Archives For abiding

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In the midst of conflict within the local church the first thing we need to understand is that we are never promised a clean, unspotted, unblemished church (Ephesians 5:27). The bible repeatedly makes the case that the local church on earth will be broken and blemished until Christ presents us clean and spotless.

Therefore, when we encounter brokenness in the local church our response is not to run the other direction, complain, or grow angry at the institution. If we are Christians, then we believe the bible, and the bible says we are imperfect. The crux for the Christian is how we respond, then, to the imperfect church family of which we are a part.

As humans we can be tempted to respond in a few different ways to conflict within the local church. Philippians 4:1-9 has a clear pathway for how Christians walk through conflict.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

1. We can be tempted to speculate: Philippians 4 begins with Paul naming two individuals in the church at Philippi who were disagreeing in the Lord. We are not told what the nature of their conflict was. We are not told who brought it first to anyone’s attention. We are told very little, in fact, of the details of the situation. Paul thought it important to not name the specifics of the situation. God ordained that godly men would lead the church as elders and that the body would submit to them as under-shepherds knowing they know specifics of things we might never know. This is a good and safe place for the Christian.

In verse 7 Paul says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying there’s a peace that passes all kinds of speculation. It’s a peace the world cannot give. It’s a peace that even knowledge cannot give. No matter how hard we grasp for the details of a situation, they cannot give the peace that only God can give. When we are tempted to speculate here, let’s entrust our questions to God and ask for a peace that passes the limited answers we’re given.

2. We can be tempted to judge: Paul begins this chapter with the conflict, but he quickly follows it up with the truth that these women have “labored side by side with [him] in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of the fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” What we know is there are some faithful women who have encountered the brokenness of life on earth as humans. But it doesn’t change the fact that these women labored hard alongside the other early Christians.

When the temptation comes to judge, remember the faithfulness that Paul commends. Is there any perfect leader or Christian? No. But commend the faithfulness of all. Flee from the temptation to judge the process, people, or church. Commend faithfulness.

3. We can be tempted to be divisive: Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul is saying in the midst of this time be reasonable, don’t be anxious, make your requests known to God. Do it with thanksgiving. Exercise gratefulness for what the Lord has done and is doing. Fight anxiety with the truth of the word. Be so full of the Holy Spirit in this time that it is “known to everyone.”

Instead of being divisive, trying to cause division, discord, creating “teams,” or pitting people against one another, rejoice in the Lord always. And again, because it’s so important, rejoice. Fight the temptation to cause division in God’s church.

4. We can be tempted to gossip or listen to gossip: Paul says in verses 8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul is saying in response to this situation where there are unknowns, conflict, and a lack of understanding, do this instead. Think about the things that are true, just, pure, lovely, commendable, etc..

Paul isn’t saying to trick ourselves into being and feeling great. He is saying, though, to lift our eyes up to what is eternally and foundationally true, God Himself, the most true, most commendable, most lovely of everything. Do not be tempted to sit in a pit of gossip with other speculators, panning for the nuggets of curiosity. Climb out of that pit, trust those he’s put in place to lead your local church, and flee from gossip.

Maybe you’re in the middle of conflict right now. Or maybe you’re not in the middle of it, but your ears are juicy for the details of it. I hope and pray this passage encourages and challenges you as it has for me. Let’s all aspire to live quieter lives, trusting God to build His church wholly.

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The train depot is two blocks from our house and I am learning to tell time by the sound of the train whistle.

When I was single every few months I’d ask the Lord, “How long? How long do I have to wait for marriage? Will it ever happen?” Then in the space of three weeks from conversing to knowing, there he was: the guy I’d marry. When Nate and I were dating and engaged, saying goodnight every night felt like agony, “How long do we have to be apart?” Hyperbolic maybe, especially since from first date to wedding date it was three months. Now, a full year into life together, he spends more than eleven hours a day apart from me. The best part of my day is when he gets home, but the second best part is the text message he sends me before he gets on the train for the trek back to me.

The wait is always worth it.

A friend of mine is married to a man from Belize and for various reasons, they’ve been apart for ten months. Another friend says goodbye to her husband every week while he flies jets around the world and back. Another friend is married to a captain in the army—he’s deployed more than he’s home. And many more friends are married to men who are married to their jobs; men whose faces light up when they sit across from new friends, co-workers, or parishioners, and darken when they get home to dishes in the sink, toddlers, and tired wives.

But I have one friend who has been married to her man for 47 years and she told me once that the longing only grows and it only grows if you encourage it.

Harry Burns was right when he said to Sally, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

For many years I believed the lie that I needed to squelch the desire for marriage. That the longing for it only contributed to the sadness I felt at missing out on it. Then I believed the lie that the first stirrings of love and sadness at being apart from Nate would soon wear off in marriage. Sometimes now I am caught up in the belief that this still present longing to be with him will soon die off.

All of us are waiting for something and the closer we get to the getting of it, the more the longing grows. Christ knew this and this is why He likened us to the Bride and Himself as the Bridegroom. Weddings are so brimming with expectancy, longing, and celebration—the culmination of so much waiting. At last!

But we let dashed hopes and hardened hearts get in the way soon enough. Disappointments, fears, unmet expectations—they grow resentments instead of longings if we’re not careful. Last week Nate was late coming home two days in a row and I wanted to blame traffic, trains, work, and even him for my disappointment, but this is no way to grow longing, I reminded myself.

It is like this with God too. This year has been a year full of dreams let go, mounting frustrations, disappointed hopes, and severe misjudgment. I have sinfully directed my resentment toward God more these days than I have since He saved me. My longing for Him lands silent and limp, like forgotten toys or too small jeans.

Today I pay attention to the train whistle all day. Only one of the trains will bring my love home to me, but all of the whistles incrementally remind me to fan the flame of longing for my King. He too is coming home for me and I want to stand ready, waiting, my longing found completely in Him.

