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Everyone, it seems, had a hard 2016 and it reminds me of the first months of 2015, how I stood in a small circle talking with my close friend and the man who would be my husband (although I didn’t know then). My friend and I had said good riddance to 2014 and had our arms flung wide open to what God might do in 2015 and we said so. But the man who become my husband in only a few months said, “You know, 2014 was a hard year. The first half I just tried to bear it. But the second half was actually good and sweet. The Lord taught me so much about His character and my sin.”

I didn’t fall in love with him just then, but I think there was a stirring inside of me in that moment that pointed to the goodness ahead. I cannot say for sure, but I think so. There was—and is—a tenderness in him that draws me to him again and again. The tenderness is not to others only, but to God. He has a self-awareness resulting in a God-awareness that I have seen rarely, especially in men.

Being able to forgive a year for it’s badness because of God’s goodness is something I am working to do right now. The other morning, the man who became my husband and I stood, face to face in the kitchen. His sadness overwhelmed me, as I’m sure my sadness has overwhelmed him this year. I wanted to fix what was wrong and I couldn’t. Nothing I could say could nudge the sadness away from him. All I could say was not that God was good in what he did (and didn’t do), but that he is good. Today. Right now. In this moment, he is working something deep into our sadness and bringing light to the darkness.

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 9.09.34 AMI have been reading the book of Job this month and I am encouraged by it in a way unlike ever before. I’ve struggled with Job in the past, either I didn’t want my joy tinged with his suffering or I didn’t want my suffering spiraling down more. But God, in his goodness, has me reading the whole book this month and every morning I am struck more and more by the deep wells of truth in it. His friends did some things right and said some things wrong. Job did some things right and said some things wrong. It is not a prescriptive book, it is descriptive of Job’s life and walk with the Lord, but it can be a comfort to us in its descriptiveness.

One verse in particular keeps coming around again and again in my heart. The first part is familiar, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him,” but the second is less so, “yet I will argue my ways to his face.” That word “yet” catches me every time. It is the equivalent of our word, “but.” As in, “Yes, mom, I’ll clean up my room, but first let me tell you this story.” Job says, “I trust, but also…” It reminds me of the father of the demoniac in Mark 9, “I believe. [But] help my unbelief.” I added the “but” in there, but it’s implied: a statement of truth and another statement of truth. It is possible to have those conflicting truths smashed right up against one another, fighting one another for breath.

I believe. Help my unbelief.
I hope in you. I will still argue my ways to your face.

If your 2016 was like mine, and like almost everyone I know, you probably need a “yet” in your life today. God was in there, working goodness in a profoundly difficult political season, in a devastatingly violent year, in a year polarizing like I have never seen in my life. God was in there when we miscarried and when we had to move suddenly and when we lost so much money on our house and when a hundred thousand small things pressed themselves against me and you and everyone we know. God was there. But also God is here, and he can handle our unbelief and our ways argued straight to his face. He isn’t surprised by the sadness we can’t shake and the anger we’re surprised by and the fear we go to bed with and the unknowns we wake to. He is the God who is here.

This month I am working to forgive a year, which means I am working for forgive God (not because he did wrong, but because I have perceived his goodness to be badness and been angry at him for it) and to forgive myself and to forgive others and to forgive people I don’t even know. I am working to say, “That happened and was hard and there is no guarantee it gets easier (in fact, it probably just gets harder), but though he slays me, my hope is in him. Not the future him. The today him. The God who is.”

. . .

Meditating on these is helping me. Maybe it will help you too. 

It is midwinter, or nearly so, and we got a small dusting of snow last week as if God was saying, “It is winter and I’ll prove it to you.” The windows have been open the last two days though and the air has that damp, mossy scent of midwinter or, in the colder climate of my home, early spring when all the snow has melted. It has been hard to be content here this year and yesterday the day began folding in on itself before it had really begun. It was still dark outside and I was late for an appointment, my keys locked in the car and my husband nearly to work with his set. He met me last night with profuse apologies for locking them in there and I’d forgiven him before it happened. It wasn’t him I was so mad at, it was all of the other things that are out of my control and how helpless I feel to change any of it.

