The Echo of Our Hallelujah

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I like to wake up and look at the sky first thing on Easter morning. I think about the cool of the day – how the sun rose just like any other day. I think about the dew that was there, the birds, the earth waking up to a new day that was so like every other day… but so unlike any other day, all at the same time.

I think about Mary Magdalene. I think about how her heart broke… because the person who could see right through her, who saw her faults and loved her the most, who sat as she poured out her perfume and her tears on his feet, had died and left her. I think about how sad she must still have felt, not even three days since she’d seen him die, how he was the last person she would expect to see that day.

All week I’ve been thinking of the song “Hallelujah”. The last verse says that “love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

I think about Jesus’ walk through the city streets, as he carried the cross towards his own death.

If I were to save the world and take away the sins of everyone and bring new life to each and every person, I think I would have done it with fanfare. I would have done it like a super hero. I would have had fireworks and announcements and a spectacle. But not so with Jesus

His love was not a victory march. There was no fanfare, no fireworks, no spectacle. He humbled himself to the greatest pain and humiliation possible. He was judged for crimes he wasn’t guilty of. He was killed for sins he didn’t commit.

And yet, somewhere, there was a cold and broken Hallelujah.

I picture the hallelujah echoing in the hearts of everyone who loved him and saw him die – the ones who believed he was the Messiah. They were so grieved. And yet, somewhere in the earthquake and the temple curtain ripping and the darkness that covered the land, it was impossible to miss that something deeply spiritual and holy had happened.

For three days the earth held his body. And then, at the break of day, it held him no longer.

Can you imagine Mary Magdalene’s heart bursting as she saw him? The thrill of hope. The cold and broken hallelujah that turned into a shout. How could it not? It burst forward – her realization that he not only did not leave her but he conquered the finality of death in a way that brought the greatest of hopes to all mankind. The man who forgave her wealth of sins had taken time to meet her once again and remind her of the greatest of all that is possible.

And with that, the hallelujah echoes throughout time and space, bringing us that great hope. A king that came as a babe and was brutally killed has defeated the finality of death.

Hallelujah.

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Are We Bad Friends? And What We Can Do About That

I don’t know about you, but every so often I have a friend or two who will apologize to me for being “a bad friend”. I don’t know why they apologize to me. I’m definitely not over here winning any friend-of-the-year awards myself. So, I always tell them that and reassure them that they aren’t bad friends – they are just their own kind of friend.

In retrospect, when people say things like this, I don’t think they are really saying that they are bad friends – what I think they are actually saying is that they aren’t the kind of friend that they want to be: which, coincidentally, happens to be a combination of all their friends’ best traits.

This is the same logic that usually lies behind the “I’m a bad mom” logic.

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about how I like when my friends come over but that I particularly like when they bring their own baked goods. I don’t like to bake. It’s not that I can’t bake. I can actually bake quite well. I just choose not to. Because, as I’ve mentioned before, I hate flour and I hate icing. The end.

In the post, I pointed out that we should all rely more on our strengths: mine is hosting, theirs is baking. Let’s celebrate that. The post resonated with so many of my girlfriends. Why? Because we all need to hear this:

You are the best at being you.

If you’re my friend, it’s because I like you. You in all your you-ness. I don’t like you because you can be like me or other people. I like you because you are you. I have some friends who are “yes friends”. I have lots of ideas – and they usually say yes to them. I LOVE that. These are my friends I can give short notice to, who will drop things for me and meet me for a walk in the rain and hand me a plate a meatballs just because. These are the friends who will come to give me hugs and sit with me when I’m sad. They’ll meet me at the park on a summer day, or they’ll come over for dinner even if they’ve started their own. They’ll answer the phone when their kids are screaming. They’ll give me their couch or drive a few hours to meet me somewhere…. They’ll say yes.

I have lots of ideas: What I need are people to say yes to them. That gives me life.

Occasionally these dear friends will apologize for never planning things or inviting me over (I usually just say I’m coming over because I’m fleeing from my house – mainly laundry or dishes or working out). I always tell them they are ridiculous for apologizing this way.

I don’t expect an equal share in every area – I want their strengths… and I want them to want mine.