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In a world of comparisons, ten months of marriage has nothing on 34 years of singleness, so consider me a toddler in the ways of I Dos. I know very little, but here are four things I do know and I thought I’d share them with you today:

1. Marriage is not more sanctifying than Singleness

Don’t believe it for a second if you’re single, and don’t convince yourself of it for a minute if you’re married. It’s a lie that one is more sanctifying than the other. If you got married in your early twenties, you grew up into an adult with your person. You were most sanctified during marriage—but not necessarily because of it. Correlation is not causation. This little lesson should be preached by more married people because it leaves most single people in the church feeling less than and not enough until they’re married. It’s poison. Stop saying it.

God is sanctifying me in marriage differently than He sanctified me in my singleness, the same as He sanctified me in my thirties differently than He sanctified me in my twenties. It’s the beauty of growth in the gospel and in life. He’s always doing something and always making everything new.

2. Marriage doesn’t make you more financially secure; God is the primary breadwinner

I came into marriage never having had a savings account that topped a few thousand. Nate came into marriage with a fat down-payment for our house in Denver and a hefty savings account. We thought between the two of us (me the penny pincher and him the miser), we’d be set.

Within this year of marriage, we’ve sold a house in Dallas, moved cross-country twice, started two new careers, went through six months of unemployment, and now have a mortgage in Denver and rent in DC—two of the most expensive cities to live in. Any carpet of financial security we had coming into marriage has been ripped out from below our feet. We are less financially secure than either of us have ever been in our lives. We are being whiplashed with bills, costs, and drains from every direction.

I know our story isn’t everyman’s, but it sure does debunk the lie that “Marriage makes you more financially secure.” The reality is having roommates (while that may not be what you desire for the long-term of your life) is a very cost-effective way to live. Those shared bills might feel like a noose around your neck, but they’re half or a quarter of what they’ll be when it’s just one paycheck coming in.

We didn’t plan on one paycheck this year. We planned to live in Nate’s salary and squirrel mine away. Instead we lost Nate’s quickly, and lived on mine and our savings account. It wasn’t sustainable. We can beat ourselves up a thousand different ways on this (We shouldn’t have left Dallas, we shouldn’t have bought a house in Denver, we shouldn’t have banked on him being able to work remotely long-term, we should have researched job options for him in Denver better, etc.), but the reality is, we did what we thought was right and good and honorable and faithful—and all of our plans failed.

I’m learning the only thing I can ever find my security in is God—which is the same lesson I’ve been learning for 35 years. My plans have never worked—never! It was foolish to think that would change just because I got married. God has always required sacrifice of me, always asked for obedience, never given me too much of any good thing. I don’t believe it’s His character to withhold any good thing, but I do believe it’s His character to give us exactly what we need of it and more is never guaranteed. Marriage and money included.

3. This one might be TMI, but here goes: the world tells us to get whatever we can from sex, but the truth is sex is only good if you give what you can—and the more you’re willing to give, the better it is.

That might be confusing, so let me flesh it out (Also, I’m having a very hard time writing this section because suddenly every word is an innuendo of some sorts.):

There was an angst in my singleness that had much to do with wanting a partner, wanting to shoulder the burdens of life with someone, wanting someone to love me, etc. But there was also a very real angst of sexual desire in me. I wanted to be held and loved and pursued. I didn’t need it to end in sex, but it culminated many times in sexual desire being fanned in my life. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. God created sex, sex is good, desiring sex is good, and getting married is good. Burning with passion is actually a good motivation (among other things) for getting married. But sex was what I thought would somehow satisfy some longings of my flesh. I wanted my desires to be met physically.

Sex within marriage is good but its goodness is almost never about my desires being met. My husband is a good and caring man, faithful, kind, gentle. He is tender with me and loves me deeply. But neither of us can satisfy desires that are too deep for words and too complicated for human hands. The best we can do is to come to bed ready to serve one another.

What I have learned about sex is that instead of it being the culmination of all the things of the day, sex is actually a very gritty, raw, messy foundation in our lives.

Instead of being the pinnacle, the point, the top of the triangle (thinking I do all the big, heavy lifting throughout life for the tiny slice of joy at the top), it is actually the base of it. Sex is the biggest part. Not because it happens the most, but because when there are a thousands things throughout the day demanding my attention, and most of them are serving my husband in some way (laundry, dishes, food prep, errands, phone calls, bills, etc.), the foundation we have within sex to serve one another makes the day to day monotony a joy.

The climax of sex is not a romp under the covers, it’s asking him every morning how I can help make his day better. It’s putting a healthy nutritious meal in his lunch bag. It’s running to Home Depot to get a special sauce for the weed-eater. It’s folding the ratty t-shirts from races he ran in high-school.

The foundation of learning to serve within my singleness translated directly to how I learn to serve within marriage. Serving my husband in sex is easy—even if there’s no physical return in it for me, because whether in bed, the kitchen, or Home Depot, serving is the posture of the Christian—married and single.

4. I am not my own anymore; marriage is shared sanctification

This has probably been the hardest adjustment for me to make within marriage. It’s not just about schedule, finances, decisions, etc. Those things are challenging for sure. I’m used to planning my own day, caring for my own finances, and making whatever decisions seemed best to me. I can’t do that anymore. Every piece of me affects a person I love. It’s a joy, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

What is more difficult, though, is the shared burden of sanctification. This relates to point one because I think often times what married people mean when they say “Marriage is the most sanctifying thing,” is that saying I Do to all your mess means more mess in my life. In singleness whenever I walked through challenging things it was almost always easy to see where God was sanctifying me and to make small adjustments in my life to submit to Him in those areas. In marriage, though, it’s two people walking through the same challenges together. God doesn’t waste anything, but sometimes the bulk of the lesson is meant for me and sometimes it’s meant for Nate. How can you tell?

Therein lies the challenge. As we’ve walked through this past season of financial difficulty it has revealed areas in our lives of idolatry, fear, pride, and more. And it has primarily affected Nate. Most of the idols being toppled are his in that area. On the other hand, we’ve just walked through a season where I’ve encountered some fearful things, the shootings, the miscarriages, failed plans, my car being vandalized, Nate’s job loss. Never in my life have I been a fearful person and at every turn these days, I’m afraid of something. God is teaching me He is the only one who is trustworthy and He is faithful.

