Writing a note to a stranger, even a stranger you feel like you know, can feel scary sometimes. Will I matter? Will they care? Will they even read it? Will they respond? Will they think I’m silly? or a stalker? Those are the questions that have gone through my head on more than one occasion. I’ve been grateful for the writers I’ve read for years and how they’ve responded when I reached out. One of my great sadnesses is that it takes me so long to reply, especially to emails. I wish I could give every single email you’ve all sent me its due response right away. Sadly, I usually take a week twice a year or so and just try to only respond to those letters, which I know might make some of you feel overlooked or unimportant. I just wanted to say thank you to you today. Not only for your words to me, but for your courage in saying them, and also for your patience in hearing back. That’s all. Just thank you.

Truly, some of my favorite relationships have come through writing. They are all a reminder that we’re called to be is faithful to the Word of God and to the Spirit inside of us, but it is the work of Christ that reconciles and redeems. I’m grateful for the relationships He’s forged with men and women all over the world with me. It’s no small gift.

Yesterday one of those women gave me a birthday blessing on a Facebook group page we’re a part of. It was from Lewis’s Prince Caspian and I wanted to share its whole context with you today,

“Aslan” said Lucy “you’re bigger”.
“That is because you are older, little one” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

I loved that and was grateful for it. Part of growing older is experiencing more difficult circumstances and hard ground, but part of it is also finding God more sufficient, more gracious, more kind, more holy. I watch many of my peers cave to the pressure of the world to find themselves bigger or their views more important or falter on orthodox truths of the Christian faith, and I am heartbroken because there is a subtle lie being believed there, that their view holds to a more gracious and loving father than mine and He allows what has not been allowed for centuries. But that isn’t the whole story, is it? We cannot let only our view of God’s love grow, but not His holiness. Or our view of God’s grace to grow, but not his righteousness. We have to hold up the whole worth of God, as much as our feeble hands and hearts can do. We find him bigger as we grow. It reminds me of the book by Ed Welch which has been very influential in both Nate’s and my life, When People are Big and God is Small. We have to get that right, friends, and it’s God’s love and grace that allows us to stumble around in our pursuit of getting it right. I love that.

I loved this piece from A. J. Swoboda called A Journey as Old as Humanity Itself. If you feel restless in life, church, faith, or family, I recommend it.

My parents were lovers of history and we all grew up in a part of the country ripe with it. When it comes to American history in particular, I feel very well versed in it. I was grateful for this piece in The New York Times about being liberal and going to book camp.

I did not want divorce to be a part of my story, but I am the child of divorce and married to a man who walked through it (against his will), so I find myself gravitating to narratives about it. I want to grow in empathy, while still valuing the covenant of marriage. Jason Gray’s words encouraged me.

My best and oldest friend arrived late last night and we ate pie in bed together (Nate is gone on a business trip). Today we are going to go thrifting and foraging for nature things. She has no fear, unlike me. We have always been the perfect complement of friends: she, outgoing and vivacious, me, shy and pensive. I love spending time with her because there is no one on earth who knows me as well as she does. For over twenty years we have walked through ten-thousand things together, and there’s a comfort in it that cannot be replicated. One beautiful aspect of it is I remember years and years where I wished to be more like her, and as we have grown up, we have met somewhere in the middle, while still retaining distinctive attributes. We have rubbed off on one another in a rich way and I couldn’t be more grateful to have the influence of her on me.

I hope you enjoy your weekend friends. I know I will.

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Buckwheat pancakes are an indulgence we all could use a little more of. Just saying. 

The gift of hindsight is a blessed one in the life of faith. A friend told me once that faith isn’t faith if you can see where you’re going, so the presence of Ebenezers in our lives is a proof God knew we’d need them. “Oh, look!” we can say, pointing at the thing God did back then, “We know He must be aware and present and caring for us now just as He was then.” And then we breathe and walk on through the storms and circumstances of today. Hindsight vision, in the Christian faith, is always 20/20.

It was with this expectation that I began a discipline in January of this year. When I began, I expected all the life-change we’d experienced in 2015—dating, engagement, marriage, moving, new church, new job, job loss, miscarriage—would begin to settle in 2016. I was wrong. 2016 brought more of the same, and much more difficult internal hardship than the external change of 2015. I look back now and see how God put this simple discipline in my path at exactly the right time and for exactly the right year. Never has there been a year of my life when what I would need most were small, simple, faithful disciplines.

In December of last year Ann Voskamp offered a free print-out of twelve verbs for the new year. Pursue, be, expect, give, and so on. You added the nouns yourself and so I did. I wrote out twelve index cards with twelve challenges on them and when the first of each month came, I prayed for wisdom about which one to choose next.

There were months this year, are still months this year, when breathing itself felt hard. Panic took ahold of my heart and mind, rendering me powerless against fear, insecurity, failure, stress, and sadness. I am no stranger to this panic and it was a close enemy of mine for years, but it has been far from me for the past six. In 2016 it came back with a vengeance and left nothing untouched. Normal, everyday acts become fearful. Faithful commitments have become difficult. Simple relationships have been terrifying. Much of that had to do with the instability of our lives the past year and a half. I have been afraid to move my feet in any direction, even planting them deeper, for fear. There’s a lot people don’t know and many have made assumptions about our direction, church search, the reasons we want to be planted in one home for at least two years, our desire to be out of D.C., and more. It has often felt like even voicing my fears brought more judgement and so it was just better to be quiet. These small disciplines again and again and again reminded me of the One Thing I could do today by the Spirit’s help.

I don’t know where you are or what kind of year you’ve had or want to have. I don’t know how unmoored and unanchored you feel. I don’t know what you’re afraid of or excited about. But if you’re struggling to pick up your feet, your head, your eyes, or your heart, this might be a small discipline you can do with the Spirit’s help. He helped me this year. I tacked these index cards above three different sinks in three different places we lived this year and every day when everything around me was shifting and turning, I would remember and breathe and do what the card said.

If you’re looking for a small, simple, easy way of pursuing stability in an uneasy world, here’s Ann’s post with the free printout from last year. Below are each of my cards, and how the Lord worked in my heart with the discipline on them. Feel free to read on, or stop now. I record them here mostly for my own benefit and remembrance, but also because I hope you are encouraged by my Ebenezer.

January

J A N U A R Y  :  Live with Less
We were nearing the end of our savings account after four months of Nate’s unemployment and no job on the horizon. Pinching pennies everywhere. I have always been frugal, but I had never had a mortgage or a husband to be so affected by our financial situation. Learning to live with less in every way pressed into me not simply with a budget, but learning to ask the question: do we actually need this? or have we just grown used to having it? Things like good coffee, craft beer, grass-fed meat—these were luxuries we just couldn’t have. And we were okay. God was our provision, we would say to one another often in January. Not my paycheck. Not Nate’s. Not our savings account. God alone.

February

F E B R U A R Y  :  Let go of expectations
In early February, although we tried hard, the only job offer was in D.C. We bought our house in Denver planning to stay there forever. As we began to pack boxes and explain our early departure, I was mourning deeply in my heart, not only my own expectations, but others. It was during this month Nate and I began to say to one another almost daily to this day, “We can only be faithful to the Word of God, not to an outcome.” We had many expectations during the month of February and I think it’s safe to say not one of them happened in the way we wanted it to, but God.

March

M A R C H  :  Embrace Limitations
March came in like a lion and went out like one too. We spent five weeks living above a stranger’s garage on the edge of D.C. Everything was new and foreign and frightening for me. Nate was gone from dusk until dawn. We knew no one. Everything took longer because traffic was nuts. I was trying to learn the metro system. I was afraid of being home alone and was home alone all the time. We heard gunshots and sirens at all hours of the day and night. All of our stuff was in a storage unit in a dangerous part of town so, once again, we were living out of suitcases (less than eight months earlier, we lived out suitcases in an AirBnB for six weeks in Denver too). I felt my limitations in a way I’ve never felt them before and just had to learn to embrace them. God was teaching me to drop my expectations of what our life would look like, and put my hope in Him.

April

A P R I L  :  Believe God’s faithfulness
By the end of April, we had five different buyers sign a contract on our house in Denver and all five backed out with little to no reason. We were hemorrhaging money at this point and were looking down the road at foreclosure. Everywhere we looked it felt like we were being taken from, stolen from, and lied to. I look back now and know with absolute confidence no one had malicious intent, but have you ever just been in a place where you felt like that? That’s what April felt like. The poet said, “April is the cruelest month,” and for us it seemed true. I had to remind myself daily that God was faithful, and all that was required of me was to believe His faithfulness, even if I didn’t feel it.