I read a checklist of sorts the other day, questions to ask when you feel, as the article termed it, dead inside. I don’t feel dead inside, not in the least, but I do feel numb and cold and sad and really, really tired in a way I’ve never felt before. One of the questions was, “How much new are you facing?” I said to Nate later that night, reading that question felt the same as when I queried on social media about good mattresses to buy because we have struggled to sleep deeply this year, and my mother-in-law quipped, “It could have something to do with the fact that in the space of one year, you’ve had to learn to sleep in three different time zones.” It was a moment of clarity for me, and the empathy I’ve longed for from someone else. “Oh. Three different time zones. I am tired, and it’s not a tired a good night sleep will fix.”

This isn’t meant to be an excuse, though I know it sounds of one. It’s more just a reminder to me that I don’t receive the grace God gives in the form of common things like sleep or good coffee or a good cry on the back porch or a long bath. I don’t receive them without their sniggling sidekick shame.

Last night after Nate’s apologies about the keys and after I told him, again, it was an honest mistake (And by honest, I don’t just mean not intentional, I mean, they were locked in there because he had tried to serve me by starting the car early with one set on that one snowy day and locking the front door with the other set.), we had a fight. We don’t do shouting matches and stomped feet and slamming doors, but last night was the first time in our marriage I wanted to. I felt so misunderstood and unheard and unable to explain how deeply sad and tired I am about some things—things I’d beg you to not assume, because either they’re not that complex and the joke’s on me, or they are, and the joke’s on you. The base of our fight rested on the premise of every fight known to man since those two feuding brothers in Genesis four: unmet expectations.

It is hard to learn the difference between good hopes and bad ones, godly ones and ungodly ones, righteous longings and selfish ones. Even the most righteous hope can be tinged with self-gain and even the nastiest longing finds its roots in the hope for something good and right. We love, Saint Augustine said, in a disordered way. We either want the right thing in a wrong way or the wrong thing in the right way and we press the longing for God farther and further down, until someone asks what we want, and we can’t even answer straight because we’re so confused.

Nate asked me last night what would happen if I didn’t get what I want (in this case, a good and right God-ordained desire) and I couldn’t answer. And when I finally did, I sputtered out words about knowing the theological answer but not being able to shake the unshakeable longing in my heart for what I know is right.

I woke this morning with the words from Psalm 68:6 in my head, “He sets the lonely in families,” and then I read this from Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), author of Out of Africa, or, if you prefer—as I do—Babette’s Feast and more.

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.

I know there is a home out there, a place where we will eventually settle and be settled, and as much as I long for it to be somewhere on earth, it may not come until the earth is new and the kingdom of God is established on it. This morning, though, I am comforted by Blixen’s blessing, “Blessed are the homesick,” because there is a promise of God following it: one day, we shall go home.

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Have you ever injured your dominant hand? Maybe as simple as a paper cut, maybe a broken arm or stitches or a sprain. I’ve done it a time or two and had to use my other arm which feels like some sort of cruel joke. I wonder sometimes why God gave us dominant hands. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to make both hands just as useful all the time? In my wisdom I think so. But then there are times when I have to use my subservient (but certainly not submissive) hand and think to myself, Lord, I’m so grateful I don’t always have to do this because it’s hard, but it makes me so grateful for that one useful hand.

Learning how to be married is a bit like that. Not the lovely parts of marriage, the friendship, the laughter, the good, deep, and cleansing renewing conversations, the dreaming, the sex, the shared goals and visions. Those are so lovely and I wish every bit of them on everyone I know. I mean the parts I don’t know how to do, the being a wife, the being a home-maker, the working from home wife, the being alone or having to do so many things by myself I never envisioned were a part of marriage. It feels like using my left hand when my right hand is all I’ve ever used.

Last night, after staying late into the evening in the District for some work things, Nate was taking the last train home and, as commonly happens, his train was stopped and they recommended finding alternate forms of transportation. I had just settled into bed with some apples and peanut butter, Manor House, and my pup when his text came asking me to drive and pick him up. I threw on my slippers and a hoodie, glanced at my phone which only had 5% left on it, hoped our car charger would work (it hasn’t been), and set out for a 45 minute trek through unfamiliar roads to a train station I’d never been to.

About halfway there, though, my phone died. I pulled the car over, breathed really deeply, knew I was about to cry since I had no earthly idea where I was, it was dark, my phone was dead, and I knew somewhere in this big bad world my husband was waiting for me. Common sense took over soon enough and I just kept driving until I found a convenience store to ask directions. I finally got to the train station and found my dear man waiting for me and we began the trek back home—this time with his GPS on.

