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“To be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond.”

I read this quote in a book and was warmed by its presence. In a complementarian culture it can be tempting to tout the party line, “Men initiate, women respond,” as though the complexities of human nature and God-ordained orders can be summed up in pithy four word statements.

What about all the women we see in scripture who initiated and the men who responded? “Yes, but order!” the dogmatic pounds his fist and says with the full authority of Paul and the early church behind him. But what about Eve, the mother of all living, the nurturer of life (Gen 3:20)? Adam may have planted the seed, but it was Eve who did all the work. Isn’t this the nature of nurturing? And isn’t that also an initiating, sustaining work?

The real work of a woman is to be long-suffering. To see what is—but also what can be, and then to nurture it every step along the way (Prov 31). This is an initiating work if there is one because all around us the message is to stop when the going gets tough, make time for me, to treat ourselves, to omit or abort what is inconvenient. The real work of the feminine woman is to work and to keep and to tend and to pioneer forward in the face of risk and uncertainty and what is frightening (I Pet 3:6).

The real work of the feminine woman is to initiate kingdom work on earthly soil, to sleep by the seeds deep under the dirt, and to burst with anticipation and then at last joy when her work is born (Rom 8:22).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

The truth is that the majority of the 20- and 30-something women in our churches feel this way, too. They may be attending regularly, but they are sitting quietly back out of respect and uncertainty. They wrestle with whether they fit in the church at all anymore.

The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.

So expect to stumble, I tell my son. It’s a sign you’re making progress up the hill. What I don’t tell him, because I think he has to learn this on his own, is how warranted is this fear and trembling. Be careful what you pray for, child. Have a care. There is no grace worth having that comes cheap. These bones are a temple being swept clean and some of them will be scourged.

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I am more poet than preacher, but I gravitate toward epistles when I am discouraged because my soul craves structure—but what it really needs is rest. I have learned that in times when I feel insecure or unsafe, what I need is not to be corralled, but to be wooed. The Psalms remind me that I am dust and that I am loved as dust.

Robbie Seay has been slowly releasing EPs of Psalms put to music over the past year and as each one came I found such comfort in them. This week he released the full album and it’s been streaming constantly for me. Robbie and his wife Elizabeth have been such an encouragement to me over the past few years and I wanted to see if I could help get the full album out.

Robbie is giving away five signed copies of the new album to five of you. Enter below three ways. Winners will be contacted after contest ends and we’ll mail the albums out to you.

I hope it blesses you as much as it has blessed me. If you’d rather just purchase the album and support the ministry of the Seays,  I’d highly recommend you do that.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

lovesaves

This morning I tweeted a link to an article I thought was written in a heartfelt, honest way. It was the raw feelings of one young man when he found himself in a roomful of a thousand other similarly feeling people. He and I disagree on a myriad of things, not the least of which was at the heart of the conference at which he found himself. I shared the article because he made one point we do agree on: the need for the Church to hear people out.

A few people responded, pushing back mainly against the article’s thesis (that hope for the future of the church is found in the love and affirmation of all people). I disagree with his thesis. The hope of all people is found in the cross, the Savior who died on it, and the resurrection that followed. All implications fall from that hope, regardless of how loving we are with anyone else. Love does save the world, but Love’s name is Jesus and not the Church. The reason I shared the article is because occasionally it is good for the Church to hear others out—not to reach an agreement on the issues at hand, but simply to walk alongside hurting individuals, offering them water that satisfies.

One pushback came from one of my dearest friends, though, and she said, “A believer has to wade through some messy theology to reach the conclusion you’re aiming for [by sharing the article without a caveat].”

I responded, “And more believers should wade through messy theology, I think.”

. . .

