A Snow Day Sort of Prayer

Because it’s blizzardy here in Colorado today…

May you know the white fall of forgiveness
settling quietly onto the branches of your soul
made bare by hurt and betrayal.
May you be blanketed by a hush so deep
that every doubt about your belovedness
holds quiet in the holy silence.
May you experience a covering of grace
that kisses your nose, your cheeks,
your face up-turned with hope with the kind
of crystalline love that melts into Living
Water, heated by the fierce strength of
the Spirit within.
May you laugh with delight,
painted pure by the sacrificial fall,
lamb’s wool cast down, cast down,
cast down for us all.

Nesting & Saying No

So, a few weeks ago I shared some exciting news with you. And it’s still exciting news—the agent, the writing, the long-held dreams coming to fruition, it’s all happening.



After that post a number of interesting things happened.

First, I turned my heart slowly and gently toward what God might have for me in 2014. It’s been nearly eight years now that I’ve spent time in prayer and solitude before Jesus either in December or at the turn of the new year, asking for a word, phrase, Scripture or image to guide the year. It’s not a way of limiting God, but instead asking for His way of approaching my days, asking Him for the things to be looking for, places to look and the kingdom themes to be attending to. It’s not a formula, but like anything, it can become one, a ritualistic way of summoning God to speak the way we want Him to speak. I’m aware of that temptation, and hesitate to prescribe it to others. If it draws you closer to Christ, go for it. If you find it artifical, or you find yourself straining to do it “right”, let it go. (Which is, incidentally, my advice for any spiritual discipline ever suggested to you, from fasting to observing the Church calendar to praying in tongues to missions.)

This year, as soon my heart posture turned toward God’s word for me in 2014 it appeared. Present, insistent, personal and near, there wasn’t any doubt about what the Father’s desire was for me.



At first, I didn’t like it. This is usually an indication that this is, in fact, my word. I’m a stubborn one, for sure. But both the word and actual physical nests kept showing up in the next few days and weeks, confirming and affirming what I’d heard. There were pillows, pins, and nests in bare trees. I’d even forgotten about a nest that fell out of a tree in our front yard a few years ago, that ended up on a side table in our living area.

I got very sick over Christmas, at a time when my husband and I had returned back to native land, the family “nest.”

And then a spiritual mentor of mine articulated the essence of what this word means for me this year, as both verb and noun:

creating space for the sacred

to come forth and be nurtured

That is my hope and my heart for this year, in so many ways. It’s what my spiritual direction practice is, it’s what I want to do as a writer and a speaker (more about that in a little bit). I don’t want to be put up on a pedestal, I don’t want to be the one in the spotlight. My heart is to create space for the sacred to come forth in the hearts and lives of those around me, as well as in my own life.

When I explain my spiritual direction practice to others, when I sit with a new directee and talk about what guides me as a director, I often use the term midwife to the soul. This is what I believe I’m called to do, to come alongside others as God in Christ births new life in them. My assumption is that whoever walks into my office is pregnant with new life in Christ. They may not know it, but God is intent on bringing forth the sacred in and through them. My job isn’t to grow that life, or to make that life happen, nor is my job to labor for that person (male or female). My role is to be alongside, to hold, listen, comfort, exhort. I create space for questions and struggles, for dialogue with the Holy, for healing, and, always, the cherishing of the new life that has come forth. And the cycle continues, as it always does, God birthing new things, multiple things, through His beloved again and again, because each man and woman is meant to bring forth the image of God that is theirs alone to bear into the world.

So, nest, it seems, makes sense.

Even as a few of my directees celebrated the news with me, they asked quiet, anxious questions about whether or not I’d still be practicing direction, whether or not there was still room for them.

Of course, and always, I said. Of course.

I am a writer, yes. 2013 was a year of recovering my creative rhythms and practicing, of finding my voice again in so many ways. But that was all grounded in my calling and work as a spiritual director, all springing forth out of this ground of intimacy with Christ and the holy work of tending souls.

If I ever forget that, I told my companions, I will know that it’s time to stop writing, stop speaking, because the writing and speaking will have become about me, about my goals, about my popularity.

And just as quick as that, God asked me to put my words into practice. With a revision deadline on the book looming and an eCourse on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in full swing, the holiday sickness laid me low. In the midst of this, I got an email asking me to get slides in for the speaking engagement I’d agreed to, something I was excited and terrified about, something I’d clearly felt God ask me to say ‘yes’ to, even in the face of my quiet, contemplative nature.

Now, I knew, He was asking me to say ‘no.’

