1. Front porches should be a thing everywhere.
I’ve been to several cities where front porches rule the day: Columbus, Charlotte, Portland. California – at least, the Bay Area – is seriously missing out.
I long for a good front porch – it seems like the perfect place to both relax and get some good alone time and also be available to spontaneous chats with friends and passersby.
I don’t know that everyone takes advantage of their front-yard space, but I’m telling you: if I had a front porch, I would be out there almost every night. I love sitting out with tea or a glass of wine, chatting with friends, and saying hi to the neighbors. If the Lord ever sees to bless me with a house with a front porch, I promise to put it to good use.
2. Church is everywhere God’s people are gathered. As my pastor in San Francisco has often said, “We’re the body gathered and scattered.”
While I completely believe in the importance of regular gatherings with other believers – for accountability, teaching, and inter-generational wisdom – I don’t think that church is limited to Sunday mornings.
I saw this truth play out over and over again during my week in Oregon. Whether we’re talking over coffee or during a long car ride, conversations with dear friends is one of the primary ways I connect with God. I love learning other people’s stories, asking hard questions about our struggles, and “spurring one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
There’s a reason God gave us each other; he knew we’d need each other to be a full and complete body – with all our vital limbs and organs – able to live out his love in the world.
3. Everyone has his or her own personal and spiritual journeys. I used to think life was very black-and-white, and my faith was the same way: there was a right way to connect with God and a wrong way.
Thankfully, God knock that notion out of me pretty quickly. I’ve journeyed through seasons of doubt, stumbling, and renewal, and I’ve realized that my life doesn’t look exactly like anyone else’s. And I shouldn’t expect anyone else’s journey to look like mine either.
When we come together with people who are on a similar or different path from us, we have the opportunity to learn from them and encourage each other. We can point each other toward what’s coming, or help each other see how far God’s brought us and remind each other that God is the one who does the work in each of our uniquely intricate stories.
Last week I got to have some wonderful heart-to-heart’s with old college girlfriends and a dear friend who’s moved away from San Francisco, back to her home in Vancouver, Washington. As we hiked to waterfalls or chatted over cocktails, these women shared their past with me and invited me into their present. They reminded me that God is working, even when we can’t see it.
The tapestry of our lives may look like a mess from the back – all knots and loose ends and many-colored threads – but God knows exactly what he’s doing.
All will become clear in time, and – if we put ourselves in his safe hands – our lives will become a beautiful picture that points people to his love.
4. We’re constantly changing. So, don’t worry about worry too much about you are right now. You won’t be there forever.
I have to remind myself of this truth over and over again. Sometimes, I want to be the forty or fifty-year-old version of myself so badly, that I forget to be present where I am now at twenty-nine. I want to be older and wiser – although, can I forego the achy joints and health issues please? Being young and uncertain just feels really hard sometimes.
And that’s when God reminds me: He is with me right now. Just as he’s brought me so far from who I was at nineteen or even twenty-five, I can trust that he’ll keep growing me into a woman that reflects his image more and more each day. He’s begun a “good work” in me and he’s going to be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:4-6). He’s not done, and I can trust him to finish the “masterpiece” he’s started (Ephesians 2:10).
As Eckhart Tolle said, “Stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there.’” And I want to learn to be at peace with where I am today, rather than constantly worrying about what’s ahead.
5. Growth is not instantaneous, but it’s exponential. My friend Lauren used those words to describe her spiritual journey, and it really resonated with me.
Growth is not a one-time thing. We may continue to struggle similar issues – anxiety, perfectionism, addiction, body image, workaholism – but, if we’re submitting ourselves to the process of growth, we’ll keep changing in deeper and deeper ways.
That’s because growth compounds itself and, as I’m learning, it’s about getting at the roots of our issues versus just dealing with the symptoms on the surface. That takes a long time. Diagnosis is not an easy process, and healing requires persistence and a Doctor who knows how to remove the disease without killing the patient.
6. With that, I have to remind myself to not berate myself for my mistakes and my struggles.
This quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ collection of stories, Women Who Run With the Wolves, helps explain why:
“Though fairy tales end after ten pages, our lives do not. We are multi-volume sets. In our lives, even though one episode amounts to a crash and burn, there is always another episode awaiting us and then another. There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success.”
While I don’t like the feeling of failure – who does? – I’m learning that my shortcomings aren’t periods at the end of the sentence. They’re more like commas or dashes, or maybe even a long ellipse. They’re the pause before change. They’re a space in which I can either hide or be healed. Rather than running from my mistakes or punishing myself for my shortcomings, I’m discovering that it’s much more beneficial to bring them to God and ask him to heal me.
