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Reader Stories

Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Wandering through Mystery by Chara Donahue
July 17, 2015 at 5:00 am 3
Bio picI'm excited to introduce you to Chara Donahue for this week's reader story. She's lovely and is a fellow mama of four. Chara lives in Oregon with her husband and four kids ages nine to three. She is the Women's Ministry lead at her Church, and deeply desires to share the good news, see broken hearts tended to, and have people set free from the things that try and take them captive. She has a MSEd from Corban University, is a speaker/writer, stays up way too late reading, drinks too much coffee, and is the Founder of Anchored Voices. Go say hi to Chara on Twitter
//   I love to learn. The process of asking questions and finding answers exhilarates me. This year I have been hitting the books yet again. My certification in Biblical Counseling is a couple papers and one test away. As I have gained hours and experience walking with others through deep waters, daily happenings, and tragic tales, one lesson has been louder than all the others — cease trying to figure it ALL out. I cannot explain why people do the things they do; I will not understand how people cross certain lines; I struggle with why God allows it. The mysteries of life have become common place for me. They are present in my story and the stories of all. I have come to grips with the idea that on this side of heaven I will not have all the answers. There will always be mystery. I have stopped fighting that and have found precious, sacred space in which to wander. I can both rest in, and wrestle with mystery as I cross paths with the basic and the bizarre. When the unknown begins to feel threatening, when comfort begs to take the place of God, I must choose to move forward—to engage instead of flee. I take the next step, wandering into wonder, questions and all. Chara Donahue for Circling the Story If there were no mysteriousness to God, would He even be worth worshiping? Would there be awe? There is a true, powerful, and loving God who wants relationship with me, but that doesn't keep me from trying to take his place. I know that I am not God, and in my sanity—I don't want to be God. I also know, that if He was bound by our limits, and held no mystery, these truths would disappear and I wouldn't be able trust Him. I have found that just when I think I know something, that I have fully grasped a concept of God, He soon leads me to a place where He reveals there is so much more. I must go further. I must look up and walk in the faith that assures me of things hoped for, and brings conviction about things not seen. Here in the unknowns where I wander, breathe, and exist, can I accept the invitation to be still and know that He is God? In journeying through these towering realities, I am met with the tension of believing in what I cannot see, this is part of being a believer. Even the men who walked with Jesus, his very own disciples, felt it. Thomas demanded to see Jesus' scars before he would believe that his greatest hope, the resurrection of his friend and Savior, was true. Jesus appeared to him and said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”[1] Will I fight to find blessing by standing on ground I cannot see? I want to take this reality and boldly tread into the tension of what is seen, and unseen. I am determined to take the step towards the kingdom here and now where peace, joy, and comfort beckon to me, knowing it is also a step into the messiness of life, because perfection, relief from all darkness, and hope fully realized are yet to come. Visiting these places feels both safe and startling, because they are places that allow for questions. When I look into the big blue eyes of a beautiful baby boy who has smiles for the new faces that greet him, and a few days later he slips behind the holy curtain to meet Jesus face to face, I have questions. When I see the horrors of war-torn nations where terror rises to power, I have questions. When people spew hate and lash out at others because of the color of their skin, I have questions. When life is heavy, tears are many, and hearts are torn, I have questions. I know God is not afraid of my questions, but I must find the courage to make the nomadic trek to trust Him with them, whether He answers or not. For on the other side of my questions is Jesus standing strong,  with all the answers, in glorious mystery. So I wander here, in the mysteries for which my own logic fails me. In these spaces the desperate condition of the world, my deepest longings, and my greatest hopes meet and are placed into the hands of a King. Here in the wonder of beautiful terror is holy protection and true life. By resting in His story, by knowing a good, merciful, and just God writes, I can feel the presence of peace in the in between spaces that have no words. [1] John 20:29   // Submit your own reader story for August and beyond here.
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Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Hopefully Churching by Erika Shirk
July 10, 2015 at 5:00 am 9
image1Erika is the real deal. She is seriously such a lovely woman and writer and I'm thrilled to host her story today at Circling the Story, as we continue with the month's theme of wandering. Erika Shirk is a wife to one, mama to two toddlers & soon enough infant, passionate follower of a bigger God, runner, writer, reader, seeker of all things beautiful, and lover of chocolate. She is writing/believing/living in the middling to overflowing spaces at proverbsnineteen21.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter   *** When we left our church last year I thought it was my chance to find a new and younger one. One where the age group that includes 25 wasn't consistently the smallest age group, sermons were preached with vigor by passionate men and women, and the inspiration and motivation to move toward God was always rampant and nearly palpable. That isn't how it looks. But along the way of attending a new church, where much was the same as the old, God has been asking me to see him here too. At this church I have encountered a more grace-filled God than I have known before. It is nice, freeing me from shame and 'shoulds' like a breath of fresh air. Somehow I didn't realize work-oriented salvation had made its way into my beliefs. The feeling of Jesus replacing those holes in my holiness with his wholeness and having it not be my holiness or my holes that matter is simply grace. This last year, I have been challenged by words teaching how God will use us in ways we couldn't even imagine. Even as I consider things that surpass the limitations I perceive, I know that's not the limit, or even necessarily the direction, of his desire to use me. I am impressed with his powerful planning and then also released from the worry or fear of not doing enough correctly enough in the right