May

M A Y  :  Learn to garden
I have not always liked to garden and have not learned to do it well, but a wise man once said, “If you work with your head, sabbath with your hands. If you work with your hands, sabbath with your head.” So much of 2016 was me alone with my head and I knew I needed to just do something with my hands. We were still bleeding finances though, and even buying a small packet of seeds felt like an indulgence I couldn’t justify. We did our best to clear out some overgrown gardens in the front yard and plant some little bits. I also went home to New York and brought back a plethora of raspberry plants, lilac shoots, and other things from home to put in our yard. We didn’t know how long we’d be in this house, but I wanted to do my best to do the physical act of planting in hopes that it would grow some roots of another kind in my heart.

June

J U N E   :  Engage emotions
I think I can safely say this was one of the most challenging challenges of my year. For all the writing about emotions and the soul and such that I do, I’m actually pretty terrible at engaging my own emotions. I fear being too emotional, or driven by my emotions, and so it seems easier to just ignore them altogether. Nate and I began seeing a counselor in June, though, because our first year of marriage had been so emotionally fraught with pain. In our first meeting, our counselor said after hearing us talk for a bit, “You guys are both clearly very intelligent, very smart people, but I wonder, do you feel anything?” It was like the floodgates opened in me then, and the entire month of June I cried. I’m not exaggerating. I cried every day. It didn’t feel productive. It felt wrong. And yet it also helped me to feel period. I was able to start mourning some of the Really Hard Things from the year. I reminded myself daily that God wasn’t surprised or ashamed of my emotions, that he made me and loved me.

July

J U L Y  :  Daily Repent
After the emotional dam broke in June, I found July to be a month of repentance. Mostly to God, but also to Nate. It felt like every day there was another conversation about how I failed to communicate, serve, be honest, etc. He is endlessly patient with me, and always forgiving before I need to ask, but July felt like a mac truck hit me and I took him down with me. I think July was a month when I learned what a godly and faithful man God had given me. I thought I knew it before, but July it really sunk in. I was a miserable wreck.

August

A U G U S T  :  Give what I can with His help
In August we were finally back in the black financially. We still weren’t bringing in anything extra, we had sold the house, losing nearly 100k, but were able to pay off the debt we’d incurred to the penny. I knew we were able to breathe a bit financially, but I’d grown so used to not buying anything that the thought of giving anything away felt scary. God had to unclench my fingers around our resources again and teach me to give out of the grace we’d been given. He also taught me to pay attention to how our giving affects others. I think in western Christianity, we like to give anonymously, and I don’t think that’s always wrong, but there’s blessing too in being able to rejoice with others when their need is met. This was a good lesson for me in August.

September

S E P T E M B E R   :  Do things outside
September weather in Virginia was hot and humid, and I’d hoped to be able to do more outside in September, but with a puppy who can’t abide temps over 70 degrees, my options were limited. I tried to sit on our back porch and work as much as possible, and walk Harper (drag Harper) a couple times a day. I love being outside and so this month didn’t feel too different than other months. It was a good reminder to be intentional about it though.

October

O C T O B E R  :  Break bread with others
At this point in our year, we knew that staying in D.C. wasn’t going to be a long term plan for our family. Nate’s commute is at minimum three hours a day, at least once a week it gets up to four hours. This seems to work for some families, but that, combined with the cost of living here and a few other reasons, made it clear to us that we couldn’t stay here. We have tried to be faithful to open our home to new friends and make a place at our table for anyone. We’ve found it harder here than we expected, and I think a lot of that is because we and others know we’re not here long term. This was a challenging card for me because I think it was the first card I really didn’t want to do. I was exhausted from trying to build relationships in Denver and then leaving them, and now knowing we’d be leaving again, I felt like it just didn’t matter. God used the presence of one family in particular here, though, to soften my heart. We don’t see them as often as we saw friends in Dallas or Denver, but knowing they’re here, and we love them, has been enough sometimes. What did happen a lot in October, though, is we had a revolving door of out of town friends and family. I changed the guest room sheets no less than eight times during October and that itself was a blessing. God knew this challenge wouldn’t look like what I hoped, but it would still be a good challenge for October.

November

N O V E M B E R  :  Be unbusy
After the busyness of October and the looming deadline of a big project for me, we called a moratorium on visitors for November. I didn’t let email, phone, writing, people, or chores master me. I had two objectives, to finish my deadline and to love my husband well. I didn’t listen to podcasts, read articles, read the news, read Twitter or Facebook. I didn’t talk politics with anyone. I just kept my head down and worked. And at the end of the month, the world still turned just as faithfully as it has since creation. Who knew?

December

D E C E M B E R   :  Grow in peace
We are still in December, obviously, but already I have been learning about the steadfast love of the Lord never changing. Our year has been full of transition and it has not been easy. I want nothing more right now than to be rooted, anchored, moored, and planted. My wildest dream in the world right now is to live in the same house for two years. Partially because we want to start the adoption process, but partially because I just want to be still, have community, build relationships, invest in and be invested in. But God has not unveiled His plan to us yet, and so all I can do is say, “God, You still hold tomorrow. Give me the gift of peace today.” And it is enough, it really is.

 

My birthday is this week. I will be 36 years old. When my mother was 36 she had five children. Most of my 36 year old peers have more than one child, some of them have children nearly out of their teens. I feel old and whether I like it or not, I am getting old. I notice it in a myriad of ways and places, aches and awarenesses. I know I am still a spring chicken to many, but this is the first birthday I feel older than I am, instead of younger. I think that’s telling.

Last week Jen Wilkin wrote an article on Ligoner on Mothers in the Church. I highly, highly, highly recommend you read it. As I mulled over it again this morning, I thought to myself: at what point do we daughters ever feel like we stop needing mothers? I sure haven’t gotten to that place. I crave older women in my life constantly, and have a dearth of them locally in this season. This question led to another, more potent one though: at what point am I the older woman other women desire to learn from?

I’m sure there are some women out there who feel like they carry around enough knowledge for all humanity. Wisdom drips off their tongues and experience from their hands. I am not one of those women. I constantly feel a deep insecurity that I do not have what it takes to be a wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter. And I constantly want leadership around me showing me the way, holding my hand, righting me, getting me back on the path, reminding me. I have always felt like a child and as much as this birthday marks how old I am getting, I think I will always feel a bit like the one who never has never grown up.

How many of my sisters feel the same way? I know most of us do if only because the number of women looking for mentors outweighs the amount willing to mentor. We all want teachers but none of us want to be one. Since I was a child in church I have watched mentoring program after mentoring program fail in churches because the numbers are always so lopsided.

The answer to my question this morning, “At what point am I the older woman?” is: today. Today I am the older woman. Even when I was 19 or 25, I was the older woman to a younger one. I have always been, and I will always be an older woman to someone. Aging gracefully means accepting not only the wrinkles and aches and experiences, but also accepting the responsibility of being older than someone else. There’s no shame in that, even if you’re 19 or 25.

I have always said to whoever asks for mentoring from me, “Gladly, willingly, but you must know it will probably look differently than you imagine, and also, you must recognize and accept the responsibility of mentoring others.” The only prerequisite for preaching the gospel is knowing the gospel and even the most infant believers knows the gospel. And, which is more, the telling and retelling and refining of what we believe about the gospel is what gives the gospel feet and hands in our own lives. I know of no better discipline for the growth of the gospel in my life than the actual work of making disciples.

The other night in our Advent reading we read about the Annunciation, the incredulous news that Mary would bear the Son of God, even as a child-virgin herself, and how she responded, “Let it be in me according to your word.” I was struck in that moment of her willingness, her submission to doing something wildly more difficult than her young body, mind, and spirit, could imagine.

I want to encourage us, sisters, with that today. Today, we are mothers, if we will submit to the age we are, and not the age we want to be. Let it be in us.

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(This is Nancy Hull and she has been my Mama-Nan since I was 23. She is the best example I know of a woman who throws age to the wind and mothers whoever comes across her path, regardless of their age or hers. I love her for it.)

If you’re in high-school, find a girl in middle school and show her what it means to grow into a godly woman, going against the grains of societal norms, give her gospel language for issues like sin, peer pressure, body shaming, etc.

If you’re in college, find a high-schooler who has no idea what she will encounter in the wild world of college, and how she can stand firm in it. Teach her how the gospel enables us to walk in freedom.

If you’re a young mom, set a regular place for a college student at your table. That’s it. She will become part of your family, hold babies, fold laundry, etc. She just will, trust me. Teach her how the gospel is hospitable, but also bids a man to come and die.

