I have dreamed of doing laundry for a long time. I dreamed of a washing machine near my kitchen, the table piled high with his and hers and theirs, the backyard with a line strung through it, billowing sheets and hand-towels and discreet underthings with the sun bleaching everything to near new.

I dreamed of what that laundry meant and how it would be proof that life had settled and moved into a rhythm, not an easy one, but a known one. The poet, Richard Wilbur, says, “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry / Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam / And clear dances done in the sight of heaven,” so I cannot help myself for romanticizing it. Since I first read this poem I knew that if Love ever called me to the things of this world, this was the thing I wanted to be called to: nothing on earth but laundry, his and hers and theirs.

I think of this today and every day now because we live in a rental house where the laundry is tucked in a narrow closet in a small back room upstairs, where the doors aren’t level and never stay opened or closed, depending on what I want them to do. And where the washer, and the dryer above it, are barely large enough for a single load of hand-towels. The dryer finishes with a buzz so loud you can hear it on our back porch and front porch too. And the floors aren’t level and so for 45 minutes while the washer cleans, it also shakes our home near to falling apart. Every day I wonder, “Will this be the day it comes crashing through to the kitchen below?” This is not the laundry I imagined doing with my life.

I cried hard today on the phone with my husband. I knew I would before he called, I knew if he mentioned a certain string of words he is prone to mentioning these days in a certain order that all the things inside of me would break and be nudged out of their crevices and I would cry.

Richard Wilbur wrote also “The soul shrinks / From all that it is about to remember, / From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,” and I used to think I knew what that meant. Before the laundry of my life—and not my dreams—became reality. I imagine rows of people lining up to say in my general direction, but not to me, “I told her so.” I falter. I fall.

This is not the laundry I imagined once: the sort billowing on clotheslines in the backyards of cabins or farmhouses or small bungalows; the sort worn by people who knew a hard day’s work, but knew how to rest too; the sort where the lights and the darks never landed in the same heap in the corner of the closet, and where they always landed in baskets and not heaps in the corners of the closet to begin with.

This laundry is loud and hard and long and mixed and never ending. It is everywhere and always and all the time. It is folded and put away and then tomorrow it is in need of wash again. It never ends. It is the “punctual rape of every blessed day” and today I break with it. The washer is pounding itself into the wall again and the dog is barking downstairs and the door won’t stay open long enough for me to hold a basket and go out of it. There is work to be done for others and work to be done for myself and I am still wearing the shorts I pulled on at 5:47 this morning. I have not brushed my teeth. I have had three cups of coffee and three wide mouth Mason jars of water and the dog won’t stop whining and my husband and I are disagreeing in a frustratingly agreeable way and now the dryer is buzzing three times at me and I crumble because this is not the laundry I imagined.

I bring the basket of clean clothes into our closet and pull the necks of shirts over the cedar hangers. I catch a scent different than detergent. The scent of my husband. His dress shirts hanging above with a new rule instated by me: wear your shirts more than once because I cannot make laundry my whole life. I gather them in my hands and pull them close and inhale. The smell of work and soap and laundry and him, my love, my thing of this world.

Love does call us to the things of this world and it looks more like “clear dances done in the sight of heaven” than I thought it would. Quiet faithfulness, echoing silence, long days, little praise, the presence of God and a puppy and not much else. This was not the laundry I imagined, but it may be the laundry I needed.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
BY RICHARD WILBUR

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
“Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.”

In the words of Vonnegut, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” And so it was, my story has got pneumonia. There’s no doctor for this and no cure or medicine. It’s not writer’s block, it’s the opposite. It’s not fear of saying something, it’s fear of saying everything.

Others think of writers as prophets of sorts. Don’t ask me what writers think of themselves. The way blogs go these days it seems we all think we’re on a reality show or talk show or the stage and we are the star. Someone’s salvation is always resting on the crux of how well a writer can write it, and what we need someone to tell us is maybe it’s just the working out of our own salvation in the crux. I have never understood people who had books “just burning” inside them to be written or who have always known they would be a writer or who have messages they know only they can tell. I have always been on the other side of the spectrum, tapping the mic endlessly asking, “Is this thing on?” if only to say to the naysayers and bystanders and passersby that there is nothing to see here, carry on.

Thank you for staying, readers and friends. You didn’t have to and I’ll understand if you leave. I might leave if this was the story I came to hear. Or I might not. I have been prone to unpredictable behavior of late. This is what I do want to say to you though, if you have the patience and the benevolence to hear it.

This is how it happened, from the almost beginning: Nate and I met in the foyer of our church, it was a non-event except that I liked his beard and he was still not dating girls. A few weeks later a church in Denver asked me to consider working with them. I hemmed and hawed and talked with pastors and elders and friends and traveled there three months later to figure things out. Then I came home and made the decision in a conference room upstairs in my church with a few pastors and elders and friends.

I also told them then that the night before Nate Wilbert had asked me out. Who knew what would happen? Not us.

The decision to go to Denver was made, though, and when Nate and I knew we would be getting married, the decision to go to Denver was back on the table for a hot minute, and by minute, I mean second. “Do you wanna?” “Yeah, I wanna.” “Okay, let’s.” There was a bit more to it, but that was the general decision making process. We hardly knew one another but we knew we were going to get married and that everything in our lives was going to be One Great Adventure because we were doing it together and everything looks shinier when you’re in love.

Denver or bust. Except we didn’t really expect the bust. Everyone says it, but no one actually expects it.

Then the bust: a newly acquired house, a new job with more challenges than we could have envisioned going in, a few miscarriages, shootings, job loss, and so much more. You know the wrap. What you don’t know, maybe, is that we’d been encouraged to step back from leadership as much as possible in our first year of marriage. We were going from living in the middle of ministry in our respective homes to our primary ministry being one another. He didn’t know how to do that well in his first marriage and I sure didn’t know how to do it at all. So envision with me this: two people who don’t know how to swim, deep sea diving into a wreckage where they have to surface with precious artifacts without damaging them. This was our first year.

You know most of the story—but not all of it, please don’t ever assume you know all of someone’s story unless you’ve sat across from them with tea or coffee or your beverage of choice and watched them cry ugly tears or say angry words while you just sat there and were a presence beside them. This is bonus talk right here, not the point of this post at all. I just want to remind all of us that we fall under the shiny spell of interconnectivity more often than not, commentating on lives based on photos and 140 characters. As if the sum of a life can be measured in a snapshot or 140 letters.

Am I rambling, I probably am, but if there’s something I’ve learned a lot this year it’s how easy it is to assume really bad things or really good things in the lives of people as we voyeuristically and unthinkingly scan the artifacts they share. Social media isn’t a lie, friends, as some would have you believe, but it is just the tip of many, many things. So, maybe I should rephrase, you don’t know most of the story, in fact, you know very, very little of it. The mountain of things you don’t know about our lives this past year could not be moved by the pile of things you do know.

Moving on.

