There Once Was a Story

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

This was something I heard over and over at Allume – sometimes it was said differently or just implied, but the message was the same.

I have often found myself trying to look like a blogger or writer that I admire; I try to copy their writing style, their passion, their callings. But there’s that simple truth – everyone else is already taken, and honestly they’re going to do it – whatever it is- better than I can because, well, they’re them and I’m not. They were given those exact gifts, and I’m only imitating. They have heard that specific word from God, and I’m only eavesdropping somewhere down the telephone line. They might be mirroring Christ, but if I’m mirroring them, then that makes me nothing more than a shadow – matte, shrouded, and completely devoid of light, because we cannot shine unless we are reflecting the Sun, and we cannot reflect the Sun if we are not fully facing Him.

There is something to be said for knowing what appeals to us and taking notes from someone who has mastered that particular skill, but when we look at someone else and think “I wish I could write that” and then try to copy who they are or what they do, then we lose our ability to be real; and people can tell when we’re not being authentic, because it looks cheap and vapid, and kind of shallow.

And why? Why do I even need to go there? Why do I feel like I need to look like anyone else to be valued?

This weekend Ann Voskamp said something that’s been retweeted approximately a million times, and for good reason. She said “When you take your life for granted? You get jealous. When you take your life as a gift — you get joy.”

Isn’t that exactly what we’re doing when we’re looking at other people and elevating them to a place of superiority, bemoaning our own lowliness? When we envy, aren’t we taking what God has given us, our lives, for granted? Aren’t we telling him “Hey, You failed here! You left me incomplete. If I were really whole, I would look like that!”

Do I, little ant, dare to have that kind of dangerous audacity?

We I need to remember that we are the storytellers and not just a single story. We are living, and breathing, and feeling, and evolving, and constantly moving forward, and that will never look like exactly like someone else. We have been placed exactly where we are for an exact purpose; we shine as stars who dance together to point the way to the Son. We are not the same, but we are together.

The stories we tell are extracted from the substance of our existence; the essence of our lives in the moments and days, from the mundane to the miraculous, and every breath of grace in between.

We cannot be confined to one story, one situation, one cause, one exhilarating moment of triumph or heartbreaking moment of surrender because we are not just words on a page – we are souls.

This is where I have strayed off course. I have limited myself – limited what I have allowed God to do with and through me.

“This is a blog about mothering” I said.
But soon the mothering well ran dry and I had nothing to draw from anymore because I realized I really didn’t know that much.

“This is a blog about faith, then.” I decided
But there are moments when what I have to say about my faith is better left at the foot of the throne and in the hands of the great healer.

“This is a blog about writing.” I revised.
But those moments of literary success come in blazes of Heavenly glory – and then it passes, and I’m left throwing draft after draft into an overflowing garbage can.

I have felt like an inadequate writer because I don’t have enough to say about something, because I am not a literary or mothering guru. But that’s not the point. That has never been the point. It’s not about knowing it all, it’s about letting God know all of me, and being available for Him to pour life in so that I can pour it back out to you.

This weekend I learned, I realized, that I am none of those things – but they are all part of me. I am a storyteller, and I have many stories to tell.

I have stories about faith, and mothering, and writing, and great causes, and heart ramblings, and life. And it’s messy. Life is messy – I’m certainly not an exception.

But I’m just going to tell His stories. Hands and heart open wide, ready to drink in and ready to flow out – I want to be brave, and honest, and low. Low enough to wash the feet of the lost and the found and the broken and the bold, and in doing so wash the very feet of Jesus.

I want to serve you, and encourage you, and I want to make you cry because I know that there is freedom and truth and surrender in tears.

I want you to read my stories – whatever they are – and be able to rest back in your chair with a mug in your hands and feel at home.

I want to join arms with you. I want to love you and minister to you and be Jesus to you from my messy, humble little home.

And I want to tell the stories. My stories. Your stories. The stories of a generation of Esthers who were born for a time such as this – to give our lives so that we might live.