I felt one handed on the drive there, unprepared for the night, without a navigation system, dressed only in my pajamas, dependent on strangers (drunk ones) to give me directions, on which they couldn’t agree and nearly got into a fight about because, as it turned out, they were giving me directions to two different train stations.

This feels like marriage sometimes, I thought this morning. I feel woefully unprepared, without a navigation system, and at the mercy of feuding strangers on the Best Ways to Do Everything. Of course I’m not woefully unprepared and I do have a navigation system, but it’s not always as neat and organized as the books, or Bible, make it out to be. It often feels like I knew how to do singleness very, very well, but now I have to use this other, unused part of my brain, heart, skills, everything, and learn from the ground up. Marriage isn’t more sanctifying, it’s just different sanctifying.

My friend Haley and I got married a year apart and we’ve been able to talk through some of these challenges, joys, sorrows, together, along with some other aspects of life. We’ve started a little blog together called Tables and Miles: Friendship, Food, and Finances from Far Away. The premise is just that we’ll write a letter to one another once a week on it, talking about those elements in a way that interests us, and might interest you. If it does, here’s the link. We just using the free Wix platform because who has money to spend on hobbies?

My friend Hannah Anderson wrote a great post on writing that I thought worth sharing, for readers and writers.

Lexy Sauve wrote an excellent piece on new years and cleaning routines and our hearts. I cannot recommend it enough.

Along the lines of Hannah’s article, someone shared this and I found it convicting and interesting.

The Rabbit Room writers shared their favorite music of 2016 here and I made a playlist on Spotify (though, please, for goodness sake, buy some of these albums and support their art. The amount of work I do as a writer and don’t get paid for makes me realize how little our world puts actual value on art, and I want to do better about giving toward faithful artists.).

I hope you enjoy your weekend. Perhaps think about some ways you’ve been called to use your less than dominant hand in life these days, and what the Lord might be teaching you through it.

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field

Debate the legitimacy of picking one word for your year at its beginning or end, it’s okay. Words are beautiful and vast and also complicated and what you think you might be asking for at the start may turn out to be something altogether different at the end. God is sovereign enough to create many words and also sovereign enough to sum all of creation into one: good.

As for me, at the beginning of 2016, I asked for “settled.” Upon reflection on the first day of 2017, though, I felt the year turned out to be more “stuck.” And upon further reflection, I’m coming to realize they are not such different words after all.

Years have a way of doing this to us, don’t they. Flipping our expectations around and giving us nothing of what we asked and everything of what we needed. I felt stuck all of 2016. Stuck moving to D.C. Stuck at the mercy of my husband’s employment. Stuck at home. Stuck in premature commitments we made. Stuck without a church. Stuck without our community. Stuck in the mid-Atlantic region. Stuck in work. Stuck in life. Nothing in our lives seemed to move forward, everything felt like it moved backward or not at all. It was the longest year of my life, and at the end, looking back, all I could see was an untouched field, ignored, unkempt, and overlooked.

As I said last week, God is doing something in that fallow field though, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. It doesn’t move the field forward. It doesn’t use the field. It doesn’t catch the eye of bystanders or passersby. The fallow field is settling into itself, dirt into dirt into dirt into dirt. At the end of the fallow year what started as a tilled and sifted soil, has turned hard, solid, packed into itself, stuck and settled.

I asked for settledness in 2016 and, from my perspective, got nothing but more uprootedness, less surety, more change and less certainty. We literally have no idea where we’ll be living in a few months. I feel stuck here and stuck for all of life today. But God, in his goodness, makes what seems stuck settled. Not that we are meant to stay here for all of time, or will never leave, or in two months won’t be packing up the moving truck for the third time in less than 20 months, just that, what God did in 2016 was settling. He sifted the field of our hearts in ways we never desired and wouldn’t have asked for if pressed. He packed truths so deep down in our hearts we could stand on them as firm as stone. He did not plant or water or bother too much with anything else, He just let what seemed stuck settle.

As Nate and I talked though the coming year—with no idea where we’ll be living, working, communing—I felt the Lord reminding me that we can make plans, but it’s in Him we ultimately hope. And the words, “Hidden Roots” kept coming to mind. Oh no, I fussed, I’ve had enough with the hiding. I want to flourish! grow! bear fruit! do something! But again and again, as we worked through heart-revealing questions and answers, those words came to mind. Before we see the sprouts, before we see the fruit, before we see the harvest, we know the roots are growing, being nourished, flourishing, unseen, unnoticed, overlooked still. A freshly planted field looks the same as a fallow one to everyone but the farmer.