No, because to force myself forward was to commit soul violence. To force myself forward, even into doing something good, something I wanted to do, was to place platform over wholeness, notoriety over healing, being known over being present.

And you know what? It was hard saying no.

I could tell you I’m a Four on the Enneagram, and I struggle deeply with envy and the fear of missing out, and that’s true. Or I could tell you that I grew up in a performance culture, needing to be the smart one, the good one, the strong one, in order to be loved. Those things are true, sure.

But the truest thing is it’s hard to lay down your life, to create space, to welcome emptiness when we’re not guaranteed either control of the process or the results that we desire.

It was hard saying no to Christianity21, but it was the right choice. I didn’t feel it at the time, which is the way of things in the Kingdom, I think. I only felt it after I’d taken the risk, let go of control, chosen for love over my own life. I knew because of the peace I felt, the wholeness, the shalom in making the decision. I knew because it released me into a little more freedom, a little more life, and stripped me just that much more of the need to be known and seen. And I knew, later, because of the way God’s timing confirmed things, because of things that happened, stories that came forth, the sacred that was nurtured, because I was able to create space.


So what about you, beloved? Do you have a word for 2014? Or have you been asked to say ‘no’ to something that would have been so much easier to say ‘yes’ to?

(Oh, and if you’d like to read about powerful post on saying no and staying rooted, hop on over to Jen Hatmaker’s place here.)

An Advent Announcement

I’m so excited to share this great early Christmas present I got in the mail early last week:

2013-12-08 16.31.57

I know, I know, you can’t really tell, right? I’m just holding a piece of paper in front of a Christmas tree (whose name is Tilly, by the way.)

Well, that piece of paper is the contract I signed with my new and amazing agent, Rachelle Gardner!

I’m humbled to be able to work with Rachelle, who represents a few people you might already know.

I’m really thrilled to be partnering with such a talented, thoughtful and like-spirited agent. As I finish up edits on my current project (which has a title! that I’m not going to tell you yet!), Rachelle and I are planning and dreaming and thinking about what’s coming next in the writing world for me and for Anam Cara.

In that light, I wanted to let you know about a few upcoming events in the Anam Cara world that you might be interested in:

Coming Home to the Body: A Woman’s Journey toward Contemplative Embodiment: I’m thrilled to be partnering with Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts in teaching in her online retreat, Coming Home to the Body. There’s a huge lineup of amazing teachers, and I think this is a topic we in the body of Christ desperately need to address more fully and more regularly. This will be a wonderful journey starting January 1, and what a better time to be kind to and aware of your body, when the New Year’s resolution shame-machine is ramping up to a frenzied pitch. I love how Christine describe this time: “This program is rooted in the conviction that our bodies offer us the deepest wisdom, wisdom that can guide us through the river of life. The more we deepen into the body’s wisdom the more we will find greater freedom, joy, nourishment, rest, and empowerment for exquisite self-care.  This is the dancing monk’s practice.  This is the journey into the “last unexplored wilderness.””

Christianity21: Also in January, I’ll be giving a seven-minute talk at Christianity21 in Denver (Jan 9.-11). This is going to be my first time on a big stage doing a TED-like talk, so please come out and cheer me on. That, plus the event is packed with amazing speakers, including the incomparable Phyllis Tickle. (This is a GREAT. BIG. DEAL., so please be praying even if you can’t attend.)

Book Giveaway: Finally, if you missed it, the winners from last week’s guest post and book giveaway are posted on the blog. If you get me your name and address, I’ll get you your book by Christmas.

Thanks for celebrating with me, friends! 2014 is going to be an exciting year.

Guest Post from John Blase + Book Giveaway

I’m so very honored to be hosting John Blase on the blog today. John is a sage and a mystic, a man with clay feet and a psalmist’s heart. His words got me through writing the first draft of the book (and I’m in edits now, which is why the blog has been so quiet.) More than anything, I love the way John loves, and the way he abides in God. Ever since the release of his newest book, Know When To Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood, I’ve wanted to introduce it (and him) to you, to give it away like candy. And because of his publisher’s generosity, I get to do just that. So, enough of my words, and more of John’s. (And you can scroll to the bottom if you want to know how to win a copy of his book, but to miss the soul spilled out in between would be a poverty.)


The Message of Christmas

They were a team, two speakers taking turns at commentary. They were squeezed in- between the sounds of the season as performed by a university choir and orchestra. The man used the phrase love demands, not once but several times in the courses of his brief homilies. The woman spoke variations on that theme, like Christ will not return as a baby but as a man. After all, how could a baby demand everything?