If you’re single longer than you planned or hoped, find some girls in their early twenties who are sure their life is over if they’re not married by 23. Show them how full the life of gospel-centered singleness can be.

If you’re a mom of middles, go on over and rock babies at a young mom’s house, just for a few hours. Let her take a shower. Embody the gospel by being hands and feet.

If you’re married without children, consider also, some young moms who might need a friend, another adult voice in her day. Show her that the gospel is elementary and takes the faith of a child, but also grows into more than milk someday.

If your children have flown the coop, that mom of middles needs some reminders that her foul mouthed 13 year old isn’t going to be that way forever (Raising hand. Sorry, mom.). Remind her again and again that the reality of the gospel is that it changes people, takes them from dark to light.

These are just a few ideas, there are a thousand more. Feel free to comment with ideas or how you make it work in your season, or how someone made it work for you. Lives are changed through the act of mothering, sisters. Go, and mother.

Sometimes I still think of this little piece of the web is as quiet and all mine as it was sixteen years ago. Back then I knew exactly who my reader was because she was the only one. I have found one of the best disciplines for me in writing to be that of knowing my audience—and these days that audience changes often and is thousands more than one, which can make it hard to know them. Sometimes she is a stay at home mom. Sometimes a pastor wanting to shepherd women. Sometimes a friend. Sometimes a stranger. Sometimes a single. Sometimes a poet. Sometimes a priest. I am unsure of whether that makes my readers the chameleon or if I am the chameleon.

Sometimes I open messages from people saying things like I am their new best friend or kindred spirit and I think, this is the price and gift of writing with my heart on my sleeve. Thousands of people think they know me, and maybe you do.

I think we are too protective of our stories, though justifiably so. Sticks and stones and names and bones—people do have the power to hurt you, never mind what my grandmother told me in the attic of her Cape May house when I was five. My lip was quivering because I wanted to believe what she said, but also, I had been hurt and didn’t that matter too? Of course it did and she gave me a strawberry candy, and put the conch shell to my ear so I could hear the ocean and forget about the names I’d been called.

Paul said in whatever situation he has learned to be content, and I think some of that contentment came from understanding the story he was telling wasn’t his own, but his Savior’s. Contentment comes easier when we aren’t comparing and contrasting. But who has time for that these days? Everyone has an opinion or wants an opinion.

Thank you for joining (if you did) along on this week’s series about challenges for the newly married. I knew I was writing to a particular demographic, but was encouraged by the few unmarried and long-marrieds who read as well. I’m also grateful to my husband for being the sort of man who trusts me to write about these things and never reads over my shoulder. He tells people he wants to minister with the grace he’s been given and my heart bursts because that sort of humility is hard to come by and usually comes by discipline that hurts.

A few weeks ago I read Shanna Mallon quote Tish Harrison Warren’s post on Courage in the Ordinary and have been meaning to share it since then. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

I find it hard to come by good new poetry online, but John Blase is a constant feed to that void. America’s Tomorrow was poignant and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

Here was a great little piece on how we ought to be like Sherlock as Christians.

Wesley Hill wrote a long-form piece on Jigs for Marriage and Celibacy: you can’t die to yourself by yourself. Make yourself a cup of tea and settle in for it. It’s a good one.

Also, because so many people asked after my Instagram post, Grove Collaborative has a cool little thing where if you click on this link you get $10 off your first order and I get $10 off my next order. My husband said, “It’s like a pyramid scheme without the pyramid or the scheme. A win-win.” He’s right. We love Grove and order all our cleaning supplies from them quarterly (which, if you know me and how many lengths I will go to to avoid shopping in an actual store, is a game-changer). This is our latest loot and they always throw in free things (we got free soap and free dish-towels on this order).

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If you missed any of this week’s series on Challenges for the Newly Married, here’s a quick list:

Intro to the series
Making New Friends, Keeping the Old Ones
Choosing Churches
Sleep, Schedules, and Sleep Schedules
Two Becoming One

 

Wilbert-110I’ve already written on this one pretty extensively, but I want to delve a bit more in the practicality of it today. A short recap though: marriage is not 1+1=1, as we’re led to believe. It’s messier math than we’d like, more like (1-1)+(1-1)=1. We empty ourselves, pouring our lives out for one another, and only through sacrificial love and overarching servant-heartedness, are we able to become one with our spouse. It is not so glorious—or sexual—as I envisioned before marriage, when I thought becoming one was some sort of allusion to consummation. It is, but it’s a whole lot more of becoming a whole lot less. The good news is that, hopefully, someday the one flesh unit you’ve become is a solid and impenetrable one. We’re not there yet, but we’re learning, day by day.

Yesterday I wrote about schedules and how our schedule is to serve the other’s schedule, but on a deeper, heart level, what does that mean? It means entering into conflict without entering into competition. My friend Haley Kirkpatrick (35, married two years, one beautiful baby), said this,

“Marriage is not a competition. I know some books out there talk about competing in a healthy way—outdoing your spouse in kindness, thoughtfulness, respect, and love—but for a competitive person like myself, this is not helpful and just leads to a desire to compete when we’re in the worse, poorer, and sickness parts of marriage. I am not in competition with my husband about who is more tired, who is more stressed, whose back hurts and therefore needs a back rub more. It is easy to compete. It is harder to stop, listen, and love even when I feel tired, stressed, and unable to stand up straight. But it is loving deep and big and selflessly in the worse, poorer, and sickness that makes love so damn good in the better, richer, and healthy parts of marriage, and it is what sustains your love the next time life is worse, poorer, and sick.”

Haley and I are very different people in many ways. One of which is that Haley is a more competitive person than I am. She pushes herself against herself and against others to be the best she can be at everything she does, including being a wife. I am not wired like that, in fact, I’m wired the opposite way. I am still competitive, but she externalizes her competition, I internalize it, so much so that it eats me alive, from the inside out. We both are struggling with the same root issue: we want to be the best, even better than our husbands in some ways. I’m saying this because I think there are people who are clearly competitive people and for them, the difficulty in marriage is vocal, heated, and visible. But for others, the competition is sneaky, sly, and quiet. Instead of a game of words, it’s a game of wills—who can go the longest without bringing up something? Who can stay quiet about something the longest? Who can bear the weight of the other the longest?

I came into marriage with very real fears that every conflict would be loud, heated, and harsh, because this was the example I had growing up. Nate came into marriage determined to not repeat his sins from before, conflict was nonexistent until it was impossible to ignore, he never spoke up about anything, and was passive in his leadership. I feared conflict and he feared the lack of it. God, in His sovereignty though, has given us plenty of it in the first 17 months of our marriage. I remarked to him the other day that what we’ve walked through in the past year is more than what most people married for fifteen years walk through. It’s like God is playing catch-up with our marriage, bringing us to the place most of our peers are in. (That’s a joke. Kind of.)

How do two whole people, with whole opinions and histories and beliefs and visions, dissipate and become one whole unit?

To be honest, I have no idea. Really. No idea. I think it’s a mystery. But here are two things I have to remember often:

Conflict is good

I’ve realized that most of the bad conflict or lack of it, that we’ve experienced is mostly in the way the words are said, not in the words themselves. It is good and right to say, “I don’t like this,” or “I prefer this,” or “I’ve had a really hard day.” But it is not good or right to say those things in order to wound, to assert rights, or to compete with one another. I have not learned this well, but it actually serves my husband when I say, “I do have a preference and this is what it is,” otherwise he’s flying blind. In a new marriage this can be really scary because it’s all heart eye emojis and inside jokes until it isn’t. As soon as you say you have a preference, and especially if you know his preference is different, you’ve entered conflict. But heart eye emojis and inside jokes cannot a marriage grow. We need good, healthy, measured conflict. Nate and I have made some Really Big, Really Hard, Really Deep mistakes this year because we didn’t know how to speak the language of conflict good, so instead, we just kept quiet. Learning the language of conflict is one of the best things we can do in a new marriage. We do that two ways: watching those who do it well and doing it ourselves.

Con means against, but also with

I’ve been learning that the more I am against Nate in something, and by against, I mean our two opinions pressed up against one another, the more of me gets shaved off. This is what the Bible calls “iron sharpening iron.” By allowing the againstness of conflict chip off the parts of me that keep us from being one flesh, I become less and less of my former unmarried self. Don’t let anyone tell you, newly married person, that the process isn’t painful. It is just as painful as becoming the healthy, whole, vibrant person you were before you got married. Just as painful. Sanctification in marriage isn’t harder than singleness, but it is different, mainly in that you’re starting over in a lot of ways.