So, bust it was. We didn’t intend on leaving Denver, or the church. It’s not the church’s fault we were newly married and had disobeyed good counsel and had jumped in with both feet and were in over our heads. We had every intention of staying, of Nate finding a job there, and of learning to swim. But, God, in His strange sovereignty (and I don’t say that sarcastically, I truly mean it was strange), did not provide a job there.

When Nate first broached the subject of looking out of state, and in fact the mid-Atlantic region, my first response was, “Well, if we’re looking out of state, why not Texas?” For reasons I didn’t know at the time, though, his response was an emphatic no. And because my dear husband had uprooted his life to move for my job in Denver, I agreed to the mid-Atlantic region if a job awaited him there. He went to high-school in DC and had fond memories of the place, but I confess, I was envisioning something more along the lines of bucolic pastures and Shenandoah valleys. I am nothing if not idealistic.

There were interviews all over the mid-Atlantic region, but the one job I didn’t want him to get was the one job—out of myriads of interviews and applications—he was offered. In the heart of D.C. Across the street from the Smithsonian, in view of the Capitol, and every stately monument along the way.

I remembered driving through D.C. years ago. It was Thanksgiving weekend. I was traveling to a friend’s wedding in the Carolinas. It took me nearly four hours to get around the beltway. I swore to myself, probably drawing blood with my fingernails into my palms, that I would never live in a place like this. I was made for hills and mountains and crickets and fireflies. I know there are some who love and feel called to D.C. and these people I commend, but give me the country air and people and problems there. I would never live in D.C.

I remembered saying the same thing to the Lord right before I moved to Texas, though, and see how I was wrong? So I didn’t say any of that to my dear husband. As much as I couldn’t see myself or our family, or him, thriving in the area, I wanted him to feel wanted and approved of and needed by someone, anyone. And they were offering him a job. So I kept my mouth shut and I said, “Babe, I know you want to work and I want you to work, so wherever that is, I will follow you.”

And I did. And we’re here. And his commute is three hours a day. And this week they told him they’re most likely moving his team to another building in the District—one that will add 30 minutes to his commute, making it an even four hours of traveling a day. Whenever we mention that to people around here (because the cost of living pushes people outside the city), they nod and say things like, “Yup, well, that’s just how it is here.” Or “Well, sometimes you have to make sacrifices.” I want to across from those people and say, “You don’t have to. What you’re saying is ‘I’m choosing to sacrifice community on the altar of my commute and job.’”

But we’re not.

Here is why I told you all that above, in case you’re wondering. I’m telling you because in the first move to Denver we moved for my job and he did not talk to me about some reasons he had for wanting to leave Dallas. The second move to D.C., we moved for his job, and I did not talk to him about some reasons I had for not wanting to move here. We both sinned against one another in that process and I have all sorts of excuses for why: we didn’t know one another well, we were just figuring this out, we loved the other one and wanted them to flourish, our proclivities and personalities are to stuff things instead of expose them, and we gave into our flesh in these ways. There is so much more to say, but that’s the bottom line. We sinned, a bit unknowingly and naively, but still sinned.

I’ve said before that marriage isn’t hard, not like the drama queens say with their hands across their perspiring brow, “Marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.” Marriage isn’t hard like that. It’s got hard things for sure, but what’s hard about marriage is you’ve put two sinners together until death them do part. And for us, we left the safety net of community and friends, and like frogs in slowly boiling water, our sin was eating us alive, we just didn’t know it.

Until now.

Even though the cost of living is high here and he is gone twelve hours of our day and we’re struggling to feel at home here, and now know we’re not going to be at home here, we’ve also had space and time to sit under the weight of our sins of omission toward one another. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, “So you withheld your true feelings, big deal, harder things are coming for you.” Except withholding those feelings and fears and hopes meant we moved across the country twice, lost a church community twice, lost $100,000 and our home, lost a lot more than just the benefit of having your feelings known. So, all I’m saying is there was a big price for those small secrets.

Everyone knows that seeing a counselor means everything is going to be fixed though, so that’s what we’ve been doing. Kidding. We told our counselor first thing, “We don’t expect you to be our savior,” and he’s made good on that expectation. But it has been helpful, in the way that peeling an onion is good before cutting it up. You peel back the layers and then you cry a lot. It’s like paying money every other week to peel a single onion together. I highly recommend it.

He’s asked good questions and pressed pretty hard on some things and not very hard at all on other things, but in the process it’s getting revealed that Nate and I need to learn to emote and talk and that it’s okay to say, “I don’t like _____, and that’s okay.” And also it’s okay to grieve what we’ve lost this year. And also it’s okay to not be super Christians. And it’s okay to withhold information from blog readers and even friends, but not from one another. And it’s okay to say, “Denver wasn’t a mistake. D.C. wasn’t a mistake. But also moving again doesn’t mean we’re running away.”

It’s been cathartic to be able to step back, a year into marriage, and talk about, well, what do we actually want our lives to look like, what do we want our family to look like, when we can start the adoption process, how we want to raise our kids, what sort of church do we want to be married to and serve in, what do we value in church leadership, what do we value in a city, in a town, in the country, how little can we live on instead of how much. All of those questions are things that maybe should be talked about before marriage (though I think the pressure to have all questions answered before marriage is one of the ways the enemy keeps people living in sin instead of covenant), but they are certainly things that should be talked about within marriage and without fear.

We’ve been doing that en masse. It’s been a veritable share-fest around our house these days. We’re making lists and unmaking them. We’re talking through cities and ruling them out. We’re aiming toward relationship building instead of job getting. We’re concentrating our search on churches and not employment. A job is important, even necessary before we move, but our primary posture right now is: where is God calling us to love one another, to raise a family, to invest into a church and city and people, to grow old in our marriage together?

So, because seven is the number of perfection, we’re making it The Seven Moves of 2015-16.

And we think we know where that place is.

It’s a place that holds a dear spot in my heart and a place that’s only a few hours from his family and a few more from mine. It’s a place I spent many happy years and many more happy holidays. In the past few years it has been like a vortex for some of my closest friends, pulling them back to various neighborhoods and churches. It’s the place I wept to leave and always feel at home coming back to. At the end of the month we’re traveling there together for a few days, to see if God might be drawing us there too.

We’re holding it loosely, but we’re talking about it instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist. And for the first time in a long time, we’re feeling excited and expectant and hopeful. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t say to me, “I’m really looking forward to our visit there.” And each time he does, I remember again what it means to be drawn closer to another person in a strange way. I can’t explain it. I know it’s good. And hard. And not impossible. Not easy. But good.

One of the things we failed to do in Denver was to prioritize relationship over normal mechanisms for getting a job. Partially Nate just didn’t have any connections there aside from other church staff. We were only there a few months when he lost his contract. We didn’t know where to turn or to go. He turned to sharpening up his resume, online searches, Linkedin connections. In Dallas he would have had a job in weeks. We knew this because he’d never been without a job and never had to look for one. But in this new place he didn’t have relational capital built up and he confesses now his pride got in the way of working on it.