A few weeks ago a guy came up to me after church, knowing I write about cultural issues sometimes, asked me my advice on how to walk with a friend of his who identifies as a gay Christian. “Does she believe the bible is inerrant?” I asked. “No,” he responded. “Does she believe the gospel as we understand it?” “I think so,” he said. “Well then my answer to you is the same answer I give to myself when I walk alongside those struggling with—or those embracing—same-sex attraction: The whole point of the gospel is that we are intrinsically distinct from God. The gospel wouldn’t count if we had the righteousness of Christ on our own. We needed someone wholly righteous to pay for our absolute unrighteousness. If the design of marriage is to reflect the gospel, two members of the same sex cannot mirror the intrinsic picture of the gospel.” That is perhaps a simplistic argument, but it is the only one, I’ve found, that cuts through all the messy theology and gets to the heart of the issue at hand.

But the presence of the gospel doesn’t change the presence of messy theology. In fact, the presence of the gospel sets us free to work all things out in submission to a singular reality: broken beyond repair in our sinfulness, the Father sent the Son to suffer, die, resurrect, and leave the perfect love of the Holy Spirit with His children in order that we might have a helper to bring us into all truth.

The gospel is the whole picture, and the messy theology is sometimes the way we get to the gospel (it was for me), and the messy theology is sometimes the thing we find after we’ve gotten to the gospel (it is for me). But either way, sorting through theology, saying what we believe, why we believe it, opening ourselves up to critique and correction, getting things out of our heads, making them sayable (the whole point of this site!)—this is the working out of our salvation that must happen.

Too often we’re parrots of a status quo instead of wading deep into the pool of muddied water, and letting what is sometimes dirty and always messy do the healing work in us it must. Jesus used mud to heal a blind man’s eyes and I never want to be above both allowing mud to be put on my eyes, and being a healing handler of mud for the eyes of others. It was not the mud that healed, it was Jesus. The mud was just the mechanism He used.

If we believe God is sovereign over all (and God, I hope you do), then we have to believe that He is protecting the Bride, purifying her, setting her apart, and presenting her spotless, without blemish. No messy theology will cling to her when she is at last presented to her Groom. Not one bit. This sets us free to worry less about articles we disagree on and think more about the messy ways God brought us to Him—and how we are all other beggars along that path for someone else.

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We’re an ambitious lot, you and me. Armed with our five and ten year plans, our budgets, our ideas, our visions. We stockpile shortcuts and wisdom and switchbacks, the fastest and easiest routes to success. We set high goals and adhere to rigorous demands and diets and designs in the pursuit of domination over some thing in our lives. We determine to win.

Yesterday a friend and I talked for a few minutes about the plague of ambition in Christianity. He talked in military analogies and I think I disagreed until we came to an agreement. We agreed, at least, that some of us need to learn to slow down and some of us need to move forward.

In the translation of I Thessalonians 4:11 I have memorized, Paul says to make it our “ambition to live a quiet life and attend to our own business and to work with our hands,” and I love that. Yet it is one of the few times the word ambition is used in the Bible. And every other time it’s used, the word is tied to negative adjective: selfish.

The ambition to the faithful act of quietness, the faithful plot of my own business, the faithful work of my hands—this is an ambition we are less than hopeful about putting on our faith-resumes.

Let’s be ambitiously quiet today. Ambitiously faithful to our plot. Ambitiously working with our hands. Let’s see what God does with the opposite inclination of our society and culture.

Let’s still.

 

This past week an article from the New York Times made the rounds on my social media feed. I thought it was great and wanted to develop the idea a bit for Christians. If you’re interested, here’s the original article and my piece published at Christianity Today.

To Fall in Love, Do This: Mandy Len Catron
We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.

Dating by Q & A: Lore Ferguson
Friendship forces us to see another person as more than what they can offer for us. Friendship grows not by asking questions to gain answers for self, but by saying to one another by virtue of the questions, “I see you and I want to see more of you.”

We don’t seek the answers to protect ourselves or build an arsenal of weapons for future use against one another, but to curate a museum of memorabilia to delight and reflect upon—to be able to say, “Remember when?” and “Look how far we’ve come!” and “Your hopes and dreams have come true!” This friendship as a foundation for marriage can only be, I imagine, a more rich and tender and long-lasting type than any checklist man or woman might deliver. Keep reading…

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Today is her first day of school. Orientation, really, but I have learned to count the small blessings. She crawled into my bed last night and we talked about everything until I was falling asleep and she was too giddy to sleep. “Thank you for bearing with me,” she said. And of course it’s okay, I said, it’s my joy, but what I was thinking was how long the paths to life are and how very thorny along the way.