God is teaching both of us things in paramount ways, but they are different things, and the struggle in being one flesh is entering into that sanctification process with the other. It feels like our feet are cemented to the floor and we can barely encourage ourselves, how do we begin to encourage one another?

This is what I’ve been learning: I am not my own anymore. In the past, I was the primary preacher to my soul. I was my best encourager. I was the one who pulled myself up by my bootstraps. But I’m not anymore, I feel paralyzed in the encouragement of my own soul. But I am not paralyzed in the encouragement of Nate’s soul. This is the gift of walking through the mud together: I know the words that lift up his eyes to the hills, and he knows the words for me. It’s beautiful and painful, precious and hard. We are not our own anymore.

. . .

This is long, I know, but I’m hoping it helps some other newlyweds along the way and some singles who might be believing lies about themselves or their married friends.

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I can’t get a friend’s words out of my head: “The enemy can’t steal my praise.” She says them to us over Eggs Benedict and my first coffee all week. Tears ebbed over the corners her eyes and she says it three times over: He can’t steal my praise. I knew then when I’ve suspected for a while. The enemy has stolen my praise.

I think I knew it months ago when my arms hung limp at my sides during worship at church. Distracted by the Sunday morning to-do list that hangs over the heads of those employed by local churches or by the myriad of other things nipping at my heart for attention, I knew I was refusing to praise right then. The road in front of me split in obvious ways: choose to worship or choose to despair. And I chose despair.

I told Nate months later that every time I’ve been able to get just my mouth above water this year some other thing dunks me back under. I couldn’t praise if I wanted to. This is what I said to him through angry, hot tears as we drove in a UHaul loaded with all our earthly belongings toward some unknown and frightening new direction of life.

My arms still hang limp by my sides.

Choosing to not praise or forgetting how or simply not having the energy or desire to do so—call it what you will, the words of praise are foreign to my lips these days. I should be embarrassed to write it, to say it, to put it out in public places in public ways, but I think desperation knows no shame. I take comfort in the laments of David these days. His soul felt so taken from him sometimes he had to search to find it and command it to worship.

More bad news comes this afternoon and we begin to despair again. Worried. Angry. Frustrated. (God, we can’t bear much more of this. Relent, please?)

A lyric I heard on Sunday repeats itself to me: “We find rest rejoicing.” I think I’ve had it backwards. I’ve been hoping if we find rest it will be followed by rejoicing, but this says it’s the other way around: the way to rest is to rejoice.

Today I clean the bathroom of our small AirBnB in Maryland. I clean the kitchen. I take our laundry to the laundromat. I fold every t-shirt with care and precision. I make the bed. I put away the laundry. I stare into our small and sparse refrigerator and plan dinner. I stare at slate blue and mint green walls. I wish I had a book that’s been packed away since February 3rd. I talk to our realtor. I cry. I hang up Nate’s shirts. I put away the dishes. With every rote motion I say these words to myself: I find rest rejoicing.

I don’t know how to rest these days and I’ve forgotten how to really rejoice. But I do know how to say words with my mouth that my heart doesn’t fully believe, and this is where I will start: God, you are Creator of the universe and you know my name and you know, too, that I am only made of dust. Relent, please. I worship you.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Exodus 33:14-17

I read an article last summer while we were waiting for our house to close. It cited a survey done listing the ten most stressful things a person can do. To the best of my recollection and in no particular order, the list was:

1. Buying a house
2. Divorce
3. Moving cross-country
4. Death of loved one
5. Getting fired
6. Persistent debt
7. Starting a new career
8. Having your first child
9. Planning a wedding
10. Selling a house

We decided to knock seven of them off the list in one year, and because that wasn’t enough, now we’ve decided to do three of them twice in one year.

. . .

Our beloved little stucco farmhouse in the city went on the market Friday. It’s hard for me to think anyone could ever love our home as much as we do. It was our first home together, and for me, my first home.

I’ve gotten so used to moving (18 in 14 years) it was with robotic motions I packed our bookshelves the other day. I know this drill; I know it more surely than I know how to stay somewhere long. This place, though, this home was supposed to be that.

. . .

We got the job offer in January, but we waited, like we wait for birthdays or anniversaries, certain if we hold out long enough what we really desire will materialize. February 5th was the day we knew—bank account considering and emotional fortitude allowing—a decision would need to be made. The decision itself felt easy by then: when you only have one option, the decision is just made for you. It’s like a magic trick with none of the magic and only the tricks.

. . .

I have never moved before without a sense of calling, a certain direction, a knowing. I’ve always known what it is I’d be doing and where and why. But this time feels like a giant question mark and a blank stare. I’ll go back to writing again, of course, but that answer hardly satisfies anyone—including myself. Writing is the luxury of the very wealthy or the bread and butter of the very poor, but not for a middle class wife in northern Washington, DC. Another word for her is lazy and this is the lie I’ve begun to believe about the next season of life.

A comfort is we’ll be back on the east coast, where family and friends live and where our roots are. That’s a truth I can stand on and hope in for the time being. Being three hours from my best friend? We haven’t been that near one another since we were 18 years old. If I am going to anything, I am going back to it, and that is an incredible blessing.

. . .

I am learning what it means to be called to a man and the calling to which he feels called, and still be a whole person with a full gamut of hopes. I’d follow this man anywhere on earth. I trust him with my whole heart and respect his desires, goals, and ambitions. It is not the following I struggle to do, but the identity I leave behind in the doing of it. Eight months ago one of my editors asked me to write an article on identity and my new one as wife. I still have not written the article because every single time I begin to feel settled and at home in today, tomorrow warns me it’s coming and it won’t be easy.

. . .

This morning in church a friend sat near me and said, “I think maybe the Lord is going to lead you into a time where you can rest and be nurtured, instead of outgiving yourself and nurturing others.” Nate and I have verbalized the hope for that to one another, but not to anyone else, so her words were comforting.

The Lord hears and knows that we are dust.

. . .