I have no idea what at the end of 2017 will be revealed to be God’s best for our lives, but at the onset, I know he is asking for more of the same: hiding in him alone, our refuge, our strength, our vinedresser, our farmer, our keeper.

If you feel stuck today and have for a while, consider, too, that perhaps God is settling some truths down deep in you. Ask yourself what they might be. What have you learned this year that you could have not learned in a year of much forward motion? What have you learned about God in the stillness of your year? What have you learned about yourself when social engagements, ministry, being in the public eye, might not have given you a chance to learn? What have you learned about your home? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your church? Your habits? All of this “stuckness” is teaching something if we’ll look closely enough.

I hope your Christmas holiday brought many reminders that our hopes and fears are met in Him. This is an easy season to polarize, isn’t it? Either all we feel is fear or all we feel is hope. Yet, when we let ourselves be still for a moment, those hopes and fears crash into one another and every optimist becomes a realist and every pessimist becomes one too. If we’re children of God, our reality is that all these hopes and dreams and fears and sadnesses converge in one grand truth: that He is enough. Should we never have a home, never have a child, never have the job we want, never be out of debt, never be well all the way through, never go home, never be whole, never be brave, never be quiet, He is enough.

This past month I’ve realized something about life for me now. Since I was nineteen, for seventeen years now, I have been mostly autonomous. I made the choices I thought were best for my life. I dove into schooling, church life, roommate living, vocation, vacation, schedule, and more. I ate when and what I wanted to. I woke when I wanted to. I moved when I wanted to. My existence wasn’t selfish—I tried my best to submit myself to pastors, leaders, friends, community—but it was in many ways self-directed. This is a beautiful aspect of singleness and one that is inordinately useful for the growth of the kingdom of God. Paul wasn’t wrong when he wrote of the undistractedness of singleness. Godly singleness is a time ripe for so many endeavors and adventures, and I’ll never stop being grateful for all those God gave me. Marriage, also like Paul said, is full of distractions and I find the primary one to be our lack of autonomy.

Before marriage it sounds delightful to be united with a partner forevermore, to go to sleep next to and wake beside, to cook dinner for and budget with, to pray with and laugh with, to build traditions alongside and create a home with another person. It sounds delightful and it is. It has been nothing short of a gift. But it is also a thousand little deaths, primarily that my dreams, hopes, plans, desires, and time are in the mutually submitted and mutually sticky position of being inextricably linked to another person sinner man husband, and his to mine. Nate’s hopes sometimes clash with my fears and my hopes with his fears. When this happens it would be easy to manipulate my way into getting what I want or for him to exercise dominion over me in a perverted attempt to lead, but a godly marriage this does not make. And so, a thousand little deaths we die.

If your hopes and fears are met with clashing and smashing ideals in every direction, if every time you feel the inkling of hope, it meets with another’s fear or maybe your own, if every fear you have is pulled into the vulnerable arena of another’s hopes, I am praying for you today. I am praying all of those hopes and fears are met in Him today, not in the gain of what you want or the getting of what another wants. In Christ alone.

Here are some things I’ve enjoyed this week:

This interview of Brett Lott on Cultivated.

This piece from Jeffrey Overstreet on Watership Down.

This article from Gina Delfonzo on Graham Greene, Glennon Melton, and Jen Hatmaker.

This conversation between John Blase and Winn Collier.

This response from J.D. Vance on the success of Hillbilly Elegy.

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We taught ourselves Pinocle last week. No telling whether we’re doing it right. What other two person card games are there?

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This is a great post in itself, and something Nate and I have been talking a lot about recently. One of the things I loved about it, though, is there is a sentence in it that I recognized immediately. I knew it from memory, and sure enough, it was linked back to the covenant membership document from my home church in Texas.

I loved that.

When I read the words in the link above and recognized them from memory, it’s because I said them often, across tables from prospective members, in the membership gatherings, and to myself when I struggled with sin, fear, anger, or loneliness. The membership covenant at The Village Church was my visible and verbal reminder of a spiritual commitment to a messy myriad of mere humans. And it is good and right to miss them, to know that they can never be replaced, to know that God doesn’t promise to give us another family like them, but to know also that church membership is more than just a social engagement, a check off list, and what you’re just supposed to do as a Christian.