This morning I woke up to make her breakfast, toast and eggs, runny like she likes them, and I thought of the person who made me go to college orientation a dozen years ago. I was a wounded bird in those years and the thought of a classroom frightened and intimidated me, but at her urging I went. I was out of place, older than all my classmates, wildly unprepared for the liberal atmosphere, and I thrived. I sent her a message this morning: thank you for making me go to school, for sticking with me.

. . .

Some friends and I talked late last night about discipleship and long-sufferingness. The long road is, as I said, thorny along the way and we are too often softened by psychology and words like “healthy boundaries” and “my time.” To disciple is to make and to mature, but it often seems a far more glorious thing to make than to mature. We grow lazy and pass people off, as if they were the baton we pass instead of the message we ought to be passing.

This morning I think about how Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and how desperately we all long for that. But he did it at home, in his father’s house, sweeping the sawdust, listening to his mother, caring for his siblings, learning to craft furniture and construct buildings, learning Torah. He did it for years and years and years and years and years, in faithful discipleship from those around him. And others did it with him—even those who knew his true nature as Messiah.

Haven’t we grown weary though? In doing good? Doesn’t our good so often seem to fall on deaf or dumb or fear-filled ears? How long, oh Lord, until we see wisdom and stature from train-wrecked marriages and wayward children and unrepentant friends and, God, my own heart? How long?

Love is long-suffering, though, suffering long. The way is thorny and marked with setbacks plenty. We will administer correction or challenge or wisdom, or walk so long with someone through darkness it feels like the end is never coming.

. . .

I sit with someone yesterday and talk about how a seed can’t grow to maturity if we keep digging it up and replanting it. It has to bed itself deep in the dark earth, it needs the musky darkness to break open and grow, and then it needs light and water and time to grow into maturity and we cannot rush that process—no matter how difficult it is to stay, to be long-suffering, to enter in, to do the difficult work of people.

We need stayers in the kingdom, those who will do the difficult work of discipleship, who walk with the weak as they grow in wisdom and stature, in spiritual things and physical things, in intangible ways and tangible ways. Long-suffering makers and maturers.

design (8)

Once a painting professor assigned me a project in which I could only use two colors for the piece. He told me, “Constraints are good. They teach you to use your imagination.” As in art, so in life.

Today is one of those days where from the blare of the alarm until this present second I feel the demand of living. It’s nothing unusual, it’s just life and the pressing of it. Demands, needs, hopes, tears, fears—some mine, most not, but belonging to those I love and therefore still mine. I don’t know how to use my imagination when what’s in front of me just seems to be so mundane and monochromatic, constraining and constricting. I feel kept and caught, and I’m questioning the great Artist for giving me this palette with which to paint my canvas of life.

David knew what I feel, and maybe what you feel too,

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”

David felt a very real constraint—the threat of death on his life—and maybe my constraints today aren’t of equal kind, but I think they’re similar.

Living within constraints means dying to myself and my desires, my demands and my mood. It means the temptation to run away, to live outside the boundaries God has given me and put me in, will be pressing and constant. Psalm 16 says the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. That means God has designed this day perfectly within His bounds and it is a delight—I only need to trust the artist who made it so.

Where are you finding yourself stretching at the boundary lines today? Where are you frustrated with the lot you’ve been given? The lack of finances? The lack of marriage prospects? The lack of children? The presence of children? The office building? Instead of running away or standing on the edge, stretching for more, why not live within today’s constraints and trust the Maker of heaven and earth?

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Every year I take some time away at the beginning of the year to reflect on the previous year and pray over the coming year. I’ve been doing this for the past five years and it has proven to be one of the most helpful disciplines for me—so much so that I think I probably need to do it quarterly instead of yearly. This year a friend and I rented a cabin a few hours from our home and it was perfect. I printed out several articles I read this month that I wanted to continue mulling over, as well as the list of questions I go through, before I went and I wanted to share them with you here.

. . .