I thought for sure I would get at least a year in one home, but seven months to the day we moved in, a moving truck will pull up to our curb and load our possessions. We will hand the keys to a power of attorney and we will drive away, again.

I used to admire the nomadic life, the one of minimal material worth. I used to long for the vagabond way, always on pilgrimage to Zion. I used to long for heaven so deeply that each move was only a reminder I wasn’t home yet.

Last night I dreamed of a farmhouse outside Washington, DC. One with white walls and a fireplace, a few trees, and a plain and bright kitchen. Maybe it only exists in heaven. And maybe even it wouldn’t ever be home enough.

. . .

Yesterday we have a line of people viewing our home and I simultaneously pray they all love it and hope no one ever buys it ever. Nate and I spend the day out, coffee shops, bookstores, movie theater, just driving. At the bookstore downtown I ask a tall man passing by me to reach the book on the top shelf: The Evolution of Washington DC. I hold the book to my chest and walk back to Nate on the couches and I read every page of that book sitting there. I grew up on the east coast, drenched in all the history I could handle, but now this piece of history will become a piece of my history and I want to learn to love it.

. . .

When I was in middle school I read a true story of the pioneers who crossed the American frontier in a Conestoga wagon. There was a paragraph about a mother who, when the traveling grew too long and the wagon too heavy for their sickly oxen, parted with her piano on the plains of Colorado before the mountains. I have never forgotten that picture. All she could think of, the book said, was how much her home would miss the music.

And all I could think of was how musical those plains would become.

For the Lord comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Isaiah 51:3

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Please don’t tell anyone else this, but I wanted to process something with you. If you could just keep it between you and me? I assume you know I wouldn’t want it to get around, I want to make sure people really understand my side of things and that can only happen if I communicate about it directly. You understand right?

I just tried to emotionally manipulate you. Did you fall for it?

There’s a chair in the corner of my office at the church were I work. It’s a shade of gold I can’t quite name and its fabric is velour of sorts. Every week someone cries on that chair. Not a week has gone by that someone has not cried on that chair. Sometimes I’m the one crying on it. Often the person sitting there asks me to just keep this conversation between them and me, and every single time I have to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t promise that.”

There are some who are contractually obligated to keep secrets—lawyers, counselors, mobsters—but within the local church, “Just between you and me,” is bedfellows with its sister, Gossip. They seem at odds, but they are actually two sides of the same coin.

Gossip wants to control the narrative by embellishing it, the other wants to control the narrative by being the only one to talk about it. Gossip wants to make the story interesting, the other wants to make the story one-sided. Neither reflect the words and meditations of a heart pleasing to God.

Friends, sometimes we show discretion in what we share to protect someone’s heart, but if our aim is to craft a narrative or limit the narrative to our side only, we’re lying, and God calls lying is a sin.

Here are three truths when we’re tempted to hide within the narrative we’ve crafted:

1. God owns and knows the whole truth and we cannot hide from him.

Whenever I’ve been tempted to tell someone to keep something between us, I have to ask myself the question: “Whose narrative are you trying to present?” Sometimes there are a lot of moving pieces and we’re not ready to make announcements public yet. But most of the time when I’ve used those words, I was trying to control the order in which people heard something, or I was trying to make sure my perspective was valued as sort of a secret treasure I entrusted to someone to hold.

The problem is, though, these things are too heavy for mere humans to hold. We weren’t made to hold the weight of secrets. One of the first things humanity did was try to hide from God—but we can’t hide from God! Whatever things we’re doing to protect ourselves are as laughable as standing behind fig leaves in front of the Almighty Creator of those fig leaves. Controlling a story, crafting the perfect narrative, and trying to make people see things from our perspective are empty efforts.

God sees you, He knows your heart, He knows what you’re protecting, and He knows why. Walk in truth and wholeness with your brothers and sisters, and Him. He can handle the whole mess of it all.

2. God orchestrates a better story than we can tell or keep from telling.

Without exception, every single time someone has said to me, “Please don’t tell anyone this,” the unveiling of their fears or concerns has been part of the working toward healing, redemption, and reconciliation in the body. So many of us are blindly walking around ignorant of our issues, complacent in our efforts, or unaware of problems. We need the iron sharpening of one another in the body of Christ. Here’s why: the end of our story (which is really the beginning) is a better one than we can imagine in our moment of pain.

When we’re blinded by the presence of pain, uncertainty, or misunderstanding, we can’t imagine a good ending to the story. We just need to vent, to process, to express ourselves. But God is writing a better story and He’s orchestrating all the smallest players to be a part of it.

If you must talk about something, talk about it with the intention of holistic healing, and talk first and only with the people involved in a godly solution—not with those jumping on a party bus heading straight for Division Canyon.

3. God has put His children in a body with different perspectives, different histories, and different gifts.

When we ask someone to keep something “just between us,” we’re asking them to stand on a desert island with us. We’re asking them to alienate themselves from their covering and their counsel and join in solidarity with us away from something else. Friends, this is a sin. God always comes forward to us. He always initiates. He always invites in. He moves toward us in reconciliation—and his design for us is to do the same.

God puts us in the body of Christ to express those aspects of Himself to one another. He puts His cards on the table, all of them. There is nothing hidden with Him and in Him we live and move and have our being. He is the whole story—and He puts us along side one another in community to work out the expressions of Him on earth.

Don’t live in a factionalistic society. We have an enemy, and our brothers and sisters in Christ aren’t him.

. . .

My parents always used to say to my brothers and me, “There are three sides to every story, yours, his, and the truth,” and the adage still stands. Your perspective is valid, but it is not the whole story. Trust God with the whole story, yours, theirs, and all of ours.

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IMG_9867Jesus,

You never promised the easy road, I know this. Your word says you didn’t even have a place to lay your head at night.

I walked, once, in the house of Peter in Israel and imagined you there, itinerate and nomadic, resting your head on the dust covered stones when sleep came. I do not envy this life.

Sometimes I am so persuaded by the wide paths, the pleasant boundaries, and the promised clarity of your voice, but you don’t always work like that. Sometimes the way is narrow, the boundaries are thorny, and your will seems very far off.

