Friday, December 13, 2013

A Thank-You, A Love Letter, A moment of reflection

" I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." -John 8:12

I have spent so much of this life complaining about what I don't have, missing what isn't there, dreaming about what the future holds.

I have spent far too little time enjoying what I do have, holding close what is here, and cultivating what my day holds, today.

Self-proclaimed lover of snail mail, I am, far too often, in my letters to Jesus held tight, desperately praying for this, this, this, right now, now, now and how does this heart hold up to all the wanting instead of all the having? It is bruised and battered because I'm wishing away the now to move forward to the unpromised.

We were not guaranteed today, yet we woke up to sunshine and crisp air - so why am I so concerned with tomorrow's holdings and that apartment I want by February?

We were not guaranteed today - but we received it.
We were not deserving of this life - but we were given it.
We were not worthy of light - but darkness was removed.

So today, and I hope everyday after, I will remember that I have just what I need and am just where I am supposed to be, I will remember that I am not the architect of this plan, and I will remember that there is grace in every moment of my life - and blessings, too.

Today, I will shake off this title of entitlement that I have knighted myself with and wrap myself up in the knowledge that I have been given a life of light because of a love unfathomable.

This moment, I will put out a love letter for the world to see - because this is not a love, a relationship, that should be held captive to privacy or whispered in secret in the dark.

I have the light of life - because I am His, because He loves me so, because Grace.

Thank You for this life of light, sweet Father, a hundred thousand fevered, thank Yous.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Life of Yet

For as long as I can remember, words have mattered to me - my childhood, my various stages of girl-child yearning to be a woman, found me nose to the broken spine of a book, sitting as close to the book shelves of the school library so as to get to the newest, freshest smelling book first, searching, searching, searching for a new character to connect with, a first kiss to be visualized in my head, discoveries of a craft, I had no idea at the time, that would shape my coping skills and therapeutic habits.

For as long as I can remember, words have mattered to me - and I was often too smart-mouthed to think through those that came out of my mouth - but mattered to me, they did, all the same.

My twenties found me in classrooms, in lectures, in workshops - writing, writing, writing - and eventually learning to love the painful, intense process of editing and revising - because that's life, right? Live out a sentence - and then revise your steps, your breaths, the position of a cock-eyed head and a bit lip - revise it and edit it for the next time - if there would be a next time.

Live out a sentence . . .

In the midst of growing pains that have far less to do with aching joints and much greater matter and emphasis on the heart and the repercussions of  broken promises - words still matter a great deal. Sentences get strung together as I think out loud for others to read about what happened that one night, in the room I should have never been in - the conversation that happened in the quiet of the sunrise with the only One who loves me through every dirty digression I commit - in the quiet room with only the almost silent clicks of keys - words still matter . . .

Sometimes a life feels like it might need a quick CtrlAltDelete . . .

It used to be quotes - I would comb websites and books for them; I can still remember the painstaking time I took to select my senior quote for the yearbook - this is how people might remember you, Steph - this may be the only and very last thing they have to remember you by . . .  And so I poured over letters and words, artists and writers, singers and actors - because words mattered and this quote, this single line next to a posed photo, that really didn't look all that much like me to begin with, was so important - detrimental to who I might go out and grow up to be.

I often wonder just what people thought of me after reading that quote - did they think at all . . .

College made me quite aware of how key the selection of words can be - to a young girl who wishes to set the world on fire with the very tidbits dancing off the tip of her tongue; phrasing matters, timing matters, sentence structure matters - and are you sure you really don't want ANY dialogue in that piece? It feels like it's missing something - oh, no, it's entrancing, it's divine, it's . . .

College made me question every word I put into the universe - so much that I almost just stopped . . .

Big girl job comes along and I am with children - teaching and mentoring and trying to make a difference and I am always questioning those words - that was too harsh - cut them a break - really? I mean, REALLY? did that just flow out of my mouth! But, I love you all, I do, I do, I do - I love you and I want to help you - you just might need to tell me how.

Words matter - a whole heap and bushel and peck - they matter . . .

Habakkuk wrestles with the ways of the world - He is troubled that the things that are happening around him are being allowed to happen at all. Much of the book named after him is a deep dialogue between he and the Lord - a little back and forth, if you will. But here's how I know that Habakkuk was a man who knew words mattered:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk said YET. He realized there was reason behind the distress, there was a story unfolding within the disorder, there were joys to be sung.

You see, words have always mattered to me - but they've seemed to have existed in planes in which they were formulating excuses; they were easily manipulating justifications; they were of important matter because they were falsehoods I was clinging to.

So much time is perpetually filled with me throwing parties of pity for my singleness, my full-figured-ness, and I'm not understood, but I'm too tired, and I want what I want now, now, now, NOW - Do You hear me? Why am I being punished?

Just who do I think I am - I'm not so special in my messiness; and no one is punishing me - He's just waiting for me to leave it with Him.

Because - aren't I given a brand new day with each sunrise? And haven't I grown since I moved past that sorry excuse of a relationship? And don't I know that He fulfills His promises? And just who am I kidding - because one day that  one cookie just might ACTUALLY kill me - if I do not get up and MOVE. And I am in this valley because this is where the change happens, where the molding is done, where I need Him the most.

Words matter - because my buts need to become yet's - and my heart needs to seek His face in every situation - because He is not done with me.

Because He will never give up.

Because I disappoint Him, I hurt Him, I wander from Him, yet He loves me, cherishes me, and knew every move I was going to make before I came to exist.