Leaving a church family should not be like leaving Exodus for the Israelites, yet I’ve heard many people compare it to such. Longing for yesterday. Longing for those people. Missing them deeply and dearly. It seems in church culture sometimes we work so hard on getting people to understand covenant membership, yet when they really do understand it, but God calls them away for a season or forever, we don’t have patience for the excruciating pain of separating what was joined together. It ought to be painful. If it isn’t, it wasn’t really understood.

We miss The Village, and not, though many think, because of Matt’s preaching. We both love Matt and the whole Chandler clan, but the gift of Matt’s preaching is a tiny, tiny sliver of what we miss about our family there. We miss the community. We miss the culture of confession. We miss the corporate worship. We miss the familiar liturgy of the seasons and series. We miss our elders, men of age and wisdom. We miss our mothers, women of insight and leadership. We miss our counselors. We miss our messy living situations. We miss the many folks we each walked through church discipline with. We miss those we served alongside. We miss the collective page turning. We miss bleeding, crying, binding up, teaching, learning, serving, and submitting.

Missing your church family is not like missing Exodus, it’s missing the taste of the promised land to come. If we have tasted the grapes of God’s future kingdom, we ought to never stop longing for its wine.

If you miss your church, for whatever reason God has called you to another place for another season, feel free to mourn with hope, but mourn with reality too. God is building His church, scattered over every nation and full of every tongue, and you got a glimpse, however short, of it. Don’t ever forget that, not ever. Hold onto it with hope.

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‘Tis the season for all the top ten lists. I thought of doing one but decided against, for various reasons. Writing, for me, has taken a different turn in this season and I’ve had to mourn the loss with tears, stalwart determination, and sometimes crippled fingers and thoughts. Last week I confessed in tears to Nate that one of the hardest parts of life this year has been how quickly the world turns and how my work has faded from sight, and how forgotten I’ve felt as time and people progress and we feel stuck. It was a good talk, a humbling one and a needed confession of my own sin. This week I’ve just tried to remember, remember, remember all that God has done in this fallow season.

Fallow is an agricultural term meaning, simply, to let a field alone for a period of time in order to restore its fertility. As I look over 2016, and the lingering parts of 2015, it’s very easy for me to see all the death and none of the fertility. What have we borne? Nothing, even if you look closely, which I have been trying to do. And there is something inside of me—and probably inside of you—that wants to rush to cover over that sad statement with so many reminders of “All The Good Things!” But, just as those fields need times of fallow, of non-productiveness, of not bearing, and seeming to all the world and the field too, of having lost their ability to bear, God is still doing something in that neglected dirt. The platitudes we want to console or coddle with actually make what isn’t happening less beautiful. If I look closely enough I can see God’s beautiful sovereign hand in all of the seeming nothing. This may not make sense to you, it barely does to me in my cognitive moments, but in my poetic moments, those mysterious ah-has creep into my heart unawares and surprise me with comfort, joy, hope, and peace.

I take great comfort right now in not being able to know the mind of God, even if I try. For all my attempts to garner an explanation for what He has done and is doing with our lives, or to wrangle a glimpse of next year, or bribe my way into what I want or less of what I don’t want, I’m humbled that the only show of hands is His promise of Love. He gives the presence of Jesus, as a baby, in a humble birth, and permission to pray “Our Father” even when He is off in Heaven and we are still here on dirt-encrusted earth, and the gift of His Spirit, comforting, helping, teaching, always quietly and sometimes imperceptibly.

God is doing something in the fallow field, so small, so magnificent, so intricate, and so miraculous, that it would astound me to know the details and so, instead, it just seems to me a dark, hardened, untended, infertile, and frozen acre of dirt. Planting will come, and someday, again, fruit, and then harvesting, but fallowing is just as important for the process as seed sowing and sun shining, it simply isn’t as pretty in the meantime.

Thank you, Father, for leaving us fallow sometimes, but never leaving us, ever, any of the time. 

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I was reminded last week of some commitments I made last December to write about marriage more this year (after being fearful of writing about it in 2015). I’m glad to reflect and see that God released some of that fear in me. He grows us incrementally, doesn’t He? Without us even noticing it or even feeling it. I feel less proficient at everything else in my life this December than I did last December, but one thing I know for sure: I did write more about my marriage, the struggles, the wins, the sadness, the loss, the glory, in 2016. I have always been grateful for the existence of Sayable, if for no other reason than it reminds me year after year after year: we are being transformed, being built together, being made into a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit leaves nothing untouched.

