Liberty for All

July 23, 2014

My family isn’t from America. We’re Scotch-Irish. Family crests tattooed on flesh, bagpipes at weddings, hot tempers, strong drinks, and my older brother wore a kilt to his wedding: that kind of Scotch-Irish. I expect my ancestors were the sort coppers in the 19th century had their eyes on. We had the sort of Scotch-Irish lore that birthed a quiet pride in us all. We are Ferguson-Bradys, through and through.

I grew up outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, though, where we watched reenactments of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas, toured Valley Forge more times than I can remember, and the Liberty Bell was a familiar sight. We were Americana Americans. But as much as I felt like an American, I also knew I wasn’t this kind of American.

I am not of the colonial Americans; I am of the immigrant kind.

When this realization came upon me, I began to feel a somewhat deeper kinship with places like Ellis Island than I did with the statue of William Penn peeking above the rooftops in downtown Philly. Whether my ancestors came through Ellis Island didn’t matter to me, the reality was that I was of another place. William Penn was not mine in the same way those bedraggled masses filing through ports in New York City were mine.

Whenever I read the words of Emma Lazarus in her poem, The New Colossus, affixed to the Statue of Liberty, a small sob catches in my throat and an overwhelming gratitude fills my heart.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I am more of Lady Liberty than I will ever be of William Penn. I am a sojourner in a country that is not my home. But even more than that, I am a spiritual sojourner in a land not my own, I am tired and poor, yearning to breath free, tempest-tossed, and more. My haven is secure and the same invitation is to everyone.

Right now we have thousands of children crossing into our borders. Escaping poverty, violence, corruption, and danger in their homeland. They are six and seven years old, some are sixteen and seventeen. They seek a haven and we all want to pull out our constitution, talk about borders and control, and how many of us have read the book of Exodus recently? Or Hebrews? Or, goodness gracious, Revelation?

Brothers and sisters, we cannot look too far behind us before we come against a father or mother in our lineage who came to America looking for a better life. Did they get one right away? I don’t know. They might have been Irish immigrants, like mine, angry and drunkards. But those immigrants fathered me and they might have fathered you. Even if you can trace your lineage to colonial America, think of what they escaped and why the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was written?

Think, then, of looking toward your heavenly country, the better kingdom. This world, this new world, America, land of opportunity and middle class and welfare and democracy, it isn’t home, so do not treat it as such. Not for you immigrant, son of Heaven.

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Touched

July 16, 2014

I speak in the language of touch and I hear best when words, any words, are accompanied by a hand on my shoulder, arm against arm, or heads close together. I do not know why this is the language I speak best and I understand less why this is the language I receive best. It is not the language of the suburbs and I feel that acutely here. I take my hugs whenever I can. I give them because I want you to know that I love you, but I also want to feel that you could love me too.

Cards, gifts, time spent talking or a surprise task finished, these bless me, but I quickly forget. Like all the times I’ve tried to learn Spanish. Whole semesters of conjugations and tutors and rote memorization and my grasp is still medial, at best. It is not my language and it does not come naturally to me. It does not even come unnaturally to me. It dances circles around me, taunting me with the secrecy of its word-speak.

A hand on the top of my head, a thumb rubbed into my weary shoulders, and my ache for love subsides. This may seem hyperbolic to you, and perhaps it is, but we are speaking different languages, that’s all.

I want to love well. I do. But I also want to be loved well.

There is a part of me that would like to believe that the creator of the universe, the one who designed love and is love, that he would be beyond the need for our earth-encrusted affection and dirt-laden offerings, but it was he who pled before his father “Take this cup from me” and earlier finding his brothers asleep on their watch, “Could you not wait with me? Keep with me?”

I wonder if that perfect Christ, the sinless man, the creator in flesh, if he felt in that moment of abandonment, his utter humanness.

I wonder if it is in our need for love that we are most human. Here, with our knotted muscles, tired from the work of life, we know our need.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Good hugging runs in my family. At a family celebration recently I hugged a stranger, she backed right up and said, “You hug just like your mother.” My mother has many great qualities, but of all the ones I’d be happy to inherit, good hugging is at the top.

A friend hugged me a few weeks back, he pulled my head against his chest and I felt shepherded and shielded—a rare feeling. Another friend hugged me that night, her arms tight around my neck, and a quick, choked goodbye was all I could manage. This morning I bought a wooden desk off of Craigslist for thirty dollars. I didn’t have a twenty and a ten though, so she kept the change, ten dollars, and hugged me tight, tighter than a stranger should and I left.