These questions are a compilation of several lists others have created and I curate it each year depending on where I know I need more intentional work.

. . .

2014 was a year where I felt stuck. I felt caught in my own brain and thoughts and locked into a cage of my own making. Wendy’s article on the Sanctification Spiral was hugely helpful to me this week, just a reminder of God’s faithfulness to finish us in His time: When you feel “stuck,” when you feel like you are continually rehearsing the same struggles, remember this: sanctification is not an endless, repetitive circle. It is a growing spiral in which each round penetrates more deeply into our identity as fallen, but redeemed, image-bearers of God.

. . .

2014 was a year where I forgot to look up often. I love nature, I love creation, but I felt stuck in a concrete box of suburban living. But the truth is the sky is always there and there’s more too, if I’ll look for it: Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

. . .

For some reason I felt irked by the plethora of “Top Ten 2014″ posts I saw in December. I’m not proud of that (especially since I’ve indulged in my share of top tens before), but I did appreciate Tim Willard’s Top Ten. It encouraged me on multiple levels: In the very small “Christian media world” of books, organizations, conferences, and so on, it’s easy to see the folks who seem to be the most successful and culturally relevant and mimic them. But this is not wise, nor is it fulfilling.

. . .

2014 was a year where I felt the question posed often, “Do you WANT this?” This article came at the perfect time for me this year. You may not agree with all or some of his conclusions, but I found comfort in the transparency of the confession here. My soul needs to be around ready confessors: The key question for Christians is the same one Jesus put to the lame man at the pool of Bethesda: “Do you want to be healed?” Similarly, for pastors, I would say that the key question is: “Do you want to heal?” Too often, either pastors or laypeople (and sometimes both) think they want healing or to heal, but actually would rather give or receive sugar pills.

Pools at Bethesda

Pools at Bethesda

In recent months I’ve been convicted about the little foxes that ruin the vineyard of my heart. I have a bit of a tender constitution to some things I see on media, or hear about from others, but I realized my propensity to mindlessly watch popular shows containing nudity was growing in the past year. I wasn’t watching them for the nudity, but I was still complicit in their popularity. I like smart writing and good character development and there are a few movies I enjoyed this year that contained brief scenes that would be better left out of both the film and and my heart.

In my singleness I have let my heart grow cold in this area, telling myself that because I didn’t have a man’s heart to protect while viewing, it was okay to just gloss over the scenes. I was watching it for the story after all.

Like those who read Playboy for the articles?

Recently I heard John Piper speak on watching nudity of any kind in any media. He gives twelve reasons why we should be “radically bold, sacrificially loving, God-besotted freaks, aliens—saying no to the world for the sake of the world.” The world doesn’t need more copies of itself.

I’m sharing his twelve points here and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to him and commit to not watch nudity of any kind. It’s nearly impossible if you watch any popular show or movie, but it’s a sacrifice our hearts desperately need and one Christ asks for.

1. Jesus died to purify me and his people. It is a travesty of the cross to think he only forgave us for the sin of watching nudity, but did not purify us for the power not to watch it. Titus 2:14

2. There is in the bible a radical call for holiness of mind and heart and life. Nudity in photos and movies is not holy and does not advance our holiness. I Peter 1:15, II Corinthians 7:1

3. Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with his heart. Seeing naked women and men causes men and women to sin with their minds and desires, and often with their bodies. If Jesus told us to guard our hearts by gouging out our eyes to prevent sin, how much more would he say “Don’t watch it.”

4. Life in Christ is not mainly the avoidance of evil, but mainly the passionate to pursue good. My life is not a constrained life, it is a free life. We were called to freedom, don’t use freedom as opportunity for flesh. Philippians 4

5. I want to see and know God as fully as possible. Watching nudity is a huge hinderance to that pursuit. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God.” The defilement of the mind by watching nudity dulls the heart’s ability to enjoy God

6. God calls women to adorn themselves to adorn themselves with modesty. When we pursue, receive, or embrace nudity, we are implicitly endorsing the men and women who sell themselves this way. I Timothy 2:9

7. Most Christians are hypocrites in watching nudity because they say watching it okay, but they know deep down they wouldn’t want daughter or wife to be playing this role.