In this season, we have been deeply convicted that God is more than capable of being our provision in every way, including by giving Nate a job. We have prayed more as a couple and found joy in restraint in the past few weeks, by not trying to manhandle this situation, but by being patient and faithful. We’re reaching out to friends in the area, we’re passing his resume on, and we’re scheduling meetings for him when we’re down there in a few weeks, but we’re not going to put getting a job before building relationship and building on relationships we already have there. In the ministry world that’s the norm, but in the business world, in Nate’s world? That is abnormal and especially abnormal when we don’t live in the city we’re looking to be in. But we’re trusting God is bigger and better than norms and we’re just asking for clarity in all things.

This is nearly 3000 words and kudos if you’ve made it this far. I wrote this mostly for me, but for you too, if it helps you to pray for us or for you to understand you. That’s why I write at all, honestly. It’s not to be understood by you in some needy way. None of us need to be understood by anyone and no amount of postulating or explaining will accomplish it anyway. I’ve learned that. But I write because it’s humbling for me and maybe it helps one or two of you understand yourself too. I’d be happy with that.

Will you pray friends? For us and our marriage? We have no idea whether we’ll be moving or not, but we’re learning to communicate, to dream, to talk, to be honest, and all of that is good wherever we live. But also pray for you, that you would learn to take your hands off your wounds, to stop self-protecting in your marriages and friendships, to be vulnerable with your fears and concerns. Not to the whole world, like Vonnegut says, but to one, just one.

Chattanooga or bust.

chattanooga

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In a recurring dream, I see myself writing in an old attic or barn, wood beams above me and panels around me. I don’t know whether I’m writing on a laptop or by hand; all I know is there’s blinding white in front of me and the words have run out. I used to think it was a nightmare about writer’s block, but it’s evolved slowly over the years to a worse fear: There are no words left to say about anything.

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “Of the making of books there is no end” (v. 12:12). My dad used to tell me when I whined as a child, “Same song, different verse.” In an anthropology class I read Noam Chomsky saying there are untold numbers of ways to say the same thing without ever using the same words in the same order. The possibilities seem endless.

Why then, the fear of words of running out?

Our fear of finitude of ideas drives writers to steal from others. Austin Kleon writes in his best-selling book, Steal Like an Artist, “Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” Unfortunately, though, many copy, copy, copy and instead of finding themselves, they lose themselves.

Seasoned bloggers know that when they press publish, releasing their words into the wild abyss of the Internet, they lose a bit of themselves. Not just because their once-private words have become public, but because they can no longer control where, when, and how those words are used.

Loyal readers flag me about every other month when they notice cut-and-paste hack jobs swiped from my personal blog. I mostly assume that someone’s grandmother doesn’t know Internet protocol or some kid wanted words to put on a stock photo with a hazy Instagram filter. The most recent case was different, though. After the third email came, I clicked through to spot whole paragraphs, paraphrased sentence for sentence, from a few of my own posts. I clicked further to discover this new blogger’s “about” page co-opted my own bio word for word, sandwiched by paragraphs of her own details.

Her words sounded like mine, my readers had said. Well, because they were mine.

Continue reading at Christianity Today. 

Sayable is still on hiatus, but I’m writing elsewhere in the wild world out there. Revive Our Hearts asked me for some thoughts on singleness and the local church a few months back, and the post went live today. I loved writing this one because there’s so much richness in this passage on Lydia and the church. I hope you’ll check it out whether you’re single or married. It’s important for both to see the value of singleness within the local church. 

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One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is that it gives us exactly the information we need—no more, no less. Sometimes this means we have to extract meaning from its riches, and sometimes it means we trust that we don’t have all the details for a reason.

In this passage, we’re not told whether Lydia was married, but the implication (the fact that she leads her own household) is that she is not. Whether it’s because she never married or was widowed, we aren’t told—so we trust the specifics of her story to God.

This passage encouraged me deeply in my years of singleness and continues to encourage me less than a year into marriage. For years I felt thwarted of ministry opportunities because of my singleness. There seemed to be no place for me in the local church unless it was in children’s ministry, to which I didn’t feel a particular call. Lydia’s story fueled me to believe that God did want me to exercise the gifts He’d given me and not wait until marriage to do so.

Within the story of Lydia are eight observations that may encourage both the Church and women to whom God hasn’t yet given the gift of marriage. They encouraged me and set me on a course for continued ministry within marriage instead of waiting for marriage to magically set my ministry in motion.

Continue reading eight observations on Lydia and the local church. 

I know this post will feel like whiplash after the last two posts and I don’t mean to do that to you. But this morning I read Psalm 127 and it’s sticking to my gut in an uncomfortable way. It’s sticking to my gut in a way that confirms some things that have been otherwise floating around:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

I read it through twice, three times, and then a fourth. I am no stranger to this Psalm, I know it to near perfect memory. As I read it this morning though, I pictured my life in it in a way I never have before. Until I owned a house, felt the danger of a city, lost the fruit of my womb, and had enemies, it was easy to picture this Psalm as it was sung in ancient days, but not these days, not my days.

Today though, I see my home in Denver, the financial loss we took on it. I see the gunman shooting six times into the police-officer on the ground in my new city. I see the year now of sleepless nights, learning to share a bed, putting a night person and a morning person on a similar schedule, waking with a new puppy every hour to few hours, a husband who rises in the four o’clock hour most mornings. I see the two tiny humans we lost in unceremonious ways, gushing away from my womb, out of our quiver, into their watery grave. I see enemies, accusations against me, us, our small family, our decisions. This Psalm infiltrates the fibers of my life this year and leaves nothing untouched.

. . .

Being a child of divorced parents left a undeniable impression on many, many, many things. One of which is I decided if the Lord ever gave me the gift of marriage I wouldn’t wait until our marriage was in trouble to get marriage counseling.

So, almost a year to the day of our wedding, we met with a counselor last night for nearly two hours. The first thing we said was, “We know you’re not our Savior, we just need help processing all of this.” We were a deluge of facts, bulleting down a list of All The Things. We sat close to one another and adored and loved one another not one iota less than a year ago, but with a heck of a lot more weight to all of it. We spilled it all. And at the end of it he said, “I’m wondering something: do you guys know how to feel emotions?”

I pictured the silly magnet on my Gram’s fridge when I was little for a minute. The grid of different faces we now call “emoticons” (as though our generation invented the smiley face…) with a “Today I’m Feeling…” title in some eighties version of Comic Sans. And I thought to myself, I don’t know how to feel anything except exhausted.

We said no. No, we don’t.

. . .

My personal challenge for this month is to Engage Emotions, but all this month has taught me is that I have no earthly idea how to engage anything. I’m like a whack-a-mole with my heart: the moment something foreign or heavy or scary or angry pops up, I pound it back down before it takes over with a force I can’t fathom. But I’m so angry. I am. I’m not angry like a raging fury, I’m angry like a rolling storm over a Great Lake, picking up rain and force as it comes.