As he did with the blind beggar Bartamaeus, Jesus asks all of us: “What do you want me to do for you?” He knows the answer, but he’s getting us to become aware of our vulnerabilities within the safety of his loving gaze. That’s where we find healing, and that’s when we can move on and follow him “down the road.” (Mark 10:52)
7. Berry picking is hot, hard work. You should enjoy the rewards as you go, and you have to taste to find what’s good.
My friend Lisa and I enjoyed a beautiful afternoon of berry picking on Sauvie Island, just north of Portland. The sun beat down on us as we tromped through the dirt and filled our boxes with blueberries and raspberries and the tiniest, juiciest strawberries.
Not being a professional farmer, I wasn’t sure what to look for to ensure we didn’t end up with tart blueberries and unripe raspberries. So, I took tips from Lisa, who goes berry picking every summer with her family. “You want the berries that just roll of the stem. They should be saturated with color, and plump to the touch. And when in doubt, taste them.”
Berry picking was ripe with analogies for me (no pun intended). We were looking for fruit that was colorful and ready to roll, and I think that’s the mark of someone ready to do good work and bear fruit in the world as well. We’re full of life and color and ready for action.
The process of bearing fruit isn’t something we can do ourselves. We have to remain attached to the original, true Vine (John 15). Again, this all gets back to roots. In Christ, all the roots sit below the surface and come together in one original Vine. We have to remain attached to God – through silence, solitude, prayer, meditating on truth, and learning from others – in order to receive the supply we need to be fruitful.
We also have to allow him to prune us – cutting away the weeds and trimming the branches so they grow. We can’t make the fruit grow before its time. Unripe berries are either tart or unflavorful – they need time and gentle pruning before they’re ready to pick.
I don’t know about you, but I want fruit that is delicious and bright and gives life to the people around me. And I’m learning I can’t rush the process. God has a master plan that’s for the good of ourselves and the people around us – and it’s probably not on the same timeframe we might like.
8. Make room in your mind and heart for good truths. Repeat the good to yourself over and over in order to replace the bad thoughts.
It’s so easy for me to get wrapped up in a negative train of thought – funny how those often stick so much more easily than the positive ones. I’ve found that one of the best ways for me to get out of a downward spiral of self-criticism or fear is to acknowledge those thoughts but then say, “I need to put you aside to make room for better ones!”
When I carve out space in my heart for gratitude and truth, then new life has a chance to grow in me. On the flip side, if all that space is taken up with darkness, then all I have in me is death.
So, this is my reminder to myself these days: stop dwelling on the dark and focusing on the unknown; dwell on the light and express joy for the good and the hard gifts.
9. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. So you might as well just relax and go with it.
This is my advice to myself both in the midst of frustrating circumstances and personal failures. With irritating situations or blocks in the road, I’m learning more and more that those things will always there. If it’s not a cancelled flight, it’s a highway accident that prevents you from getting home.
But, as I shared in my previous post about what I learned in Colorado, I’ve been reminded that just because the road is blocked, that doesn’t mean God isn’t present in that situation. While my friends and I couldn’t make it back to Portland in time for church last Sunday evening due to a massive detour on the two-line highway back from the coast, we found church in the car together – windows down, corn fields zipping by, words of grace on the air.
Here’s another good reminder about confronting personal failures: Don’t let other people’s view of you define you. I have to repeat this to myself all the time. For one, we are often our worst critics. But even when people leave in light of your shortcomings, that doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of love and belonging.
As my dear friend Megan reminded me, people come and go and only see parts of you. And yet God, who sees all of you – even the messy bits – still loves and pursues you relentlessly. That’s a truth worth hanging onto.
10. Lastly, a big, beautiful salad and a charcuterie board make the perfect dinner party fare. Sometimes, it’s best not to over-think things (says the girl who’s often guilty of over-analyzing).
For my last night in Portland, we decided we should have all the girls over and put out a big spread of delicious treats to munch on. We filled a big bowl with arugula and fennel and fresh strawberries and laid out a large wood cutting board with slices of gouda and apple and prosciutto. Olives, snap peas, roasted almonds, and the Sauvie Island berries rounded out the spread.
Rather than slave over the stove or spend all evening in the kitchen, we were all able to just sip and snack and talk. That’s what a party – and a vacation – is for anyway: connection.