Words have always mattered a great deal to me - because I believe life is not defined by the buts and the or's - life is thriving in the yet's.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Ripped Off Band-Aid

I drove by you tonight . . . as the sun was taking its final bow, nose to the stage, before completing its final descent in a yellow-ish haze that reminded my eyes what your cigarette smoke felt like. I drove by you . . . and knew it was your truck without having to see the house it was parked in front of, without having to see your blue pools of knowing turned on me, without having to see you at all. I knew it was your truck from its blackness - a black so deep it met me mark for mark on what we shared; I knew it was your truck from its license plate - it's been the same for a while now - through that marriage of yours, and the birth of that look alike of yours, and the nights I snuck out to allow you to sneak in; I knew it was your truck because of the bed - I wonder if whomever named the bed of a truck knew just what they were implying . . . just how much like a bed that truck bed would come to be.

I drove by you tonight . . . shortly after realizing I really might not have all the answers and proper timing for this life I'm living, for this heart of mine. I drove by you . . . shortly thereafter returning down the long and twisted history that has our names etched across its bodice. Shortly thereafter, I recalled the cold porcelain and its biting answers to my tears as I waited to see whether two lines would be drawn; shortly thereafter, I remembered the nicotine lacings of your breath whenever you drank from a bottle; shortly thereafter, I remembered the fallacies I cast to anyone who would hear - that it wasn't that bad, you knew what you were doing, you worked really hard; shortly thereafter I remembered how green with white-hot disappointment I became, that one night by the pool, when you were still attached to a ring and you wouldn't  put your lips on mine.

I drove by you tonight . . . and thought about how before now, before this time, I would have stopped and simply climbed into your truck, and you would have looked at me, and you would have known. I drove by you . . . recalling all the useless, wasteful no's I shot at you, with huntsman-like precision, only to say yes, okay, this is the last time; I drove by you . . . recalling the way your voice sounded when you sang along to the shaky, country radio station - and the whistling - I always was a little jealous of your whistling capabilities; I drove by you . . . recalling how your steep voice over a phone line, giving me no answers, was still not enough to clip this limping connection between us; I drove by you . . . recalling the last time I said it was the last time - I was over you, no longer getting under you, and there you were - still under me, this flesh, just go.

I drove by you tonight . . . then I unblocked you from that social media temptress and told you I hoped you were well - and I really meant it - I hope you are well . . . but I hope you miss me, too. I drove by you tonight - then I remembered how I made this decision - to walk away, to have the final word, to rise above this cyclical desperation we so willingly free fall into for each other; I drove by you tonight - then I took a deep breath, put my foot further into the gas pedal and shook loose the haze that clouds my vision and chokes my airways; I drove by you tonight - then said aloud to all the doubts swimming laps - I came out of the woods by choice.

I drove by you tonight and remembered the way you used to say baby and how I was the first girl you loved. I drove by you tonight and remembered all the panicky moments between feeling you and feeling terrified because of it. I drove by you tonight and remembered the silence that crackled response to my questions of 'why ,'when you picked up and moved, when you got her that ring, when you called to say it was over.

I drove by you tonight and realized I'm not saying what I want to say and meaning it, too, but . . . I drove by you tonight and knew I was one step closer to be able to drive by you and not look back just one -  last -  time.

I drove by you tonight . . . so I kept driving.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Lines of a Face, The Curves of a Highway

It was cold when I first laid eyes on you - the air bit with crystallized fire and my breath made feeble attempts at melting the frost on that giant window.

You were one among many . . . one in a large crowd, and I remember thinking, I remember wondering aloud, "how will I make this decision correctly?" I couldn't just return you if I changed my mind about the color of your skin . . .

It was cold that day; that day I chose you, one among many, and knew that I was going to be stuck with you - for better or for worse - isn't that what they say?

So you were mine, now. I was happy to show you off and share you with my friends and you were always perfectly willing to allow me to listen to music that fed my soul and eased the tension. There were even a few times you allowed me to bring someone else along . . .

You were brand new in 2007 and oh, man, did I think I had my life all figured out when you became mine; That curly haired boy with the blue eyes with amber flecks in them - I thought for sure he'd always be around. I thought for sure that when the time came and you were fully and completely mine, with nothing else owed to anyone, that there might be a ring on my left finger - that your external appearance would still be so shiny and new.

Little did I know, that as I was putting mileage on you, mileage began to be added on to me - I'm a little ashamed to admit it, really, that I didn't consider how all those miles, all those trips that seemed so worth it, would eventually devalue both our worth and our hearts.

I wish I could say that I treated your interior better than how I treated my own, but that would be a fallacy. I warped myself with caffeine and greasy, drive-thru food, and you became the wasteland and canvas with which the remnants fell to. There are still parts of you sticky with the syrup and time of my well-honed addiction.

To give voice to your exterior brings me a shudder of sadness - I had hoped to keep you as pristine and well groomed as when I found you, for as long as I could. But I suppose it is reasonable to say that what I allowed the world and the people in it to do to my canvas, you also became subjected to.
Like the scars that etch and snake on my skin, you have scars of your own - they're starting to change colors now - growing darker with time and each bought of moisture that is released from Heaven. Those scars are undoable, irreversible, non-negotiable - because of the heady costs that come with them, because of what it might mean - to make us blemish free.

Back when I first found you, picked you out in that crowd - I could have never have known just where we would go together, to whom we would visit with each other, or what the reasons would be for those visitations, for those other people. I realize, now, looking back, that while I was allowing mileage to be put on you, it was with every intention of forcing mileage onto myself.

In two days time you will fully be mine - your balding tires, dented door, and radio that always cuts off my favorite worship song right at the good part. It seems we have a history, you and I.

You hold some particularly scandalous secrets of mine - secrets that make me nervous about the world knowing . . . But you will be mine. We almost match, you know -

Your balding tires for those gray hairs I've discovered recently.

Your scarred surface for the scars I really do try to keep just under the surface.

Y0ur mileage - ever increasing - for my mileage, that has ceased, thankfully.

And that radio of yours, always bonking out just when I want to lift my voice to shout praise.