direction. So even though I am here at this new church and much is still the same, I know that God is here too, constantly flinging grace and the ability to trust in my direction. Erika Shirk @ Circling the Story It is difficult to move away from simple critique of everything and the disconnected feelings that beginning church-shopping brings, and instead move toward a joy in simply being in community where the grace of God and the work of Jesus are more important than my behavior by eons and decades. It is difficult to realize I might always feel a little disconnected, or have a hard time finding friends, at church simply because my age doesn't line up with the average age of other mothers there. But I am beginning to consider that maybe this desire to fit in to all the boxes perfectly is just God teaching me in one more tangible way how little he cares about my boxes and how much he wants to use us exactly how he deems instead of how we define. It is difficult to let go of the check in the box that included women in unrestricted ministry and to let that check remain empty in favor of God's leading us where we need to be. In spite of our boxes. I am asking myself if I can follow Him into tight spaces as easily as the wide open and free places. Can I trust that he can use me in ways I can't imagine here? We cannot know the plans of God. We cannot know what he will be teaching us along the way. Just as he has been teaching me in the process of abiding at a new church and choosing to stay, I trust that He will continue to teach and grow me in this new place where the boxes feel constricting, but then also the grace leaves me feeling much more free. Because when we end up somewhere we thought we wouldn't, maybe God is simply preparing to teach us something we didn't think we needed to know. I'll let you know when I find out. But for now, I'm holding my own thoughts lightly, ready to reach through the perceived boxes they represent to get a little closer to God and the story He's writing for me. At this new church. And I am hopeful.
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Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Wandering Away From Faith by Karissa Knox Sorrell
July 3, 2015 at 5:00 am 10
  Karissa has a moving story to kick us off on this month's theme of wanderings. I hope you'll hold her words carefully and kindly. I love to open up Circling the Story to honest inquiry and wrestling in the moment. Here's a bit about Karissa: Karissa Knox Sorrell is a poet, writer, and educator from Nashville, Tennessee. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Catapult Magazine, Think Christian, Relief Journal, St. Katherine Review, and Gravel Magazine, among others. Her poetry chapbook, Evening Body, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Karissa is a wife, mother of two, and ESL teacher. Follow her on Twitter @KKSorrell or read more about her faith-wrestling journey at her blog. *** As a preacher’s kid and missionary kid, I have a lot of experience with moves and wandering. I lived in three different states as a child and at the age of eleven, moved to Bangkok, Thailand. While there, I was also able to visit Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore. Even though my college experience brought me back to the US, those years were peppered with trips back to Thailand as well. I first traveled alone internationally when I was only seventeen years old. I can navigate any airport and can usually adjust to new situations and cultures. But none of that prepared me for the greatest transition of them all: I think I am moving away from faith. It feels like a crime to even write that, much less say it out loud. As a child and teenager, I was the perfect Christian. I had devotions daily, memorized scripture, and witnessed to friends. I was proud of what my parents were doing and wanted to be a part of their ministry. I was earnestly seeking God’s will for my life. During and after college, I did go through a questioning phase, but I never lost faith. Instead, I changed churches: from evangelical to Episcopal to Eastern Orthodox. With each of those changes, the landscape of my faith changed a bit, but it was always there. It was in the midst of writing a spiritual memoir that my faith began to come into question. I pulled out my old teenage journals and was shocked to find they were full of guilt and fear that I wasn’t a good enough Christian. As I wrote my memoir, I was paying attention to the Christian blogosphere to get to know the market and eventually it all just felt like a lot of soapbox shouting. In addition, an old friend and I were having conversations about the church we grew up in, and she began telling me about her movement toward atheism. Reader Stories-15 It was as if suddenly, everything I believed began to unravel. Adam and Eve? It felt like a ridiculous myth. God’s plans in Jeremiah 29:11? That message seemed to be constantly taken out of context and used to simplify difficult circumstances. A religion whose starting point is how evil we are? Hard to swallow, given how much creativity, love, and grace I see in my friends and family – even those who are not Christians. I finished that memoir, but then I put it away. It wasn’t my story anymore. I had become a faith-wrestler, grappling with deep doubts and nagging questions about the Bible and theology. I’ve been in this process for about two years now. I thought it was a phase, and maybe it is. But more and more, I feel myself turning away from faith. Most Sundays I’d rather stay home to sit on my deck and read than go to church. I don’t have some easy, happy way to wrap up this story. I don’t have answers. I feel like I’ve gotten lost in a landscape I used to know by heart. I don’t know what I’ll believe in a year, or five years, or ten. I know that I want to believe, but what used to come to me easily now seems difficult to grasp. For now, I simply honor the transition. I am writing a collection of poetry that is rooted in my spiritual struggles. I have found a community of other doubters like me who encourage me. Mostly, I let myself experience whatever I need to experience. Sometimes I let myself question, wrestle, and think. Other times my spirit is more quiet and calm. If there is a God, I believe I’ll find him again when I need to. And for today, that belief is enough. *** Make sure to submit your own reader story for August soon! Themes and more info can be found here.  
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Reader Stories
Reader Stories: But she came back
June 26, 2015 at 5:00 am 0
I'm so pleased to welcome Jennifer Shrewsbury to Circling the Story's regular lineup of Reader Stories! She's continuing a great month on the theme of "transition" -- something quite apropos for me since I'm right in the middle of moving! Jennifer blogs about hard things over at The Switchback Life. Today, she's sharing about her story about distancing herself from her own "inner little girl."  