I’m not angry at a specific person or even God, but I’m angry that two barely married kids were thrown into situations we had no idea about. I’m angry that Nate’s contract wasn’t renewed only a few months after getting married and a month after buying a house. I’m angry that in the face of all the stress my body couldn’t hold two new barely formed babies. I’m angry that a hundred applications and demoralizing interviews left us with only one offer—on the other side of the country. I’m angry that there is evil in the world and I saw it and now every siren and suspicious person ushers in a low grade anxiety. I’m angry that our house was worth what we had it listed for, not a penny less, and we ended up losing so much on it because we couldn’t float lives in two different states. I’m angry that my husband’s heart has been having issues for months. I’m angry that I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in a year. I’m angry that I went to the doctor yesterday and listed out all the things and she said, “Sleep is going to be one of the most important things you can do to heal and restore your body.”

I’m angry because God’s word says He gives His beloved rest and all of this makes me feel like I am not His beloved after all.

But I’m angry, like I told our counselor yesterday, in a standoffish way. As though I’m viewing an intricate painting in the National Gallery or a complicated sculpture or a biopic. That’s someone’s life but not mine. I feel angry on behalf of the girl I was a year ago and the girl I left behind somewhere along the way.

Today I shared a bit of that with some friends and fellow writers and one said, “I have often marveled at how detachedly you write about all you’re going through on your blog. Now I see from what the counselor says how you do that! Seriously, though, I wonder if writing about all this for the public while in the middle of it serves to exacerbate the emotional distancing. Writing inherently distances us from our inner life simply through the process of externalizing and reifying it. I wonder if this might contribute to that kind of detachment.”

She said the words Nate and I have been thinking and talking about for a while. And for one moment, it felt like permission to do what we’ve been talking about: putting Sayable on hiatus. To learn God’s word is about God and for those back in ancient times, also it is about and for you, and it is also for me. For my weak heart and disengaged emotions. For my inability to feel anger or sadness or frustration or joy for myself, for fear of what it might say about the Holy Spirit inside of me.

So friends, for the sake of my marriage, my home, my heart, and my love for the Lord, I will be putting Sayable on hiatus for a few months. I don’t know how long a few months is, it could be two, it could be six. It may seem easy to write about emotions and mourning and decision making as deeply as I do here, but it takes a lot out of me in all honesty. It takes a lot of me. Part of my problem is I’ve begun to write for you instead of writing for Him, and I’ve been brutally honest with you, but struggled to bring my everything and my nothing to Him.

I cried hard today while writing this and it was the most cathartic thing I’ve done in a year. I know it is the right thing to do. I will miss you, but I miss my heart more.

I need the Lord to build my house, otherwise all my labor is indeed vain.

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In a faulty attempt to improve the reading experience for those of you who are subscribed through email (Which is a fat lot of you—thank you!), I have switched the email delivery format of Sayable to Mail Chimp. Along the way (partially because of the fact that I’ve been blogging at Sayable since 2001, have eons of archives here, and haven’t updated my blogging platform for about five years), the process was clunky and I lost about a third of those who were subscribed via Feedly. If you were one, I’m terribly sorry. I love that you’ve come along on this journey so far and would love to have you continue, but it will mean taking action on your part to re-subscribe on whichever feed aggregator you use.

Through the amazing power of Twitter, the help of some quick-to-offer friends, and 2.5 hours with Mail Chimp support, we were able to muddle through and transfer most of the subscribed readers! Praise him. I was ready to throw in the towel (blogging is fun except for all the technical stuff).

I got a deluge of emails this morning from people thanking me for switching the email delivery to a more readable format. To give you an idea of what they were dealing with, let’s just say it was like a dash of 1996 in their inbox every morning. Here’s a screenshot:

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Not exactly a pleasurable reading experience.

Here’s what she looks like with the update:

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So! Thank you for bearing with me in the process. There’s always a bit of frustration when in order to serve some readers you end up sacrificing some more. At some point I will need to do a complete overhaul of Sayable from top to bottom, back to front, and hope we can make that a more seamless transition for all of you. Also, after a test post went through and it was looking like Mail Chimp was a lost cause, I made a snarky comment in the test post (image above). That’s my total depravity showing through and I’d ask your forgiveness. I really thought it wasn’t going to work at that point and was just trying to at least save Feedly subscribers. But God.

Forgive me?

If you’d like to read Sayable through the new and improved interface in your email, just insert your email address on the sidebar and voila.

You’re the reason I keep writing here. If I had my druthers I’d probably hang the whole thing up and out to dry, but you wonderful people who keep coming back and keep encouraging and keep praying and keep learning, you’re the reason I’m sticking it out. As long as God gives me freedom to do so, I’ll keep honoring His gift and showing up here. Thank you.

One of the best blessings to me in my singleness were friends who did not make marriage an ultimate thing in my eyes by only telling me the beautiful parts of their marriage, but who told me the difficulties of it as well. They also prayed for me actively to someday have the gift of marriage. I hope I am doing the same for my still single friends who desire the gift. I want them to know its not all romance and intimacy and good feelings and great conversation. But I also want them to experience the gift themselves so they can both see it and minister out of it.

One thing it is very easy to believe during the long fast from sexual intimacy that is godward singleness, is the option to have sex will make things better. Most of us wouldn’t be so foolish to say having sex makes things better, but it’s darn easy to believe the option and permission to will make it better.

But sex doesn’t make things better.

Not in the way you think it will.

Sex is good, God created it, he blessed it. He made it the integral piece in the procreation of humanity—science thwarts it and succeeds it but even science admits the masterful design of two humans making more humans. Sex is great, but it does not make all the angsts of longing for intimacy before marriage go away. All those angsts still exist within marriage, they just take different forms.

I know it’s easy for the married person to say this, you protest, because at the end of the day I can still have sex. But what I wish I could tell every unmarried person I know is until we realize our issues are much deeper and more profound than a sexual itch for satisfaction, we will still find our desires unmet. Within marriage and without.

The blessing of sex between a husband and wife is not to relieve stress, to make me feel desirable, or to make my husband feel strong and manly. It is not even to conceive and bear children. These are all benefits, but none of them are guarantees. God doesn’t owe us relief from stress apart from him, the guarantee I will always feel desirable (I don’t), my husband will feel capable and sufficient (he doesn’t), or children will be borne. God doesn’t even owe us sex within marriage. None of the things we think sex will accomplish (and indeed try to chase inside and outside marriage), are guarantees.

When I hear those who are not married say “But at least you get to have sex! And live with your best friend!” Well, first, I’d warn against saying at least in regard to much. But second I want to say your words betray a much, much deeper need and the fact that you think sex or living with your best friend fixes it tells me you don’t see your need as clearly as you think. If you think I’m just saying this because I’m married, trust me, I’ve been saying things like this for years and years as a single.

I’ve heard the illustration of the gift of sex for a man and woman in marriage like this: it’s glue holding you together. But in my limited view sex is more like a reminder: I am not my own anymore, I am part of someone and sex is a tether to remind, seal, and strengthen the binding. Outside of marriage there would actually be no reason or benefit for sex because union with this specific person—my husband—doesn’t exist. What I mean is, until he was my husband, he wasn’t my husband and sex wasn’t necessary (1 Corinthians 7:2).