This year, as I gathered our regular New Year Questions, as well as a list of ten questions for husbands to ask their wives and wives to ask their husbands, I recalled writing an article for Christianity Today a few years ago called, Dating by Q & A. The premise of the article is too often, in an attempt to not waste our time or heart’s affection, we treat dating like a job interview, checking off boxes and deciding to move forward or stop, without ever really knowing the person at all. I tried to make the case that a good marriage is built on true friendship, and true friendship only comes through open-handed relationships—the sort where there are no expectations, just delight at finding so much in common.

I remembered my first few conversations with Nate: first, briefly in our church foyer, then more at his home while he and I washed dishes, next around another table with some of our closest friends, and then across from one another at our coffee shop, and then, finally, a four hour first date. All of these conversations flourished around a central theme: we asked questions, copious amounts of them. From the start, in the foyer, it was “How was your trip home to New York?” and “How was your trip with the guys to Colorado?” Then it moved on to conversations about specific work we were doing at our church, or upcoming trips. Soon it sparked a conversation about pacifism, which led to hearing his testimony, the heartbreak of his marriage and the ways the Lord redeemed and grew him, and then on and on until one day, we couldn’t stop talking to one another. Soon engagement, and then our pre-marital counseling meetings (and the book we walked through) with our mentors and dearest friends at The Village. These all centered around questions we had to think and talk through.

It still takes me by surprise when after days and days of feeling bottled up, stuck, in a rut, fearful of the unknown, fearful of Nate’s response to something or my unbridled emotions (both expressions of sin crouching at our door), the dam breaks with the simple act of asking a question.

“When would you like to talk about the article you sent me?”

“What was hard for you today?”

“What did you think about today?”

“When are we going to talk about this decision you made or thing you said?”

Being asked a question can feel violating, but only if we let it. I phrased it that way on purpose because as much as we like to believe we absolutely know the intention behind the question being asked, we cannot know for sure. We can only know what our response to it will be. So if we feel violated by the question, that is more on us than on the asker. This goes for small talk in a church foyer or a conversation between friends or acquaintances, and it also goes for conversations between spouses—where a simple question can release a dam of emotions.

I’m really grateful, at the close of 2016, for all the things I’ve learned this year and the ways in which our marriage has grown and been sanctified. And I’m also really struck by how little we ask questions of one another and how much conflict rose because of the lack. We talk as much as we have time, for sure, and time has not really been a given for us this year. I want to be a good question asker of my husband, at the very least as good as he is to me. I want to do that because it is an act of humility, an act of love, and a communicable characteristic of God.

Asking questions helps us to see a person as a person, a sinner, a human, and a friend, instead of just someone who can meet our needs or expectations.

Asking questions is an act of love, helping us to unmask sin, unearth regrets, and providing an opportunity to minister grace.

Asking questions provides an opportunity to ask for, give, or receive forgiveness.

Asking questions provides clarity to assumptions, unknowns, and areas of fear.

God, in 2017, in every area of our lives, make us good question askers and patient answerers. 

If you’re curious, here is the list of questions I ask myself every New Year’s Day. And here is the list of questions I refer to above. 

Advent

Nate and I drove to Behold the Lamb this past weekend, dressed in wool sweaters and leather boots and knit hats. We drank vanilla egg-nog lattes at the coffee shop and sometimes his eyes make me catch my breath. They have gotten sadder this year and have more crinkles around the corners. When I hear him on the phone laughing with one of our friends, my heart leaps and catches, there is no sound I love more than his laughter and the air feels so thick sometimes these days with anxiety and unknowns and tears. I miss his laughter and try to catch and hold it when I hear it.

There are some very good pieces floating around on loneliness and discouragement in the Christmas season, and I cannot add much to them, although I will say I expected holidays to take a different form once I got married, a more cheerful one. The truth, though, is our holidays have been sadder and emptier in many ways this year. I know they will begin to take form when we are more settled but for now they feel messy and haphazard and slightly unfinished, incomplete.

When during Behold the Lamb this year, Jill Philips began singing that it was not a silent night something in me broke this time around. I haven’t stopped thinking of it for the past four days.

The King came as a baby, yes, born in a manger, yes, a pauper and homeless from his first breath. The King who owned the world did not have a place to lay his head except on the breast of the girl-child who birthed him in the squalor of animals and the poverty of their situation. It was not a silent night. It was not a peaceful night. It was not a night when “all that was sad came untrue.” It was a night of pain in the midst of a people of pain and a generation of pain and a history of pain. Jesus had burst forth from a woman, but few believed right then, and not many more would until he burst forth from the tomb. He was there, but not all there. A bit like our todays. He has come and not yet come.