We are all good at very specific things. I love celebrating my friends’ talents. And I love when they celebrate mine. I have found that the more I compliment their strengths and give them room to be strong in my weakness, the more the favor is returned. Those close in my life have developed a give-and-take that is so beautiful to me. I can invite, they can say yes. I can plan, they can be spontaneous. I tell them they are great at making things, and they tell me I’m great at being super productive. I tell them they are pretty and they send me random gifts. And we all smile and hug and we love that we’re good at things. We don’t expect each other to be good at what we’re good at. We accept that.

There are so many positive things about this. I feel so comfortable and safe in friendships where this is the norm. It felt awkward at first – dishing out compliments to people who weren’t used to taking them, and vice versa. But now I sit back and look at my friendships and I think “how beautiful, we are all trying to be the best us that we can be.”

I have a higher trust in and respect for my friends. They let me do my strong thing and I let them do theirs. We don’t apologize for being weird or weak in an area. We learn from each other and we pull together. And what we create is beautiful. Do all my friendships work this way? Nah. But my closest ones do. I haven’t always been great at friendship, but when I look at what I have right now and how we’re doing it, I’m so insanely proud and blessed.

Let’s spend less time apologizing for what we don’t do well and more time celebrating what we and those around us are doing well. We’ll have more space to do what we’re awesome at. We need that in each other. We need what you’re good at. Believe me, we do.

A Thrill of Hope

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Most years I’m all about Christmas. By October. However, something was different this year. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But this was not most years.

You can chalk it up to the weather or feelings or whatever you like, but this year I needed to have patience in waiting for Christmas to sort of come to me instead of me rushing into it. I love everything about the season – the giving, the reflecting, the coming together of people. But this year, I couldn’t seem to find it in the same way I usually did.

I was thinking early one morning about the prophecies of the long awaited Savior – how an entire nation waited for what seemed like endless years for a King to come and make everything in the world okay again.

And then a baby was born – in the most unexpected  place and in the most unexpected way. His arrival was so unlike what they’d imagined it would be that so many of them missed it.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this season, it’s that sometimes we have to wait for what we’ve been promised. And that those promises might not look at all how we thought they would.

Normally I find Christmas in the lights and the gifts and the excitement and the parties and the Christmas plays… but my season hasn’t had most of those elements and I was scared I was missing it. The days of December we flying by.

But this year, instead of investing too much  in creating a feeling, I’ve been quieting my soul and reflecting on one simple phrase:

“A thrill of hope.”

You see, the Savior of the world didn’t come in a rush of lights – with drum rolls and confetti and excitement to take your breath away. Instead, he came on a quiet, cold night, to a world that didn’t have any room for him. And with that coming, brought with Him the greatest of all hopes.

We don’t always need something big and powerful to give us hope and stir our hearts. We often need the quiet, the peace, the fulfillment of a long-awaited promise – something that grows slowly, that teaches us and lives among us for a while until we finally begin to understand it, recognize it, and trust it. That is how hope comes.

And even in its quietest way, when hope comes, it is always thrilling.

Let your hearts be thrilled and full of light. A Savior has been born.

Anxiety and Doing the Thing That Scares

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A few days ago, I was supposed to be prepping for a big event in my life as an artist and writer. I was participating in our city’s art festival with my art as well as doing a book signing. I was so looking forward to this event, feeling honored to have been asked by a local shop owner. It was everything I’ve always wanted to do.

Half an hour before I was supposed to be leaving for the event, I found myself curled up on my bed, in my husband’s sweatshirt, feeling so anxious and unable to move. Anxiety has been a part of my adult life – it’s one of those things I thought would get better with time, but instead it’s gotten worse, no matter how many things I do to try to prove it wrong.

And that’s the thing about anxiety, it doesn’t listen to reason.

There’s this odd paradox that happens with events. I know that once I get there, I can be cheerful and artistic and answer everyone’s questions and accept their compliments about how far my work has come and how important it is. But before hand, I often struggle so much. And sometimes it’s hard to connect the two states of “me” – the curled up sweatshirt one and the one I can somehow muster up when I go out and do things.

