humility, hiddenness and (hopefully) holiness: a brief 2016 recap

A year ago, I had big plans for this little blog. I’d finally created some space to tell my story and share my heart. But as you can see, not a whole lot of that has happened in my corner of the internet since then. I think that’s because in the last year, the words I would’ve used to talk about my life don’t fit the script anymore.

For a girl who’s defined herself by her work for 24 years – 2016 threw a few really sick twists in the plot I’d planned out. In true millennial fashion I’ve always summed myself up by the jobs I do and the things I produce. But this year has brought me low. It took me to a place where I could no longer find my worth in my work or my lifestyle or my community. Suddenly, I couldn’t meet my own standards of success or worth or happiness. I faced failure and heartbreak and change that I just didn’t have the words for.

And I think it might have started with the prayers I was praying in the summer and fall of 2015, months before all of this happened. From the relative safety of Danielle’s floral print couch on the top floor of our Baltimore apartment, I’d look down over the corner of Eutaw and North Avenue. With coffee and journal in hand, I’d sit and ask God to 1) make me brave and 2) take down all the roadblocks that were holding me back from relying on him.

Take it from me: don’t pray those kinds of prayers unless you’re ready to get rocked. Don’t pray them just because you think they sound good and holy – especially if you’re wholly unprepared for the painful work that comes with the answer. Don’t pray them unless you’re ready to come down to the ground – hard – and take a long honest look at yourself, apart from the things you hide behind for status and security.

Those prayers I had prayed from that flowery couch marked the start of my unraveling: next thing I knew, I woke up in a drowsy Florida town with one box and one suitcase. The people who really knew me – for better or for worse – were 1000 miles away. I spent the next four months as a couchsurfer who rode an old bike around town trying desperately to find my way to Publix. Then, I quit the job that took me cross-country in the first place – and I left it without a backup plan. That’s when I remembered what a colleague had said to me when I was 22 and, in my mind at that time, on top of the world: “Corie, if this is where you are right out of college, I can only imagine where you’ll be when you’re 25.”

Today, a few weeks out from my birthday, you’ll find me making coffee and cleaning bathrooms and restocking cups. I don’t think this is what either of us had in mind – and on my good days, I think that’s ok.

In the words of Parker Palmer, a new kind of humility has started to take root in my humiliation. The past year brought me “down to the ground on which it is safe to stand and fall.” And now, I can move toward a sense of self that’s not built upon what I do – but the woman I was created to be.

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living hidden and holy

The same week I started working at Starbucks, I started reading Jesus: A Pilgrimage by one of my favorite Jesuits, Father James Martin. With another priest, he journeyed across Israel and Palestine to visit the places where Jesus lived and worked. But when they came to Nazareth – I was amazed by what Fr. Martin pointed out: the king of the universe didn’t choose to live in the power of Rome, the influence of Jerusalem or the cultural crossroads of Sepphoris. Along with maybe a thousand other farmers and craftsmen, Jesus specifically chose to make his home in the most insignificant place you can think of: Nazareth (really, can anything good ever come from there?). And between the ages of 12 and 30, the scriptures don’t tell us anything about his life in this little village. All that we really know is that during the ‘prime’ of his life, Jesus was flying under the radar.

In Nazareth, he wasn’t performing miracles. He was probably sanding beams and crafting tables. He wasn’t preaching to crowds of thousands. He was sitting and eating with his tight knit community – the kind that probably grew deeper and truer as they lived through seasons of plenty and drought. In those hidden years, Jesus wasn’t spending his time striving for approval, ascension or acceptance: he was faithfully, humanly going about his Father’s business.

And in that chapter called Nazareth, Fr. Martin asks a really wonderful question: “was Jesus any less the son of God when he was doing ordinary things? The life of Nazareth can be followed by ordinary people on their path to holiness.”

Right after I read this, I was relieved. I skipped off to my shift; suddenly a bit more thrilled that I could still be going about my Father’s business while I cleaned floors and brewed iced tea. But the practical follow-through of Christlike living is never really as simple or romantic as I think it’s going to be.

I’m two months into this “hidden life” and I’m definitely more than halfway to a quarter-life crisis. These days haven’t looked very holy. They’ve sounded sort of weepy – and they’ve tasted a little bit bitter. As I sit in the relative stillness of shift work, the scariest of the feelings and thoughts I’ve been running from for months slowly steam up to the surface.

  • Who am I if I am not doing something the world (or myself) deems impressive?
  • What does it say about me that I went from my dream job to a drive through in just over a year?
  • What am I good for if all I produce in a day is a few gallons of coffee?

