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Presence and Play

It’s a drawing in and letting go. When your story is sometimes just handed to you, it’s both the  foot-stamping and graceful receiving of what is and using it to write your own script in life. Fancy verbiage for “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Some times in life our choices and actions determine our outcomes,  and other times we simply get to deal with the things that we would rather hand back and say “no thank you….” Or maybe even “screw that; no flipping way in hell I’m taking that.” That’s where I am today; in the drawing in of what I don’t want and didn’t choose, yet  recognizing I can choose to still be present in my circumstances and the letting go of what I can’t control.

After a heart-hurting couple of weeks, I’m weary with all that’s on my plate. I seem to keep finding what seems to be the end of my strength and capacity, and yet, I somehow continue to get stretched to accommodate more to care for the needs of my family. I’ve stamped my foot too many times to count, shook my head and just wondered. The “why me ” question frequently crosses my mind. And yet, I’m learning to pay attention to the story in front of me and use it to write a beautiful testimony of life.

I found a break in my work week, so we hastily stuffed the car with camping gear and we headed for the mountains. Two nights with campfire on our clothes, black dirt staining our feet, and the river a few feet away whispering peace to our souls. I sat in the mornings, watching and pondering the flow of the river. As I dipped my feet in to the icy cold water, I was offered an exhilarating reminder that the simplest things can make us feel so wildly alive. I watch the water pass over the rocks, causing bubbles and waves;  I see the rocks are a disruption to the flow of the water, yet it continually happens. Turmoil for a moment and then the water calms and passes. The rock is slowly shaped and smoothed by the flow of the water; a metaphor for me and my story. We all will perpetually have disruptions of life that come along and we can let it shape us and make some lemonade or lemon tarts and let the flavor of life dance on our tongue and heart, or we can resist the flow and let the lemons rot.

Presence and play are two big ways I keep from drowning when the water sweeping over me seems to be too much.

In the past week, presence was hanging up our hammocks and just observing how each of my crew spent their time in theirs. Barrett mostly read, I slept and read, Brody chilled and swung, and Gantry bounced in and out and flipped himself out from swinging too high… Presence was laughing so hard when Brody ran his flaming marshmallow to the river to put it out and dirt on hands planting flowers. Play was plowing in to water two feet deep on our bikes after flying down the hill out of a parking garage. Presence is hearing my daughter talk about her new boyfriend and being excited for love and hearing hearts that hurt, and the sharing our campfire with strangers turned friends. Play is learning to ride the walls on my bike with my boys. Presence is loving in a moment of frustration… Identifying the child’s joy that led to exploring something resulting in what felt like a mistake to me. And presence is recognizing that it wasn’t a mistake. The presence is just being with someone and soaking in the moment. It’s the conversation by the river of life and God and love. Presence and play make fabulous lemonade.

The choice to remain in presence and play… It’s love and life right here and now; the writing of the story of our life intertwined with God, choices and the unchosen.

May you choose to be fully present in the good or bad of your circumstances today and still know that love and life exist right there in the middle of it all. Make something fabulous out of your lemons.

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a love so fierce

i struggle in these days of pouring out. there is a fight inside of me for me and the notion of what my life should be. it’s that space where my life ends and the offering begins; the laying down of selfishness and picking up of the sword of love. the battle is in my heart and in my mind, and often i wonder… i wonder so many things, and sometimes it doesn’t stop. i wonder, worry, let the shame grow, get angry, confused and stalled out. my dreams fall away and the burden grows.

but then i have a moment of reminding… the hearing of hearts is a gift. to drink deeply in the moment of hearing, sitting, honoring. the offering of cherishing the blessing of someone offering a piece of their story… their fear, pain, victory, joy, or just mundane moments of life is an indescribably sacred gift. the treasuring of seeing the sowing of love as the greatest offering i can make in this world somehow diminishes my internal battle for significance in the world’s eyes. love always wins for god. the fiercely gentle offering of love is a battle won in a weary and lonely world. love wins when selfishness dies and we see with our heart.

today the offering is love. and today i’m quiet, giving the honor to my own heart and letting god hear my sacred story. i’m before him, letting him replenish my dreams and hope. today i’m smiling at his presence with my heart and delighting in the being. today it’s not selfishness; it’s jealously guarding my need to sit with the one that is love… to drink deeply of him and let him remind me who i am, and who he is; and he is the one that loves me more fiercely than i could ever imagine.