I am a man who pays attention to words. And at least in my mind the man and woman seemed to have determined beforehand with a handshake and a wink to focus on the word demand, and to weave it in the evening as many times as they could. To me they definitely seemed in cahoots. As their commentary continued I kept thinking does love demand? Is that the message of Christmas? I am also a man who pays attention to the audience. And the audience nodded and a few even moaned yes, yes at the spoken passages of demand. But just because a crowd does something is not any indication of its goodness or rightness, even at a Christmas concert. So I kept thinking does love demand? Is that what Christmas is all about?

On my better days I am even a man who pays attention to the weather. And as I drove home after the concert it began to slowly snow. And the question I’d been thinking about became as clear as I could see in the cold night. No, I’m very sorry all you cahooters, but love does not demand.


The falling whiteness does not demand.
It simply falls, scattered.
If you choose to marvel at its beauty, fine.
But if you’re too busy, say on a phone call
with someone convinced of their importance,
well, that’s fine too.

Love, like snow, does not demand.
It simply descends, offered.
If you choose to be amazed at its falling, fine.
But if you don’t, you’re not the first.
It will melt away until it comes giving
again in a future season.




John Blase is the author of Know When To Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood (Abingdon 2013). He is also a poet who practices the craft at www.thebeautifuldue.wordpress.com. He lives with his wife and three children in  colorful Colorado.




Book Giveaway

So, the rules are simple. I have six copies of the book to giveaway. (And if you’ve already read it, you know what a great Christmas gift it will make.) Comment on this blog post, and you’ll be entered to win. You can just say hi, or you could share a little about what these words meant to you, or what the meaning of Christmas really is, or whether or not you’re going to make your grandma’s pudding for Christmas day this year. Anything you like. Just share your words, and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll be drawing six random winners on Sunday, December 15 (Gaudete Sunday, good for joy and winning), and I’ll post their names here. I’ll also comment on your post to let you know that you’ve won, and you can send me your address via email. I’ll pop these beauties in the mail right away.

So, have at it.

Winners Announced!

Our giveaway winners are:

Josh Freeman
Billie Spiers
Jenny Wells

Please email me your full name and mailing address, and I’ll get these books to you by Christmas!

A Reminder I Need Myself

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ― Plato

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” ― Mark Twain

Like The Hypocrites

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. …”When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

During our Ash Wednesday service this morning, our community of dusty, stumbling penitents heard these words from Matthew 6. And I thought (and truly thought more than prayed), Lord, let me not be like the hypocrites.

As soon as I thought it, though, my knees wobbled. And I knew, as I know in this moment, as I knew last week, and I will know tomorrow: I’m not just like the hypocrites, I am one.

Here is where the dusty, marked and marred among us get real. I don’t know about you, but I feel a little self-righteous about the cross I wear today, Ash Wednesday. Even when I forget, rub my forehead, lose the feeling of the palms burned and given back to the very ones who claim to praise—even then some small part of me feels self-satisfied.

And, oh, how that humiliates and humbles me.

I am such a child of Earth. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return, said the priest, my friend, my bishop. I hear the words, receive them like life. They humble me and give me hope. They are bread for the day’s journey—the rare day that a gathering together doesn’t culminate in bread and wine, but in prayer and fasting. These words are food, but (oh I wish it weren’t true), by the time I’ve returned to my seat, I’m wondering how the cross I’m wearing looks. I’m positioning it not as a symbol of my sin, but as another form of fig leaf. Something to hide my weakness behind so that you won’t know how wounded, how broken, how off the mark I am so. very. often.

And that’s why I’m here. Confessing. Saying to you (yes, you), and my whole community of dusty travelers of the Way that I am a hypocrite humbled. I am wearing my weakness today, and this whole season in which Christ asks me to remember my need.

Today, it’s this ashy cross, this conflicted symbol that I hope in and hide behind. And today it’s also my weakness, my need for help, my need for repentance from all the self-sufficient arranging, impression-managing, impressing I try to do (and will try, I know, to do again).

You see, God’s asked me to give up contact lenses this Lent. I’ve thought about not telling anyone (When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting), just doing it without having to draw attention to what God’s up to in my life. But I’m realizing that the NOT telling is allowing me to stay secretly self-congratulatory. Because I’ve been asked to give up contact lenses for Lent precisely because I am a hypocrite. I despise my glasses, these inconvenient reminders of my weakness, my physical limitations, my broken ways of seeing. I hate the fact that just a glance over their rims brings life less clear, and I’m confronted once more by my lack of vision.

I hate they way they signal to everyone else that I need help.

And that’s what God’s after in me, this Lenten season. Because I’m precisely the one in need of the most help when I’m wearing those lenses day in and day out. You can’t see it then, but I’m hiding my needs, refusing to let others in, putting on a front of holy self-awareness.