I heard John Piper once talk about praying God would make him a good hugger and I wept right then. The ministry of a hug has meant more than any word ever said to or about me.

The importance of a pastoral hug cannot be overlooked. “Leaving room for the Holy Spirit,” the “12 inch rule,” and “side-hugs,” can be moralistic rules put in place to avoid sin or the appearance of sin—but in our effort to put up boundaries, we’ve taken away the simple healing action of appropriate touch.

Some people have only ever known inappropriate touch—sexual, abusive, or unwanted. Some have never known any touch at all. But healthy touch is God’s design and a perversion of it within the church and in the world is not reason to avoid it. Some will need to be taught the healthy way to interact with members of the opposite gender, but all people need hugs. Good, healthy, pastoral hugs.

Maybe some ought to check their motives before embracing, maybe some ought to refrain from hugging the opposite gender for a season, but if your motives are pure, your care is honest, and your surroundings are appropriate, then hug. Especially if you are in a pastoral role, hug your people.

Trench Livers

July 15, 2014

Tim Challies wrote a post this week that reminded me of something I’ve wanted to write about for a while: the most important person in your church.

Several months ago a new person showed up at my church. Visitors are commonplace, but this person was different. He sat in the first row, eyes glued to the front. When the team of musicians led us in song, he jumped right up, every time, and made his way over to stand in right in front of them, shifting feet with no sense of timing whatsoever, a perpetual grin on his face.

His name is Chase, he is mentally handicapped, and I love watching him. It brings me joy to watch someone love with abandon. He is unabashed in his joy, unhindered by social constructs, and unafraid of the judgement of others.

But there are some other people in Chase’s life I love watching too.

Every service, without fail, Chase leaves for a bathroom break. And every service, without fail, one young man from a group of about five, takes him. They leave the front row, where they sit with him, and walk down the aisle, slowly and patiently, letting Chase lead the way. I know these men and know them to be servants, leaders, and worshippers. I also know them to be some of the most important people in my church.

Watching this weekly ritual humbles me every time because I begin to think of all the people in our churches who do the thankless work. There are hurting people, sinning people, marriages on fire and discipline to be done—but for every bit of the brokenness, there are people in the trenches beside them, silently serving, quietly giving, patiently listening. They do not seek a prize for their work, and I do not mean to give them one here.

If you are a silent server, a quiet giver, a patient listener, I want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. There are some who will always capture the eye of the public, but you, hand, foot, shoulder, and arm of the Church, your reward is great and it will not be lost.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
Matthew 10:42

Farmers in the Field

July 14, 2014

One of the things I love most about my church is we’re a church planting churches planting churches. The turnover of folks at The Village is often because people are responding to a call to plant or serve in places less churched than the DFW metroplex.

We call these Gospel Goodbyes because they are hard, but they are good. They are serving the Kingdom’s purpose and in that we rejoice.

One of the couples leaving this year is Chad and Hiroko Farmer, and their young daughter. Chad has served us faithfully on staff for several years, and now they are heading to Hiroko’s native Japan to work with Christ Bible Institute. The population of Japan is 127 million, a bit less than half the population of the United States, and only 1% of the population in Japan identifies as Christian. CBI is one of the largest seminaries in Japan and you can see how crucial the need is.

When I met with Chad a few months ago to talk about how I could help them on their journey, I was excited to hear about the sacrifices they’re making even now as a family. They left their home a few months ago and he stopped working at The Village so he could fundraise full-time. They’ve been living a nomadic life, inhabiting houses of other members of our church while they’re out of town, and Chad is simply meeting with folks to share the vision. What I loved most about my time with him is not the excitement he has about going to Japan, or even being a missionary there, or even returning to Hiroko’s homeland—but his simple infectious love for Japan. He breathes it and by the end of our hour together, I wanted to love it like he does.

I want to encourage people to do what they love. There’s a strange beauty to watching someone walk into something they love. Chad and Hiroko love Japan. The last I talked to Chad, they were nearly funded completely. And I want to invest in that. If you’d like to join them in their life there consider helping them meet their fundraising goal.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Matthew 9:37

We’ve got some willing laborers here.

Click here to help the Farmers get to the field

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Logos Giveaway

July 10, 2014

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Logos Bible Software has teamed up with some bloggers to give away some of great resources. This month they’ve asked us to help give away Zondervan’s seven volume Theology Collection. Enter below.

