I will rest, then fight, strive, wear myself out, and then more fully rest in Christ my Comfort, my net of Safety.



I write these words on Good Friday, a day to remember that He who was and is Perfection, Fulfillment, and Wholeness chose to become broken and crushed for all mankind. Christ Jesus came to give us the wholeness that we all lavishly strive and invest to know on this earth. I remember He has made me whole already, sealing my identity to His, erasing all that I was before without Him. And, now, this earthly life is an ongoing process of Him revealing to me the perfect work He began in me and bringing me into complete understanding and experience of that abiding truth. I desire the happy resolve of the ending more than the story itself. I may, for the present, only desire the perfection itself. He desires the glory, revealing Himself and getting to see me become who He knows I already am. And He will see that desire of His heart through to completion.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Featuring Bloggers [and building online community]



One of the newer aspects to my blog is featuring some of my favorite, well-known bloggers who write on the themes of grace, restoration,
creativity, community, suffering, and healing. I enjoy the aspect of sharing within the blogging community and meeting others who are like-minded in grace-centered living in Christ. I love the diversity of stories, families, and lifestyle and, most often, feel connected to them just by reading the honesty in their posts. Ever since I began my first blog around 2008, I have loved this aspect of getting a look into the world of others and hearing their hearts.


  Oddly enough, my writing of this parallels with the release of American Blogger documentary by Christopher Wiegand. To my shock, I have found the Wiegand family under a hateful and disturbing backlash of criticism by many within the blogging community who feel that their documentary does not accurately portray the true American Blogger because it does not capture a diverse audience. This has led many to personally attack Casey and Christopher Weigand and the nay-sayers are creating an obscene uproar over it. There is so much that can be said about this, but I would say the hatefulness and childish criticism is incredibly grieving. While mature and constructive criticism would be helpful, many choose to tear down with their words. So much can be said and learned about this intense situation, but my goal is to reiterate the need for a like-mindedness in how we view and speak to one another in the blogging community. This hurtful situation that the Wiegand family are in just reminded me that, now more than ever, there needs to be mutual respect, care, encouragement, constructive feedback, and acceptance in our blogging connections. We cannot out-shout the negative nancies out there, but our hearts being established in humility and truth is enough. And I believe Casey Wiegand demonstrates that gentleness in and through her reaction to all this. Publishing anything on the internet will always create something of a stir, especially when it begins to spread and reach certain types of audiences who it wasn't exactly created for. The same goes for any creative medium - film, books, music, art, or photography. Not everyone is meant to like or follow every creative work, nor be involved in it. And that is O.K. But it is truly remarkable when bloggers and writers intentionally [personal opinions put aside] choose to embrace the differences and make it their goal to build one another up in their pursuits. Or, we can just simply not follow or read a blogger we disagree with or do not feel we connect to. It's pretty simple. ;)

All this to say, I am more passionate now about connecting myself with bloggers whose goal is to encourage and edify their readers. This is my intent in sharing these posts every month: to bring refreshment and light to those who are hurting within the Christian community.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.  
[Proverbs 16:24]


My featured blogger for this month is Emily. She is a wife, mom, blogger, and published author. She blogs at Chatting At the Sky and has written Grace for the Good Girl and A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. The style of her posts is reminiscent of Ann Voskamp, but more of her focus is on the creative side to our lifestyles. Her posts are usually addresses to writers and artists. I also enjoy her writings on living out the identity we have in our Creator and Father. Sometimes, she shares snapshots and peeks into her cozy world, the books she is reading, and the beautiful community surrounding her with family and friends and fellow bloggers. She engages her readers with reflective questions and link-ups. And she always shares her struggles in the creative process and pursuits and is usually posting something that breathes strength and renewal.
 Below, I have listed my favorite posts by Emily that I recommend others to read. May you enjoy perusing her writings and may your soul be filled anew with inspiration and light!

For the Soul Who Feels Pulled in All Directions

8 Ways to Know It's Time to Take a Break 

On Marriage and Learning as We Grow

Why I Want to Know You and Also Avoid You

For the Artist Who Worries Her Motives Are Wrong

Monday, April 7, 2014

Formless & Void [devotional + spoken word poem]

I am beginning this week with a new series of posts, which I will write every two weeks or so. These posts will take the form of a devotional reading.  To restate my vision for these posts [and my blog overall]: to bring refreshment and renewal to those within the Christian community wrestling with loss, grief, or pain on any level. The sufferings we walk through to glory can be merely a loss of understanding our identity, or even the heart of our Heavenly Father, as we wrestle with the how of living through life's storms. Or, it could be a loss on an emotional or physical level and emerging through the trauma of those experiences.




 Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me, Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?

[Paradise Lost, Book X 743-745]

 Recalling that place void of affection, purpose, and abundance of love, we might dare to utter these words in the secret place of our soul. Whatever manifestation of pain we face in this life, there is a natural freedom in arriving at this place. To utter words or to act in a way that we never once thought we were capable of. But suffering, in the way it isolates and shadows us, will intensely stretch and bend our capacities.

What if someone told us, in our writhing anguish, that this was okay?
To curse, to question?
The answer, always yes.  
It might startle the raging voice of the suffering into quietness, to rest. 

Our Father allows even the most detestable words to fall of our lips. He permits us to speak from our humanity. A man dealt a hard lot once spoke, "Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?" [Job 6:26] The Lord, long-suffering with His children, did not speak for quite some time during that man's accusations and curses.

As stated by John Piper, "There are words with roots in deep error and deep evil. But not all grey words get their color from a black heart. Some are colored mainly by the pain, the despair. What you hear is not the deepest thing within. There is something real within where they come from. But it is temporary—like a passing infection—real, painful, but not the true person." [source]

The soul must be allowed to walk through this process in order to arrive at restoration. The pain presses in deeply and the Lord is patient to see His child restored because He knows the glory to be revealed in us, the joy to be fulfilled. There is nothing found which is not first lost. And there is no awareness of life without first experiencing death. Even in the Garden, before the first man and woman fell, there was no mental grasp for man to understand what it meant to live when death had not existed. We see this in the Cross. Our Creator could have made us all alive in Christ without the death of His Son. But we would not have known, in truth and experience, what it meant to be dead and in need of life if we did not know what Christ must suffer on our behalf. 

Darkness before Light. It is the mystery of Life. It is the comfort that supports us in our dark night. The sun always rises. 



This spoken word poem below is a spontaneous creation of mine. It was inspired by Genesis 1:1-5 and has not been edited since I scribbled it down in my notebook this past weekend.

Pursue the quiet
and listen.
Listen to the pieces
rattling.
Listen to their lonely vibrations
til they wrack your brain with their monotony.
Listen to their piercing hammers
til you can hum their lifeless tune, the drumming
dead-end frequencies.
Listen until you know them well.
Translucent shards,
shatters of disappointment, grief, and horror
from the impact of
when flesh met reality,
when organ met scalpel,
when bone met decay. 
No allowances for who you wish you could be,
no permits for where you place your feet.
Your ears assigned to memorize
the clink
of your inner parts disassembling
at each gasp for oxygen
from the blow
of every loss.
Life,
in this suit of crusting skin,
convinced with a faithful vow
to instruct us
on the mechanical nature
of this body,
that all is a void
that all are varying degrees of complexities
chaotically organized to function sub-par.
And when the battery is low
there are no replacements
no recharge button
to resume our robotic rule
on the assembly line
of time.
You and I
existing,
not adding value,
but by nature
increasing
the rate of entropy,
emboldening the loss
of order,
if once there ever was.
This,
where madness begins
to be
the most logical
the most probable
design.
And order,
a theory
most irrational,
most unfounded.
Speak to ourselves
of wholeness
and words will ignite
a fury
motivating our will
towards a series
of crimes
to perpetuate the sequence
of degeneration
within
these layers of tissue.
The only certainty,
the lack.
Why does man journey
toward wholeness?
Was it intrinsically ours?
An identity we forgot?
I speak,
or is it you?
I take no responsibility,
no credit,
for this whimper of shame,
yet,
something like dependence
to hinge my canvas
on shoulders
that will bear the weight of me - this.
Myself - more like a thing
becoming inanimate,
a prop to mold into the void.
I speak,
and know not what I say.
Then,
a voice
unlike, but so like
my own,
"Let there be light."
My Creator,
separating Night
from Day. 
//yours truly, copyright April 2014//


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Renewed Vision for Minstrel of Grace: On Spiritual/Emotional Healing


My blog has been an abode of wandering thoughts as of late. Earlier today, I sat down and wrote out my original (and latest) objectives for this blog. Is it just another place to sit down and ramble out thoughts? That isn't what I had envisioned from the beginning. So, I am pulling back my scattered ideas and stripping it down to my one passion: Spiritual/Emotional Healing. This is a topic very, very near to me because it is something I have had to personally walk through, as well as watch others on their own journey. 