But every day, as I bend low to sweep up espresso grounds or brew another batch of dark roast, I learn a little bit more about God Immanuel. He’s still with me and within me in the hidden, humble, day to day drudgery – and he understands it because he’s lived it. He’s still willing to claim me as his own even if I’m never seen or known for my work outside of my coffeeshop. Jesus’ life in Nazareth makes me remember that my life is made up of seasons of action, change, rest and simplicity.

settling into the rhythms of grace

These days I’m not definitely not ascending any ladders (and part of me still thinks I should be) but God is calling my heart to freefall into the rhythms of grace: rhythms that are less like the 9 to 5 and more like eight minute cycles of making whipped creams, bussing counters and grinding coffee beans. Instead of pulling my hair out to meet deadlines that never really mattered, these rhythms let me nestle between stacks of red cups in the back room, reading books on my 10-minute breaks. They let me slow down enough to watch the streaky pink sunrise through a drive through window.

For me, this is grace. This is everyday evidence that God’s love for me is absolutely no less than it was before, even though I feel like I am doing less than ever before to earn his love.

And sometimes, when I feel that old longing for the hustle and grind that let me try to prove (to people whose opinions don’t matter) just how great and hardworking I am, Jesus whispers, “but doesn’t it sound even greater to step out of their game and just sit with me?”

My heart sighs. Yes…it does.

In case you’re curious – I have no idea what I’m doing right now. But I know that God has to be up to something. I know for sure that my heart – the part of me that’s closest to God himself – has been calling (and calling, and calling…) me to cease striving and come and rest.

To stop ignoring my heart with all of its longings.

To take on the easier, lighter yoke.

lost & beloved: life in the wilderness

I was 19 years old when I decided to read through the Bible, cover to cover.

I’d heard stories about the God on those tissue-paper thin pages my whole life – but then, I was ready to meet him for myself.

So every morning I’d wake up, make my way to the coffee pot, and page through the Old Testament in my tiny dorm room kitchen. At first, I wasn’t too stoked on the idea: I was expecting a 1,000 item rule list or back to back tales of nations at war. So I was pretty surprised to find myself staying up late into the night, devouring what turned out to be an epic love story.

With bleary eyes and bed head, I camped out in the wilderness of those ancient books for weeks. It didn’t take long for patterns to form and themes to emerge:

When God’s people turned their backs on him and deliberately disobeyed, he ran towards them in love. And every time it happened, he’d run further and faster.

When they worshipped other gods, their God gifted them with a new, better way to live.

When they were lost and homeless and hungry in the wilderness, he made them into a nation. Even in the middle of a desert, they built altars, made sacrifices and reveled in his faithfulness.

At 19 (and 23), I needed to see a God like this: wild with mercy and recklessly grace-filled. I couldn’t understand it (they just keep messing up and he just keeps taking them back?) – and I couldn’t stop craving it. I remember walking back to my dorm one afternoon during that year long journey into the Scriptures, lighter on my feet than I had been in so long, and I thought, “Oh no. I think I’m turning into one of those people who’s obsessed with Jesus.”

And it was trueI caught a glimpse of him in the same God who led his people out of captivity, called them his very own, and loved, loved, loved them. I couldn’t get enough.

And as I read further into the wilderness with them, I caught a glimpse of myself, too. I connected with those really lost, deeply beloved people. And I guess they’re sort of family now.

What is it?

During one chapter in the story – in Exodus if you want to dig in – the people of Israel find themselves in limbo: they’re out of the chains of slavery, out of the clutches of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and they’re waiting to enter into a land God has set aside just for them – the Promised Land. It would be beautiful – filled every good thing they’d need to flourish.

But until they reach it, they’re all sweating it out in the wilderness – a barren desert on the far side of the Red Sea. They’re lost. They’ve only got what they’ve carried with them as they fled by night out of Egypt.

This part of the tale gets pretty bleak. But really, they didn’t need much more than what they had on their backs.

When they got hungry, God rained down bread from heaven every day. They called it manna – which, in Hebrew, literally means “what is it?” This mysterious meal is what kept them alive. They’d never tasted before, but it sustained them for the journey.

They feasted on the unknown provision that God was happy to pour out for them in perfect measure to their need – right in the moment they needed. When they ran out at the end of the day, they had to trust that God would show up and do the same thing again tomorrow.

This is what it meant to be both lost and beloved:

Not certain of what was ahead, not quite sure about how their needs would be met tomorrow, but surrendered to the certainty of God’s faithfulness and compassion.

And that’s where I find myself in their story now.

In my move to Florida (not to mention my month long pit-stop in Indonesia & California) I’ve left behind everything that was dear and familiar and comfortable. But God has been parting seas for me and guiding me with pillars of light.  It feels like I’ve lost my sense of home – sometimes even my sense of self. But he’s been giving me the basics to survive literally day-by-day.

But can I be honest with you? Not a single day of this wild freefall into deeper trust has been easy or pretty. I’ve doubted that God would show up when I needed him to. I doubted that his grace was enough for all of my shit. I’ve never felt more lost in a new city. I’ve never felt more uncertain of myself or what I’m doing with my life.