The winner will be chosen at random on August 1st and the collection will be sent to the winner’s Logos account. Don’t have an account? No problem! You can sign up for free here and download free apps to read your books on any device here.

How to Enter

Login below with your email address or Facebook account and follow the steps in the widget. That’s it! Each prompted action you follow will earn you additional entries. You can always come back and share a link to the giveaway with your friends for additional entries.

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The Loser’s Circle

July 9, 2014

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We’ve known each other since high-school. She the pretty and popular one, I the frumpy and foolish one. She laughs large and lives large and everything she does is punctuated by drama and publicity. We were opposites and friends. Our friendship ebbed and flowed through the years; we have never been close, but we’ve always had a pulse on the other’s life, known a bit of their struggles and joys. We’ve wept and laughed together and occasionally been angry with one another. I love her.

We’ve shared something, too, that united us in more ways than one. There was a pattern that every time I liked a guy, she liked him too. The difference between us was that the guys liked her back. As soon as I knew I would have to compete with her for their attention, I stepped back, gave up. I knew I couldn’t win. And indeed haven’t. She dated the guys I liked, and eventually married one, while I just watched, my heart mourning in silent.

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My name means Laurel Crowned, or Victor, so you would think competition would be normal and natural to me. I am built of candoitiveness and a serious determination to never fail. But whenever countered, I become a palms-up, shrugged-shoulders, give-over sort of loser. The victor who is happy to come in last.

For a long time I thought this was because The First Shall Be Last and other proof-texts we use to make the good guys still feel good, but I’m coming to see it for what it is: pride. The girl who doesn’t mind coming in last doesn’t mind as long as someone crowns her Victor of Coming in Last.

But there is a kind of losing that can put you in the winner’s circle too.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

There’s a new ad circulating called Like a Girl. Whatever you think about the ad or a culture that encourages girls to be like boys, there’s one line in it that gives me chills: “I run like a girl because I am a girl,” and then she knocks it out of the park.

What she is saying is not that she loses to what she is, but that she relinquishes the demand on her to be like something she is not. She is a girl and so she runs like one—and she runs fast and free, unbridled by stereotypes and caricatures. She is herself.

The other night a group of friends and I stayed up too late for a bunch of 30 somethings. We talked about personality types and calling, and one commented that too often we want to be something we are not: the introvert wants to be the extrovert and the thinker wants to be the funny one, and so on. That wasn’t me though. I have never wanted to be the opposite of me. I just want all these knots and knolls in my heart to be better, faster, stronger. For most of my life that meant I competed against myself, but within the gospel’s context, I simply want to be conformed to the likeness of Christ—to proclaim Him just as He made me.

Christ didn’t make me my high-school friend and he didn’t make me a fast runner or an extrovert. He knit me together with these gifts and proclivities, these inclinations and drives, this body and these ideas. Those were his gifts to me and it’s not losing to be them, fully and wholly conforming to him as I embody his image.

When I lose to the world’s expectations of me, I win to Christ’s design for me.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9:24-27

Earth and Sky

July 8, 2014

Earth and Sky
A beautiful collision of grace and grief
by Guy Delcambre

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When I first met Guy what I was struck most by was his weary constancy. Here was a guy going through the motions of life, fatherhood, writing, breathing, and doing it without the woman he thought would be beside him for the rest of his life. I never heard him complain. I watched him put one foot in front of another, fathering, writing, leading, working, breathing. He writes in the same way.

There’s a weightiness to his words, not because they are weighty words but because they carry strength and endurance within them. They are the badge of a man who has sunk beneath the waters of suffering, who has subsisted on the bread of affliction, and who has seen the goodness of God in the land of the living and the dead.

In Guy’s new book, Earth and Sky, he writes of his life with his wife before her death, and what to do after she was taken from him so young. There is a tangibleness to the wrestling Guy does in the book, and I don’t think it’s just because I saw a bit of that wrestling in real life. I think it’s because Guy put his heart into the writing of this book—not for fame or for a name, but for his daughters. He suffered well because he was watched closely. I said to him one day a few years ago that they were learning how to grieve from him, watching him, and I couldn’t think of a better example.

If you are grieving or you know someone who is, I recommend Earth and Sky in the same way I recommend A Grief Observed, because sometimes what we need is not all the answers, but a friend to walk alongside when the answers don’t come easily.