To tell the broken who are sitting just outside our gates the story of the stars; stars that shine bright to light the way home.

I’m here to walk wherever the road leads – I am here to tell the stories.

Allume; Layers of Grace

I’ve spent the past two days caught between a need to just soak in and process everything that happened this weekend, and a fervent desire to write as quickly as I can so as not to forget a single moment or thought.

Oh, Allume.

Where I went expecting a writer’s conference perforated with church, I was met with
engulfed by revival woven with art.

And I’m not talking church camp high, people, I’m talking revival. Where hearts were broken in and bent low, where stars learned to dance together, where prayers were spoken and received, where words fell like rain on dry bones, where we reset our focus to our audience of One, knowing that we cannot shine unless we are reflecting the Sun, and we cannot reflect the Sun if we are not fully facing Him first.

Allume. Real light living. Real. Light. Life. There is no better way to describe it.

Let me bring you back a little bit.

For the past few years I’ve been struggling. I’ve struggled with wondering where God was, if He was even there, if he was even real.

For a while I was trapped in a place surrounded by a thick suffocating darkness, despair, and heartache. I began to truly question if anything I believed in was real. To say that it was the hardest moment of my walk thus far would be a gross understatement.

Interestingly enough what broke me out of my internal prison was a blog written for none other than Allume. God had used September McCarthy, used simple words, to bring me back to life – just barely, but I began to breathe and breathe enough to find the strength to blog about it (you can read that here).

Y’all, God had been preparing my heart for this for almost an entire year. Can you see it yet? You will.

The time since I wrote that has been spent striving towards life, but I was barely holding on, and even though I asked, God remained silent.

I still fought doubt, I still felt lonely, I still wondered why, why, why He wasn’t answering me. There was no passion. No zeal. At least nothing that lasted through the night.

Two weeks before Allume I was sitting on a park bench looking out over the water where sunburnt trees were admiring their new hues. It was quiet, the sun was shining down, and Papa was watching the girls back at home, so I actually had a few minutes to just sit and think. So I prayed. I poured my heart out to God and asked
begged Him to reveal Himself to me.

Please, Lord, I want to hear you! I want to see you! I want to feel you! I’m seeking Your face and I just need you to reveal yourself to me, because it feels like you’re not there. Are you even there?

And I sat. And I waited. And all that came was silence. Finally I had to leave my quiet little bench, frustrated and empty and confused. I didn’t have the slightest inkling as to what He was about to do.

 

The first night of Allume Ann Voskamp blessed us with a talk on stars, and she said things like

You don’t have to perform anymore because God is forming you into beautiful,

and

Your hunger to be known is a good God given appetite for more of God,

and

When the world strives — the wise still,

and

You are where you are for such a time as this – not to make an impression, but to make a difference,

And it wrecked me. Night one and I was completely undone. The tears were running too near the surface. I was starving and set before a feast, and it was almost too much to bear – but it was only the first layer. And if this weekend was anything it was layer upon holy layer. That first day He was laying the foundation – slow and steady – of a work that was going to blow my mind.

 

The next morning Melanie Shankle reminded us that

God sees us even when the world doesn’t

and

It is in the still, quiet places that God shapes us

and

No one sees God’s potential in you as much as Satan. He’ll do anything to shut you, your voice, and your message down

And I thought, hey… that kind of sounds like me, that kind of sounds like where this whole thing started to come undone those years ago. And I wondered where exactly He was going with this. I wondered if maybe, just maybe, I was here for a bigger reason. Another layer.

I went back to my room after the cupcake party (yes, a cupcake party. I’m sorry you missed it, too) and began to message my husband, crying to him that I was so confused. That this place seemed so real, but it was in such stark contrast to other things I’d been dealing with, and I didn’t know how to handle them both. I didn’t know how to coexist with what was stirring in me here, at Allume, and what was holding onto me for months and months. I couldn’t accept both, and I didn’t know what to do, and I just wished God would answer me!