I envision it like this and maybe this will help you: We are two whole little wooden figurines before marriage and then we come together and the process of conflict shaves off pieces of us, which fall to the ground. We have always thought of ourselves as whole as the figurines, so it doesn’t occur to us to look at the shavings below and think of them as any consequence, but what is actually happening is at the end of this process, the shavings below are imperceptible from one another. They—with all their pieces of conflict, hurt, joy, preference, and desire—are the new unit, the little wooden figurines are no more. That’s the process of sanctification in marriage, the two becoming one. The analogy breaks down of course, but while it works, it works. And it helps me to not look at those scraps on the floor as wasted.

I think of John Piper’s words,

“Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.”

. . .

I hope that encourages us today, newly married sisters, as we look at the scraps of life falling below us. He’s doing something with them. All this conflict is working in us a better marriage, a more whole one. Even if our marriages are without a lot of conflict and are peaceful havens, the world is coming at us a thousand miles a second, and the enemy crouches at our door waiting to rule over us. In the infancy of this union, friend, let’s be sisters who are gentle with our words, faithful with our words, and honest with our words. Our husbands will thank us and it will be a sweet fragrance to our God.

 

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When we were going through our pre-marital counseling, one of the questions we asked one another was, “Are you an early riser or a late one?” I typically rose around 7, so my answer was quick: “Oh, I’m an early riser. I love mornings!” It was true, I would walk up to a usually quiet house—some of the girls might be at work already, some might still be asleep—make my coffee, and sit down in the Ikat armchair and read the Bible and write. Mornings felt sacred. Nate also answered, “Early riser.” Perfect. A match made in heaven. Certain bliss would be our good fortune. Heart eye emoji.

What I came to learn in marriage, though, is that “Early” to him is “Middle of the Night” to humanity everywhere. He needs about six hours of sleep and usually gets up somewhere between the four o’clock and five o’clock hour. Some mornings he is breakfasted, coffeed, showered, dressed, bibled, podcasted, and sometimes run before I get out of bed at 6:30 am. We are also both very light sleepers and wake one another up several times a night. We also have a puppy who for the past eight months has kept us up several times a night. When Nate wakes up, he is up, at ‘em, ready to talk, listen, commentate, and go. He chooses to go to work two hours before most of his co-workers because he is crazy. I, on the other hand, would just like a little peace and quiet, a cup of coffee, and no one to talk to me for like twenty minutes after rising. Our puppy, unfortunately, is more like Nate than me, and wants to play fetch while it is still dark outside.

What I’m saying is: when I was single I had a schedule that worked well for me. I liked my schedule. I liked my quiet, slow mornings. I liked sleeping eight hours. I liked waking up without an alarm, without a husband rolling out of bed, very literally squeaking across the floorboards, and fumbling around in the dark. Without a puppy breathing in my face at 5am. I also liked staying up late, writing in the still darkness of a house, to the light of a candle. I liked processing the day late into the night. But we made a decision to go to bed at the same time, and I think it was a good decision, even if Nate falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow and I’m awake for an hour or more, laying in the dark.

I’m not the only one making sacrifices though. Nate ran Division 1 track and field for the University of Texas. He is fast. He says, like Eric Liddell, when he runs he feels God’s glory. Since we got married, though, and especially now that he is gone so many hours a day, he doesn’t have time to run like he used to and would like to. By the time he gets home after 12 hours away, his wife is anxious to see him, and there’s only a few hours before his head will hit the pillow like a rock. Marriage had to change our priorities. Sleep for me, running for him.

These are small examples, and the truth is, they’re kind of petty examples. There are much larger things happening in the melding of two people schedules, primarily the discipline of not growing weary in well-doing. There is a kind of selflessness at play when our schedule preferences meet with one another and clash, a constant and minute opportunity to resent instead of serve. And those opportunities mount day by day by day, particularly if you think you will never get the thing you want. I have had to remind myself of two truths regularly in our new marriage:

1. My schedule is to serve his schedule

The bible says the wife is to be concerned with how she may please her husband, and I take that to mean, very seriously, my primary occupation is to make sure he can go about his day feeling loved, fed, nourished, rested, and released to lead our family. That means my schedule submits to his schedule. My schedule bends to his schedule. We eat when he comes home. We go to sleep when he is tired. We wake when he wakes. I stop my paying work when he comes home on the train, and begin my at home work. And sometimes my paying work plays second fiddle to my at home work. I had to turn down a great contract recently because I knew I couldn’t serve my husband and this contract in this season. I knew if I took the contract, my flesh would want to please the contract more than it pleased my husband. My schedule is to lay my life down for him.

2. His schedule is to serve my schedule

Before your feminism gets its panties in a twist, his schedule is to serve mine too. He is working to provide for our family, to keep a roof over our heads, food on our table, and to pay for that pesky puppy who wakes me up every morning. He has submitted his life to leading and caring for our family, instead of out running, reading theology all day, and traveling the world. He washes the dishes every single night after I cook. He tiptoes across the squeaking floorboards, doing his best to miss the really loud ones. He showers in our guest bathroom so it’s not as loud. If I’m up when he leaves, he makes sure there’s coffee in the French Press. He always gets up with the puppy in the middle of the night. Always. When he has a day off, he always asks me what I would like to do with the day, instead of putting his preferences ahead of mine. His schedule is to lay his life down for mine.

. . .

There’s an interdependence in marriage that I didn’t have when I was single—as much as I tried to craft my life in such a way that there were daily opportunities to lay it down. In marriage you go to sleep with that person every night, and the worst thing you can do is go to sleep with a running list of all the ways you sacrificed for him and all the ways he didn’t for you. I want to take every opportunity to cheer my husband on, encourage him when he is down, make space for things he loves, and please him—not in order that he might do the same, but because God has said a wife is a good thing, and I want to be a good thing for my husband.

If you’re newly married and this clash of wills rears its ugly head primarily around your schedules, first, maybe you need some sleep, but second, what would it look like for you to lay your life down this week for his? To craft your life around what the cares of your household are? To prefer his needs above yours? I am praying for us, newly married sisters, that we would be wives who say, “I’m not my own flesh anymore,” knowing it is God who gets the glory of a relinquished will and schedule.

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The next challenge for the newly married is one I think affects those who have been married a lot longer too, but the newly married face it in a fresh and shocking way. It is the challenge of finding and agreeing on a local church.

When I was unmarried I chose the church I wanted to go to, even moving to the opposite side of the United States to become part of The Village Church. I had immense flexibility in the choice, theology, worship style, size, and amount of involvement I wanted in a church. I considered each those things heavily, but the choice was mine. When I met Nate, I met him through my church community, in the foyer of my church building, and we were married surrounded by our church family. Even though we were about to move to Denver for my job at a new church, our local church, the local church, was very much a factor and part of our relationship.

Imagine my shock, then, when we moved across the country again, and it was taking us seemingly forever to settle on a church. I was blindsided by how difficult all of this would be. I think it’s partially because both Nate and I take God’s word very seriously and soberly in regard to membership, worship, community, discipline, eldership, etc., and we don’t treat any decision having to do with those components lightly, but what I didn’t expect, and was most surprised by, was how much we actually clashed in these areas. There was an illusion that because we met and married in the same church, we agreed on everything therein and would forevermore. But we didn’t.

One day, in the car on the way home from yet another church we were visiting in August, I wept bitterly and my sweet husband bore the brunt of my outburst. My case was this: If I was still single, even if it wasn’t ideal, and even if I had to drive 45 minutes, I would have settled on a church six months earlier. I would have just gone to the good-enough one instead of searching for the one one or both of us had in mind. I wouldn’t have squandered my time, I wouldn’t have grown stagnate in faith or community, and I would have just sacrificed whatever it took, just to hear the word among the same brothers and sisters every week. This conversation led to some more painful conversations about why I hadn’t said anything earlier. Which led to more conversations about why we both struggled to speak up on our own behalf about very much at all (which I’ll write about another day this week). What this conversation revealed was there were  assumptions being made on both of our parts about what would be best for our family in regard to a local church, based on partial information from one or the other.