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Link Love

July 7, 2014

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If ever I felt inclined to lament the lack of children, God never gave me time to do so. In response to every private, fervent pleading I’ve made before God, his answer has been a different door slammed open: a missions opportunity, a new writing assignment, a sudden book contract, an unexpected job, an unsought promotion, the chance to care for aging parents, a student needing extra help, another telling me I am her “true mother,” or another taking my motherly advice to heart at last.

In a life spent moving from place to place, the predictability of landscapes both new and familiar has been a comfort, a well-worn bead to click against another through every iteration of hunger and praise. One of the many pangs of such constant motion is to leave each place both loving and mourning all you have come to know, and to go forward with five kinds of homesickness equally shared, the scent of new terroir on your skin and your spirit forever dogged by the genius loci endemic to each site.

I’m learning quickly that my privileges are my blind spots. I am a married white woman with a graduate education. I do not understand the plight of a poor single black mother in Memphis who worries how rent will be paid and how her children will eat. The evils of poverty and racial discrimination, as two examples, will remain generic evils for me until I seek out stories different from my own. I, too, must learn to listen if ever I am to participate most fully in the body of Christ.

We are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”

“We have to pay attention to detail and care for the contractors we work for,” Yates says. “As a tradesperson, I don’t know any other way to do that than by doing a really good job. We believe that God exists; therefore, the things we do and make now matter. The whole apprenticeship process is also a discipleship process.”

 

The Landlord

July 3, 2014

Someone told me some counsel they’d received was to not make a habit of renting to single women. Why? Because they don’t always call when something goes wrong. Many just let it fester until it’s unfixable. I haven’t stopped thinking about what he said. It wasn’t an accusation, it was a commentary, but it’s a commentary I find telling. It’s a reflection of a heart-problem, not a laziness problem.

I was called the The Responsible One yesterday. But I haven’t felt responsible in a year or more. I’m backtracking and highlighting and caveating and trying to figure out where I misplaced responsibility.

This past week I’ve had to make some phone calls to leaders in my life. They’ve been humbling phone calls, not because I met with criticism or disdain, but because I’ve had to say over and over again: I do not know best for my life and I should have come to you before making decisions instead of after. I had been looking for their approval rather than their counsel—and that is not the mark of The Responsible One. That is a single woman who lets a problem fester because she doesn’t believe people want to hear her pestering about broken faucets and broken feelings.

I woke up this morning thinking about responsibility and sonship. Responsibility is simply knowing what needs to be done and taking the proper steps to getting it done. But what about when you can’t make yourself feel something? Even if it’s true?

For four years God has been bringing the doubters and ye-of-little-faithers into my life. They believe they were created to be a vessel of wrath, that they’re a jar too broken to be useful again, that God has not chosen them before the foundation of the earth, or that He has sprinkled fairy dust on the heads of others but never on them. No matter how long I listen or talk or hear or preach, I can’t make someone feel something they don’t feel. And I know how that feels.

No matter how much leaders in my life take my face in their hands and tell me they love me, they want to lead me, I disbelieve them. It’s the same with God. I’m a hurried and harried kid, sweeping up the messes of other’s lives and my own too, hoping he’ll condescend to give me the scraps from the table. I feel undeserving and the truth is, I am.

But the Father is the landlord. He owns the house and the body, he owns my heart and my home. And it’s his Son’s job to be The Responsible One. And His Son already has been. My only job is to inhabit what he has given me to inhabit: my heart and his home. And to live there like He owns it and He loves to care for it. He loves to fix the leaky faucets and the broken unfeeling hearts. And he loves to employ the services of his people on earth to help care for me while I inhabit this tent. He gave those leaders to me to lead me. As I approach them with confidence, my heart grows in confidence of His care for me. He designed it like that.

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Psalm 16 for Pilgrims

June 30, 2014

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I learned to draw perspective in fourth grade art class. My teacher had a tangle of salt and pepper hair with a shock of white near her left ear. I cannot remember her name. We drew roads, black and yellow, and buildings with angular windows, using our rulers with one eye closed. After that everywhere I went I saw triangles. Roads, stores, cars, floors, tables. Perspective made of triangles.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Two Fridays ago, my mother marries the man she’s shared a home with for nearly a decade. As I watch them pledge their troth to one another, I cannot help but think of perspective: how mine has changed, how hers has. Then I am in a pool, staring up at the covered lanai, made of squares, but not one of them a proper square, no matter how I looked. Then to a conference with 4000 other women, with stories and lives so very different than my own. Now I am back on the road again staring at the triangle-road stretched out, thinking about perspective.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

No matter how far or fast I drive today—over the Gulf Bay and Lake Ponchartrain, Route 10 over acres and acres of swampland, from the pine forests of Pensacola, through the cotton fields of central Louisiana, to the urban sprawl of Dallas—the widest part of the road always seems to be right in front of me.