          But it's okay, I'll replace your tires and color my hair.
          And don't worry about those rusted dents on your side - the painful memories from
            our punctured wounds have given us strength - even if the world refuses to see it.

          About that mileage - keep taking me where I want to go and I'll start fighting to
           remember who I was before all those men told me who I needed to be.

          Also, whether you turn off in the middle of a melody or not, I'll still keep singing -
            voice flung high in quivering praise.

It was cold that first day I saw you . . . and the air is starting to get a bite to it now, as I get ready to pay you off. Who I was then is so far from where I am now . . . You've grown with me and aged with me and been bruised with me . . .

But like the four wheels that get me where I want to be, this heart of mine keeps restlessly seeking, too.

You may not be new or glossy with shine anymore, but what do these busted and weakened bones know about any of that?

This world may not choose us first or see us for who we really are, but the road will always be before us and the horizon within reach.

I'm just a girl, wishing to set the world on fire, one mile marker at a time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An Empty Shelf

There's this dull ache that sits right below my rib cage; occasionally it will strike with a hand of severity that threatens to rip the softened flesh of my body right in half.
For long moments of time, spanning over days of 30, 60, 90, I would convince myself of a diagnosis only to realize with swift assuredness that I am no doctor, just a silly girl in earnest search for calculated answers. I am still coming up short.

I used to sit on a leather couch and pick at the skin laying blankets next to my stained fingernails . . . 'and how does that make you feel?' repeating over and over in my ear and I almost wonder aloud if this is all it takes to have an office with leather chairs . . . merely to ask 'and how does that make you feel?'

I felt then, and I feel now, a dull ache - sitting right below my rib cage. Then - it was because I was in a relationship that wasn't filling me in the correct ways. Now - it is because I am in a relationship . . . with no one - and I'm not being filled in the correct ways.
But wait, what is it that I'm supposed to be being filled up with, again? And the dullness pulses stronger and then eases up.

I sit here, listening to the slow drip, drip, drop of the leaky kitchen sink and I remember a quote I once heard, "when people show you who they are, believe them."

Drip, drip, drop . . . what am I showing to people, exactly?

That I'm a girl born on a farm who is increasingly grateful for where she comes from? Likely not, as I am continually complaining about having to drive from this farm town to the city everyday.

Drip, drip, drop . . .

Do I show people that I love Jesus through my actions, with my words, in every intentional conversation I have? Likely not, as I am tired, worn out, scared, tired of being disrespected.

Drip, drip, drop . . .

That I am grateful for the people in my life, for the love that they bring and the wisdom they share? Likely not. Because I'm typically so anxious about messing something up that I end up . . . messing something up.

Drip, drip, drop . . .

There's a small ache beneath my rib cage - something seems to be missing - and what is it? and how does that make me feel? and . . .

Drip, drip, drop . . .

The ache seems to stem from the knowledge of a hard truth that lies in this world, this life, not being for the weak hearted, the easily intimidated, the faint of mind. But I know - staring in front of the reflection each morning and humming along to the radio en route and just letting my eyes flutter closed for just, one, second - that I am all these things - weak and easily intimidated and faint - until everyday I claim Jesus, until I show Jesus to everyone that I encounter, no matter how my heart feels.
Because who am I? To complain about a 45 minute drive to work when He had nails driven into His flesh - for me.
Because who am I? To whine about singleness and waiting when His one unanswered prayer to have this cup taken away from Him is the one unanswered prayer that saved my life.
Because who am I? Without a Father that loves me past all circumstances and actions.

I am weak hearted, easily intimidated, faint of mind.

Drip, drip, drop . . .

The dull ache is what will come to thrive if my life is lived outside of Jesus . . . the dull ache is simply a reminder that there is so much more to come . . . because He has promised a return.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

This Man I Knew

I used to be incredibly afraid of dying. Now, don't get me wrong - there are still many things I want to accomplish and experience in this life before I am called home to rest, but the fear does not lie in wait - prepared to bite and nip at the security that faintly comes in this world.

Anxiety is something that has plagued me for quite some time now - over minor things and raging over major things. Death used to be one of the minor things - because it wasn't a more pressing matter to me than to any other human living now - I do not know when it will come, or in what form, only that it will - it is one of the very few promises kept in this world, you know. So there I was, newly into my twenties and the fear of death was so overcoming, so overpowering that it became something I absolutely needed to be OVER.

There are still days I get frightened over how very much has been left undone - in the event that my next breath should be my last - but overall, a calmness has found a way to wash over me . . .

The morbidity of these thoughts is not something I am overlooking - I am aware that, at 26, being consumed with what I must do before I am no longer able to do it is, by and large, taking up a plethora of time in which I could be, ya know, doing all the things I need to be doing before the final minutes are upon me.

But days like today - anniversaries of the nature of this particular anniversary, make me think a little bit longer, a little bit harder, about the days I've yet to live - and have me questioning, well, just how many are even left?

You see, nine years ago today, this man I knew - with a beard so white, young kids in town would climb in his lap come Christmas time just to tell him about that new bike they'd be pining after - was called home, was asked to go rest high on that Mountain.

Nine years ago today, this man I knew - who always slapped at his knees when he thought something was irreversibly funny - was reached out to by the sweet and gracious Lord and was walked into the stars by Him.

Nine years ago today, this man I knew - who helped raise and shape and mold three girls, who became women I love and could not live without, was taken quickly, and without pain, lying next to the woman whom he loved since he was a Senior in high school.

Nine years ago today, this man I knew - who was a daddy to my daddy and his brother Jon - was ushered in to Heaven.

He loved without hesitation; he lived incredibly with integrity; he helped without question - he was my grandpy.