I wish I could say we’ve found victory in this area, but I think this will be an ongoing conversation for the rest of our marriage. Committing to one local church won’t lift the issue at hand, which is a communication one, but it also won’t solve each of our individual desires and beliefs when it comes to a local church. We both need to make sacrifices, sacrifices I in particular have never made before in regard to a church, and sacrifices he in particular will need to revise in our marriage, because they weren’t present in his previous one. In the meantime, here are some things we are learning:

1. Church baggage is real

We have each gone to many different churches, which means double the history. We have had great experiences and bad ones, good ones and hard ones. If you name a denomination, though, we have a bit of experience with it, and this informs our future direction. He might have had a great experience with one denominations or theology, and I might have had a terrible one, and we have to talk about that, without assuming the other understands or empathizes with it. I know this can sound very consumeristic in a sense and I don’t want in any way to communicate we are consumers of the local church, but there is a very real choice in the church we go to, and we all have very real reasons for those choices. My reasons are not the same as Nate’s and instead of assuming they are, I ought to assume they are not.

2. Understanding of Theology and Practice change and grow

With joy and confidence I can say what I believe now about God has changed from what I believed about him fifteen years ago, ten years ago, two years ago, and so on. God has not changed, but my understanding of him has. It has been informed by my circumstances, by deeper study of his word, by teaching from others, and by experiences. This is a beautiful thing, but it can be a difficult thing in marriage if one of you has changed and the other feels blindsided by it. We left Denver feeling very disillusioned with some things and those things in particular informed Nate’s desire to attend a very different kind of church when we moved, whereas I felt very afraid of any additional change at all. Until we talked about that, though, we were both operating with two different values and it caused me to feel terrified of any church and him to feel very powerless in leading our family. We had to hash through our fears and our sin, and mistrust of God’s sovereignty, for us to come at finding a church with open hands. Our understanding of theology hasn’t changed much in a year and a half, but our understanding of practice has, and this is what we’ve been blindsided by.

3. What we think we need and what we need are two different things

I was standing in the kitchen this week chopping garlic and a song came on from my playlist that threw me back to a moment of worship at my church in Texas. I knew exactly where I was standing, who was beside me, and what the Lord was teaching me in that moment of unhindered worship. It was a painful time in life for me and I felt so humbled by the Holy Spirit that He would gift me with an experience like that, just when I needed it. The last time I felt that was when I went back to Texas a year ago this month and wept through the entire service. It was profound in a way I cannot explain to others and happens rarely enough that I remember it when it does. I love my church family there, and I love my church there. I have felt the lack of her more deeply this year than I’ve felt the lack of anything else in my life. I am constantly tempted to believe that I need to be with her again to ever feel whole in church again.

If I’m not careful, I can begin to believe I need certain aspects of a local church, preferring my self and my own needs, over my husband’s, or over the local church herself. I need a particular kind of worship. I need a pastor of a certain age. I need a homegroup with a certain type of person. I need a church of a certain size. I need. I need. I need. But what if God doesn’t give?

If I believe that God gives us exactly what we need when we need it, and no more or less, then I can trust that what we have today is exactly what we need. God isn’t skimpy with his gifts. What I also have to realize, though, is within marriage, Nate and I have different needs, but God is meeting them in the same way. This can be a real challenge in marriage when it feels like in every scenario someone is the clear winner and someone the loser (I’ll talk more about that another day this week), but when I stop thinking of my needs needing to trump his needs, I’m able to see how God might be meeting both of our needs, or the needs of others—even in a local church that didn’t check any of the boxes we both desired when we moved here.

I promise you it doesn’t feel as glorious as that moment several years ago in the sanctuary of my church, tears streaming down my face, the rushing desire in me to give all to Him, but it is the result of that moment. Worship says, “I place all my needs at Your feet, because you’re better than all the things I think I need,” and then it gets up and actually does it.

. . . .

Finding a new local church as a newly married couple can be fuel for some very real fires, especially since you’re probably doing it without the safety of a church community around you. I used to be able to recommend ways of doing it, but think if there’s anything this year has taught me, it’s that there’s no prescription for this. It’s hard. And that hardness can actually lead to really good things in your marriage if you’ll let it. Communicate. Repent. Confess. Attempt.

And, be like my husband, who several times this year saw how the weekly searching for a church was actually hurting me more than helping me, and encouraged us to be at peace staying home for a day. It is not a good ongoing pattern, but I think Jesus was okay with hiding sometimes, with running away from the crowds. I think he’s okay with it and understands it, and it might be his good gift to a marriage that needs to remember that he alone is the source.


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This is part of a series I’m doing this week on challenges for the newly married

Before I got married, I’d get questions from my single sisters often that went something like this, “My friend recently got married and now it seems like she has no time for me! What do I do?” My answer was always along the lines of, “If you value the friendship, and I hope you do, recognize the massive life change she is undergoing, and be patient. There will come a time, sooner than she thinks, that she realizes this wonderful, amazing man she’s knit herself to for life, doesn’t fill every need when it comes to relationships. She needs female friendship, and she will want it again soon, and hopefully if your friendship before marriage was the sort that there was an equal give and take, she will want it with you soon.” I know it feels a bit like rainy-day friendship, but true friendship will weather that torrential storm. I hope my friends have the same grace for me.

There are, I think, two main challenges for the newly married when it comes to friendships:

1. Keeping your own friends

This has been a real challenge for us. Partially affected by our two moves, but also because our individual friends were our own. We each have long histories with them. Now, in marriage, there are twice the amount of relationships to maintain and only one unit of us. We simply cannot maintain the double relational energy it takes to maintain all the friendships there are between the two of us—particularly because both of us have lived all over world and we met one another in our mid-late-thirties—that’s a lot of friendships all over the place to try to maintain well. It’s impossible for mere humans, and so we have had to step back from some friendships. It feels horrible to be the person on the other side of that equation, and I have been there dozens of times myself. It isn’t meant to be mean, it is simply the limitations of our human-ness pressing up against the expectations of others. I cannot have long and rambling phone calls or text messages at 11pm anymore. I don’t book tickets to a wedding halfway across the country anymore. I don’t spend weeks away from home on road-trips anymore. Disappointing others will happen because I am saying “Yes” to my husband and home and “No” to many other things and people, and Nate is doing the same.

There are a few friends where our friendship has changed, but our friendship is maintained. The number is simply smaller than it ever has been before, and in some ways, some of those friendships have grown or diminished even since marriage. Things change. People change. Friendships change. It doesn’t change the value of what was had before though, and if you’re still single or newly married, I’d encourage you to not grow bitter or feel ashamed of this reality. Sometimes some friendships are only for a season.

2. Making new friends together

Before marriage I had this idea that married friendship looked a lot like two guy best friends and two girl best friends hanging out for all hours of the night. They had all sorts of inside jokes and there was a comfortable familiarity among all of them together that was the glue holding their friendship together. The truth is more like this: two or three of the four have great chemistry, and the other(s) is left feeling on the outside of something that seems very much like they should be inside it.

We all learn early on in life that not everyone has to be friends with everyone. There is a natural sort of chemistry to friendship, an attractiveness not based on physicality, but on camaraderie. Similar ways of joking or similar interests, alike histories or worldviews. These sort of things are present in every close friendship, and I’ve experienced them with both men and women alike. These are the sort of friendships where you can not see one another for a year and pick right back up where you left off. But when you have four people in the equation now, it becomes more complicated. Now you have four personalities at play, and all four are non-negotiable parts of this new relationship. It becomes very, very difficult to retain friendships in which your friend and your spouse, or you and their spouse, don’t have that chemistry. It becomes a chore to spend time with them instead of a joy—and that is very difficult on a marriage. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any one person here, or wrong with any one friendship, it is just not as natural as it once was, or not as natural as you’d like it to be in new friendships.

We have not learned this well together in our marriage, our closest friends are still the ones we had before marriage, and we have struggled to make new friends together. Part of that is, again, the two moves, but I think it’s common in marriage and has only been exacerbated by the moves. I simply keep reminding myself that right now I am learning deep friendship with my husband—an opportunity we didn’t have before marriage. But someday, we will have to learn to make friends together with other couples, and unless God blesses us with perfect chemistry with all parties, it will involve sacrifice on someone’s part.

. . .

I thought it would be good to share a personal story of how someone is wrestling through this in the present. Below is a story from a friend of mine, Liana Hull, who got married a year ago. She is in her early twenties and I got the chance to sit across from her and hear more of her heart and story last month.

When my husband and I started dating, a friend of mine became bitter and jealous, ruining much of dating and being engaged for us. I let that jealousy and bitterness steal my joy and the situation became a constant source of worry on my part. After a few months of marriage and recovering from an emotionally tumultuous engagement season, I came to realize that I needed to just let her go. And it broke my heart. Losing such a close friend because of jealousy that I could not appease really, really broke me. A deep sadness took over my heart and mind and I struggled. For a few months, every day was hard. Choosing to feel joy in this season of life has been really difficult. Becoming verbal about my happiness has been surprisingly difficult in marriage as well, because I don’t want to alienate further.