We’ve been praying for your will to be done, but yesterday I realized we’ve been praying all wrong because your will is being done. Right now, in the waiting, in the difficulty, in the groping blindness, you are working your will throughout all the earth. I play a game in my mind, The Providence Game: If you have only done _____ in my life so ____ would be worked in someone else’s life, then it is enough. The Hebrews called this, Dayenu: “It would have been enough.”

The Son of man had no place to lay his head and I have places aplenty, and it is enough.

The Son of man was beaten and bruised. I’m just trimming our grocery bill down a bit and there’s enough.

The Son of man carried his cross through the streets. I’m learning to carry a husband’s burden and it’s good enough.

The Son of man bled and died on a cross. I’m merely making an inventory of our life and stuff, and we have enough.

Someone asks me every day what the plan is and I answer honestly every single day, “We do not know, but Christ is enough.” I believe it and say it so I would believe it more than I do.

Jesus, I don’t know what you’re doing and I don’t know what your future will is, but I do know this: the easy path and the high road is not what you’ve called us to. You’ve called us to look at today and say, “It is enough because You are enough.”

I have said these things to you,
that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart;
I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

Once I sat at a farmhouse table eating a hurried breakfast. An old preacher sat at the other end, a stranger to me, a friend to the owners of the farmhouse and the table. It was a time of life when the monotony of the everyday clung to my heart like packing peanuts to a pea coat. Wake. Work. Rinse. Repeat. I look back at those years, living in that grey painted farmhouse with the terra-cotta shutters, as one of the richest of my life—not because the gifts overwhelmed me, but because of the patience and faith being worked in me unbeknownst to me.

The old preacher didn’t know me at all but others claimed he carried prophetic gifts. Prophecy, at the time, seemed to me a fools gold. I’d been in the charismatic church long enough, had pages of prophetic words spoken over me, and nothing seemed to come to anything. It looked pretty on the outside, but on the inside it was soft rock, talc—scrape at it enough and its powder rises and falls and comes to nothing. “This is the word of the Lord,” became double-speak for “I’ll feed you candy so you won’t look for meat.” I came to resent the word of the Lord because most of what I knew of him came from old preacher men and not the Word of God himself.

Turns out I was the one wrong all along. There’s no one else to blame for the fact that I thought words spoken by modern day prophets held more weight than the words contained in the Living and Holy Word of God. Whenever I think of those word offerings from itinerant and infallible men now, I am grateful they are not the ones I’m called to trust, and I’m grateful they spoke to me kindly, gently, and in a way that revealed my own unbelieving heart.

As I sat there eating my toast with jam, this old preacher asked me questions about my day and life. I gave him one word answers, stunted for fear, perhaps, that I didn’t measure up to what the prophets always said about me. “A great ministry ahead!” “Touching thousands!” “A portion that would astound you to think of it!” I had learned to scoff when the hand passed over me those days. If only they knew the pittance of my life. Prophets became liars in my mind. But I have never forgotten the words of Pastor Baker, sitting at the farmhouse table:

“The Lord’s hand is on you for ministry. Do not buy into the secular value system, there are going to be paths ahead of you that just make sense in everyone’s eyes and yet there’s going to be this little thread of doubt in you, that’s the spirit of God. Listen to it, even if it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. You hear his voice. You can know.”

One thread of doubt is an anomaly, a whole mesh of them is a tapestry. In all my life I have been a tapestry of doubts. I have learned to reason through great decisions not with a certainty of direction, but with an absence of doubt. I check my heart not for “This is the way, walk in it,” but for “If your heart does not condemn you, you have confidence in God,” and therefore move forward. I moved to Texas like this. I broke an engagement like this. I quit my job like this. I married like this. I moved to Denver like this. The answer has always been for me not the place of the most certainty, but the place of the least doubt. It’s precarious, it’s risky, and it can seem to the whole world you are a bundle of irrationality. I do not regret a single decision and God has revealed his goodness to me every single time not in the preface to the decisions, but always in the aftermath.

I still think back to those old prophet’s words whenever there are major decisions to be made. I care little for going with the flow, the opinions of others matter less and less to me. It is not them I will stand before someday and make an account. My question is not even what the Spirit is doing. “What” should be of little account to us. “Where” could matter a little, I suppose. What I continually come back to, though, is “Who.” Whose voice am I listening for? Whose approval do I desire? Whose path do I ultimately trust?

These are unpopular questions in a world driven by popularity both in opinion and trend. We all want approval. We all want ease. We all want a life unhindered by the immediate and difficult call of “drop your nets and follow me.” Great calls of great ministries sound good, taste good, look good, but at the end of it all, the question we’re asked is “Were you faithful?”

Were you faithful to walk through a muddy time of monotonous life?

Were you faithful to run to the Word of God instead of the word of men?

Were you faithful to wrestle with doubt and certainty?

Were you faithful to drop the comfort of what is known? What is easy? What is expected?

Were you faithful and obedient to the Spirit in the everyday?

I don’t know the answer to these questions yet. When He asks me at the throne I hope my answer is yes, but I also know I will not be able to lie before the Holy God, and so it might just be “I tried. I failed a lot. I listened to wrong voices. I meandered down deceitful paths, but God, at the end of it all, I tried to be faithful.”

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In a staff meeting a few months ago I used the words “my people” in reference to a trip I was about to take to Texas. “Maybe you shouldn’t use the words ‘my people,'” two of my coworkers said to me later, “Since you’re here now and we’re your people now.”

It took a long time for those people in Texas to become mine, but leaving them in June (even with the gift of a new husband) was one of the saddest partings I’ve experienced. At my wedding—a day when you’re supposed to be glowing and thrilled—I left sobbing and cried through the thirteen hour drive to Colorado the next day. I fought hard to feel at home in North Texas and when it finally settled in for me, it settled in deep. Covenanting with the church there was not a mere signed paper and lip-service, it was family to me. They are family to me still. I am just one of thousands—and my presence is missed as just one of thousands—but I miss the hundreds I am apart from now.

. . .