Rocky Top was his favorite song, and he loved to spin his Duff girls around on a dance floor any chance he could get - I can't say how thankful I am to have gotten to spin a couple times around with him on a long ago Saturday night . . .

So days like today, when the air just feels a little heavy with the missing, I wonder how many days I might have left . . .

To make a family like he did.

To leave a legacy the way he did.

To imprint the sound of my laughter on everyone's memory - just as he did.

Days like today, when it hurts a little to talk about him, it stings the eyes to even think about him - I am thankful for just one more day to love without hesitation, live incredibly with integrity, to help without question.
I am thankful to be the daughter of a man who was a son of the man who looked like Santa Claus and let the kids tell him what they wanted, of the man who had highlighters in the front pocket of those blue and white striped bib overalls, of the man who always called me Steffi, let me see him cry, and taught me about the clouds.

So while I'm still living this life I was blessed with, I will remember the way he lived and loved and attempt to model it the best I can; I'll cry a little every time I hear his favorite song, or any song with a fiddle, for that matter, and I will always pray a similar prayer - where his irreplaceable soul is concerned . . .

I hope you have miles and miles of field to farm, grandpy - tell Him I say hi. And, please grandpy, please -  save me a dance.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

This Is a Call . . .

Have you ever had one of those days? One of those - I'm still coming off the weekend that really kind of broke me, even though it's Tuesday, kind of days?

One of those - why am I working at the job I am working at - just who exactly thought I was qualified to do just this -- stand in front of children and teach them, nay, inspire them -- just who decided that?

One of those - never gonna be enough, enough, enough days where the up is down and the inside is out and is anyone really hearing what I say, I mean, really HEARING what I'm saying? And it's all just been enough.

Have you ever woken up tired, and hungry, and angry that you're waking up tired and hungry and just what was I doing last night in my sleep? Gymnastics? Why else would my feet hurt, my back ache, my body be aged twice its actual numeric value? Have you ever woken up that way?

Days filled with "I can't," "I won't," and "there is absolutely no way?" Mornings where the humidity is so savory and thick that you can swallow a piece of it before you get in your car and crank that fake, cool air so your make up doesn't slide off your face - and OOPS! - there's that blemish that took a couple, solid minutes to disguise.

Ever had a day where you just don't want to disguise? Because you're tired, you're coming off a weekend that wounded you, it's hot - so effing hot - and why exactly should you need to put make up on anyway when you're unseen and unheard and so fracking bad at what you were hired to do?!

Ever had one of those days?

This is a call for you.

This is a call to all the dead and disappointed, the ones who feel like they are done. This is a word to all the ones who feel forgotten that you. are. not.

I'm calling for you.

Because, in the midst of that day - where the air makes your hair frizz and you are raw and exposed and still so unseen - there will be a cross eyed little girl who whole heartedly believes she is beautiful in that yellow and brown sundress. And it's because she is.

Right smack dab in the middle of feeling left out, yet again, on those great moments where your heart will race and rip right out of your chest cavity in delighted passion - a child with the light of life in their eyes will write honestly and poetically, "I understand that God is real and He is so very good."

During a moment where you question just about everything you say and think and do - there will come a swift reminder that you were led to this point for some very particular reason - just you, in the middle of a classroom of happily working children - yes, you are right where you were called to be. This very moment.

Ever had one of those days, couple of days, weeks where the one place you need to be is the one place you're avoiding - because you're angry with Him and you don't know quite how to say that it is, in fact, so . . . mainly because you know those words whispered to you that Saturday night were actually right on point? "He's never up to anything but good."

Have one of those days and then crack open the worn, leather binding and have your heart explode all over the place . . .

"The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down." -Psalm 145:14

Have one of those days - where nothing seems to be going right, tears are just behind the next word that is spoken, and your chest is so tight it just might pop any moment . . .

This is a call for you.

You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are . . .

quite possibly low

maybe having a bad day

angry, mad, and fuming.

You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are . . .

being lifted up

living with purpose

His, His, His.

Ever have one of those days? Yeah, me, too. . .

This is a call for you - you desperate, you weary, you so mad-I can't see straight- type of people.

I hear you. Oh, do I hear you. And I see you, too.

 But so does He.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Red Chair

When I was younger my mom had chairs made for our deck . . . a guy she worked with was an amazing carpenter and had made some beautiful pieces so she quickly put in an order for four chairs for our quaint deck so that we may sunbathe, if we so chose. When she brought them home she was so excited - "aren't they great?!" she exclaimed; they were great - beautifully made and they leaned waaayyyy back. They also each had one board that was longer than all the others right in the middle; these beautiful chairs my mom had ordered had a middle finger of sorts - rising for all to see.

But we used them, all the same; we sat in them and chatted in them and caught several sun rays in them, too. They weathered all sorts of weather - the woodiness of their wood faded and cracked and recently she painted them a particularly gorgeous shade of red; the red reminded me of the same color that graced the front barn on my grandpy's farm - and I began to love these chairs even more - I began to love them all over again.

You see, I'm getting ready to move out soon. It's a relatively big step for a homebody such as myself. I was offered a job that has afforded me the time and reality of paying for my own place, of picking out furniture for a place of my own, of creating wonky color schemes for each room in my head; I am excited. But, I'm also scared.

Corn fields and silent, starry nights are all I've ever grown up around. My childhood began and ended just walking steps from a corn field; a little girl's pink bedroom became a yellow sanctuary in which she would entrust far too much to one boy - all with the tall, tasseling corn stalks dancing with the wind. Traffic has never been an issue - in fact the noisiest things get around here are the pieces of farm equipment gathering their money from the fields surrounding the white house that built me.

Within the walls of this home with the middle fingered, red chairs I have felt the love of a family that infuriates me almost as much as they delight me. I have gone from mouthy and sailor mouthed to a woman who likes to think she thinks before she speaks now.