The ground I’m on

This ground we walk on….The dynamic soil of life that seems too often packed firm by tears, weariness and loneliness. It’s compressed by the falling down and getting back up before we’ve even had breakfast, dyslexia, a dad that isn’t engaged, decisions for future plans, too many no answers when Mama would love to say yes. It’s subsequently softened by silly jokes and laughter, tender touches and moments so good we ask God to burn them in to our heart’s memory forever. It’s the fierce heart in me that wants to soften the world around me and the dirt beneath us….This ugly and beautiful, messy and raw, joyful and graceful ground we stand on.

It’s the million fragments of a broken and beautiful life that are pieced together in to a holy existence. It is holy. Set apart. This ground, this time, this family. We are set apart by God and right in the middle of Him. The hard is beautiful in the shaping of character and souls…. Seeing the fragments of pain and struggle, triumph and love move in to stunning masterpieces a bit at a time.

I don’t get to see the masterpieces yet. I have no idea what He’s crafting. But I’m co-creating with him in this holy space and time. It’s His and it’s good….So I am here today, trusting and living full on this dynamic ground.

 

 

Love Divine

I set my body in to motion, my feet kicking in to the familiar red dirt at Garden of the Gods. I love this place. On the move, I could smell the cedar and pine. My lungs expanded, taking in the cool morning air, and I instantly felt myself decompressing. I run in pursuit…. not of a running buddy or a faster time. I run with Jesus. He is my running buddy and I crave the time together. This is LOVE.

Exercising outside is prayer time for me. There is something so connecting when my body, heart and brain all engage. This morning I was hungry for some answers and in great anticipation of hearing something from Him. For at least the first half of my run, I just ran. Giddy to be out on a glorious day, I whispered many gratitudes, and I’m always stunned by the gift of the immense beauty all around me. This is LOVE.

“LOVE DIVINE” is the message I heard when I started pressing in to the Lord for some answers to questions I was asking. What I really wanted was some profound revelation. This is what was whispered in to my heart…  “I am here, I am here… I am LOVE DIVINE…You are love divine…This, Erika, is profound. It’s simple, and profound and LOVE DIVINE.”

I was reminded so gracefully yet powerfully that today was simply about communion. I stopped in awe, soaking the notion in. Enjoying His presence. I actually laughed; I get so pushy sometimes. But He sweetly pulls me close in an embrace and if Jesus could be rude, he was telling me to shut up and just let Him hold me in the sweetest place. Shaking my head at the profound simplicity of just being with Him, I ran once again, delighting in the freedom to just enjoy Him and let Him enjoy me. To be stunned in and by the LOVE DIVINE, ponder and be in awe of that love that dwells in me.

 

Facebook posts….

My feet touched the trail in the bliss of red dirt. I’m forever in awe on my runs. Breathing life in; my lungs and soul crying for more. Breathing out what’s hard and what’s left and leaving it with the dust on the trail.
The song of my night is camels that kiss, a moon rising amongst the rocks- turning as red as the dirt and rock beneath. The song of my night is the electrifying sound of nature’s voice on the air, of an eclipsing moon, the dance of cedar, pine and sage on my nose and mountain air on my skin. The song of my night is nearly overwhelming; there is such sensory wonder in this place.
The song of my night; His song, yet again fills me up. I always find a new song with a familiar lyricist; what a beautiful night. – Sept. 27, 2015

 

Tonight it’s the awareness of many little moments of breathtaking joy that fill the fabric of who I am. The things that wash over and soften the hard like water over a river rock….The gift and comfort of the very best family…more beautiful people in my life than a person deserves, tough boy heads on my shoulder when they hurt and bike rides in the sunset, drinking in tea and stories of a teenager’s life with my girl after she comes back from youth group, dreams for tomorrow and savoring today. Learning to be present right here, right now. Soaking in the smiles and tears, sunsets and golden leaves, flickering candles and my beloveds’ laughter.

Despite what muck is stirred up in life, it’s still good. So very good to be here right now. -Sept. 23, 2015

 

Here. Sitting with the clouded half moon tonight, I am aware of the fact that I can sit with the same moon as the entire world. This moon that hangs out with my grieving and grateful heart is present with billions of others. It’s a peaceful presence and has been for time eternal. I somehow feel connected to every soul that has sought out the quiet night for comfort.

I ponder the cries of hearts it’s heard, the shudders of despair it has witnessed and the tears that have been shed before it. I think of the kisses of lips that connect two souls beneath it, the walks and talks that have happened in it’s soft present light, and I am grateful. I’m present here tonight and full of weary wonder; it’s a beautiful thing. Present with the beautiful and wondrous Maker of this moon. -Sept. 21, 2015

 

There is a whisper in my home tonight. Many whisperings, in fact. The soft voice of life swirling all around me as I sit in the quiet light of the tree.