He has changed the water into the best wine, but He is still waiting to serve us the best feast.

He has put mud on our blind eyes but we still see through a glass dimly and men as trees walking.

He has calmed the storm over the sea but not the storm raging in all our hearts.

He has already come, but He has not yet come again.

We are still waiting.

The advice and reminders are everywhere, “Be happy! Your King has come!” but, friends, this Advent points to another Advent, and the waiting there is more painful and less jolly. We are still waiting. Our King has come but He has also not come and the angst in your hearts, the discontent, the fear of the unknown, the “How Long O Lord” that beats with your every breath—this is not a shameful thing. This is the unjust taxes and the baby boys dying over Israel and the mute Zechariah and the barren Elizabeth and the unplanned pregnancy of Mary and the agonizing decision for Joseph to believe the Angel Gabriel and the stink of animals and the no room at the inn and the loud sounds of labor and the first visitors of sheep and shepherds. All this clamoring angst and fear and frustration and waiting we feel is found in all of that tonight.

It’s a week until Christmas and your struggles are probably greater than the gifts you haven’t bought yet or the dilapidated remains of your Advent calendar or your fears about family drama. These are struggles we have masking the real weight we carry around, “How long O Lord? How long?” It is hard to sing Silent Night or Holy Night when all your nights are everything but. So know this, friend, He didn’t come for a silent night and He didn’t come in one. He came into the mess because of the mess. He came into the pain because of the pain. He came into the squalor because of the squalor. He came into today because he wanted to assure us that none of our todays were too much for Him.

What we face today is why He came and what He came into and why He is coming again, this time to really and forever “make everything sad come untrue (Tolkien).”

A year ago, we armed ourselves with spare change, loose dollar bills, and whatever other monies we could muster up from around our house, and spent an hour or two in the card aisle at Target. And then again this Spring I did the same at the National Gallery of Art’s gift shop. Our aim: buy cards. We bought a birthday card for every member of our extended families and then a stack of “special” cards. We could have just bought a box of generic cards, but wanted the card itself to be as special as the act of sending it felt.

It’s December and as much as I want to complain about the lateness of a package I ordered a month ago that has yet to arrive, I am married to a man who works for the USPS headquarters and whose job it is, in part, to distill data about why packages don’t arrive when they should. So I withhold my frustration this year.

Barely has our postman—whose name is Brendan—stepped up on our stoop before Harper has run to the door, barking, and shoving her still small enough snout through the mail slot in the door. Brendan always chuckles and waits until she pulls it back before shoving the mail through—cards, mailers, packages that fit. And then Harper does what dogs since the genesis of any postal service have done, gathers what she can in her small mouth and trots it back to me as if to say, “See what treasures I have brought you?” when, really, she has done the smallest work of all.

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W. H. Auden, wrote,

And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart.
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

I have been thinking of how easy it is to remember friends these days. If it weren’t for my real life friends scattered all over the globe, I might have done away with any or all of my social media accounts more than once. But I love their babies in real life and am far from them in this life, so double tapping is sometimes the best I can do to say, “I love those chubby thighs and I love your new haircut and I love your kitchen renovation and I love your wedding and I love how your puppy makes you smile and I love your laugh and I love your taste in books and poetry and music and aren’t you glad we’re friends?”

But it is awfully hard to be real life friends when we’re scattered so, and don’t you ever feel forgotten? I do.

It is December though and Christmas cards aplenty come and birthday cards, them too. Packages galore, envelopes stuffed full, smiling families sitting still in a one in a million shot (Come now, do you think any of us believe that was your first try or your fiftieth?), letters, and reminders that we’re not forgotten in real life. (Double taps and “likes” on Facebook don’t count.)

I counted up the weddings I’ve been a part of in my life and there were more than 20 and less than half but more than a quarter of those have gone the way of divorce or have wobbled on the edge of it a time or two. It is easy, I think, to celebrate. But, a friend tells me this week, it is easier for her to mourn with than celebrate, and I think of the slowly ebbing stack of cards in my desk. One sent out each month right before another anniversary of a young friend’s death. I want his mother to know she is remembered because to feel yourself forgotten is a worse thing than most of us can bear. It is easy to celebrate, maybe harder to mourn, but what is important is to remember at all.