8. Nudity is not like murder and violence on the screen, that’s make-believe, nobody gets killed, but nudity is not make-believe. These actors are really naked in front of the camera and millions of people.

9. Sexual relations is a beautiful thing; God created it and called it good. It is not a spectator sport. It is a holy joy, sacred, in its secure place. Men and women who want to be watched in their nudity are in the category with exhibitionists.

10. There is no great film that needs nudity to add to its greatness. There are creative ways to be true to the story without turning sex into a spectator sport and putting people in morally compromising situations on the set. It’s not art that puts nudity in, it’s the appeal of what sells.

11. Christians do not watch nudity with a view to maximize holiness. What keeps Christians coming back is the fear that if they took Christ at his word, and made holiness as seriously as I’m saying it is, they would be viewed as freakish.

12. There is one biblical guideline that makes life simple: Roman 14:23. “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” If you doubt, don’t. This would alter the viewing habits of millions and oh how sweetly they would sleep with their conscience at rest.

Note: if you struggle with a pornography habit and are actively seeking freedom from that, I pray this post doesn’t condemn you further, but that it lessens the appeal of porn and gives you greater things to look toward. The way to fight sin is to replace it with what is better, holier, and far more satisfying. Christ is better. He is.

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This article isn’t actually directed toward singles, but married folks, so if you’re tempted to skip because you think it doesn’t apply—it’s actually JUST for you!

I can barely navigate a few real-life dating prospects, let alone imagine constructing pithy profiles and smartly angled selfies to snag myself a guy. While others check out their options online—the percentage of American adults using dating apps and websites has tripled in the past three years—I’m tempted to go the other direction, deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts, making my online self less accessible (or perhaps more mysterious?) to the male mass.

Every year, between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, online dating registrations soar. There are a myriad of reasons for this: the difficulty of holidays spent single; New Year resolutions; desire to not be by themselves in dark, winter nights; pressure from family; and more.

One thing is clear, it is written on the heart of every man and woman that it is not good for them to be alone.

Continue reading at Christianity Today.

If you’d like to hear a followup I did regarding this article, WORDFM interviewed me today. It begins at the 13:00 minute mark and perhaps my heart will come through a little more clearly if anyone is interested.

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A friend and I talked the other night of friendship and what it is made of, ours specifically. We have learned in our friendship not to give advice. Sometimes it is sought, and then we give it, but sparingly, because we have learned the value of the wrestle.

The wrestle in the Christian faith is not a glamorous or sought after place, I find. We are arrivers, winners, finishers, rarely do we let the wrestle do its work in us. We strain forward, but sometimes so fast we miss the small irks and tiny pains that teach us to slow and listen and hear and constrain. We advise instead of enter in alongside; we teach instead of walk beside. There is a place for teaching and advising, but I wonder if we would be more wholly sanctified if we did less of those and more of entering and walking.

Tonight I read these words in Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus:

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:52)

Jesus says that the Bible knowledge the teachers communicated “took away the key” that others needed to actually know God. A key opens and locks a door. They described the door for people, but they had no way to open the door for themselves or for others. Make no mistake: when it came to door description, they were accredited experts. They spent their days gathering people to look at the door, to painstakingly memorize every line, crack, corner, color, and carving. The Bible teachers and the congregations possessed an expert (keyless) knowledge of an unopened door.

The problem was not the Bible itself but how it was being used apart from Jesus. After all, a light shone into our eyes is still a light that shines in the darkness, but it does not help us to see. The problem isn’t the light itself, for the light retains the capacity to illumine. The problem is the way we are using it. Such light so used in our eyes actually blinds us for a moment. We blink and blink when the light is pulled away. We see spots. Exposure to such a torch certainly gives us an experience of light that is powerful and unforgettable, but this kind of power neither airs our vision, nor clarifies our path. We stumble with squint amid the blur once we try to walk. Because of this, a wise old pastor was right: “It is possible for us to develop a false sense of knowledge.