A little boy was once brought home to these walls - they tell me I was quite helpful when he first arrived; I remember greatly disliking him, though - and the smell of his hands and his constant tractor noises. But that's all dissipated - breathing would be difficult without him - and he's never been afraid to live, thus teaching me more than I could have ever imagined about life.

Fights have broken out in this house - heated and ringing with fury. Doors have slammed and names have been yelled - but now I know what I want, and what I don't - what I deserve and what needs to be left and forgiven.

A sweet, black dog has been laid to rest under a shade tree in my back yard and a basketball court sits left abandoned along with my dreams of athleticism. Where weeds now overpower, there used to be the most gloriously large shade tree, it had a wood board around a rope that I used to swing on, but like the most precious people, it was weakened by the world and had to move on.

There sits a fire ring, right in the center of our back yard - many a pick up truck have circled around it, with loud, twangy music sounding - all those nights you hear of in country songs, they took place right outside this white, shingled house.

As I type this just now, I'm sitting beneath a canopy that shades the sunlight and protects the stars - I have sat beneath this canopy before a note riddled Bible, writing my heart before a page, praying for a life that is just getting started, laughing with people I am not quite sure how I survived without before that very moment.

I have, quite inexplicably, gone from a girl who wanted to shed her roots and run for city lights to a woman who loves what she knows about the country because it is familiar - because, as it turns out, it's my heart; sunsets are real strokes from God's hands, and they're the best when viewed from a front porch; the sweet smell of corn means the time is coming to break out the big, green machines; manure isn't always sweet smelling, but it's home; family - no matter how far, no matter the divides are who give you your roots, who teach you how to use your wings.

You see, I'm moving out soon. I look at these sweet, red, middle finger showing chairs and think about how they strongly resemble this particular time in my life - they give meaning to the white house that will always be mine, even when it isn't.

A family, a life, will begin purely and then the world, as it often does, sets both heartache and happiness rapid fire on the skin, the heart, the eyes. We weather these things - our eyes will reveal the storms, our hands show the testimonies, a smile will either color a face or strip it bare. But, lean back - waaayyy back. Trust the people that brought you here, trust that they will help you move forward from here.

This home, these chairs - they are not perfect. They have secrets they don't dare to tell. But, it is here where I first began. It is here where I will always belong - no matter what zip code I reside.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


The coffee in my mug has gone cold as I sit looking out over the corn that has begun to tassel - soon it will be down and I will no longer see before me the prospects of a glorious maze waiting to be discovered.
As I so often do, I've let the weeks past conjure up a sort of longing in me - I've let this longing become so conjured, in fact, that I've not taken the efficient amount of time to let my heart be moved for Him. So I set out today, to get back on track - to get caught up with what I should have been caught up by everyday of forever.

You see, I  have these days - I get in these moods where I sit down before an open journal, my Bible and the scenery that has etched itself into my memory and I think today I just want to be wrecked by something. I whisper, in desperate and fevered prayers, just let me be wrecked today; wreck me, Lord - with Your word, with some one's words, just let me be slayed.

So the coffee in my mug has gone cold,  but I'll drink it anyway, as I think about what I've been spending all my time doing these last few weeks in between worrying about getting a job, worrying about how I might pay my bills, worrying, worrying, worrying. I certainly was not hitting my knees and giving Him the trouble that was making me sick - I was, in fact, spending all extra time away from summer camp and children crying and panicking and growing fearsome seeds of distaste and neglect in my heart. Looking back on these moments - these tears and nights of little sleep and maximum anxiety, I realize that then, more than ever, I should have been praying to be wrecked. No, it was in those moments, that I should have been feeling the most wrecked of all.

I was receiving one extra paycheck into August than what I originally had thought . . . grace that should've wrecked me

I had family members that offered to help me pay what needed to be paid - kindness that should have slayed me

I had a House Church community in continual prayer for what was to come . . . utter faith in my story, that I lacked, that should have knocked me off my feet

But there was no being wrecked - I could not be swayed from my steadfast post of worry and panic. I kept thinking, "I'll just take a step back from all of this and hope I can come back to it better . . ."

There is no stepping back, only running away, when it comes to the Author of the universe.

There are no moments of not being wrecked, when you get to wake up every morning to a new day and the freedom to be.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that happens in each second, each moment, of your life that is not grace when He knows exactly what will happen and how it can be used in your testimony to bring Him glory.

There is no reason I should feverishly be in prayer for words or moments or conversations to wreck me when, the truth of the matter is, I am able to write and experience words and moments and conversations - and that alone - should bring me to my knees.

I was offered a job - but He knew that would happen all along, in the eleventh hour, at the height of my angst, in the depths of my lows. And that slays me.
Because - what's a job compared to bodies being burned, ravaged, and used all over the world?
Because - what's a job when children in the very school I worked a year for go hungry on the weekends?
Because - what's a job that pays bills when I'm neglecting the job of winning hearts for the Man who lost His own to save mine?

The coffee in my mug has gone cold, but I will finish it. I will finish it and sit here completely swollen with gratitude and trembling awe. I will finish it and sit here completely wrecked.
Because - I am looked after by the same One who named the stars and walked on water.
Because - He hears my prayers before I even say them aloud - He hears my prayers when I don't even recognize them as such.
Because - I am His. He calls me His own.

And, that alone, should wreck me.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fine Tuning a Heart

My first love has always been words when it comes to the creative process . . . the amount of words I put out into the world has waned and waxed over the last year or so, but my love for them hasn't ever really changed. I have realized, however, that sometimes there will be a scene you come across that words won't readily convey and I have realized that there will be a person, or two, who understands your heart in ways in which you never imagined.

A sunset won't always need words in order to give power to the majesty of a Father who paints something new each morning with His hands and a friendship can last a lifetime and the laughter will still be fresh, the memories will always be new, and its bonds will grow stronger - and words might not always do that justice, either.