And then Friday afternoon came and I got to attend a session hosted by one of my favorite women on this planet, Sarah Mae. I have a kind of deeply rooted love with this lady, in the least creepy way possible. When I read Desperate it literally saved me and my children from a mother who had checked out and was so fed up and depressed that she didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning. Her book was warm tea to my soul. It changed my life in a way that I don’t know if she’ll ever fully understand, and it was the reason I came to Allume in the first place – remember that, because it’s important.

So when I had a chance to hear her speak up close and personal, I jumped on it. I didn’t know really what her talk was about, but I knew it was probably going to speak to me. I’m convinced that was God’s doing.

Her session was called “Honest Capacity” and it felt like she was talking directly to me. Especially when she spoke about seeking God. She shared with me – ok, ok, with us – about a time in her life very recently where she found herself sitting and asking God, nearly verbatim, the exact. Same. Thing. I just prayed two weeks before. But God had answered her the next day, and in doing so He answered me at that exact moment. She challenged us specifically to quiet the world around us – intentionally and sacrificially – for the sake of hearing God. For the purpose of seeing Him. And in my soul I was crying “Yes! That sounds like exactly what I need! But what about this other situation? I don’t know what to do about this. Is this keeping me from hearing Him?” The next sentence she said was a quote from A.W. Tozer,

“Anything that keeps me from knowing God is my enemy, and any gift that comes between him and me is an enemy.”

And I surrendered. Yes God. I hear you. I hear you. Another layer.

That night Jennie Allen spoke, she took a chance and looked each of us in the eye and challenged us to get real, to finish running the race we’d begun, and to admit – not only to ourselves, but out loud, what was holding us back. The sin, the trap, that’s entangling us. So there at the dinner table, clutching a woman’s hand who was a stranger until an hour ago, I confessed my heart, and she asked me something that kind of rocked me.

“Do you have anyone praying over you about this?”

Well… no. I guess I don’t. I think, maybe, there’s something to that.

After we prayed together Anthony Evans Jr. performed worship and by the end of it I knew what I needed to do. So when the lights turned back on I headed immediately for the prayer room that Allume had set up.

A sweet, beautiful prayer warrior met me as I entered and asked me if I needed prayer. “Yes!” I burst out. So we gathered together in the corner by some pillows, and I spilled my heart out again to a near stranger. She asked gentle questions and put her hands on me and began to pray. My heart was focused, set upon God as hard as it could be, and as she prayed my body began to warm from where she’d gently placed her hand on my back all the way to my center. She shared words with me that resonated loudly, and it was at that moment that I realized something big was happening, and that I was here, at Allume, for a reason.

A reason that He had planned for three years. A revival three years in the making. Because He knew that what I needed wasn’t a quick fix. It wasn’t something that could be healed without long, slow, intentional paving. I began to realize that before I left something was going to be different.

The next morning was where He pulled back the curtain, through a message given by a woman that I had never heard of before – Bianca Olthoff, and she was sharing on Ezekiel 37

“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

And God spoke to me through her – to four hundred other women, but still, so directly to me

Do you believe me for the dry bones? Do you believe I can bring life to those who are dead? I have built this foundation, I have revealed myself to you over and over again this weekend, you have just begun to connect the dots, but the question is do you believe I can bring you back to life?

And my soul cried out YES! Yes, Lord, I do! I believe YOU can restore LIFE and life more abundantly to these dry, empty, hollow bones!

And I felt myself fill from the inside out. I felt life rush into me like a breath of wind, and my heart burst open with a strength and weakness and trust that I have missed so desperately for so long.

Revival.

I have so much more to meditate on. I have pages and pages of notes to go through, I have concepts to put into practice, I have ideals to overhaul, but I have water for my dry bones, and if I didn’t take a single other thing back with me, that would be enough.

Real.

Light.

Life.

Allume.

God has used you to bring me back to life this year.

 

I can hardly stand to wait and see what He’s going to do next time.