I’ve been reading in 1 Peter the past few weeks and though I make my way through the entire book each day, it’s the first verse that stops me every time: “To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…”

Have you ever felt exiled? Being far away from those I love and those who love me somehow trumps every other emotion in those times. This past week I was supposed to be with two of my best friends, gallivanting around the Adirondacks, going thrift shopping, and painting by candlelight on the kitchen island. All week long they posted images of their adventures and I felt exiled. It was my choice to stay in Colorado this week, but I still felt far away from those I loved—like an exile. “Everyone’s hanging out without me” can be the sentence on repeat in those moments. One of our best friends in Texas moved to Indiana this week and the going away party was filled with our community there—the tears leapt to my eyes before I could stop them. We belonged there too.

One of the questions I ask Nate often these days is, “Did we make a mistake? Was moving here a mistake?” He takes a moment to respond, because this is his way, and then he says, “No. We moved here with good counsel, much prayer, and confidence in what God was doing. Today’s circumstances don’t change God’s purpose with our lives. Regardless of where God takes us in life, we can trust God in bringing us here seven months ago.” I am grateful for this man.

What Nate is reminding me again and again is you can feel like an exile and still be elect. You can be chosen by God for a purpose and a plan, even one that doesn’t makes sense and keeps you far from “your people” and feels uncomfortable. You can chew the bread of adversity and sit in a circle of strangers—and still be loved and known and chosen by God for that purpose.

This is a hard truth to swallow. Even if we feel like wherever we are is home forever, there are moments in all of our lives when we’re certain we’re the exile. Certain someone is talking about us. Hanging out without us. Growing together without us. Certain we’ll never be known as deeply as we long to be. We all wake every single morning and in some way feel our exile, our apartness. Moses’s words ring true for us all: “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” Wherever we are, we’re not home, and that’s okay. We were made for heaven, not this world.

The comfort is in this, though: In Him we are drawn near to the Father who does not change, who does not remain far off, who chose and redeems His children. The elect, exiled for a time, but still gloriously, safely, comfortingly His.

. . .

My two best friends stood before my favorite mountains together yesterday without me and our other best friends are going through the motions of life as normal in Texas. We miss them all terribly, and they will always be our people, not because we have chosen them to be so, but because Christ has called the whole dispersion together in unity as the Church—no matter how far apart we may be.

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Photos from Ashley McCauley Photography.

Two weeks ago I sat on the couch in a therapist’s office. The couch was the micro-fiber kind where the color changes depending on which way you’ve run your hand or where you’re sitting. From my vantage point it was light grey.

I was there because I witnessed the shooting—and nobody comes out of that unscathed. But ten minutes into my verbal dump (She’d called it an “Intake Meeting,” which is just an official way of saying, “Tell me all your junk.”) the shooting was at the very bottom of a very long list of very hard things this year.

“It sounds like to me,” she said, “you’re in survival mode and you have a lot of grieving to do.”

It was a statement, but there was an inflection at the end making it a question. And my shoulders fell. I ran my hand along the couch, it was dark grey now.

I mentally ticked down the list of things to grieve this year and she was right. Moving away from friends, our church, our community, losing the newness of an unknown baby, Nate losing his job, my job being more complicated than I could have imagined: yes, we are grieving and surviving each day feels like a win if we can do it.

. . .

It seems to me we Christians are very much about the testimony of “have suffered” or the theology of “we all will suffer,” but very few of us want to talk about the suffering in the middle of it. We pep-talk our friends by telling them All The Good Things They Have to be Thankful For! We use exclamation points and all caps, because, yes, God is good, this is true. But it is also true that God, in his goodness, does hard things. The big news is good, but the small news is bad, and the small news makes better press.

This year has been arguably the hardest yet. The gift of a wedding came smack in the middle of it, timely and gratefully. But it does not change the bookends of January, February, and March, or the last six months. There are some days I feel like I can’t breathe. That’s not an excuse, but it is a reason.

I’ve disappointed a lot of people this year, fallen short of their expectations, not been able to enter into their sufferings, rejoicings, or difficulties in ways I wanted to. I’ve faced my humanity in a way I never have before: my inability to meet with every person, respond to every email or text, think through every situation, or be healthy, happy, and hearty through hard things. I remember a quote from I Capture the Castle, “Wakings are the worst times—almost before my eyes are open a great weight seems to roll on my heart.” That great weight rolls on my heart every day without fail.

I’m not asking for sympathy or forgiveness—though I’d love both. But writing all this out is an attempt, small as it is, to ask if you’re a praying person, would you pray for our 2016? God isn’t limited to New Years and Old Ones, but I suppose he likes a clean slate as much as anyone—seeing as he started with the first one.

. . .

In 2016, I hope:

To write about my marriage. To actually live and write into the depths, goodness, hardness, and beauty of it, without fear for how it will be received. I have struggled to write about marriage because of how my unmarried readers long for it and how my married readers compare theirs to it. The beauty of writing vulnerably is everyone identifies. The mess of writing vulnerably is everyone compares.

To mourn the loss of some really beautiful things the Lord gave and then took away. A solid community, a safe neighborhood, a healthy church, a baby, singleness, time/energy to write, financial independence, Nate’s job, confidence about where we’ll be living or where Nate will be working in the next year, confidence about anything, really.

To be okay with not being okay. To not submit my fears, frustrations, sadness, limitations, and difficulties to a job description or a perception of what being a good Christian is or what people perceive from reading Sayable. I am not a good Christian, only a broken one.

To prepare more people with the reality that I will disappoint them. I am not the Christ. Nate and I talked this morning about nine relationships in my life in the past three years where I failed to prepare them for my humanity and they each carry the disappointment still. I want to learn to not over-promise and under-deliver—because no matter how hard I try, I will always under-deliver. I never pretended to be perfect, and have tried my best to show that I’m not, but I want to say it more in the same breath that I point to the One Who Is.

To remember God has written our story before the foundation of the earth. He knows it intimately, the losses and the gains, the fears and failures, the joys and pains. We may skip over all those small moments, thinking they are meaningless or there’s no time, but He ordains each and every one for His glory and our sanctification and joy.