Life changes, seasons come and go, and sometimes, people do, too. And words can offer comfort, they can provide warm memories, they will refresh a broken day. But pictures . . . they will always give color and add sparkle to the life unimagined.

A million moments in a day and we're always trying to memorize this life as it is going, going, gone . . . Here are a few of my one million moments and a few of the reasons my hearts finds a new song to sing - even in the midst of not knowing how to hum the tune.



Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Good in Goodbye

I’ve never really been good at goodbyes . . . I find myself feeling quite choked by them – the impending moment when one must leave behind a moment or a string of moments that have altered your existence in some way . . . Perhaps it is the physical act of turning away that gags the heart.

 The word bye didn’t used to be as paralyzing as it is now – until a fated cold, winter night in January, I hadn’t realized just how suffocating having to literally say goodbye for good was. But, as life often does, it handed a blow that I was not prepared for, that I was not emotionally equipped for – and it resulted in a goodbye that would forever alter the tilt of my universe.

 So, no, goodbyes have never been great – they have been hard and full of emotion and excruciating . . . I can recall instances during my childhood in which my mom would tell me that things would grow easier the older I got and if I’m being honest, not much has really gotten easier with age that once proved difficult and painful in my adolescence. Girls still bite with words that are cloaked in venom, boys still use and love with a promise that is only fleeting and momentary in its beauty, and, even as I notice fine lines around my eyes and pluck a gray hair, or two, from the crown of my head, I realize I have many more trials to overcome before I can believably say I’m a gift to my reflection – I still have many a lesson to learn, period, before I sprout into the woman that I know is bunkered down beneath my rib cage.

 Along with promises of things getting easier with age and time, I was also promised that I would come to realize the difference between a decision being a good idea and a decision being a necessity. There is truth in that; I am lying in the midst of the bearing of that truth.

 On a clear, humid night, I was lying in the bed of a truck discussing a future that was never going to be brought to fruition and you were feeding me lines about a future that I almost started to believe in – but this is not reality and I am no longer the type of girl that is willing to give up valuables, like what my heart truly needs and wants, in order to claim you as a husband. 

 You throw promises at me, lob “well maybe when’s” my way, and then you kiss me feather-light and wrap muscles around me and I wonder just when they became muscles – just when, exactly, did you turn into a man with sinewy muscles in his arms? Because that’s what you are now – not the boy who let me run and jump into his arms in front of a red, worn, truck. You are a man – with a namesake and enough money to purchase a home and you are filled with words veiled as promises, but they begin to carry less and less weight and I’ve finally lifted off the blinders. . . I recognize your verbage for just what it is.

You’re a man now – not the boy I fell in love with and laid down for. You’re a man now – and I’m no longer a little girl – because kisses don’t wake long haired beauties from a 100 years’ sleep and the tooth fairy doesn’t carry around crisp, fresh, green-faced bills and you’re not going to make me a princess just through your eloquently pronounced love.

I’m no longer a little girl and you’re a man now and isn’t it time we both start acting that way – instead of meeting late at night, in secret, like we’re hiding from someone – because we aren’t, right? Or maybe we are – maybe we’re hiding from that young girl filled with the hope of what desire would bring and from that young boy who thought he could make all the promises she wanted to hear, and keep them, too.

Maybe we’re hiding from the innocence that we didn’t maintain for long, when we were together, and maybe we’re trying to hide from them, from those bright eyes and whispered I love you’s, because we don’t want them to find out that promises don’t always remain kept, that a dark room and shallow breathing don’t mean you’re grown, that a heart can change, that a tangled moment can be sweeter as a memory, that, more often than not, a first love is not synonymous with a final love.

Maybe we’re hiding because we don’t want that blue eyed boy and that green eyed girl to realize that goodbye just might be inevitable.

We don’t want them to realize, more importantly, that there just might be good in saying goodbye.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Uncrippling a Spirit in a Crippled World

"Then the Lord answered him, 'You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" -Luke 13:15-16

We live and love and breathe in a world filled with labels. Skinny, fat, married, single, rich, poor, believer, non-believer - and that is just the start. These labels are used so often, assigned so flippantly, that they often end up leading our hearts, our minds, our entire selves to the ultimate labels: worthy, unworthy.

It is likely that the labels we use to identify ourselves, the labels we succumb ourselves to, are not a direct assignment from our own giving. It is not as if we wake each morning, stand before the mirror and choose to allow this burden of labeling to sit upon and inside our hearts; it is not as if we desire such labeling to be at the very core of our self-talk.

Recently a dear, irreplaceable friend of mine was listening quite attentively to me, in the most basic of terms, tear myself down for the things I don't have, for not being labeled the things the world has taught me I must be labeled with, in order to be a fuller, more complete version of myself; in the middle of the verbal destruction I have mastered quite eloquently, she looked me square in the eye and said, "When are you going to stop leading with the things you aren't as your identifiers and start leading with the things you are?"

Because, you see, I'm never Steph Duff -  writer, lover of children and the melodious sound of their giggles, loyal friend, loud laugher, voracious reader and journal-er, and caffeine enthusiast, I am always Steph Duff - single, poor, fat, broken, weak, and full of inadequacies.

Her question stopped me cold - because, really, when was I going to stop doing that? When was I going to realize that a ring on my finger, a new last name, and a high paying job was never going to make me the most of who I was made to be? When was I going to realize that, perhaps, I just may be the most effective version of myself right now - poor and single and messy?