I reached out to one of my best friends, just to have someone know how I was feeling, so I didn’t feel so alone.

I told my friend that I often feel so dangerously close to not following through on anything in my life. They are just hours in the day – what if I just stayed in my bed, let the festival pass me by, and go onto the next day? I would have avoided a lot of work and nervousness. But what she said in reply has stuck with me in the days following,

“Yes, but wondering what would have happened if you just went and did it will haunt you – you’ll always wonder what could have been if you went.”

I’ve come to believe that you really should do the things that scare you. Missing opportunities is so easy to do. But that’s letting anxiety have the driver’s seat. I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week and he was talking about how we can let anxiety in the car but only let it ride in the back seat (because, let’s face it, for some of us it’s riding along whether we like it or not). We don’t need to let anxiety in the driver’s seat. That imagery has been such a great help to me.

When I start feeling anxious, it’s easy to feel anxious about feeling anxious. The anticipation of an anxiety attack is sometimes just as or more damaging as the attack itself. Like one of my counselors once said, “When you realize anxiety has walked into the room, recognize it and welcome it, but don’t give it lots of attention.”

I’ve done so many things over the last few years that have scared me. I was looking back at photos from our move two years ago, halfway across the country. It was one of the best things we’ve ever done – and it was terrying. And every event that I got off my bed for, put on real clothes for, and showed up for, those are some of my best memories and where I’ve met some of the best people.

Let’s do more of the things that scare us. Let’s accept it if anxiety is in the car with us, but not give it the steering wheel or even let it ride shotgun. And let’s not be afraid to talk about it. I find a lot of comfort in knowing now that someone knows I get scared before I do things in public. I have my own “backstage” meltdowns and hours where I feel crippled by fear and like I might not actually get up and do it this time… but that’s what makes it so great when we actually do get up and do those things – because we fought so hard to get there.

For those of you who get what I’m saying, keep fighting. Keep getting up and doing those things. We need your work and your influence on our world, however great or small. We need what you’re offering. We need you to get off your bed eventually and come on out and show us what you’ve got. We’re waiting.

Yours,

Sheri

Dear Ellie: Behind the book

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Let’s talk about Dear Ellie.
This week I spontaneously launched my first book. I say spontaneous, but really I’ve been working on it for 18 months. For 6 of those months I didn’t even know I was working on it, I was simply creating. I first self-published it through a company called Blurb and then realized that, despite their beautiful user-friendly software, their wholesale costs were just too high. It took me many months to find a new publisher and to learn that software. I landed on Createspace. Which was cheaper, but not at all user friendly. I poured hours into the program and editing process. My friend Karen helped me proofread. There were so many details my head spun so badly. There’s the nitty gritty details. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

Back to the beauty. Where did it even come from?

Well in the spring of 2016, right after our family relocated to the East, I did the sensible thing anyone does after moving across the country and I enrolled in a writer’s workshop. One of the sessions required me to write an article or blog of some sort with at specific reader in mind. Mine came out in the style of a letter. I still don’t know where the idea came from, it was just there inside of me.

Over the next couple months I kept writing letters. I wrote letters whenever I felt sad or confused or overwhelmed. They helped me process all the change, pain, and heartbreak from situations I’d walked through in the recent months and years. I sent them to people who were struggling with the same things. I read them back to myself when I needed reminded of the truth in them. At the same time, I bought my camera and found a lot of healing in capturing nature and exploring that realm of creativity.

And so the project was born.

One day, I had the idea of combining the letters with photographs that had a similar feel and putting them in a small, bedside-type book. I wanted it to be a book that I could read when I was feeling sad or confused or trying to remember what I told myself the last time I’d felt that way. I passed the idea on to a few friends, and they wanted the book, too. I printed a handful and passed them out. And that’s where the project stopped for a good six months.

And then, suddenly, it grew wings again.

I was in a meeting with a local shop about partnering with them with some of my art. I wasn’t planning on saying anything about my book but somehow I blurted it out part way through the meeting. The owner pulled up the preview online, fell in love with it, and asked me to be a featured author and sign books at their upcoming writer’s night. My jaw nearly hit the floor. I scrambled and got ready for the event.