No matter how blank the slate of 2016 seems to be, He has already filled it and knows the ten-thousand moments within it.

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In the middle of the coverage from San Bernardino yesterday I got a text from my husband:

“SWAT just showed up two doors down!”

A few minutes later: “Shots fired!”

Expected during that moment if we lived in San Bernardino perhaps, but we live in Denver. In a nice little up and coming neighborhood in the northwest part of the city. If you mention our neighborhood to those who’ve been here all their life, they recall stories of being warned to stay away from The Highland because of its high crime rates. In the past five years, though, crime is at an all-time low, housing prices keep rising, and it’s becoming one of the coveted neighborhoods in Denver.

Police surrounded our block yesterday until late into the night. At the end of it all, there was a dead fugitive and a wounded SWAT officer. When we knew it was safe, hours into the ordeal, my husband brought a mug of coffee and a bottled drink out to the policeman standing in the middle of the street outside our house. He’d been brandishing a rifle while diverting traffic and answering questions for hours. We should have offered him a bathroom break too, but I doubt he would have taken it.

. . .

The first real conversation I ever had with my husband was about pacificsm, a few days later he shared his testimony (a story wrought with theological fervor and marital failure) with a group of our friends, and the next day he and I got coffee and talked more about the pacifist way. He wasn’t my first friend who had walked through these questions, but he was the first person I’d met in Texas who had. It wasn’t love at first sight for either of us, but it was curiosity for sure. You know the rest of the story.

Scattered throughout our home, in pieces so varied and complex I don’t know what we’d do if it ever came to it, are the components to a firearm. I spend most of my time trying to forget it’s in our home and when I remember I remind myself 1. It would take thirty minutes to gather all the pieces. 2. I don’t know how to put them together. 3. I don’t know the first thing about shooting a gun. And 4. I can’t imagine ever pointing a gun at someone.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the gun is present, in our home.

. . .

A few weeks ago my car was vandalized. I thought it was the work of hoodlums in the neighborhood south of us, and maybe it was, but the more we thought about it and asked others about it, it became clear: vandalizing was not their sole purpose, car thievery was. The only conclusion we’ve come to is they saw it was a stick shift or they got caught in the middle. Either way, we’re grateful to still have a car. Locked safely now (or so we think) in our garage.

Does all this matter? And how?

. . .

This morning Nate and I talked about a trip he’s taking in a few weeks and how, in all my life, I’ve never been afraid to be alone before. But here, in these days, in this place, I fear. The other day a salesman knocked on our door and I had to self-talk the entire time that he wasn’t going to push open the cracked door, rape me, and pillage our home. Fear is present, where it never has been before.

Things weren’t like this 25 years ago, I told Nate this morning. He told me studies were done once on soldiers from WWII: something around 50% of soldiers purposely didn’t aim guns at their enemies because the taking of a human life was not something they could do.

. . .

I stayed up late praying last night. I wanted to pray for the soul of the man who was killed but my beliefs tell me it’s too late for that, and a repentant man doesn’t do the atrocities he did. I pray for the SWAT officer instead, not the one who was wounded, but the one who killed the fugitive. What a heavy weight to bear it must be to have taken the life of a man—however worthless you can convince yourself that life was.

. . .

The ink is barely dry on the page of the Colorado Springs shooting a few days ago, the media is alight with San Bernardino, and in a playground in New Orleans a young man shot at 17 individuals last week. The world is too much with us, the poet said, and I think he was speaking of evil, evil, everywhere.

The refrain from O, Holy Night repeats in my head again:

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

For most these days, the law feels ignored and his gospel divides. There is not one of us who can say we feel safe but for the grace of God. And even with the grace of God, hundreds of thousands find themselves fleeing persecution and no one is safe from the bullet of a madman bent on destruction.

Where is the love and peace we were promised?

. . .

I have no end to this piece, no pretty packaged completion.Tomorrow or next week more news of another shooting will rise and we will fight for gun reform or offer our thoughts and prayers, but none of it is enough. None of it is.

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

The law of this land will never bring it and peace rallies will never exhibit it. Soldiers will still miss shots on purpose. Good men will sacrifice their lives in the face of certain danger—but even a hero’s death still stings. Nothing in this world will bring the peace we need. Nothing in this world.

His law is love.

And His gospel is peace.

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A few months ago I had a conversation with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about her upcoming marriage to Robert Wolgemuth, their joy in one another and the Lord was palpable. Nancy has faithfully served the Lord for over fifty years of singleness, teaching women to love and study the word, and reflect their maker in wholeness. I’ve benefited from her ministry, but mainly I’ve benefited from her example. Here was a woman who served the Lord in her singleness for a very long time. While there was an overarching confidence in her call to singleness, though, fifty years of life in this world can threaten our confidence in a great many things.

Robert and Nancy have now married and their wedding video is here. I urge you to take fifteen minutes when you can find them and watch it. Even if you do not feel the call to singleness, or even if you are already married, what is most present and beautiful in their story is not the theme of marriage or singleness, but of trusting God in all kinds of circumstances.

One of the things Nancy talks about is how she has always taught the gospel as the love story it is: a Groom coming to make his bride beautiful and bring her to himself, but how now she would learn to bring glory to God in the telling of that same story as a married woman. I agree and have said for years the church understands singleness better than any other entity on earth because we intrinsically know what it means to long for what we do not have in fullness.

But what happens when you get married and the longing dissipates or distills or even disappears? What happens when you wake up next to a man who does fill so many of your longings? What happens when you live within the walls of a home you’ve desired for 35 years? What happens when your message of longing feels a bit less present and a bit more satiated?

This morning I read the preface to John Piper’s Advent readings, The Coming of Indestructible Joy. He writes, “Peter [in II Peter 1:13, 3:1] assumes that his Christian readers need to wakened. I know I continually need awaking. Especially when Christmas approaches.”

Especially when Christmas approaches.

I have still been thinking about Philippians 2:12 this week, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” These words in particular: “much more in my absence.” Another way of saying this is, “especially in my absence.”