All of the opportunities before me now feel broad and pleasant. I want to dip my toes in a thousand pools and test the water in every one of them. But farther ahead, where the road narrows and crests, it all seems scary and unknown. I know what to do today, but what about the thousands of tomorrows after that? It is not perspective I need, but perspective.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

God is for me, who can be against me? God is sovereign, who can thwart his purposes? God disciplines his children in love, why would I avoid it? God is on the crest of the hill, at the narrowest part, preparing a wider path of more joy than I can even hope for. This is the perspective I need. This is the perspective he gives.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Link Love

June 25, 2014

I’m on vacation for the week, so no blogging to speak of, but here’s a short list of links I’ve found interesting this week:

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“But it’s the wrong way of going about it. The best way to prepare them for the world that they face is to present what the possibilities are and to let them be scared of what might happen.” She adds: “I think that’s really what literature does in every realm. You rehearse your life by reading about what happens to other people.”

A trigger warning won’t help.

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What do you do in those moments, when your world comes crashing down and all hope seems lost? Maybe you will tragically and inexplicably lose a loved one; maybe you don’t know anything about what the future holds; maybe your dreams will be shattered and lost forever.

One day, you’ll face a Psalm 88 moment. If you don’t, God will place you next to someone who is. I’ve found there are 3 ways to think about life through the lens of the Gospel during these times.

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Not content to offer a rake when a shovel is needed, Michel is intricate in her examination of the human heart and its many facets―our fears to want, our disordered desires, our kingdom longings, our opportunities to surrender, our practical needs, and the boundaries that rein in our desires.

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Here’s the problem with shotgun jokes and applications posted on the fridge: to anyone paying attention, they announce that you fully expect your daughter to have poor judgment. Be assured that your daughter is paying attention. And don’t be shocked if she meets your expectation. You might want to worry less about terrorizing or retro-fitting prospective suitors and worry more about preparing your daughter to choose wisely. And that means building a wall.

. . . . . . . . . . .

What I’m interested in when it comes to blogging is not so much “success,” but sustainability. How do I keep doing this work? How do I continue to come up with new things to say? How can I stick with this thing even when it seems like I’m in a slump and no one is reading at all?

. . . . . . . . . . .

This quote I can’t stop thinking about, by Marilynne Robinson from her book Gilead:

“It all means more than I can tell you. So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for.”

Speaking of which, if you’re looking for good summer reading, here are some of my favorite reads. Click on the image to read more.

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Jubilee

June 19, 2014

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I was 13 when I knew I would be a writer even though definitions of verbs and adverbs and gerunds were still a bit hazy in my mind, not to mention my atrocious spelling. I came of age in the coming of age of spell-check which ruined it for us all. No idea how to spell anxious or brevity or volatile or naive? No problem. I wonder what will become of us now that most digital devices anticipate our words before we can spell out even their first few letters. We are already less than literate, now will we be less than half?

I’m no opponent of modernity, nor am I antagonistic to those who spend their resources grabbing up every new resource as it comes. I am writing this on a 15inch MacBook Pro, on which I spent more to get the anti-glare screen and super impressive pixel ratio. I wake up every morning to the alarm on my iPhone which gets me to work on time so I can learn and earn more so I can buy gadgets such as these. Praise God for GPS without which I’ll bet cities wouldn’t grow so fast so quickly.

Stepping back from the whole of it, though, the writing, the spell-check, the convenience, the anti-glare screen, (everything except the alarm), causes a kind of built-in pause, as it is meant to, and this morning I think about the year of jubilee.

Rightly understanding the law’s place is one of the gospel’s great benefits, but sometimes I lament that He who set us free indeed didn’t keep a few of the more beneficial laws around for good measure. The Year of Jubilee would be one I’d have kept because I’m very bad at resting and my guess is you are too. Because we can do everything faster, better, and more efficiently, we can do more and more and more until we’ve lost sight of why we’re doing it at all.

What are we doing anyway?

There’s much talk of obscurity and the normal and going about our business, minding it in light of the Gospel and little else, and this resonates deep in me. But I wonder sometimes if the reason we have this conversation at all is because minding other people’s business is so tres chic these days. “All up in your bizniss” in the street lingo. Sharing it all brings this strange delight, a false sense of togetherness and a true sense of coolness.