I know this is not Eswine’s full intention in this passage, but it has me thinking of all the advice, noise, and voice given in Christless counsel. We are brimming full of good ideas and plans—at least I am. More and more, though, I want to still my voice, quiet my words, cease trying to fix problems or offer easy wisdom—even if that wisdom is shaped from scripture and spiritual insight. Sometimes we are not being helpful by simply shining a bright light into someone’s face. It is better to shine the light in the path and then walk alongside them in it.

I want to endeavor to walk in the paths of life in my friendships. Christ’s word, not mine, offers the most abundant life. His word, not mine, is the lamp to our feet and light to our path.

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A few nights ago, after spending Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room and then a series of unfortunate events following, I found myself in the pharmacy at midnight. I turned to the man sitting next to me on grimy chairs, both of us bleary-eyed and said, “Merry Christmas.” He grunted in response and I wanted to cry.

I’ve been hesitant to ask many people how their Christmas was, not because I didn’t want to know, but because I didn’t want them to ask back. Mine was memorable, but not in the ways we like Christmas to be memorable.

. . .

There’s a woman whose story I’ve been following a bit over the past few months. Her husband sent me an email months ago asking if I wanted to review her book. Requests like these are many, but his email was different, and I paid attention. Since then I’ve followed her writing and journey with sorrow and joy. Her name is Kara Tippetts and she has cancer. It has ravaged her body so completely there is nothing left to do but call hospice, which her husband did today.

I read her recent post with tears streaming down my face because what a light and momentary affliction my Christmas week was. Even with another roommate in the Emergency Room this morning and with the weight of life falling heavy on another and the business of living on another—what light affliction. What a momentary suffering. This mama is curled next to her babies and they are watching her slip into the longest sleep. This mama has to hand their futures and living over to her pastor-husband and to the Lord in a way most mothers never will, and couldn’t imagine. And yet how gloriously she suffers.

She suffers knowing it is light—even though it is the heaviest thing she will ever bear. She suffers knowing it is momentary—even though she longs to stay here as long as possible, to simply give them one more memory of her smile and her love. She suffers knowing there is a weight of glory beyond all comparison.

I cannot wrap my mind around that—and I am not meant to, not fully. I don’t think any of us can, not really. Not until we are facing sure and certain death on earth, until its cold grip is nearly complete and our soul slips into the warm presence of Christ. But I want to understand it. I’m begging God to help me understand it tonight.

The only way I know to understand, though, is not to set my eyes on my suffering, but to, like Paul said, not look at the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. I cannot see redemption in this life, no matter how hard I wish for it or look for it. Even my dreams pale in comparison to the glory I know he has prepared for me, so why would I set my hopes on them?

The transient things are seen—and this life, oh this turbulent, tumultuous, tenuous life is so visible, so seen. I see it in every direction of my life and the lives of the people I love. But there is a stayedness in the living dying of Kara Tippets and I am jealous for it. I do not envy her cancer, but I envy the way she has let the cancer eat away at bitterness or fear instead of feeding it.

I let the cancer of fear and insecurity and doubt feed more fears and insecurities and doubt. I stare at my light afflictions, daring them to prove themselves lighter. I trudge through my momentary afflictions, making it a slower and more weighty journey. How much better to set my eyes on the one to whom I run, to run with endurance, and to find myself arrived still astounded at the glory I behold? To spend my life imagining the glory and still find myself surprised at its splendor?

Let that hope of glory be the mark of our suffering, friends.

Pray for the Tippetts family. God, pray for them.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
II Corinthians 4:17-18

(Kara’s blog is currently down, but when it’s back up, here’s the link.)

Kara Tippetts

I have a friend who has always gotten what she wanted, and I have judged her for it. Employment, homes, money, husbands, children, perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect teeth. The world is brimming with opportunity for her, if only she will stare it full in the face demanding it acquiesce to her whims. And it does, every time. I have watched it bow to her for nearly half our lives, no matter how messy the wrestle or how bloody the battle, she always gets what she wants. And she has a beautiful life.