Glasses, just like this today’s dark ash, remind me that I am daily hiding, from others and from God. That He’s calling me, not out of punishment or promised pain, to a deeper knowledge of my need. He’s calling me to humility, to an intimate knowledge of who I am—weakness and all—so that I can move beyond the hypocrisy into healing and wholeness. So that He can breathe life into this Earthen frame, if only I will let Him.

And so, here’s me (and the smudge of bread dough that’s calcified onto our kitchen wall because I forgot to clean it off). Me, my hypocritical cross, and my glasses. I’m showing up, taking off the fig leaf by putting on my specs.


And maybe I’ll see a little more clearly His love as a result.


I’ll also be taking up the Daily Office this year for Lent, a practice of intentional prayer. So how can I pray for you? What can I hold tenderly up to Jesus? Leave a comment and I will pray for you these 40 days of weakness and penitence. Will you pray for me? (And thanks, Sarah Bessey, for the inspiration.)

I Didn’t Make It Onto Any Lists This Year

nothereIt’s that season.

The season where bloggers, writers, thought-makers and all-around-incredible people give us all a peek into their brains, their libraries, their “must haves” of 2012. I feel a bit like a voyeur, I have to admit, but I’m also busily taking notes.

I really like this time of year. Whatever you feel about New Year’s resolutions, the seam between years is a liminal space, one that invites reflection, vision, hope. This week, I’m working on a new Rule of Life for 2013. I’m looking at my commitments and callings, and choosing to live proactively for those things.

I’m also choosing (to the best of my ability and with Jesus’s much-needed help) to take a hard look at where I’ve been fooling myself this year, what I’ve not been doing well, where I’ve been failing to live out values that are deeply important to me.

That’s hard, I’ve got to tell you. It’s hard not because I’m pretty good at telling you my obvious faults (I am) but because I’m pretty good at using those obvious faults to hide what’s really going on, the things I don’t even want to tell myself. I have a huge capacity for self-deception—we all do.

But I’m also being guided by a phrase I first heard as I was training to become a supervisor. Our professor described the process of supervision as “a long, loving look at the Real.”



Two things that I’d rather squirm away from. You see, I’d rather just take a quick glance at my life. Instead of letting the slow scrutiny of time, exploration and the Holy Spirit reveal some nooks and crannies that I haven’t been into in a while (or some that I didn’t even know existed), I’d rather breeze through, notice the disorganized piles in the corner, admire the new pictures on the wall and tch-tch-tch at the dust that seems to accumulate on the altar of my soul. Moving quickly through the rooms of my life lets me avoid seeing the things that I might only see if I really took that long look: a window frame that’s showing signs of stress, letting in cold air and seeping away my energy; the flow between the rooms that, if I’d look long and hard enough, could use some rearranging to make life a little easier to negotiate without bumping into corners all the time.

And, loving. Oh, do I like to look at myself critically. It’s so easy to do. I know at least some of my limitations, and it’s so much simpler to look at what’s wrong with my soul-space that what’s right. I have a trusted spiritual mentor who tells me repeatedly to STOP BEING MEAN TO TARA.

Being mean is so satisfying though, so useful. I can whip myself harder and beat myself up about the state of the few rooms that I know of—because those are things that I can control. It is so, so much safer to assume that I know what all of the rooms inside of me look like, instead of letting the God who dwells within me show me how vast the space really is. If I knew how big the mansion inside of me really was (or at least had more of an inkling than I do now), I’d have to stop being content playing it small, inviting Him into only parts of me, pretending that what I have to give is really just this little space that I’ve been living in for the past little while.

And, when I choose to love myself, to love what I see, I need to receive the grace that I so readily give. To sit under a loving gaze for a long time—my own loving gaze—is to really accept that I am the Beloved of God, that my needs matter, and that the performance imperatives that I step back into so quickly (I’m only valuable if…, When I get this type of recognition, I’ll know that I’m contributing to the world.).

And this is where I tell you that I didn’t make it onto anyone’s list of the most interesting writers or up-and-coming women to watch. This week, I’ll be revising my website to state that the book that I’m writing will probably come out in 2014—I’ve missed a major deadline along the way this year. I haven’t blogged like I’ve wanted to, I haven’t written, and I haven’t been out there finding, meeting or inspiring the kinds of people (all of them truly wonderful) who will be changing the world in 2013.

It’s as part of that long, loving look at the Real that I tell you that—because Jesus doesn’t care how many lists I made it onto. He isn’t impressed when I get a mention on Twitter, or share this blog post on Facebook. He isn’t waiting for me to change the world—He isn’t waiting for anything from me.