I think about the Woman with the Disabling Spirit in Luke 13; in a recent article for SheLoves Magazine, Jonathon Martin writes in his piece "Daughter of Abraham" of this very woman :  Her infirmity defined her to the world around her and to herself. She is the bent woman, the crippled lady. As a woman whose line of sight is always aimed toward the ground beneath her, she is not the sort of woman who would have had the confidence to call out to Jesus.
After reading this article, which you should check out here, I started to consider this woman, "A daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years . . ." whose eyes could only fall on the ground, whose body could never fully stand tall to greet people with a smile and I realized that, in the midst of always listening to the lies of this world, to the labels Satan has lobbed my way, I was spiritually just like this bent over woman. I am able to stand tall, yet I look away from others' eyes, I avoid mirrors as much as possible, I live with a spirit that has her eyes to the ground.

We live in a world filled with labels, in a world that is in a constant state of motion to inform of us of just what we must purchase to fulfill a, b, and c. We live in a world that is perpetually informing us of what we are lacking and what we must do in order to fulfill that lacking - only to let us down. We live in a world that we were not made for, therefore, our fulfillments are never going to run over, we are never going to acquire just everything we need.

In the moments after that conversation, after reading this particular article, it occurred to me that I very well may change my last name and wear a shiny bauble on my left finger; I may have all the money I could hope for and more and I just may find myself in a smaller jean size one day - but I will still yearn for more, I will still be chasing after another label, I will still be coming up short, feeling inadequate, and identifying myself by what I'm lacking instead of what I'm bringing.

Because I am not a daughter to this world, to our culture, or to every mean comment or look I've ever received. I am not a daughter to my weight, my paycheck, or the ex-boyfriends that have moved on and married. I am not a daughter to the enemy, to the lies of him and this world, or to the lies I feed myself.
I am the daughter of the King, to Abraham, to only the truth and identity that Christ gives me.

Martin says it better than I ever could: Weakness does not define you. Labels that have been assigned by others do not define you. You are daughters of Abraham, heirs of the covenant. You are part of God’s cosmic plan through which He will restore the creation—one of the ones through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed.
What Jesus says is the only thing about you that is true and the only thing that matters. Don’t let anyone else assign an identity, except Jesus. You are a daughter of Abraham–not invisible–and God wants to show you off to the world.

You are a daughter of Abraham - not invisible - and God wants to show you off to the world. (Emphasis mine)

It's time I stop counting the days until I turn the age that I must be married by, it's time I stop comparing my body to every other woman's around me, it's time I just STOP leading with what I'm not. And it's time I START leading with what I am. And Whose I am.

There can be nothing but promise in that.

It's time to loosen these bonds and to dance in this freedom.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Right Here, Right Now

So in a moment of uncommon bravery I submitted some pieces to an online Christian magazine that I am absolutely crazy about; I encourage you to check it out because it's what's up. Unfortunately none of my submissions were chosen, but I would still like to share them with you all. Here is one . . . I hope it lifts some hearts today.

            I compare myself to others a lot. If I’m being honest with myself I would have to say that it started long before acceptance letters from universities and job related insurance benefits were a priority. If I had to guess I would say that many of you compare yourselves to others a lot; I could probably even take a guess at where it all began, too – middle school. Ah, yes, the wonderful years of middle school when puberty kicks in, body parts start growing, and the boys start noticing. That’s where my relative experience with comparisons began, anyway. I was never thin enough, or tall enough, or fast enough, or tan enough, and I can assure you my hair never looked as good as everyone else’s did. It started out as a small issue that grew into an animalistic hunger – how could I tear myself down a notch in comparison to these other girls? And looking back, what made it all so much worse is that these other girls? They were my friends – I loved them, they loved me, but I was perpetually sizing myself up against them and completely disregarding the principles of genealogy and the simple fact that we are all supposed to be different.

            I wish I could say that those days are gone; I wish I could say that I got right with myself and accepted my body, my hair, and all its formidable parts just as they are. But I would be lying. It just so happens that, as we grow and mature and change, so do our comparison tactics; at least mine did, anyway. While I can’t say I long ago left behind the daunting task of comparing and contrasting my body with others, I can, and will say, that my body fell down a couple notches on the totem pole of my shortcomings.

In college it was my major; my major was much too liberal in comparison with more realistic majors around me. So often, when asked what I was studying at university, I would answer quite ecstatically with, “Creative Writing!” only to be met swiftly with a look of confusion and the ever-condescending question of, “Oh, and what will you do with that?” Many a night I would come home and cry, questioning whether I made the right choice by sticking with the pursuit of a degree that fed my heart more than it might feed my literal hunger. I compared myself to every Engineering, Education, and nursing major I came into contact with – and I assure you there was no shortage of them at Wright State University.

            After college it was a rainfall of comparisons – I was single and everyone around me was flashing big, diamond rings my way and having babies with quick precision. I was in three weddings in less than two years and I never had a date to one of them. I found myself looking at each of my married friends thinking, what am I doing wrong? Where am I not going in order to meet the right man?

Due to my liberal arts degree I was not quick to be hired post-graduation and once I did find a job, albeit completely challenging and fulfilling, my paychecks left, and still leave, a bit to be desired. So there I was – cashing my meager paychecks in the throes of single-dom and with a degree I wasn’t entirely using.

Shortly after accepting the job that I am still currently working at, I was invited to join a small faith community. To say this changed my life would be the greatest understatement I could ever utter in my quite verbal, over-articulated life. I was welcomed with open arms, my strength in the Lord grew by marginal leaps, and I was making friendships that I didn’t realize I was missing. But, through the joy of being surrounded by a community that was pushing me to be a better version of myself, I had lingering whispers in my heart and in my head – you aren’t as strong as these other women, you aren’t decent enough for these men, your love for Jesus is miniscule in relation to this family. I was stuck in a tidal wave of telling myself to plant roots with this community and telling myself to flee in the opposite direction from them; what could I possibly offer to this group of believers, to any non-believers that needed to hear the good news, when I was such a blatant mess?