I used to think the word community was derived from common and unity, or together and altogether. But it’s not. Com: together and Munus: gift.

Gift, together.

In the Year of Jubilee, God’s people would return to their own land, and return the land they’d inhabited to its original owners. They would set free captives and slaves and servants. They would forgive debts. They would celebrate all year long the gift of God to them. They would community: gift, together. A long year of gifting.

When I set myself down and rest my mind and eyes and ears from all that which threatens to steal my joy, I think it’s the stuff of it all that steals it most quickly. Instead of feeling gifted to by what modernity has brought, I feel stolen from. It steals my time and my energy, my opinion and my coolness. Apart from all that I do or have, I am not cool after all.

But it turns out things don’t steal my joy, my need for them does

What is beautiful about Sabbath and Jubilee and rest, is when I’m set apart from what I do or have, I am nothing—and nothing is what I bring to the cross. Nothing enables me to gift everything and come, trembling and grateful, empty-handed, atrocious spelling, without GPS or alarm, come. Quiet and aware. Stilled and stayed. Comforted by nothing but His grace and love toward me.

Torn to Heal

June 18, 2014

Torn to Heal, God’s good purpose in suffering
by Mike Leake

I read Mike Leake’s book Torn to Heal almost a year ago and kept meaning to review it, and kept forgetting. In my initial read for the endorsement, I said that Mike, “has taken the ugliness of suffering, turned it over in his capable hands and shown God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst. More than simple encouragement for those suffering, it is a handbook of scriptural truths about who God is and how He sustains.” I maintain that truth today. This short book is one of the most helpful books on suffering I have ever read. Mike does not sugarcoat suffering or get through that part quickly in order to get to the practicals of how to deal with it. He winsomely and carefully brings the reader through the pain of suffering to the whole and beautiful goodness of God.

Leake 364

fruitI caught of a whiff of longing this morning. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. I stood in the parking lot and let the Texas breeze wash over me—and I felt a burst of hope inside of me: I’m going home!

I am sitting at the table with two dear friends the other day, an elder from my church and his wife, one of my first friends in Texas. They are New Yorkers, upstaters like me, and they have loved me well in my time here. This year has been one long shove, I said, a pushing away from all the reasons I would have to stay here. But are you running? they ask. Is it still running if you’re going home?

New York is a big state, divided into sections. The City, Upstate, the North Country, the Adirondack Region, the Finger Lakes Region, the Thousand Island Seaway, the Catskills. It’s all New York, but so much more than just The City. I’m not moving to the same region from which I hail, but I’m moving to the state I call home. Is it still running if you’re going home?

When I first visited New York I was 18 years old, a sullen teenager whose parents wanted to buy an old farmhouse and homestead it, growing organic vegetables and raising animals. I was born and bred in an affluent county north of Philadelphia. The earthiness of our new home didn’t bother me, but the humbleness of it did. It was a bigger, grander house than the one we’d left, but the life we now lived was simpler. I never felt at home there.

New York took from me, from beginning to end, it seemed. The timeline of my time there is dotted with its thievery. Home, life, family, security, finances, faith. By the time I left, my small car packed with every earthly belonging, I would have been glad to never return.

I tell one of my girls this morning that it was the lonely, poor, and rejected times where I now see the providence of God. It was not New York that stole from me, it was God who pruned from me. Cutting off what didn’t bear fruit. My first three years in Texas I felt strong and tall and healthy, free of the dead branches. But new branches grew and they have to be pruned too. That is the truth I am learning: to bear healthy fruit, even new branches have to be pruned.

One of the most painful lessons God’s children must learn is that we are not God, and our strength is only as strong as our dependence on Him. He is our strength. That which bears fruit in us, is born of Him. He is the producer, not us. He is also the farmer and the vine-keeper. He decides what is not best, what is not fit to produce.

I have some fears about moving back to New York, going home to a state that took from me, a place where my faith withered and died. I have fears that feel paramount today. Fear that some will think I am running away. That some will think I will never settle down. That I am making a mistake. That there, where I am known, I will slip into old patterns and ways of thinking. Deadly things.

But at the bottom of those fears, I land on one solid truth: He prunes. He takes away and gives something better. And he does it over and over and over and over again until we are his likeness. Because He is the vine and the vine-keeper, and truest fruit-bearer.