Another friend sent me a text a week ago, “Can we talk?” I have not always gotten what I wanted, and I always assume that is because I don’t deserve it or am not meant for it, that the stretch of my life will be the backhand of God across my every whispered desire. I assume I am always in trouble and text him back accordingly, “Depends. Am I in trouble?”

He spends nearly three hours at my house that afternoon, straight to the point, tender, kind, but unrelenting in his challenges and questions. Where is my joy? Why do I always take the hard road? Why do I think God always means to give me the leftovers? I cry some and listen a lot and talk more in those three hours than I talk in months. I feel heard and seen by him, and a little bit by God too, which is saying more than I can say for this whole year. “Stop punishing yourself,” he says, and another friend said the night before, “You made a mistake a while back and you’re still berating yourself for it.”

. . .

I woke up this morning thinking of the prodigal son, the one who demanded an inheritance and got it, and the elder son who stayed home minding his father’s business but not partaking of the father’s blessings. There have been many seasons where I know I have taken all the good He has given me and squandered it, finding myself face-down in a pig-pen, but today I am the elder son, staring at the fatted calf and not daring to ask for it.

Lest you think, reader, I have never asked, let me correct you because I have. I have asked for the fatted calves a thousand times and a thousand times seen them paraded by me and given to other friends. It is difficult to resent when God gives to those you love, but it is not difficult to resent the God who gives it.

And it is even easier to resent the self who asked for it.

. . .

Perhaps you think yourself a martyr too, like me, certain you will never deserve nor get what you want and so you will die an ascetic’s death, in the scant riches of the poverty gospel. Or perhaps you are like my friend, prone to ask wild things and get them too, scarred and battle worn, but always, always, always winning.

I don’t know if either one of us is more right or more wrong, but I do know both of us need friends who sit across from us for three hours and ask where the true source of our joy is, or if it exists at all.

We know our ultimate joy is in Him, but we are also told to be like the persistent widow, banging on the door at midnight asking for what she needed.

We know he is the treasure in the field, worth everything we own to get, but we also know to ask for bread and fish—which are simply sustaining things and not treasures to any common person.

We know he is the object of our worship, but see how he has clothed the lilies of the field in splendor, inducing our worship of him and satiating our demands to be cared for?

I cannot think it is wrong to ask boldly, but neither can I ask boldly, so I am caught in the tension of simply not asking.

. . .

When I was young I asked for something specific from my parents. They were always generous parents, as generous as they could be in a family of ten. But in this they said no, that one of my younger brothers would be the recipient first for various reasons. But then that same brother died in a sudden accident and our world shattered in every direction. No one was thinking of promises made to children, we were all just trying to survive the catastrophic blow that kept on beating us from every side. Not until a friend asked me this year did I realize I still carry with me a post-traumatic-stress from those few years. I encased myself in getting through it, being strong, protecting my youngest siblings, protecting myself, most days just surviving. My dead brother would never receive the gift, but I would also never receive the gift, because who thinks of gifts when the ground is coming apart around you?

. . .

Reader, I would like to wrap this up for you, but like the gifts I wrapped on Christmas Eve and were torn open twelve hours later, I don’t know that wrapping things up is always as effective as we like to think in evangelical circles. The difficult truth is I have been challenged this week, but not changed, rebuked, but not repented, asked of and not asked in return. I cannot wrap this up for you, neatly and in order, pithy and prideful. I am unfinished, like the nativity scene my roommate was carving for me until she cut her hand and we spent our Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room. Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus are complete, standing on our mantle, but the manger is still in the garage on the work-bench, half finished. A reminder to me that the people who had waited for a great light saw it that night in Bethlehem, but the story still wasn’t finished and wouldn’t be for thousands of years. Two-thousand years later I would still be afraid to ask the Savior to show Himself present.

On a hill a few weeks ago, overlooking the shepherd’s fields and the city of Bethlehem, we sung the words, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I thought to myself, in Christianity it is okay to say our hopes are met in Him, but our fears? Do we ever talk about our fears being met in Him? Our trembling, angst-filled, angry, sad fears? Will these be met in Him too?

Bethlehem and the Shepherd's Fields

Bethlehem and the Shepherd’s Fields