But even in my lostness, all of heaven and earth have conspired to shout at me that I AM BELOVED by God. 

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Beyond belief. Beyond imagination. So far beyond what I deserve.

And because I am so deeply loved – I know that there’s an end to the wilderness (but I can see that the stars are brighter out here). And I know this desert is not my home: there’s an end in sight and a good God leading me to it.

In the middle of my wandering, I’m finding little gifts of love that God has left along my way. But I had to open my eyes to see them. And every day, I’m looking up and remembering his faithfulness. I’m opening my hands to receive his daily bread – and I’m going to eat the mystery.

 

monique

“There are books in you,” she told me.

This was how she broke the silence as she swept the tile floor.

Then her broom stopped. We stood across from one another in the second-floor kitchen. I’d just met her five minutes earlier and now she was staring me down.

The room was bright white; sun gleamed off the now-clean stovetop. Over her shoulder, I could see palm trees and a neon Burger King sign glowing through the window.
“Yes, in the name of Jesus. Best sellers. There are books of words in you that you’ve been too scared to write down,” she said. I stopped typing.

What she couldn’t have possibly known is that for the past 15 months, I’ve made my living as a writer. I pay the rent by putting words on the page for other people. It’s why I sat in that kitchen – and it’s why I’m sitting in this coffee shop now, a thousand miles from home.

Since graduation, I’ve fed and clothed myself and others by telling stories that aren’t my own.

“Look in my eyes,” she said. She was talking to me like my grandmother does. “I don’t know you. But I know you’re a writer. I know you have been listening to lies. And you can’t do that any more.”

I had to force myself to look at her. She went on. “Satan’s spoken to you so loudly and for so long you can’t even hear the Truth anymore.”

We’d never met a day in our lives but in that kitchen she saw me.

Somehow she overheard the lies that were taking up space in my heart and taking the fight out of me: you’ve got nothing good to say; you have nothing of value to offer; your voice would be nothing except white noise, adding to the din.

But by the time she crossed the kitchen tiles to pray truth over me, it was the third time that week Jesus had whispered it into my heart. I already knew what he wanted me to hear:

You want to write a beautiful prayer?

Daughter, don’t wait any longer to tell your story. Pour your words out like oil on my feet. I know it feels like a risk to give me your gift but please know it is so precious to me. Your words can be your unconventional offering – poured out undignified and unashamed even in front of people who might mock the way you praise me.

You bear my image: you were created to create. My power is made perfect in your weakness. It’s no mistake that I chose to display my glory in the midst of your fragility. And when I set you on fire – there will be no doubt about who made you burn.

Write down the truth. I’ve written it on your heart for a reason. 

Putting words on my white blank page

I’m not holding out any longer for “the perfect moments.”

This afternoon on the subway platform I finally realized that really and truly – there is no such thing.

Hannah Brencher is right.

If I kept waiting for the perfect time to start writing, I’d be sitting here forever with a book’s worth of unpublished words on crumpled up, ink blotted pages. I’d never start if I waited until inspiration struck – or until I found just the right words; ones that were worthy of the ideas in my head. So here they are. My words aren’t perfect, but I don’t need to wait any longer to show them to you.

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And Penelope is right too.

I’d be waiting forever if I waited for the perfect moment to uproot my entire life. So here I am, the night before I take my one-way ticket and my overweight suitcase down to the airport. I have no escape plan. No map or compass to determine what comes next.

If I waited until it was convenient to move to south Florida – to quit my job, introduce myself as a freelancer, step off of these dirty sidewalks and take my shadow with me – I might be in Baltimore forever. And I might be jumping to conclusions here, but I’m the kind of person that could live and die without risking a single thing.

I’ve been plotting and orchestrating and arranging the“perfect moments”– the easy clear-cut paths – and in the process, I’ve been taming my own heart. As I’ve fought for control I’ve forced my mind into overdrive. And I haven’t lived in the freedom that’s so readily available to me since.

So tonight I’m hitting publish. I’m handing over my house keys. I’m zipping up the suitcase. And with these little acts of surrender – I put control back into the hands of the God who sees me. I rediscover my brave heart and my fierce will. I am Corie again.

I’m daring to hope that relief is just beyond the risk. I think peace can be found in the most unlikely of places. I think that quiet Florida afternoon – floating on my back in the clear blue ocean – was just a taste of the calm that I could be feasting on.

This is why I am done hoping for the perfect moment. I’ve reached a point where just the chance to change is enough. And if I wait here – I might be staring through the bars on my window on this Baltimore street for the rest of my life, with my cursor blinking on the white, blank page.

Thanks for joining me on this journey to find my voice. If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’ve cheered me on to this point – and I am grateful to have each of you alongside me!