I would also add that having every relationship in my life change post-marriage (which is good and right), plus a deep insecurity that everything I do would cause someone to be jealous is lethal combination. It paralyzed me emotionally and I become very isolated. One of my pastors encouraged me to just pray “Lord, work in my life and work in [my friend’s]” every time I thought of her and it helped me get my mind/heart beyond my own fears and paranoias about relationships in my life. Simple, genuine, regular prayers (I probably prayed that 15+ times in a day for a month or two) really changed the way I thought about our friendship, and all relationships in my life.

. . .

The challenge for the newly married of making new friends and keeping the old ones is a real one. Don’t feel guilty for being unable to maintain all your old friendships or for struggling in making new friendships together. The other day I was close to tears with Nate saying how much I miss our friends and how I’m afraid we’ll never be settled enough to have close community like that again, and he comforted me with the truth that we are being faithful and having open hands, and it can look different than it looked before and not be any less good. God actually doesn’t promise any of us friendship in this world, but He does promise to put the lonely in families.

My prayer for us newly married sisters, is that instead of growing hard to the possibility, we would be made soft in the probability, that we would have hope like an anchor in the reality that Christ calls us His friends, even if no one else does.

I hope your Thanksgiving was lovely and full, if not of food, then of love. And if not love, then food, which is a kind of love too. Before I got married I thought often married people had a built in presence of love, a constant reminder that they were loved and known and kept. But living life forward is meant to teach us about what has passed under us, not about what comes in front of us, or as the philosopher said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” I wish I hadn’t thought that holidays were harder for me as an unmarried person than they would be as a married person. The truth is both have beauties and both have challenges.

In many ways my holidays or birthdays or other celebrations were richer and fuller when I was single, and that’s partially because we are far from those we love and are loved by most. But in other ways it is because we are in the infancy of our marriage, growing and bending and breaking in new traditions. I love everything to do with celebrating others, giving gifts, and making every holiday special and unique, but the husband God gave me cares more about the every day of our lives, rhythms and routines of life, discipline, the predictable motions of the week and weekend. I crave New! and Special! He clings to solid and faithful. For us, holidays and special days have actually been hard to learn how to do well, how to serve one another in, and how to not feel hurt when things don’t go as hoped. They are actually just as painful as the feeling of aloneness I had in singleness, not more or less. And I wonder if this is the case for more of my married sisters, particularly the newly married ones.

I’ve had a few conversations with some of my newly married sisters (within the past two years) in recent months and been surprised that though we may be all over the place in terms of age, work, location, etc., we have some very similar struggles. My heart has grown burdened for this demographic and I’ve wanted to talk about it more on Sayable, but feared losing readers who are further ahead in the journey of marriage and think it is over-reactive, or those readers who long for marriage and for whom reading one more post on the struggles of those who have what they want would be painful. But the more I’ve thought and prayed about it, the more I’ve decided I think it’s important, so next week I’ll be writing on a few things that affect us in our newly married-ness. I hope you are encouraged, whatever season of life you’re in.

Here are some things I read this past week and wanted to share:

Neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Words from Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. on the Sunday after the election to his church, made of both Republicans and Democrats.

The Challenge in Praying with your Spouse. Nate and I have found we love to pray for and with one another, and yet rarely do it together. This article challenged me to do it more.

Friday Night Meatballs. The seasons of life where a weekly dinner has been a part it, have been some of the best times of community in my life. I got to know Nate during one of those weekly dinners. A total win in my book.

Ten Spurgeon Quotes for Wounded Christians. It is a comfort to me a thousand times over that this giant in faith struggled so deeply with the same besetting wrestle I have.

Why Read a Poem at a Time Like This. More of us should make the reading of poetry a part of our everyday, especially at times when the news from every angle threatens to push us over the edge. Poetry grounds us and reminds us.

One of my favorite things to do when I was small was to page through photo albums and ask my parents about the photos in it. One of the sad things about this new digital age we live in, is we’re less likely to print photos for keepsake books. Chatbooks is a great way to do this. Whenever we get a new one in, Nate (who isn’t on social media) sits down with it and pages through each photo and caption, reading, laughing, and remembering. Your kids will probably do the same. These cost the same as a roll of film cost back in the day, and you get to curate each book to your liking. A total win in my book.

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This week last year we had a house busting at the seams with our dearest friends. We had our first Denver snowstorm of the season. We ate Eggs Benedict for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. We went hunting for Christmas trees in the Colorado wilderness. And on Black Friday the menfolk left at 5am to stand in the freezing cold for several hours with a hundred others waiting for Goose Island Brewery’s yearly and limited stash. We were rich and full in every way, almost overwhelmed by any one of the blessings around and within us. We were also two months into what would be nearly six months of unemployment for Nate, and had no way of knowing then, but that cozy home would soon lead to a pretty devastating financial loss for us.

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Yesterday I read these words, “If you woke up today with only what you thanked God for yesterday, what would you have?” I sat in a bastion of self-congratulatory pleasure for a minute because about a month ago, in a dearth of gratefulness and desert of thanksgiving, I began jotting down ten things throughout my day I was thankful for. So not only had I thanked God for plenty the day before, I also had lists from the weeks earlier. I breathed a sigh of relief that if I woke with only what I’d thanked God for yesterday, I would have fresh produce from the grocery store, a husband who loved me, a puppy who never leaves my side, candles, and a spectacular array of fall colors.

Then I thought back to a year ago this week, how full to overflowing I felt and yet how taken from at the same time. There was a mounting list of Hard Things in life—we hadn’t even seen the half of it yet—yet it didn’t take from the moment of thankfulness I felt. The week of Thanksgiving wasn’t without difficulty (putting seven friends in a tiny house for seven days you’re bound to have hiccups along the way), but it isn’t the difficulty I remember most, it’s the warmth around the Thanksgiving dinner, the way the candlelight fell on the lace tablecloth, how good the tenderloin was, going around the table thanking God for very real and very good things, taking walks in the evening on fresh dry snow. Looking back it’s the delight I remember most.

I suppose this is what practicing gratefulness is, in a way. It’s digging through the wreckage to find treasure even if the treasure itself would seem to be wreckage to others. I’m coming to a place where I can look behind me and say, with all honesty, thank you, God, for the loss of Nate’s job and the months of unemployment—we learned valuable lessons about who our Provider is. Thank you, God, for the violence we experienced in Denver—I can never again say I am untouched by it. Thank you, God, for the church crisis we walked through—we are more sober about membership, leadership, community, and sin. Thank you, God, for two-cross country moves in a year, and hopefully one more soon—we have learned to live with less. Thank you, God, for miscarriages—we have learned our bodies are not in our control. Thank you, God, for the financial loss we took on our house—we have learned to hold money and things loosely. Thank you, God, for how difficult D.C. has been for us to find and have deep church community—we have learned it isn’t as easy for everyone else as it was for us in Texas. Thank you, God, for the forced break from ministry that the past nine months have been—we have learned our primary ministry is to one another. I could go on.

In the midst of each of those painful things, though, I could not muster thanksgiving if I tried. It is still hard to thank God for really hard things like watching a police officer get shot or losing tiny barely formed babies, but if I can pick my head up and look to God, my sovereign and good King, I can thank Him. It is easy to thank Him when my head is lifted above the circumstances of today. I want to find delight in the good gifts of my everyday, but the cyclical work of gratefulness comes by being thankful for the Big Hard Things so we can find delight in the smaller ones, and then, when the Big Hard Things seem impossible to be grateful for, to thank Him for the small ones. Gratefulness begets thankfulness, and thankfulness begets gratefulness.

I don’t know what Big Hard Things are happening in your life and heart this Thanksgiving, but I do know He cares for you. I know it because the Bible says so and we are people of the Word, not the world. The Bible says in this life we will have trouble, but He has overcome. Mustering up gratefulness tomorrow might feel impossible for some of you. I have friends whose son is very, very sick. Another friend who lost his job recently. Another who lost her child this year. Another who is far away from his family. Another who is walking through a hard marriage. Another who is estranged from her parents. Everywhere I look there is pain and true gratefulness doesn’t overlook the pain, it doesn’t minimize it ever, but it looks straight through the pain and finds God’s goodness in the midst of it. I am praying that for you today and tomorrow.