It all makes me think of David’s Psalm after he’d been taken by the Philistines at Gath,

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? (Ps. 56:8)

Christmas is a warm and lovely time for many, but it is a hard and fallow time for others. There is no guilt in this, demanding that we invite in those we’d rather not, but sometimes the simple act of remembering someone who may feel forgotten may warm us and them more than we planned or expected. I cannot do much for those in Aleppo today, as much as I ache to, but I can give a meal or ten to families in Aleppo. I cannot hug or laugh until our sides ache with my friends like family all over the world, but I can love my neighbor and somehow my far away friend and drop a note or two in the mail. It’s small, it’s slow, but it’s simple and sincere and perhaps it will keep count of some tears of the good sort.

 

It occurred to me today that if you don’t follow me on Instagram or FB, you don’t see my incessant posting of the pup above. She is my best friend sometimes and easily the greatest threat to getting any housework done all the times (you try making a bed, folding laundry, mopping the floor with a pup who thinks it’s all a game.). She’s thirty pounds of cute though. 

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A few months ago a friend who had moved recently and was living in yet another temporary place, with not so beautiful views, posted an image on social media. As I scrolled through, it caught my eye and reminded me of another image, one I love and have looked at often. It was painted by Johannes Vermeer, who, cliche as it may be, is one of my favorite artists. He was called the artist of light for many reasons, not the least of which was his use of the camera obscura. Vermeer’s command of light, shadows, and color was unparalleled in his time.

View of Delft has always been one of my favorites of his, though I don’t know why. I can tell you a hundred things I love about The Milkmaid or The Lacemaker or The Girl with a Pearl Earring, but it’s harder to explain why I love the View of Delft. I think it’s the sky. It always reminds me of a scene from the film adapted from Tracy Chevalier’s fiction work based on The Girl with a Pearl Earring. In it, Vermeer asks Griet what color the clouds are. She at first answers white, but quickly changes her answer to grey, yellow, blue, as she looks at the clouds with the eye of an artist instead of a bystander.

When my friend posted her image from a dorm room in Chicago, recently moved from across the other side of the country, in a new place, a new rhythm, new everything, she was trying to see the beauty in a downtown scape where beauty seemed hard to find. I messaged her and showed her the image from Vermeer, noting their similarity, and the similarity of our lives at present. Change is hard and what locals find beautiful can seem ugly to newcomers. The only antidotes for this are either perpetual optimism or time. Few of us are gifted with perpetual optimism, and so most of us must settle for the latter: time.

. . .

Yesterday Nate and I drove 40 minutes to a church many have recommended to us since we moved here. We could see why, we felt at home there almost immediately. After the service Nate engaged the older couple sitting in front of us and we talked for a few minutes. As we were about to put our coats on to leave, the wife said, “Could I pray for you first?” And she did. And tears pooled in the corners of my eyes. It was the first time since we’ve moved here that someone has prayed for us with us. It held the faint resemblance to something I loved—and missed.

. . .

One of the things I love about Vermeer’s painting is that to us, it is still, a moment captured. But to Vermeer, it was in motion, perpetual motion. The water moving, the people walking, the ships docking, the scents smelling, the noise bustling. It was alive and not at all clean or probably very beautiful to the bystander. It was life being lived, thinking the clouds were white and the water was blue. But they aren’t at all, are they? There are myriads of color here. Nothing is quite what it seems. It takes time and love to make this painting beautiful, just as it takes time and love to make life beautiful.

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I could stare at this painting for hours, but I rarely stare at my life here for hours. I want to get through it, move on, settle down, live in a home, adopt children, start our lives. Yesterday we had a taste of what life might be and what has felt plain white, turned grey, and yellow, and blue for a moment, a taste of what is actually happening in our todays.

My reading is in Luke 2 this morning, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” I have been to those fields in Israel and they do not look like much. It is a rocky region, set low in a valley, covered in scrub. There was little beautiful about the field, and even less, I would guess, at night. But these shepherds faithfully kept watch, not on the field, not on the night, but on their sheep. They did what they were meant to do, undistracted by the field or the night in which they did it. I want to be like this. The shepherds and Vermeer and my friend’s photo reminds me that I can.

God is doing something with today. He is not wasting it. I remind myself of this often, every day, every hour. There is more than meets the eye today, and much more still waiting to meet my eye today if I will look for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January

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

February

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

March

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

April

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

May

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

June

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

July

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

August

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

September

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

October

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

November

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

December

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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