One look around my world these days and I have it all: a husband who loves me, a beautiful home of our own, a good job, a home bursting with friends this weekend. But one thing I do not have is Christ in His fullness—and I need every reminder possible of his absence. Nothing magical happens when you get married, but something is risked: the constant, pressing, angst of desire. Not for an earthly spouse, but for the heavenly one.

Whoever you are, and wherever you are today, a few days before the eve of Advent, remember the longing especially in his absence. Remember the people who waited decades and centuries for the coming of Christ. Remember “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). Perhaps your longing is pressing and present, perhaps it is dormant and dulled, but it is there, somewhere. Find it. Empty your world this season of things and distractions, or instead keep them, and make them serve as reminders of the shadows they are.

We walk in darkness, partial blindness. We see, like the blind man at Bethsaida, “men as trees walking.” We see partially, not fully. We long for wholeness and live in shadows. We have and do not have. We exist in the already and the not yet. Let’s press apart the closed over pieces of our hearts, the pieces that have forgotten to long, or the pieces that only know longing for earthly things.

This Advent season, let’s especially long especially in our groom’s absence.

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We’ve come by our attraction to transparent communities honestly—we have been hiding since the third chapter of Genesis. We ache to come out of hiding and to walk in the freedom of Eden again. There are little secrets in us all, taunting us with their presence: “If everyone knew this about you…”

And what if?

I always find it slightly generous of God to have asked Adam the question he already knew the answer to, “Where are you?” Generous because the answer to that question was not for God but for man. Who of us truly wants to face the question, “Where are you?”

Where is your heart?

Where is the meditation of your mind?

What are you thinking about? Obsessing over? Hiding?

Where are you? On the grandest scale of human emotions and proclivities and circumstances and seasons, where are you?

God didn’t ask the question to find the answer. He asked the question because the next words Adam spoke would teach us all, “I was naked and afraid, and so I hid.”

Half the battle warring inside of us is won with those words: I am naked—uncovered, exposed. I am afraid—fearful, worried, full of angst. I am hiding—withdrawing, retreating, running away. And aren’t we all, Adam? Aren’t we all? But most of us will never say the words because we like to talk more about the testimony of yesterday than the valley of today.

A transparent community is not simply one where we talk about what God did yesterday and how we came to enlightenment and grew and how today will be different. A transparent culture of confession is one where we say, “Here is where I am today and I am afraid I will always be like this and my inclination is to hide it away.” That is true transparency. That is true confession.

Eating the fruit made Adam and Eve see the destructive nature of wanting to be like God and we still eat the fruit of that fruit. We want to be like God in a thousand different ways. We want to, like my pastor from Texas says, “Wear a superhero’s cape.”

But humans don’t need capes, they need the skins from the sacrifice, the shelter of the Most High, the mantle of God, the robe of the Father thrown over them as they limp home from squandered inheritances and life beside pigs. Real humans, children of God, stink of the pigsty under the pristine robes of the King.

Stop pretending we don’t stink, friends. Say the words, “I am naked. I am ashamed and fearful. I am hiding.” Let us gather at the threshold gate and run toward home where the Father waits to clothe us with the sacrificial covering of His Son.

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The man and I have embarked on another Whole 30 journey (my fifth, his first-ish). Somehow getting engaged, married, moving, buying a house, and trying to breathe wrecks any semblance of order when it comes to eating routines. The act of limiting our food supply for 30 days to meats, fruits, and vegetables is necessary, good, and also a great opportunity to submit ourselves to one another and our limitations every single freaking day.

Eating itself is an act of submission. Our bodies were created to need constant sustenance. We cannot live without submitting to our need for food. This is how it is with everything though, right? In every direction we are submitting to our limitations.

What we have found in the past two weeks is that I have felt better and better and he has felt worse and worse. It all came to a head on Monday night. There were tears, there was not anger, there were frustrations, there was not yelling. My body functions best on fruits, vegetables, and meats. He functions best on a lot of carbohydrates, sugar, and energy bursting drinks and foods. I have found myself submitting to his need for lots of those things over the past six months and now he finds himself submitting to my need for none of those things over the past few weeks.

Have you ever had two sinners in a room together submitting to one another’s limitations?

I don’t like submitting to my limitations and I like even less submitting to his limitations, but what I really find difficult is the knowledge that as I submit to my limitations, it requires others to submit to my limitations as well.

Here is where I’m going with this: Admitting my limitations is difficult. I want to be the best at everything I do, I don’t like being limited in my time, my energy, my emotions, my brain capacity. I want to give everything I have to all people all the time.

But knowing that in my submission to my limitations (No, I can’t answer every email. No, I can’t teach that class. No, I can’t be best friends with everyone. No, I can’t meet with you at this time. No, I can’t be everywhere and all things at once.), it requires others to submit to my limitations, this is the rub. This is the difficult thing for me.

On Monday night I put it out on the table: “Let’s quit Whole 30, Nate. Let’s just scrap it, it’s okay, I’ll buy pasta, pastries, Sour Patch Kids, whatever you want. I want you to be full of energy and joy again!” But my wise and gentle husband, even in his weary state, responded with, “No, this is good.”

It is good to submit ourselves one to another. To physically bend to another person’s insufficiencies and their limitations. To acknowledge that no one is capable of everything and everyone is only capable of what they can do. Submitting to Jesus means submitting to my insufficiency, it means submitting to my inability to save myself or save anyone else, it means submitting to the demands of life (laundry, dishes, finances, kids, work, singleness, etc.). And it also means others must sometimes submit to my limitations.

We should hear people say, “No, I can’t do that because I am limited by my time, my energy, my family, etc.” more often in the church. And we should give people permission to say no more often. We give them permission by encouraging them to say “Yes” to the things God has called them to. We are not to love the things of this world, but love does indeed call us to the things of this world. When the world truly sees us loving that to which we’ve been called, we pray they would submit to their blessed limitations and Christ’s blessed sufficiency.

Eat food this week, friends, and praise God for your limitations. Preach the gospel to yourself this week by remembering you are dust.

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