I know this sounds very pragmatic but I want to be a bit pragmatic if I can. Our view of sex has been so colored by films and imaginations and images, and in many ways I want to sit down and say: sex just isn’t as great as you think it is, and we don’t need it like we think we do. It’s greatness is not in how it makes us feel or how it destresses us or how awesome our orgasm is. It is only truly good in relation to the person with whom our body is intended by God to be joined with. Can sex outside of marriage feel good? Yup. Can masturbation curb the itch? Yup. But do either of them express worship of God with the gift He’s given in the right context of covenant? No. Therefore, outside marriage it is not good. And inside marriage it is only good if it points to our incompleteness apart from God.

Unmarried friends, the sex you desire and think will satisfy your longing will not. Married friends, you still feel unsatisfied? Like your longing for something is never fully realized? All of this emptiness points to a greater need and a greater longing. Sex within marriage, if anything, makes the lack of complete culmination even more profound because no matter how perfect it is, it still isn’t enough to still the longing in our hearts for God. Fasting from intimacy outside of marriage is preparation for how even within marriage we are still apart from our Groom until the culmination of all things.

My need is for Christ. In marriage and out. Sex is a gift from God but it isn’t the ultimate gift and it certainly doesn’t come without baggage of its own. We live in a broken world, my friend. If it doesn’t feel perfect it’s because it’s not, and it’s okay. Christ, our perfection, knows our longings and knows we are dust.

And that’s better than sex.

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Wayne Irons was a tall man, long in the neck, broad in the shoulders and gut, and small at the feet, like an upside down triangle or an ice cream cone. He was the sort of man who seemed intimidating until he stood up and his spindle legs gave him away. His skin was the color of a scrubbed toddler after a hot bath or a high-school prom dress, pink and bright. Still, children were afraid of him (his height) and grown men ignored him (his complexion). The other students in his class were bored by him and he cared little for them too. Science was his master and his friend, his company and his mistress, his god.

This particular morning Wayne Irons was wearing galoshes and a raincoat. It was not raining, nor had it been, nor was it scheduled to be, but Wayne Irons was not wearing them for inclement weather outside. And as we have established, Wayne Irons cared little for the opinions of others regarding his person, his stature, or his clothing.

The galoshes were heavy and too large. The left one slipped up and down as he walked, his satchel under one arm and his lunch sack in his other hand. His limp slowed him and he stood on the corner of Beech and 34th to rest a minute, his left leg crooked at the knee. This stance felt most natural for him, even more natural than standing or sitting or lying down. He could still observe everything around him, above the heads of the crowd, while standing only on one leg. Most humans couldn’t do this for long, but he had adapted to his limitations, as all animals do. His own evolutionary process thrilled him. He considered himself a great testament to the truth

Wayne Irons was today visiting the city zoo which was just like every other day, but for one difference: he had been invited to tour the inside of the tropical exhibit, to see up close the animals he had studied for all his life. Invitations to anything were rare for Wayne Irons so it was not lost on him the exceeding good luck he had in procuring this one. It had not occurred to him that he neither tried nor cared for invitations to anything else, not parties, not holidays, not reunions. Being inside tropical exhibit at the city zoo was the pinnacle of all his years of study, the creme de le creme of his life’s work.

The walk to the city zoo was not long and Wayne Irons had walked it nearly every day of his life. He grew up in the same house in which he still lived, in the same bedroom in which he still slept. Wayne Irons was not a man who strayed far from his natural habitat and home. He was a man of consistent rhythms and knew his needs and his habits well. He considered daily visits to the zoo a need more than a habit, but understood others saw things differently. Being a good student of the evolutionary process meant being tolerant of the process in other lives and the bodies of others. He felt himself in an upper echelon of thought in this way. Human beings could be so intolerant of the simple biological needs and urges of others. Laws enacted, taxes attached, protests made, and elections fought—all of these because humanity couldn’t live with a greater understanding that all things eventually evolve or grow or change or die. It was a freeing way to live, Wayne Irons knew this to be true, as certain as he knew that someday he too would die because of an unseen limitation his adaptation would bring him too. “We are finite entities,” he would often say to himself, “But we are also capable of much more than we think.” He would usually say this before leaving his house in the morning or before doing something that frightened him in some way. He said it now, standing before the zoo gate, though he was not frightened so much as exhilarated. Certain he was wading into something deeper and more profound than he even knew.

It was early and the gate wasn’t unlocked yet (he knew it wouldn’t be), so he stood in front of it, resting on his right leg again, his left bent at the knee. The gate was rusting at the hinges and one side hung deeper than the other, so the O that was intended to connect the two gates at the middle was split. ZOO looked instead like zSo. It made Wayne Irons chuckle to himself and he decided he would begin to hunt for all the ways neglect made signs and words say something different than their intended word.

Neglect was another interest of Wayne Irons, to a lesser extent than science—although he would argue they were related. What we don’t need we neglect, he would say, and eventually we lose. He pointed to his left leg as evidence of this—its muscles atrophying and spider veins spreading from the back of his calf. His leg was eating itself alive. He found the process fascinating instead of disgusting. He was watching his own body turn into its best version of itself all on its own. He was eager for the day when doctors would amputate this appendage that had become strange to him in its neglect. Most doctors told him there was nothing wrong with his leg, it was all in his head, that if he would just begin to use it again, it would be fine. Wayne Irons knew better, though, the leg felt foreign to him and so he treated it like it was.

A zookeeper came to the gate to unlock it. Wayne Irons knew his name was Hopper or Harper or something, but usually gave very little indication that he knew or cared about the names of anyone. Names, he thought, were of little importance to the person. People were made of cells and blood and veins and organs—the same as animals—and we didn’t give names to all the animals. He nodded quickly at the man but did not meet his eyes and walked toward the tropical exhibit. To get there he had to go past the gorillas and the chimpanzees, humanity’s forefathers. He had little interest in gorillas and chimpanzees, but he did respect the process they had undergone to become what he was today and so he always slowed a bit at their enclosure to regard them and wonder what these exact gorillas and chimps might have become if they were not treated like the animals they were. In this way the zoo made him sad. It seemed to him a giant experiment in limitations. A bubble of possibilities that would never materialize. Glass walls and ceilings keeping the beings inside from expressing their true selves. He rarely lingered in the sadness, though, because the zoo was his only opportunity to be amongst the beings where he felt most himself.

The tropical exhibit was partially under glass with rain-spritzers intermittently spraying down and partially outdoors with all sorts of vegetation and water pools spread around it and an arched cage ceiling above it. Wayne Irons loved the tropical climate. He had been told by the keeper to wear the galoshes and poncho today, but if he had his way he’d have gone in barefoot and undressed, his pink backside and belly blinding the eyes of zoo-goers. He felt both his most vulnerable and his most secure with these living things. He ought to feel like he was walking into an exhibit, but he felt like he was leaving the exhibit and walking into home.