Too often there is a thundering noise in my heart. In my soul. The shout of doubt that I’m doing enough, that we will ever ‘get ahead’, doubt that I’m living this life as well as God would like me to be. The terrifying shout of too much and never enough drowning out the little whispers of truth. Truths of life well lived.

As I sit tonight, I hear. The pictures on my wall softly tell stories of delight and sometimes of the honest grit of life. Linked hands, tears falling, soap suds on a girl on a horse. There are handmade crosses and smiles, The Beauty Project board, dirt, sleds and joy. Even the irony of my ever-crooked sign proclaiming my desire for help in seeing God’s grace. The voice of love and life from the wall increases in volume as I soak in the soul it reveals.

The gifts the kids have chosen, wrapped, and stacked under the tree whisper consideration, selflessness, tenderness and joy. My worry for tomorrow fades as I hear the voice of blessing over and over reminding me I am raising up the greatest gifts of life in the three growing bodies and beautiful souls that sleep in the other room.

The tree whispers history and future. The traditions we participate in remind me of my history, and more so of my overwhelming gratitude for the precious gift of grace- daily, minute by minute sometimes. The history of Jesus and gifts given- out of love and selflessness. The ornaments of history are memories of my past, and the kids past, but in no way hold us there. My heart perceives the whisper of Christ reminding me of all He has done and all the future holds- new ornaments, unfolding dreams and plans; expanding the offering and experience of our lives, just as each year’s tree holds new adornment and arrangement.

The little whisperings that I so often miss are audible tonight. Perhaps it’s an extra awareness and perception of the tiny minutia of living- the small voices I too often let get drowned out by the swirling din of life. Tonight I’m listening. I’m present..filled with joy and gratitude for the overwhelming sounds of a beautiful and brimming life we are living today. -Dec. 15, 2015

Erika Barrett Chowning's photo.
Erika Barrett Chowning's photo.
Erika Barrett Chowning's photo.
Erika Barrett Chowning's photo.

Confessions of a Strength Addict

I laugh at the line in Miranda Lambert’s song that sings of  a woman’s behavior after a breakup, “Go and hide your crazy and start acting like a lady.” And at the sign my brother sent to me that reads “Your crazy is showing… you might want to tuck that back in.” I so get it. And yet, it scares me. Because it’s what I tell myself…. ‘Better pull your shit together, girl, lest everyone see that you are losing it today.” Tuck it in, hide it, fake it till you make it- whatever it takes. Don’t let anyone see you are less than all together, capable and strong. Never show weak.

So here are some confessions I am making….

I’m addicted to strength. I want everyone to think I’m tough. Physically, emotionally, mentally. . I want others to think I must be an amazing Mama to have such fantastic kids despite our circumstances. Even in my honest sharing of the struggles of my journey, I am still thinking somehow that I am strong in that I can be brave and offer my honest story. So messed up. I want men to know I’m not needy or clingy and don’t say much when asked how I can be helped. I divert conversations when they get a little too close to the weak spots in my armor and make sure I ask about their heart, so I don’t have to always share mine. I don’t even know how to let others help without feeling like I’m a burden or failing somehow. But I’ll let you get the door from me-that I can handle.

I am weak. In so many ways. Yet very, very few see or know that. I keep it cinched up and tucked in tight. But occasionally the stealthy fingers of life start pulling bit by bit and the atmosphere I maintain of a woman that can handle it all starts busting apart. I’m seen for less than strong and it quite honestly scares me to depths I didn’t know I even had. And usually I have no idea what to do with it. I’ve never learned to sit comfortably with the less than able, soft and vulnerable places of me.

I have disdain for weakness.  I’m just realizing this, and oh, how hard that is to say. I have disdain for my own weakness… When I can’t pull up my bootstraps, stop crying and pull my crap together; when the boots really need to just stay off and I allow myself to be seen in a moment or many moments of weakness. But instead I think I must be failing. I even struggle at a very core level to be patient with the weaknesses of others. There is that little twinge of contempt that creeps up in me. How heartbreaking and humiliating to admit. Yet God is working to change me. I know why I can’t handle the weakness of others… because I’m not comfortable with my own humanity that holds weakness and hard core vulnerable.