***

Deep inside, I am that little girl.

Yet, I've quite intentionally turned my back on her existence. Slamming the heavy door shut on her memory.  Oh don't misunderstand, when conversation would steer her way I smiled, easily recanting a cute antidote from my standard list of  "HER" memories. Refusing to look back, to analyze the people and events of the past. I focused solely on the delightful lighthearted illusion of a memory that I strived to portray. Our relationship was a sham. I would look at old photos of her and feel an overwhelming sense of disdain. A critical list of adjectives fluttered through my mind, the words hauntingly familiar - stupid, clumsy, needy, ugly, emotional, and here's a tough one to stomach, such a girl. I was quite proud of the fact that I had left her behind.  Every word that reverberated through my head I was determined would not define me. How could she possibly have allowed the disgusting events of the past to take place? Why had she not stopped the abuse? What was wrong with her?  She was a thorn in my side. I viewed the past as a disfigurement that had taken me years to masterfully camouflage. Standing tall with my feet rooted to the ground I brushed the memories away, I was moving forward. But she came back. Reader stories @ Circling the Story: Jennifer Shrewsbury She is the child within me, at little year girl who withstood verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. When she appeared I struggled, feeling like the classic hypocrite. I work with special needs children, victims of abuse, and am a staunch promoter for the empowerment of women. I would never ignore the needs of a child and a female to boot. Yet I tried feverishly to blame this petite little 6-year-old girl for the events of the past. Willfully turning my back on her, refusing to listen to her cry for acknowledgment. She arrived unexpectedly in a crazy moment of family trauma! Taking a while for me to even recognize who she was. Her voice now louder than ever, keeping me off guard with her display of spinning emotions - anger, sadness, pain, and fear. Don't you dare ignore me?” she warns. Hands on her hips, she looks up at me through blue bottle thick glasses, her chin jutting forward slightly quivering in mock bravery. She appears at the most unexpected of times, irritatingly the hell out of me. Rattling the firm control on my life that I have so desperately strived to perfect. She has forced me to pick up my pen, analyzing the events of the past through writing. The little girl and I have called a truce of sorts in our relationship. I have not opened my arms to her but have placed her firmly by my side promising to protect her, to listen, and be ever watchful of her needs. In turn she pledges to allow me to stay present in the here and now, giving me that sense of control I so crave. The little girl inside me stills, peace finally beginning to envelope us both.
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Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Clumsy Limbo Moves (Tripping in Transition) by Katie M. Reid
June 19, 2015 at 5:00 am 2
Katie Reid for Circling the StoryKatie M. Reid is a Tightly Wound Woman, of the recovering perfectionist variety, who fumbles to receive and extend grace in everyday moments. She delights in her hubby, four children and their life in ministry. Through her writing, singing, speaking and photography she encourages others to find grace in the unraveling of life.  Connect with Katie at katiemreid.com and on Twitter and Facebook.