If you don’t know who Jen Hatmaker is, or Glennon Melton or Elizabeth Gilbert, or any of the women who seem to inform many of my sisters in Christ these days, you ought to know who they are if only because they are informing many of our sisters in Christ these days. Whether you agree with their recent decisions is between you and the Holy Spirit, but this article from Christianity Today makes a strong case for the problem of outsourcing women’s ministries to the books and blogs and conference line-ups.

If you’re a pastor and you don’t think the women in your church are sitting at the feet of these teachers, or if your perceptions about the women in your church come from what a few say they are listening or not listening to, I’d beg you to read this article with a sober and humble heart. Hannah Anderson’s words at the end are particularly poignant, “If you don’t want women breaking down the doors,” she said, “simply open them for them.”

Nate and I listened to a podcast recently from Malcom Gladwell. I can’t agree with all of his conclusions, but one of his points in this episode was when a group of people make one big concession, or does “one big good deed” as he called it, they are more likely to follow it with a refusal to do more. If you want more context, you can listen here.

It’s easy for men in particular to believe they have opened the doors to women in their church, particularly in complementarian churches, if they have opened the door to one or two who are particularly gifted once or twice. The proof seems to be in the pudding if there is one or two scenarios in which a male pastor can point at and say, “The deed is done. I listened. My door was open to her.” The problem is the circumstances haven’t really changed at all. The involvement of women is not a concession, or shouldn’t be, and complementarians of all people should understand and embrace that. We are, after all, those who espouse, “Equality and Distinctiveness.” We should be celebrating the differences and giving equal “air-time” to women in the church. When we don’t, or when we outsource our women’s events to national conferences or local gatherings led by piped in speakers, we should not be surprised when women find their gurus among internet sensations and New York Times bestsellers, or, consequently, when they find their theology informed more by those leaders than they find it in one sermon once a week—especially if they’re a young mom who ends up missing most of the sermon because of young children. It’s easier to be led by Facebook links and pretty Instagram posts during nap time than it is to be led by a sermon on Sunday morning. Hannah Anderson, Jen Wilkin, and more have written extensively on how to employ and empower women in your congregation, and here’s a long interview I did last year with a pastor in New York City on the subject.

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Practically, if you’re scratching your head thinking you’ve done enough to open the doors to women in your congregation, here are some ways you can open them more:

1. Many young women put off seminary because they don’t have the funds, they do desire marriage, and they do not want to bring debt into marriage. This is a real hinderance for them, and one many men cannot understand. If your church is in a place where they can help fund a woman’s seminary education, this is an excellent way to not only invest in women, but also to provide an open door for her to return (or do distance learning) to serve your local congregation. If your local church is not in a place financially do to this, I recommend making it a priority next year.

2. Providing other education opportunities for women in your church is an excellent way to make sure women are being cared for, not just preached at. Offer to fund a CCEF course for a few counseling minded women and then, this is important, utilize the women who have shown themselves faithful in the practice of counseling, particularly in church discipline and other care cases. I’ve seen too many women go through certifications and call themselves “counselors” who end up giving unwise, unproven, and unbiblical counsel, or whose lives do not match up with what they’re counseling. A certification doesn’t mean a certainty. Vet your counselors, male and female.

3. Hire a woman who is clear thinking and able to hold her own at a table full of strong men. Don’t expect her to be the women’s minister, expect her to speak on behalf of women though, and listen to her. Don’t mansplain things to her. I hate using that word, but it is a thing and it is common even in good, solid, faithful local churches.

4. Don’t thumb your nose at women passionate about “women’s ministry.” It’s gotten a bad rap because of lame crafts and silly table games, but if you have a woman who passionately desires to teach and is able to teach, or able to find teachers in your local congregation, see what she is able to do and help her as much as you’re staffed to do.

5. Instead of sending women in your church to a big national conference every year, hold a smaller local one at your church. Bring in a trusted local teacher or utilize one from your congregation. Allocate funds to this. Don’t skimp.

6. Ask women what they’re reading or who they’re listening to and then do your homework. Don’t dismiss them after a few minutes. These speakers/authors are saying something that is grabbing the attention of hundreds of thousands of women across the country. What is it? What void are they speaking to? What gospel are they preaching? Now ask a few trusted women for some alternative authors, speakers, bloggers. Don’t utilize them as your women’s ministry, but read those women, quote them in your sermons, encourage women to read them or reach out to them. I cannot remember the last time I heard a man quote a woman in his sermon. Be the kind of man who does. There are plenty of women worth quoting.

One of the women I have learned the most from was a strong, somewhat abrasive woman, but her words were powerful, her testimony was true, and her life was witness. Elisabeth Elliot said this of Amy Carmichael,

“If she had been born a hundred years later, she would very likely have been encouraged to be angry, told she had a right to express her anger and her sorrow and her bewilderment and her rage, and generally to disintegrate. These were not the expectations of her friends and family. Nothing could have been further from her expectations of herself. Instead, she threw herself into serving others.” 

You have women who are being told by every voice around them to be themselves, to be angry, to express themselves, but throwing themselves into serving others is the antidote for this. I promise it is. When a woman serves others, she loses herself and finds a better One to worship, to long for, to look at, and to love. Open your doors to the women longing to serve, pastors, and don’t make them fit into little molds of children’s ministry or administration. These things are needed, but they are not the whole, or even a fraction, of what women are gifted to do.

I went on an epic rant to one of my best friends this morning (she was raised and leans more liberal, I was raised and lean more conservative, but no subject is off limits in our friendship and it’s one of the reasons I love her so dearly). It was over text message and we were both getting ready to leave for trips so not the most opportune way to rant, but when you live on opposite coasts, you do what you can to keep the spark alive.

My frustration had to do with a liberal elite smugness and a GOP’s smug we-told-you-so base I’m seeing in response to the election. Calls for “safe spaces and honest dialogue” and incredulity at the election outcome by liberals, and an absolute outright gloating and total blind-eye to the President-elect’s foibles, failures, and future blunders by conservatives. I was grateful, in one sense, that most of the Christians I know and respect did not vote for Trump, but that alone illustrates the issue: I surround myself with people with whom I agree. It’s called a confirmation bias and we all have them. The trick is to know you do and to not demonize the ones who don’t know, but to instead educate them and yourself along the way.

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If you lean liberal and are simply scratching your head at the results here, read Hillbilly Elegy. It will do more to help you understand the situation at hand in one sitting, than this entire election season tried to do in one and half years.

If you were raised in a poor, predominantly white town, it would be helpful for you to understand what is actually going on in cities where perfectly normal and legal citizens of this country with varying races are simply trying to live, read: American Passage

If you were raised in a predominantly white evangelical setting and have trouble understanding the unrest by African-Americans, read: Letters to a Birmingham Jail

If you were raised in the north or the south, and are sure you aren’t racist, read: The Warmth of Other Suns 

If you went to college pre-1990 and can’t figure out why Millennials care so much about the cost of higher education, read: Paying the Price.

If you were raised in a home where your parent’s income was considered Upper Middle Class or above, read: White Trash

If you were raised in a home where welfare, food stamps, and the food pantry was where you or your friends got food from, read: Bobos in Paradise

If you were raised in a home that leaned liberal or leaned conservative, but what you see happening today doesn’t reflect what you were raised to believe, read: Strangers in their Own Land.

If you are a pacifist or think all war is unjust, read The Heart and the Fist.

If no one in your immediate family has been deployed, read Tribe.

None of these books solve the crisis of divide at hand here, but they do give us a small glimpse into what “the other side” might be thinking or processing or what has bolstered their belief in what’s right. Rebecca Reynolds said it well in her post today on Thistle and Toad,

The beliefs of the average American are neither formed nor altered by reason. For the most part, our religion and our politics begin with affective impulses more than formal, cognitive research. What we believe about God and country is usually born in the gut, in the center of desire, nightmare, and imagination.

Many of us find our political and theological instincts early in life, then those instincts tend to interweave with a smattering of real life relationships. Over 15-years-worth of Thanksgivings, we hear that FDR destroyed America (or that he saved it). We hear praise or criticism of unions. We hear what happened to our aunts and uncles in California, or in rural Tennessee, or in Chicago as a result of legislation passed in D.C. All of these stories converge to form and then confirm a metanarrative that becomes a framework for how we interpret the entire world.

Few of us bother to fact check those metanarratives. They become too personal to vivisect. All of these beliefs have faces, because they are connected to people and situations we know.

None of us can truly understand what another person felt was at stake in this election or is at stake in the coming years, but we can certainly do our best to try. It’s not as simple or cut and dried as the one-issue voters and die-hard Democrats want it to be, but none of us will grasp that if we continue to crave both “safe spaces” and “honest dialogue.” The two are at complete odds with one another; there is safety in numbers, but not if all the numbers look, think, and act just like you.