Wayne Irons followed the keeper (whose name he did know was Le Grange, but to whom he would never address as such) into the enclosed space and walked into a wall of humidity. It was cooled by the spritzing of water and by the presence of vegetation, but the air was thick and heavy. He liked it because it felt safe and he hated it because it felt oppressive. He knew he would feel better outside with the birds, even if it was inside a cage.

The keeper brought Wayne Irons with him as he opened doors and fed animals and cleared out weeds from the tropical gardens. Wayne Irons did not speak and the keeper did not speak to him. Theirs was a silent parade through the motions of the morning. Wayne Irons did not offer to help and the keeper did not ask him to. Whenever they paused, Wayne Irons rested on his right leg and lifted his left, crooking it at the knee. The heat was beginning to grow oppressive and Wayne Irons did not mind the rain water so he shed his poncho and soon his galoshes, then his buttoned up shirt and his socks too. They were outside now, feeding the alligators. He could see the birds in another caged enclosure and he rolled his pant legs up.

The keeper had a bucket of small fish in his left hand and a bucket of grey shrimp in the other. The food looked delicious and Wayne Irons knew he would rather the shrimp than his own brown bagged lunch. He and the keeper were walking toward the flamingos now, and Wayne Irons felt his belly growing sweaty and full with expectancy.

The flamingos were, for Wayne Irons, the most perfect specimens of any animal. He had spent full days staring at them before. They were graceful and awkward, audacious alone and camouflaged together. They were social in the exact way he felt most unable to be. He longed to be like them. He longed to be them.

Wayne Irons had spent his life studying flamingos, their patterns, their prey, their preening habits. He stood for hours in front of the mirror in his bedroom at home mimicking their stance, their grace, and their coloring. He could not thank any god for giving him a body such as his, tall and rotund, leggy and pink, but he thanked evolution for making it clear that he would never be as fully human as he was flamingo. They were showy in a way he dreamed he could be if he could be one of them. He had begun evolving himself into a flamingo in his earliest memories, lifting his chin and craning his neck to impossible lengths. All of the children in school thought he was haughty, but he knew the truth: I am really a flamingo.

Wayne Irons was running into the flock now and they scattered at his presence. He knew why of course: they did not recognize him! He began to shed the last of his clothing, the undershirt, the pants, and the underwear beneath. He heard the shouts of the keeper behind him but he did not listen, he no longer comprehended the words. He waded farther in, slowly this time, pausing to let them see his pink skin and lifting his left leg to show them he was one of them. They scattered still to the perimeter of the shallow pool, squawking and making a show of their feathers. Wayne Irons knew he did not yet have feathers, but in time, he would adapt, they would see. He could be just like them.

The keeper threw the bucket of shrimp and fish into the pool and ran to the enclosure’s gate. The flock of birds half ran half flew to the pile of food near Wayne Irons and he felt the warm glow of acceptance. They wanted to be near him. They didn’t mind his presence. Wayne Irons threw back his head, stretched out his neck, and felt at once glorious and free.

Then Wayne Irons held his breath and dipped his head into the water around him looking for food like the rest of his flock. They were catching the shrimp quickly and swallowing them whole but Wayne Irons did not yet know how to fish under water with just his mouth while holding his breath. He knew he would learn though, if his flock would just give him enough time down there and leave a few shrimp for him to find.

It was ten minutes later when Le Grange came back with zoo security and a small crowd had gathered at the bird cage. A child in a red and yellow striped shirt and fraying shorts was standing there pointing in, “Look mama,” she said, “that man in there looks like a flamingo but he isn’t!” “Hush,” said her mother, as the man who looked like a flamingo with his head in the water buckled under the weight of his body and the lack of breath to his lungs. “We don’t talk about people in such a way.”

The man in the enclosure who looked like a flamingo but was not one sunk to his knees and then his belly and then collapsed completely, his head still under water, searching for food. The flamingos around looked for a moment and then walked away, disinterested in the giant pale, pink, naked body with a head of black hair. They stood together in another corner, on one leg each, preening their feathers with no thought for the man who thought he was a flamingo lying dead in their water pool.

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Written in response to this article in the New Yorker.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done a weekly Link Love. Life got a bit in the way, and also social media (where I find most of my links) got a bit infuriating. Life is still in the way and social media can be as infuriating as ever, but I still come across gems and I still want to share them with you.

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This talk from Andrew Wilson on gender and intersex. Andrew is asking the question here: “How should we respond to people whose experience of their gender doesn’t fit with their biological sex? Or who have taken measures to change it? Or whose biological sex is unclear? What does love look like?”

This article from Cosmopolitan on an alternative to Planned Parenthood. “There’s this pressure that women have to go on the birth control pill. I have to tell you, it’s a very empowering when you realize, ‘I don’t have to put that synthetic hormone in my body. I don’t have to be chained to the birth control pill,'” she said. “There’s a movement of people for whom the birth control pill isn’t organic, it’s not green, it’s not holistic. We think we’re going to fill another niche or a gap that’s lacking, actually, at clinics like Planned Parenthood.”

This piece by Ron Belgua in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. I have, in the past, complained about the apparent allergy among conservative Christians to looking at the faces of LGBT people. In talking to friends, I am not the only one who has perceived a gap in the way Christians have responded to other tragedies, and the way they have responded to this one.

This article on Christianity Today about friendships in the world today. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that friendship in adulthood is harder than it looks. Long-term friendships are a rarity. The reason is that they take work. Most of the time something else becomes a priority, either out of necessity or out of choice. As a result, I go back to dropping the bar of expectation. It doesn’t mean I don’t want good, genuine friends, but it does mean that I can’t necessarily assume that because I have all the right ingredients it’s going to happen.

This from Nicholas McDonald on eight different ways your marriage could function. And because we are complementation, I “won out” in the end: I asserted her desires over mine.

“You look tired,” he says when he walks in the door. I feel a pang of guilt, and then tell him the truth: “I was just crying on the phone.” He asks me was it my friend? Or was it me? “It was me,” I say. And then it’s another hour before we’re sitting at the dinner table with time to say more. A friend once told me I was a graceful crier, silent tears, choked voice—she compared it to her own wracking sobs, snot-filled, red-faced. Sometimes I wish I could cry like that, it would feel more serious.

My personal challenge for the month of June is to engage my emotions. I am well-versed in knowing my emotions, the full spectrum of them, talking about them, exploring them, but it is a rare day when I actually engage them. My counselor in Colorado would ask me how I felt about something and I would tell her what I thought instead. We rammed against this wall regularly. I only know how to approach an emotion by thinking through it.

A few days ago we’re sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room. He rushed home from work, his dress shirt feeling uncomfortably tight. I’m wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts, the uniform of a stay at home wife whose days run dangerously mindlessly into one another. He catches himself about to say something critical (he’s had a long day; we’re certain we’re going to get more bad news; it’s hot outside; they didn’t check us in properly) and I say something along the lines of the danger in being two internal processors married to one another is we’re more likely to bury all the bad things than slough our way through them. I don’t say it well, though, and I think we misunderstand one another. Another danger of internal processors: we say less than what’s helpful instead of more.