***

My kids sometimes watch a DVD with a Calypso band playing, a slightly off-key yet soulful version of, “Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot”. During the song one of the female band members, dressed in vibrant hues, does the limbo (don’t judge, I bought it for $1 at Wal-mart; money well spent).

It is quite impressive how this woman can get down. She uses her leg muscles and flexibility to bend back—staying controlled—while clearing the ever-lowering limbo bar. I stop and stare, amazed at her skillz. Limbo: an intermediate or transitional place or state; a state of uncertainty. I am definitely not proficient or graceful when it comes to limbo. I move clumsily between what was and what will be. I try to keep my balance in times of transition but I often trip, unsure of my footing. My husband and I have experienced times of waiting with no end in site—unemployment, trying to get pregnant, a long adoption journey, and house hunting. When I find myself in a holding pattern I feel rigid and out of place. This tightly wound woman likes to know what is happening, and when I don’t, I’m edgy. I pace, like a caged animal that longs to bust out of confinement. I long for the security of the “known”—the job offer, the positive pregnancy test, the answered prayer, the closing date. Come on God, just give me something to hold onto. Reader Stories: Katie M. Reid for Circling the Story My husband and I have moved eight times in fourteen years. For the past six months we have been on the prowl for a house; hunting like a skilled predator, waiting for its prey to land. And we prayed for land: a little plot of ground for the boys to run free, a well-lit space for me to write, room for daughter to create and a haven for hubby at the end of a long day. We scouted far and wide. We spent countless hours searching for a desirable location with a good return for our labor. Six long months and five offers later we were discouraged and wavering in the waiting. My flexibility muscles were taxed. My determination was sagging. The bar had been raised high but my hopes were sinking. Times of transition often leave me disoriented and downright frustrated. When the pressure holds me down and the unanswered questions weigh heavily on my mind, I am strategically positioned to grab hold of God. But many times I go forward—relying on my own strength—because I don’t like waiting my turn. My heels get worn with callouses after many rounds of limbo and eventually I land flat on my back in exhaustion—in need of healing—as the ceiling spins overhead. Waiting for the next thing is hard. I feel lost as I pace and start to doubt as I wonder when things will change. Waiting, with no end in sight, makes me feel overlooked and even forgotten. Transition is a ripe season for faith muscles to be stretched and strengthened. Just when I was about ready to run out of hope that we would ever find a home, God provided. There is open space for three energetic boys to run around, there is a floor-to-ceiling window for me to write in front of, there is a room for daughter to get crafty in and it’s a little slice of heaven for hubby to come home to. From the resurrection till Jesus’ return we are in a season of limbo. Thankfully, He meets us here in the waiting and prepares us for what’s coming next—while He prepares a home for us. As I wait, I want to: Stretch well. Hold on. Be ready. And keep the faith. Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time (James 5:7-8, The Message).  
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