The response overwhelmed me.

I watched strangers pick up my book and leaf through it, tears spilling down their faces in the middle of the shop. I listened as they read aloud their favorite parts, and I heard it like they heard it – hearing it for the first time. For logistical reasons, I knew I needed to republish it under a cheaper wholesale price, but for that night, I simply soaked it all in.

Since then, I’ve had others asked to do events featuring the book and still others asking for it to be more readily available. I launched it onto Amazon and suddenly it was out in the world… not without a little fear and trembling.

It is just. so. raw.

This book saved me on some of my darkest days. These letters were written from my soul to my soul on days when I had more questions than answers and I was searching for comfort from the pain I was feeling so deeply. Writing the letters was a way to get passed the pretense of trying to write for an audience and say things just the right way. I wrote them to myself, to a younger me, to a friend, to anyone who would hear them. I wrote them because I needed to hear the words. And now it’s out there, for others to hear…

Dear Ellie hasn’t been without it’s critiques.

As with any work of art, not everyone will understand it. This book was written from a very specific, fragile, inspired season of my life and it reflects just that. It isn’t where I am now but the words are still so beautiful to me. I hope they find the people who need to hear them, whatever season they are in.

I know it isn’t everyone’s flavor. And that’s okay.

I felt really apologetic about it for a long time and that kept me from publishing it fully over the last several months. It seemed too dramatic. Too undefined. Too something… To some, it isn’t spiritual at all. To others, it is completely spiritual. Not being about to tell the difference is probably the thing that frustrates some readers the most. And that is okay, too. I struggled with my faith so much over that time, and you’ll see that in the book. I didn’t stop believing in God. I still believed he was there with me, that he was the only thing keeping me alive. When I speak of the strength inside myself, much of that strength is Him, or placed there by Him, I just wasn’t always sure what to call it right then. Everything about religion was on the rocks for me. I’m still working out what I believe about humanity and being made in God’s image and all of that, but I think you’ll find that this book is full of hope and light and strength in the midst of the struggle – the greater things placed inside us that we cannot create on our own.

I’ve gained a lot of patience for my journey and grace for my seasons. Creators create from the place where they are at. I could never write this book again if I tried. It certainly reflects this time in my life. I hope you read it with grace and patience as well. I hope you find understanding and comfort in knowing that others have walked these trails and are walking them with you. I hope you feel the warm embrace of the words that are meant to bring healing.

I hope you see Ellie for who she is. I hope you welcome her well.

Permission to be Silent

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It has been a while since I’ve written. Again. I could say a lot about life right now… but the truth is, I’ve fallen silent intentionally. Because, in some seasons, I think our souls need that.

A lot of my talents tend to be public ones. I lead things, I write things, I start things, I coach things… And while I get so much life from that, I often need to remind myself that pulling away for a bit is okay, too.

Not long ago, I was approached to take on a position that I normally would have jumped at – something that I really would have loved to do. “Love” doesn’t even seem like a strong enough word. This was a chance to once again do my thing in life – the thing I wish I could do forever and hadn’t done for quite a long time. I was craving it.

And I still said, “no”.

I had some reasons like the schedule, like I wasn’t ready, like I had too much on my plate already. But the best and most honest reason I could give myself and others is simply this: some seasons just aren’t meant for the stage. And some seasons aren’t meant for the page, either.

Not for the stage, not for the page – the phrase echoes in my head like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. There are times when the thing that brings us the greatest life is just that simple, “no”.

I’ve been in a season of searching and continued healing. Sometimes the pain of things I’ve gone through still overwhelms me. I want to say something to all of you to bring encouragement, light, humor… but words have been failing me. I keep trying to find clarity, but I guess most things are clearer in retrospect and not so much when you’re in the thick of them.

So right now all I have is this: You have permission to be silent.

You don’t have to always figure it out. You don’t have to explain where you are at all the time and why you are feeling what you are feeling. Some things don’t have words or explanations. Some pain just comes out in groans. Some questions echo across the void and no answer comes back – yet…. or ever. And some things we just need to search out on our own.