We sit at the dinner table talking through my tears, his day, our year. We circle the same bushes we’ve been circling since we left our home and community in Texas. The same burning bushes friends have pointed out whenever they come visit for five days or ten. Beside those visits, though, no one has pointed to our marriage or our lives in a year with an eye toward hope. We left our home on June 25 and walked into triage. We watched my body bleed and a policeman bleed and our finances bleed and our new church bleed and our hope bleed and there was no stopping any of it. We bled ourselves out and now we’re shells of the people we were a year ago.

Neither of us feel at home here, we feel adrift, at sea, without anchor. He reminds me last night of the words in Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

He reminds me we’re called to be faithful here, for however long the Lord has us in this home, in this city, in this state. Even if we feel like exiles, even if we feel bled out. Nine long months stretch ahead of us in this lease and I am no stranger to moving often. It take nine months to grow a child and that child can change the world, surely we can gestate our hopes and longings and fears and birth something beautiful in that time too?

Every morning he sends me a verse or prayer or a quote he reads on his train ride into the city. I wake on the couch every day, having moved there in the still dark morning hours after he kisses me goodbye. I wake to the verse or prayer or quote and think about it all day. This morning he sends me this:

“It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when GOD returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—“GOD was wonderful to them!” GOD was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, GOD, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives so those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest. So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.
Psalm 126:1-6 MSG

I cry, snot-filled and red-faced. I cry.

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It’s hard to be far away from all the people I love. I grew up three hours away from here, the people who are most like family to me outside my natural family live eight hours away, my natural family lives all over the east coast. My group of friends from college lives all over the US. The people who have been my church family for the past six years are in Texas and the baby relationships I’d just begun to tend in Denver feel like another life ago. Nate and I have met a few people in the DC area, but we’re going slowly in relationship building, trying to work on our own marriage in ways we weren’t able to for the past year. I feel like a spider trapped in a web of my own making—threads of my life stretching out in every direction, too thin to be maintained well.

Sometimes it can feel like the only contact I have with friends all over the country is through social media. They read Sayable, comment or like or retweet images and quotes I post. I do the same through the channels they give me. It is limited, though, and can feel like an itch that never quite gets scratched. It can be easy to create narratives our heads about the details surrounding a snippet.

In the past few days a few friends have called me with some concerns. “We heard this, and didn’t think it was true, but wanted to make sure.” Or, “We heard this, but were pretty sure there was more to the story.” And, well, there was. Assumptions had been made about our lives, our home, our marriage, our puppy, our finances, and our friendships. Some of it meant I needed to make some follow-up calls with far away friends and clarify words I’d said, or didn’t say. The story isn’t finished yet, but the loose ends, to the best of my ability, are being reconciled as we try to be faithful to be at peace with all men.

Some of the assumptions above, though, came not from my own mouth, but the thin snapshots on social media and this blog. Russell Moore has a fabulous post up on Moore to the Point about how happy, clappy images and quips can send the message to others that we’re all happy and clappy, ruining an opportunity to show the whole picture. Much has been said before about the perils of social media. I’ve written before on why I think it’s important to show beauty in our lives, but it is true we are accustomed to only showing and seeing a thin veneer of what is below the surface.

In another era people were born, grew up, and died in the same place. Every bit of their lives was someone else’s business, but now we’ve made privacy a business in its own right. Social media gives the illusion that everyone is transparent and honest, but we’re all spin doctors, making the best things and the worst things better or worse, depending on the response we want to elicit.

King Solomon has some wisdom for us here in Ecclesiastes 12:

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

I love that the Preacher “arranged many proverbs with great care.” He was attentive to the beauty of how a thing sounded, what it looked like on the page, how it rolled off the tongue: he wanted to delight with the truth. He was a spin doctor in his own right. We emulate our Creator and Maker when we take truth and take care for how it displays beauty and goodness. There is nothing wrong with those thin veneers and snapshots we display on social media. Social media is a limited tool, but a tool used properly does its job well.

What a tool does not do well, though, is communicate the whole truth. For instance: when I post an image of our garden in its full June array, what it does not show is the labor we put into making it such. It doesn’t show sweat dripping down our backs, dirt under our fingernails, and weeding. It also doesn’t show the days and weeks leading up to its beauty today where it was merely seeds and then sprouts we wondered if would ever grow up. It doesn’t show the whole story of how a garden came to be. Each of those stages, though, are both true and beautiful in their own right—as ugly as they might seem in the moment.

King Solomon goes on:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

King Solomon is saying: beware of making truth of what you do not see, what the Shepherd has not given. Our imaginations are endless, we can write books, blogs, tweets, and posts on something beautiful every day for as long as we live, and none of them are true and dear as the Shepherd’s own words. Even the words He gives us to say only show a limited amount because we cannot know the wholeness of all truth here on earth.

Friends, I hope if you use social media you use it as a tool, both as a viewer and a user. It can be a beautiful way to reach across the miles and be comforted that our friends and family think of us. But use that tool to create something more beautiful: depth and longevity. The next time you’re tempted to build your own narrative on a snapshot, pick up the phone, dial a number (I know…), and ask your friend how they really are, what’s really going on in their hearts and lives. Ask how God is blessing and disciplining them. How He is teaching and loving them. How you can be praying for them and thinking of them.

You might never get a like or a comment or an adrenaline hit from it, but I promise you won’t be disappointed.

This past week I’ve gotten to have a few hard conversations, but they were all better than I could have imagined with my limited perspective and laptop.

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Look back at all the hardest things you’ve walked through in your life, as many as you can remember, make a list of them, do it now.

Here are a few of mine:

I grew up in a legalistic home.
I was secretly rebellious in every way I could fathom.
Yelling, shouting, and physical expressions of anger were commonplace in our home.
I was abused sexually at a young age.
I lost my younger brother in a fatal accident when I was 19 and he was 14.
My parents divorced in a messy and long process.
I was had to deal with ramifications of my parents marriage and divorce for a very long time.
I was single far longer than I imagined I would be.
I went for years in the church without understanding my sin or the cross fully.
I went through a period of unbelief in God, certain He had forsaken me.
There were times when I had 0 dollars in my bank account.
My mom was in a horrific car crash.
I moved more than 23 times in 15 years.
I lived with 38 different roommates.
I was overlooked for job promotions and not paid as much as my male counterparts.
I married a man who had been previously married—something I could have never imagined in my twenties.
I miscarried twice in five months.
We walked through a really difficult church situation in a new marriage in a new city.
My husband lost his job three months into marriage and was unemployed for the next five.
Within the space of four weeks we experienced three violent crimes and one vandalistic act on our property.
We moved cross-country twice in one year.
I have been lied about and slandered in public arenas.
We just walked through this.