Instead, He’s waiting for me to recognize who I already am. He’s standing patiently, kindly with me until I stop scurrying through my life, and, when I do, He’s ready to show me what He sees about me.

I’ve done a little of that slowing down this week. Just a little. And there’s more to come. There are some beautiful things God has shown me about myself. Beautiful, sacred things that I’m going to ponder in my heart.

And He’s reminded me, again, that He’s here, in the midst of my messes, failures, and also-rans. That He’s using my desire to be recognized, molding and shaping it into something different, something redemptive. He’s showing me that I’m more than I think I am, inside and out, and that He has some pretty incredible places to explore with me in 2013.

So, I didn’t make it onto any lists this year. And, true confession, that still really irks me some. I can’t get away from that. But I can let it propel me beyond the perimeters of my soul, into the more that God has waiting for me.

And that’s a “Best Of” list that I can’t wait to read.

What about you? Do you rush through self-evaluation, just to keep things safe? Is there a way that you weren’t recognized in 2012 that stings? What do you think God has to say about that?


What Do Donuts Have To Do With Grace?

“Nicholas, if you don’t settle down back there, we’re not going to stop for donuts.”

Danielle eyed her son in the rear view mirror. His face mirrored back only defiance.

They were on the way home after a long day. There had been battles, spills and a refusal to get in the car. Nicholas knew the rules quite well, and this normally well-behaved boy was, for reasons unbeknownst to Danielle, deciding that today was the day that he’d pour out all the anger, angst and annoyance that it seemed he’d been storing up.

Nicholas started kicking the back of the driver’s seat, his face grim.

“I’m going to give to you the count of three to stop doing that, love,” said Danielle, as patiently as possible under the circumstances.



Kick, kick, kick.


Kick. Kick-kick-kick.


A pause. Danielle almost held her breath.

Kick, kick.

“Okay, buddy. You chose it. No donuts today.”

In the back, Nicholas was silent except for the rhythmic pounding of his little feet on the vinyl.

Danielle sighed.

• • •

Later, after they had stopped by the grocery store for a few items, Danielle found herself with Nicholas’s small hand tucked into hers, at the threshold of “their” donut shop. What the heck, she thought. He’s been pretty good since then. And why not?

She settled Nicholas at a table and went to pick out a few flavors. One for her, one for him. She could tell by his worried expression that he thought she was going to each a donut in front of her, so when she returned to the table with two donuts, she was surprised by his response.

“No,” he said, as she slid a plate bearing a full donut in front of him.

“No, no.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” said Danielle. “You can have it. Really.”

“No,” said Nicholas, his eyes brimming. “No, I was bad. I can’t have the donut.”

“But I said it was okay, buddy. You’re allowed to have it. It’s a freebie, alright?”

Nicholas’s bottom lip jutted out.

“No. I was bad. I can’t have it.”

Danielle decided that eating her donut might entice him to break and pick up his own, but Nicholas stayed stubborn.

“I was bad. I can’t have it,” he repeated to himself whenever he seemed to waver.

“Oh, buddy,” Danielle cajoled. “I want you to have it. It would make me happy if you took it. It’s really okay.”

“No, no, no.” It was like the little kicks on the back of her seat.

“No, I was bad.”

And then Danielle saw it, saw herself, in her small son. So aware of the rules. So careful to abide by them, so sure that those rules, whatever they were, were more important than grace.

• • •

Danielle told me this story in spiritual direction. I share it with her permission (and with names and details changed to protect confidentiality) because it’s such a good example of how we reject grace. It make be a little simplistic to think of grace as a free donut, but it really is. Unmerited favor. Love we don’t have to earn. Blessing we don’t have to perform for—indeed, don’t have to even be “good” to receive. 

While we may have an understanding that we don’t have to perform to earn God’s love, mercy and grace, we often forget that means that we receive grace even when we’re not “performing”, when we not “behaving.” We may have let go of needing to be “good” but we haven’t let go of needing to be “not bad.” It’s okay, we think, if God loves me when I’m not doing anything special. Underneath that lurks the belief that it’s still not okay for God to love me when I’m doing something “bad.”

Nicholas never ate the donut. Despite his mother’s permission, despite her wanting him to take it, he refused the gift. The rules were more important than grace.

• • •

Take a moment to think about your own journey with God over the past days and weeks. Where have you refused the gift because you had “broken the rules”? Where might God have been offering you grace that you simply didn’t want to receive? Where did you decide you weren’t going to eat the donut?



One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28