I have a God that desires wholeness and restoration for me and my ugly and crazy. He’s calling me out on my crap, and I secretly love it. He’s nudging me to go deep and heal…to look back in my story and figure out when and why I started to believe I had to be strong and mighty to be worthy. I saw the moment, and I saw God there. He offered His strength, but I didn’t take it. I thought it was my battle to assume. But what else I love in this is the sweet release of pressure that I have carried for so very long to be someone I thought I needed to be in order to be loved by Him first of all, but to be awesome and loved by the rest of the world. I get to take off my armor and let His be enough.

I know logically that I am to cast my burdens on to Jesus, but until your heart is ready to be sliced open on a matter, it won’t change. I always said I didn’t know how to give things up, but I’m beginning to learn. I’ve seen much of life as a battle to fight, and while some things are, my fight must come from a place of surrender, not finger-flipping defiance. The meaning of the word congruent is “In agreement or harmony,” and so when I surrender and can truly give the battle to Him, the logical mind and emotional heart melt into spiritual congruency with God’s design. Beautiful. This is restoration.

I am realizing that the enemy always takes our positive characteristics and somehow convinces us to get off track in how we offer our strengths and it takes an unhealthy direction. I am by nature capable and strong. But not invincible like I’ve tried to be for so long. By design, I am fierce…. but I’m not the only warrior in my camp. I’ve got Jesus, an angel army, and a whole community of family and friends that want to help bear my burdens and love me just as I am, like I desire to do for them.

I secretly like my little bit of crazy and ferocity. I’ll will hold on to them for the sake of amusement and plus they are hardwired in…. I’m working to just be, and love myself in the moments of weak and the moments of strong. And I promise to do my best to love you that way too..

 

 

Why I Taught My Son How to Use the F-Bomb Right

Because. Just because….. He’s mad and hurting and eleven years old. And I’ve stopped caring what others might think about me so much and have decided to be present and help his raging heart. So when he asked if he could swear when describing his feelings to me, I said sure. And swear he did. Quite appropriately I might add. You might say it’s a terrible thing to support. But I say I think he now knows (after we looked up meanings together), that it’s a word that is safe to use with me occasionally when a well-placed swear word just feels, well, so good to say. And that it can be such a vulgar word in the wrong context. And we must be respectful when we swear, you know. I’m kidding; swearing really isn’t ever respectful. It’s just part of this process we are living at the moment.

I recently listened to a book on Godly parenting. So much good and truth in the book, but I didn’t resonate with the author. AT ALL. I know this isn’t fair…I’ve not met her, but I think she’s probably perfectly beautiful and sweet, always delightfully eloquent with her words and her manner is calm and serene. I’d envision her home to be the same…. All quite the opposite of me and mine. Because in my mind I sometimes think I’m like Calamity Jane that seems to roll in through the side door and talk out of turn too much.

I’ve often said my little family is our own little tornado that rolls through wherever we are.  And I’m the mama that perhaps fuels the storm by teaching my kids to use swear words right, shoot guns, starting marshmallow wars, racing around parking lots and other rather endless impromptu escapades that might seem like foolishness or inappropriate behavior to others… I see it as teaching them there is adventure to be had in the moments of life. There is raw emotion and tremendous passion in living fully alive. And I want my family to know God by living fully alive. By teaching them that He is always the Eye of our storm; whether we create it or life does it for us. He is there, with more than his eye on us. His Heart is forever stamped on us. And that we can still have fun and love Jesus like crazy.

I suppose I am realizing I just don’t know how to do mild and sweet. I know fast and full, full throttle and crash, but I am the Mama God gave to these kids. So we do loud and sometimes tornadic, laughing almost all the way. We pause for awe and wonder, snowball fights in the moonlight, raw tears in the midst of real heartache and pain. I’m authentic and real and very, very flawed before my kids. And YET. I am forever leaning forward in the pursuit of showing them an active, loving and ever present God that must smile and sometimes shake his head at our antics. And at the Mama that looks up the word “Fuck” with her son and follows that with reminding him that God loves him exactly as he is right now. And to always, always remember to love; that love can reside simultaneously with hurt and anger.

With God in the lead, we are learning to not hide our hearts, but to get things out and process through them. We have God boxes and dictionaries, counseling appointments and date times, endless conversation and many, many apologies and requests for forgiveness. But the pursuit of healthy hearts, authentic relationship and learning to do intimacy really well is a journey. And that our home is a haven of love, safety and authenticity. And I suppose at least for now, my Jesus loving family might raise a couple eyebrows with our rebel kind of love, but make no mistake… the goal is a wild and full love we learn to offer and receive… within the walls of our home and to the rest of the world.