There are more that should be on this list. They happened to me, to members of my family, or by members of my family. They’re part of my story, but not entirely my story to communicate. But they happened and they were hard.

Your list probably looks similar to mine—not the same things, but certainly the same level of difficulty for you personally. We cannot compare pain. If you take two men who have never experienced pain of any kind, and give one a paper-cut and amputate the leg of the other—both of them will still say their pain level is at a ten. For some of us, what seems to be paper-cuts to others are pains of the deepest kind. So this is my list of deep wounds throughout my life. Places where in each thing I was certain there was no end to the pain in which I found myself.

But look at your list again and this time view each of those things are tools in your arsenal for ministry. When a friend speaks to me of her longing for marriage—I get it. When I hear of someone who lost her sibling in an accident—I get it. When friends are walking through divorce or the divorce of their parents—I get it. When a sister miscarries—I get it. When someone loses their job—I get it. When someone walks away from the Church—I get it.

Praise God He entrusted you with the opportunity to minister out of your weakness, pain, loss, and life. You are 100x more postured to minister to others with those difficult experiences in your life than without them. So too, this hard thing you’re walking through right this minute, it is working in you a greater glory. Paul said,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians  4:11-13

Each of those excruciatingly painful circumstances of your life cannot be wasted or thwarted by a King who’s on His throne. He doesn’t excuse Himself from the throne when you walk through all sorts of fiery trials. No. He is there, with you, groaning alongside you in your suffering, knowing each of the difficulties you’re walking through will become tools in your belt of ministry and are working in your a glory greater than you can imagine today.

Here is the secret to worshipping through the list you have in front of you: He strengthens you. He girds you up. He bolsters you. He restores you. He heals you. He sets you forward to minister out of what you have been through. And He will do it again and again and again for as long as we’re on this side of the new earth, for His glory and your good.

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Someone asked me yesterday if our house had sold and it occurred to me I didn’t give an update. We closed on May 23rd. I’ve already written about some of the things we’ve learned through the process, but I think one of the things we’ve learned the most is what I tweeted the day of the closing:

“Papers signed. We are 100k poorer, but rich in faith & belief. God always gives exactly what we need. If we don’t have it, we don’t need it. I knew someday I would look back at this year and see His sovereignty at work, but I’m grateful that day is today and not years from now.”

A few months ago, looking ahead at the monetary loss before us, I could only imagine the disappointment in my heart growing into a root of bitterness toward the Lord. I knew it would take a long, long time to pull out, its strings going in endless directions, stealing my faith in their journey outward. I am no stranger to disappointments, to unmet expectations, and to losing what I hoped to gain. I have been down this path before and I know the way out.

I drove to New York on Tuesday for a quick respite in the hills and valleys of home and used the driving time to catch up with numerous friends on the phone. We all have had hopes dashed and disappointments furrowed deep within us and it reminded me nobody gets through unscathed. We are all the recipients of Adam’s sin, all billions and billions of us. To believe we alone are the only ones who get it, who have experienced this kind of acute pain, who feel alone in a world full of people who get everything they want is the enemy’s oldest lie. He told himself it first and then fell, and has been telling everyone else it since. “If you can’t beat ‘em, make ‘em join you,” is his mantra. If you have ever felt alone—if you feel alone today—then you have been on the listening end of the enemy’s bullhorn.

To arrive at the day of closing, not a penny richer and many hundreds of thousands of pennies poorer, with a deeper trust in our Father and a greater hope of glory was not at all what I expected, and yet it was what He gave. He didn’t have to and yet He did. And this is what I have learned more deeply than ever: He gives us what we need, only what we need, and if we don’t have it, we don’t need it. And, if we do have it, we need it.

This is a difficult thing to believe, and more complex than a few hundred words can tackle (What about world hunger? Poverty? Health? Aren’t there so many unmet needs in the world?). We can logic our way through anything, but at the end of it all, if all it does is steal our praise from the God of the universe, I question our definition of the word need.

A pastor from my church in Texas always said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen,” and it stuck to me like a burr—annoying and unrelenting. I knew it was true and had seen its evidence in my life a thousand times over, but I didn’t like it. The world is all about creating expectations and heightening them, after all. Making lists, goals, setting our sights on something, having vision for your life, and all that.

But what happens when nothing goes your way?

I know the concept of God wounding us so He can heal us is a controversial one, but it is one I take much comfort in. I tore my meniscus many years ago and my knee pains me still. It swells up at inopportune times and I keep meaning to get it fixed, but hate the thought of physical therapy. Here is what I know though, someday a doctor will slice open my skin and dig his scalpel in. He will do what seems contrary to all evolutionary logic and he will wound so my knee can heal properly. God does this too.

He does it with our dashed expectations, felt rejections, deep disappointments. He wounds so He can reveal the source of the pain, the brokenness, and the infection. And then He heals.

Zack Eswine, in his book Sensing Jesus (now The Imperfect Pastor), says, “We cannot expect to fix what Jesus has left unfixed.” We cannot expect to heal what Jesus has left unhealed. And we cannot expect anything on our timeline. He is the master surgeon, the master healer, not us.

It was a gift to sign those papers last week. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such relief signing my name seventy times over. But the greater gift is one God is still slicing me open and digging inside me to find. It’s the gift of His painful healing, the slow, deliberate, agonizing work of taking my eyes off what the world offers and putting them onto Him alone. The gift of showing me He is all I need.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:17

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There are eighteen attributes of God posted on the walls of the Kids Village rooms at The Village Church. Learning those attributes, committing them to memory, and pulling them out whenever I have doubted the character of God throughout the past six years has been one of the most life-changing disciplines of my life.

After I posted this photo, several people asked for the full list or a link to the posters. A few of the guys in the Comm department told me they’ll think about getting something up in the next year, but until then, I asked for permission to reprint the complete list. It was written by Anne Lincoln Holibaugh, the director of Kids Village for years and one who worked hard to create a well-oiled machine in that area. She’s brilliant. If you know her, tell her (and all the Kids Village/Little Village people) thank you today.

Here are the attributes in list form. Below, if you click on the image, there’s a high resolution image I put together that you can print out and put on your fridge or frame or wherever it would be helpful for you to visualize the bigness of God on a regular basis. I really mean it when I say committing these characteristics of God to memory has been one of the most life-changing disciplines for me. They’re easy to remember, they remind me I am not God, and they speak to nearly every lie I am tempted to believe about Him.

God is:

Wise: He knows what is best
Generous: He gives what is best
Loving: He does what is best
Good: He is what is best
Unchanging: He never changes
Creator: He made everything
Provider: He meets the needs of His children
Holy: He is completely perfect
Just: He is right to punish sin
Glorious: He shows his glory and greatness
Sovereign: He has the right, will, and power to do as He pleases
Compassionate: He sees, cares, and acts when His children are in need
Merciful: He does not give what His children deserve
Attentive: He hears and responds to His children
Worthy: He deserves all glory
Deliverer: He saves His children from wrath
Refuge: He provides places of safety for His children
Almighty: Nothing is too hard for God

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