I’ve become less and less terrified of silence. I’ve felt less need to fill it with noise and chaos. Instead of feeling empty and frightening, silence now brings me comfort and peace. I don’t feel the need to constantly explain myself or reach big conclusions or come up with answers for other people. Because their pain, too, doesn’t always have words. So sometimes I listen in silence, just to listen.

I don’t think we have to have it all together to be writers, speakers, leaders, friends, parents, etc. But I believe more and more that some seasons are meant to be private ones – off the stage, off the page – as we search out the deeper things inside of us, finding clarity and regaining peace.

We need to take seasons to just be ourselves and to learn what that looks like as we go through life and change along the way.

So I’ve taken this time, once again, to learn more about myself. I’ve done a lot of reading, poured time into my little family, worked on things that are important to me, and spent time with close friends and family. I’ve felt the need to narrow my field of vision to the things that matter most while I search out some of the questions rising from deep within me.

Thank you for your patience. And if any of this resonates with you, take some time for yourself, whatever that looks like in your life. You won’t be sorry. Here’s your permission.

Why We Need Your Story

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Something I really love about life as a human is our ability to tell stories – specifically our own stories. And one of the things that makes me saddest as a human is when our stories are left untold. And since you’ve joined me through many different seasons, I’ll let you in on the one I’m in now.

I’m in a pretty settled season at the moment. Not a slow season by any means, but it feels like life has settled into routine – what I do for work, how I spend my free time, where I live, who I’m close with, my faith, my marriage, my children, my life… the calm after the storm. I’m so thankful for this season and the breath that comes with it. I’m still very busy with all the life things, but it doesn’t feel chaotic and painful like some seasons.

I find myself feeling almost apologetic about that.

I’ve been apologetic about my story many times in my life, for various reasons. I don’t think I’m alone in this. So today, I want to talk about why we hold back and why we need to find ways to put a voice to every season.

One of the obvious reasons we retain our stories is because we think they’re just too messy. We are pretty sure we’re the only ones that could have messed up these ways or have had these things happen to us. But for every story that I’ve finally let tumble out of my mouth as I fumble for right the words, putting sound to the darkness, I’ve found dozens of others who can say, “Me too. I’ve walked that trail, too”. The more I talk about it, the more I realize that I’m not alone, and the more I realize I’m not alone, the more community forms around me to help keep me on track.

When we’re willing to share the ugly pieces of our stories, we open up the opportunity to reach out and have others reach back to us.

Another reason we hold onto our stories is because we feel like they’re just too simple – too boring, too plain. For every thing I’ve done and every mistake I’ve made, there are heaps of things I haven’t done or haven’t been done to me. And when life hits a more settled season, a season where I reap the harvest of the difficult seasons that I’ve fought through, I struggle to be honest about the good times. I don’t want to discourage other people and I don’t know how long the season will last, so I don’t often speak about it.

Can you relate?

The danger now is that we’ve become apologetic about our testimony – the times when we can speak of redemption. Maybe we feel like we teeter on the edge of a cliff, hung in a fine balance, and admitting that things are going well might push us over. Or maybe we’re afraid that we’ll make others feel discouraged and that our joy or excitement will come across in negative ways. We do need to be sensitive to the pain of others when we are sharing our redemption stories, but we still need to speak of our progress.

We still need those stories.

I have walked some really dark trails in my life. If you buy me a cup of coffee some day, I’ll tell you more about it. Some days it helped to have people in my life walking similarly dark trails. But I definitely found surpassing value in the stories of those who had made it through – the stories of triumph and victory, the stories where light finally overcame the darkness, the stories of potential peace and joy that is to be found. I needed those stories. In my darkest days, those stories landed on my soul like water on the desert sand. They gave me hope that I’d eventually find a way out of my own pit. If there was grace to pull them out, surely there would be grace for me, too.

Have you walked dark trails and came to a place of peace? We need to hear those stories. There are masses of us out here hoping that there’s hope for us – hoping that there’s something more. We should never feel apologetic for our pain or our progress. All of our stories have a place. They all deserve to be put into words. Find your words. Speak them with kindness. Be brave.