If you turn away from those who don’t think like you, you simply cannot complain about the state of politics in American today, you do not have the right to choose an America that only works for you or people just like you. Chance offense or hurt, your own or others, but actually listen to someone with intent to hear them instead of listening with the intent to change their mind. There’s only one who changes minds, and thank the Holy Spirit, it isn’t you.

If you have books or a category you think should be considered, comment below.

Someone said blogging is dead, but what I hope they meant is the rat race of push button publishing and flurry response to response to response to response blogging is dead. No one can survive on that sort of writing, nor thrive, not the writer or the reader. I hope that kind of blogging is dead. But back in the early hours of the 2000s, when blogging still felt like a secret from the rest of the world, it felt so alive and made me feel so alive and I’ve been hoping to find that spark again.

I emptied out my subscription/feed reader and started fresh, slashed my Instagram follows by more than half, stepped back from Facebook and Twitter (Forever? For a time? Who knows?), and in an orchestrated attempt to listen to the sounds I love most, I cloistered myself with the living bloggers. And by living bloggers, I mean the ones who are still writing about real life, waking to the perpetual morning, who could write a whole chapter about the way to slice an onion or the leaf they found while walking.

I used to think a writer was just one who writes, but I have become less generous, I think, and believe now that a writer is one who withholds words from the public until they have gotten them right in the private. Having something to say doesn’t mean it ought to be said, but saying it, like the poet said, makes it real. The sad predicament of all the saying happening is things which oughtn’t have become real have become so and we have ushered ourselves right into a tragedy, just by the words we write and say and publish. We may disagree and I find I am okay with that too. Opinions are in plenty but listening is rare.

I met a woman a few months ago who wanted to be a real writer, to publish on the sites that circulate among the brand of evangelicals within which we both find ourselves. Those in the know would tell her to write for more, grow her platform, but I told her to be faithful with her small space, her blog. It has become a dirty word in many ways, coupled with churlish comments about “mommy” or “niche,” while I think the problem is that blog became a word at all. I prefer to think of it as an invitation, read or don’t. Your choice. But I want out of blasted pressure to perform tricks and jump through SEO shaped hoops. I told her in ten years those sites she wanted to write for would be forgotten, but the exercise of daily writing on her blog would yield fruit ten-thousand times—not just the book writing sort either, but the working out of her salvation sort. Be faithful, friend. I called her friend, even though I didn’t know her because I knew the churning in her soul as near as I knew my own.

When I looked at the “blogs” I felt I had to be reading, I found a common thing among them: they were all instructive in some ways. Instructing me how to think, how to pray, how to be a church member, how not to be, how to think about the election, how not to think, how to be a friend, how not to be a friend, how to train kids, how to think about everything in the whole world that can ever be thought of. I was suffocating in the hows of life and forgetting to simply love, enjoy, and cherish the life right in front of me. Not to hedonistically drown myself in the throes of whatever today brought, but to stop and think, not of what everyone else thought I should be doing or thinking or saying, but what did God want to teach me in this single, solitary life?

This whole year feels like a waste when I cut and paste it next to the How Tos of most articles and blogs I was reading. I was a failure from start to finish. I did not think right, treat right, walk right, hear right, or see right. I measured my success by how much shame I felt when I went to bed at night and this is no way to live, and yet this was the way I saw many of my sisters living. Surrounding themselves with Pinterest and Blogs and Articles and Books and People and Photos and Friends and Ideas, but never stopping to think: within my home, within my family, is this helpful? Does this work?

Last winter a friend of mine told me if I ever wasn’t sure what my calling was, or if I lost sight what I was supposed to be doing as a wife (since this has been the besetting struggle of my year: how do I do this?), to stop, look at my home, my husband, and say: what does it mean to look well to the ways of my household right now? And then to do that. It might mean caring for my husband actually means believing him when he says he loves me or says I’m beautiful. Or it could mean reading the Word rather than doing the laundry. Or it could mean making him healthy dinners every night and packing his lunch every day. Or it could mean weeping when I am hurt and laughing when I am happy. This concept has recalibrated me every day this year, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways.

All of this I suppose is just a way to say to you that if what’s in your eyesight when you look up is what everyone else is doing or thinks you ought to be doing, clear the way, friend. Clear the paths around you, unmuddle the simplicity of the gospel. It is Christ who cares for you and cares for your provision, far more than you can ever care for it. So let the dead things drop, find out what they are and let them drop. Maybe Sayable is one of those dead things for you. Go ahead, unsubscribe. I won’t be offended, I promise.

I’m slowly, slowly coming back to a way of writing that I used to love. Sharing links to beautiful writing. Sharing books I love. Writing quietly in the still dark morning hours. Caring for the needs of my household means writing and reading what stirs my soul and mind, not draining it. Maybe blogging is dead. Or maybe it’s just the frenzied way it’s done that’s dying.
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Here are some places I’ve subscribed to recently:

Food Loves Writing: Just some everyday things, words, photos, recipes.
Thistle and Toad: Beautiful writing on really hard things in life and culture. 
The Beautiful Due: Poetry and Letters to Winn. 
The Rabbit Room: A smattering of music, poetry, fiction, and non. 
Cloistered Away: Homeschooling mama with simple suggestions for life. 
Deeply Rooted:  Words on faith, life, and family.

Yesterday a friend called to ask for advice. Another friend had told her to proceed one way, a counselor had told her to proceed another. I knew in a sense she was asking me to affirm one or offer a third way. I offered a third way by asking instead what did she think the Holy Spirit was asking of her?

It turned out the Helper had shown her a way in which at the end of the scenario, she would need not only the Help of the Holy Spirit, but also the Comfort if it went as we expected. The Holy Spirit was offering a third way and, I think, the right way.

Nate and I have a saying in our house: Be faithful to the word of God and not a certain outcome. It has saved us from a mighty many scrapes and, to be honest, thrown us right in the middle of some of the hardest predicaments of our lives. To use the word of God not only as a buffer in the midst of storm or the roadmap to treasure, but also to believe the Book of Life may lead to certain death in this world, but it will not return void forever, is a risky thing to do. What seems smart, seems sufficient, seems wise isn’t always what the word of God and the Holy Spirit would ask of us.

Some of us Christians don’t very much like the business of leaning on the Holy Spirit, and with good cause. How many of us have been the recipients of heavy hands on our foreheads and spittle from a prophet’s mouth, men who were purported to be “led by the spirit,” but spewed lies leading to unmet expectations for years later? How many of us have been on the hearing end of someone claiming Jesus told them to get divorced or buy a Mercedes or their son or daughter would be saved on such and such a date, or they would get what they wanted in a certain situation? We all have hopes and we all have preferences, but pinning “the Holy Spirit told me so” onto our hopes feels more like a Get Out Of Jail Free card than the narrow road to Kingdom dependance—which looks more like “If it be God’s will,” than most of us give Him credit for.

What my friend, in the midst of prayer and weeping, had sensed the Holy Spirit telling her to do went against psychology and churchy ideas of tough love, but even more than that, it went against her own flesh. She was, like Paul, compelled to do what in her flesh she did not want to do.

Ah! This, my friend, tells us we’re on the right track.

In an age when it’s all about our stories and our preferences and our feelings, we ought to pay attention when what we are compelled to do seems at odds with what our flesh and the culture around us wants us to do. I am not saying we ought to stick around when we’re being physically or sexually abused (and I know the line is fine here), but some of what we Christians call abuse is really just the brokenness of humanity in such tight quarters. People are sad and it affects us. People are grieving and it’s uncomfortable for us. People are suicidal and we have to be attentive to them. People are angry and we hear them say untrue things. People are fearful and we cannot understand why. This is the sort of brokenness most of us are pressed up against every day. It’s everywhere, we can’t escape it, though so many do and end up building tiny castles with massive moats and standing upon the highest towers refusing to hear any criticism or complaint which makes them uncomfortable.

Paul said, “I bear on my body the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ.” You think for a minute he would have stayed under the whip, the burnings, the shipwrecks, the lashings if the Holy Spirit had not compelled him to? No, friend, without the Holy Spirit he would have been sunk. He would have skedaddled. He would have slunk away, swam away, sprinted away. But with the Holy Spirit he was able to say, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:9,10

Friend, seek solace knowing the wounds you take today are for the sake of Christ—who came into brokenness in order to save to the uttermost.

The Holy Spirit Made me Do it