So very much, I heard whispered in my ear gently.

Here’s the thing – in the midst of always trying to measure myself against everyone around me, God was already working in my life and on my heart. He had helped me to forge friendships with women who were living their lives as true, dedicated daughters of the King, He was giving me the opportunity to be a soft landing for students who are struggling with life altering circumstances, He was feeding me good news each morning in His word so that I could step up and be a leader for my parents and my brother. He was showing me love, showering me with grace, and sashaying me into a community of believers that would love on me when I needed it the most.

            In their book, Experiencing God, Henry and Richard Blackaby and Claude King verbalized these sentiments much more eloquently that I could ever hope to:

            Could God work in extraordinary ways through your life to accomplish significant things for His kingdom? . . . God wants you to be the person He created you to be and to let
 Him do through you whatever He chooses. When you believe that nothing consequential

 can happen through you, you have said more about your belief in God than you have

indicated about yourself. . . . God can do anything He pleases through an ordinary

 person who is fully dedicated to Him (47).

God can use me – right here, right now. And He is. He is using this broken, weak, poor, single, and defiant child of His in any way that He can to grow His Kingdom. He can use you, too – exactly as you are, in the spot you’re frozen to now. We need not compare ourselves, friends, to one another because Christ doesn’t want a gathering of clones – He desires a kaleidoscope of breathtaking differences.

Monday, May 27, 2013

When Words Are Not Enough

I tend to get very caught up in the small things of life - so caught up, in fact, that I lose sight of what and who makes my heart happy, of the roots I come from, of the freedoms I am afforded.

These are moments that, at times, cannot be given words . . . or perhaps, I am just not an eloquent-enough writer to give these moments words; so here they are - maybe with a caption or two, the things I so often look past, look over, or just choose not to see, at all, when I am swimming in my own selfishness. This weekend was a quick assurance that I do not know my heart or what it might need in the least . . . because I had no idea that this - these people, these minutes - were exactly where my heart needed to come back to, to heal, because it is where my heart began, in the first place.

The pure delight of a child's eyes is surely a kiss from God

Looking at this barn fills my heart with such love - this place makes me brave, this place is my roots

Looking out a backdoor and being able to watch simple growth from day to day is a promise . . .

Farm flowers . . .

Watching Joseph be a little boy brought such joy to my heart . . .

There are no words.

We are a family from red barns and football :)

Birthday songs, salutations, and celebrations

beautiful boys

This little girl surely has the sweetest soul - and reminds me so much of my great grandma Jo

Recently I've been reading One Thousand Gifts and it hadn't occurred to me how therapeutic listing small, daily blessings could be until I reflected on this weekend. My hope, for each of you, is that at least one time this coming week, you allow yourself to see something with the eyes of a child, you allow yourself to feel ravished over the beauty of growth and the color of nature, you allow yourself to be taken over by the One who knows your heart and just what it needs. My hope, for each of you, is that you allow yourselves just one moment, at least, to be completely in awe.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

There You Are

'Cause I'll always remember you the same . . .

With your big brown eyes, knelt over the noisiest toy fire truck in the county . . . With your long, curled eyelashes as you made 'tractor' sounds up and down, and up and down, the faded blue carpet of this childhood home.

As you walked to get your diploma all I could recall was the incessant motor noise you insisted on making, all I could recall were the faded brown of those infant-sized Carhartt's you eventually wore out, all I could recall was that you were once small - and now you are not.

'Cause I'll always remember you the same . . .

Shouting payday! at the top of your lungs in a bedroom where Pepto-Bismol exploded . . . Sitting on my front porch step painting over another layer of nail polish and talking about young boys at school that were cute.

I look at your pregnant belly pictures - counting down the months until you get to hold perfect, precious life in your hands and I remember the ache in the side of my stomach from laughter with you, I remember the "voice" we spoke in more often than not, I remember that language - so far from here - from where we both are.

'Cause I'll always remember you the same . . .

With your bright blue eyes - always eager. And you were always waiting for me, weren't you? With your curly, blond hair - It was your hair that first pulled me in, if I'm being honest.

I catch a sneak of engagement pictures - you're wearing that brown sweater I bought for you on our last Christmas together . . . And I see you holding your sweet, sweet baby girl with a bow in her hair and all I can remember is that hand-drawn tattoo on your undeveloped bicep on that first night we danced together, and all I can remember is the way your chin always rested just so on the crown of my head, and all I can remember is the life we attempted to build - before we ever knew it was going to break.

'Cause I'll always remember you the same . . .

Your raspy voice - calling out Aunt Yoosha's name, your raspy voice - calling out hello to me down a hallway that has known so many of my secrets . . . your raspy voice.

I see the number 40 anywhere and I'm back on the sidelines in a skirt that is too short, listening - waiting for your name to be ricocheted across the velvet, black sky, I see snowfall and I remember how the cold air bit at the tip of my nose - I remember how the tears must have crystallized right before they hit the ground.

'Cause I'll always remember you the same . . .

A first kiss, a first love, that time I swore I was just breathing for the very first time. A first loss, a first realization, that time I finally knew what not being able to breathe actually felt like.

'Cause I'll always remember you the same . . .

Oh, eyes like wildflowers . . .

Maybe when God is looking at our lives He always remembers us the same - that first breath of air after the immersion of a baptism - that first whispered prayer of feverish desperation for forgiveness and love, love, love - that first declaration that this path is not our own, it is not of our own making.

'Cause I'll always remember you the same . . .

A child. We were babies. What did we know? How could we have fathomed the brokenness of this world? How could we have fathomed the repair we are provided to find . . .

{Keep your head up}

{Keep your heart strong}

{Keep your mind set}

Keep your head up

'Cause I'll always remember you the same . . .

*Italic words are song lyrics from "Keep Your Head Up" by Ben Howard*