Not a day passes when I am not reminded of the mire I am still trudging through on this earthly journey to glory. And not a day passes when I am not reminded of those around me, friends far and near and family members, who are in heavy, dark, confusing, or fruitless seasons. My passion is for the hurting and utilizing gifts that the Lord has given to aid in the healing and strengthening of others, including myself.

Being a Christian, my posts will always have a focus towards Christ and the healing and empowering that comes from His Holy Spirit in and through us. However, I also firmly adhere to a holistic approach on healing. Holistic is a word that means, "characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole." Holistic health care is something that takes in the entire person, their habits, their diet, their family-life, their day-to-day schedule, etc. Nothing is left out of the equation. Their whole being is cared for. To me, that speaks of our heavenly Father who so cares for the whole aspect of our lives and our heart. Every matter of our life is important to Him. I am incredibly passionate about living and encouraging a holistic approach to living. In our modern society, everything is so detached and fragmented and then we wonder why we are falling apart with health and emotional issues! I have been there time and again and, by His strength, I desire to break this cycle of living my life in fragments. I truly and wholeheartedly believe God has granted the gifts of wisdom, education, discernment, and talents to be used toward the renewal of the whole person. This will mean my posts, from now on, will include, but not be limited to:

~ Natural health (the use of herbs, essential oils, practical and physical daily health habits), 
~ Creative outlets (writing, art, music, crafting, gardening),
~ Spiritual/Devotionals (on topics strictly focusing on Identity, being God's Beloved, God's character, and Your Purpose)
~ Featured Bloggers/Posts (amazing bloggers and artists from the internet who connect with the theme of my blog and, for me, have been inspiring and supportive emotionally)
 ~ Prayer Minstrel posts (my ongoing series to introduce songwriters/bands that will encourage them)

 Every month, I will balance my postings between these categories. I want them to be short and simplified enough where the reader does not feel like they have to sit down and read a novel.


 I have so often found that modern Christian, sadly, does not offer more than a band-aid approach to those walking through difficult times. The most common ways that Christianity seeks to deal with struggling Christians and heavy issues is to over-simplify it. These are 5 common forms of [unhealthy] support that modern Christianity only seems able to offer:

1. Extend a well-known Bible verse/passage to make others feel better about God, themselves, or their situation. Sorry, this isn't always the most loving, Christ-like approach. Many will disagree with me, as I once did. However, most will never learn how utterly empty this response can be until they themselves have entered into a humbling season of suffering or loss. This reality does not diminished the Word of God. It, in fact, reveals powerfully how the Word of God is meant to be lived out and wrestled in the flesh and to show that Scripture was never meant to be merely words on a page.

2. Quick to speak into the issues and the person's life. The best approach, 99.9% of the time, is to tighten those lips shut and use your ears to fully enter in on listening to the heart of the suffering.

3. Pious, pithy sayings that seems so perfectly and sweetly Christian. Enough said.

4. Being super and overly-optimistic to encourage. Sorry, most of the time, the suffering long for someone to weep with them. We need to understand what kind of responses are appropriate to varying situations. We might be able to see their issuse with clarity and objectivity, but they are in the dark and need someone who will feel their pain with them.

5. Present for a moment, gone for the long-run. This can look like someone who says, "I will pray for you!" and then they seem to disappear from your life until your next meeting. They may say helpful and caring words for the moment, but they don't really deliver a nearness that we humans so long for. I realize we don't have the supernatural ability within ourselves to be there for every single suffering soul. That's not what we are called to do. It can be exhausting and it takes much prayer and discernment to be aware who God is actually leading us to invest in. However, pretending to care for a moment is not an effective form of ministry.

I know there are many more unhealthy responses I could cover, but those are the first ones that come to mind.

I confess with much embarrassment that I am guilty of all the above. I will never again claim to "have it all together" when it comes to dealing with others or their hard situations. I am learning every day what it means to love with the gentle, long-suffering passion of Christ. It is so beyond our human understanding. It requires so much discernment and patience to know how to love others through their pain.

I have suffered. I have experienced deep pain and loss. Not to the same extent as others. But I have tasted enough of pain to become very aware of what happens to our frail flesh in the midst of it. There are raw and deep layers to pain, suffering, and loss that only Christ can restore. But, with a humble heart, we can begin to learn how He designed for us to minister that comfort and support to others, as well as to ourselves. It is a journey, not a race. Suffering is part of our path to glory. It requires an ever-increasing humility to embrace it as precious company this side of eternity.

In conclusion, my new areas of focus will begin next week. I pray that they are true medicine and nourishment to any who may stumble across my blog. 
In the grace of Christ Jesus,
 Erika