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eternity

This morning it’s all losing heart and laundry. I pull the clean fabric from the dryer and stare at it for five minutes. We are not a home brimming with children, but I know I just washed all these towels and cloth napkins five days ago. The door is always open and our table is too. It’s a choice to live this way, open-doored and open-handed, and it’s a choice that turns more away than brings them in. Hospitality is my great joy, it is not hard at all. But an open door brings in broken people, and oh, how my joy is wrapped up in their hope. The gospel “is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60)

I’m reading a book and this morning’s chapter is about hearing—and how hard of it we are. There’s no excuse, at least no good one. We can waylay the phones and screens and noises if we make small attempts, but there’s no cure for the way eternity is on our hearts, beating louder and louder the dissatisfaction with the world and all her baubles. We are not, as C.S. Lewis said, content with mudpies, else we wouldn’t be looking for newer, shinier, and faster mudpies every year.

We are so hard of hearing and eternity beats so very loudly.

II Corinthians 4 says we have this ministry by the mercy of God so we don’t lose heart. I read over those words five times, six times, seven times this morning. It’s because of his mercy we have the gift of ministry—and that mercy ministry is the only reason we don’t lose heart.

But my heart feels like it is losing.

What then?

I fold the napkins and I count the blessing of ministry. I fold the towels and I count the blessing of mercy. I put them away and I do not lose heart.

This is a hard saying and nobody said the gospel would be easy. Some days I feel it more than others. Some days I am searching for the highest mountain to shout His goodness. Some days I am standing in the valley, forcibly lifting my eyes up to the hills, where my sweet, sweet help comes from. What great mercy it is that brings the hard work of the ministry, and what a great help He is to a heart that feels lost.

Meditating On

April 7, 2014

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

It’s so easy to get caught up in the words, right? There are so many words, competing messages, and directions for our hearts and minds to take. We gobble them up, feed on them, sustain ourselves with them, and oh how hungry we go to bed every night. Don’t you? I do.

But Paul, truthful Paul, he drops those lofty words and sweet wisdom in the mud, crushes them with his heel, and says, “No, friends, I decide, I purpose, I war with my flesh, to know nothing, nothing, among you, except Christ.”

Oh, how my prideful, boasting, self-righteous, independent heart needs to hear the apostle say those words: it’s not of me, it’s of Christ and for Christ and about Christ.

 

divorce

When I was 13 years old my parents had the sort of fight where you run for cover. I don’t remember anything about it except that I fearfully went to one parent the next morning asking if they were going to get divorced. They promised me they were not.

Ten springs later I was living in Guatemala and the words, “The divorce is finalized,” came over the phone from one of my parents. I dissolved in tears when I hung up the phone, set my face like steel, resolved to never make a promise I couldn’t keep—to a husband or to my children.

It is now ten years from then and I hope I have a bit more perspective, and empathy, toward both of my parents. Divorce wasn’t their first choice—and it hasn’t been their last. Even today they are facing off in court again—divorce is rarely in the best interest of everyone, but we only count by ones when we shatter, each shard collected, regarded, and disposed.

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

Every time I want to speak about divorce I hesitate for a few reasons, one is that I have no idea of the complexities of marriage. I have a better idea today than I did last year, but even the complexities of my broken relationship cannot compare to the one flesh union between two flesh entities.

Another reason I hesitate is because this is a deeply personal issue. The complexities of one couple’s marriage cannot compare to the complexities of another couple’s. There are histories, stories, theologies, broken and beautiful things coming together in a grand clash of a lifetime together. There is no easy way to navigate these things. How could one person speak with any sort of authority on these matters?

I shared a bit of my story there to extend an olive branch to those who think I could not understand the complexities of marriage. While it is true that I could not understand it for myself, I can understand it deeply and profoundly as the adult child of divorce—and one who has watched my siblings respond in different and distinct ways. Are we the story of everyman? No. But neither are each of our stories, as siblings, the same. We each experienced divorce, brokenness, abandonment, abuse, fear, hurt, betrayal, death, disappointment in different ways. I only have my side of things, my story.

Beneath the deeply layered stories of divorce, there are true things about marriage, and what makes the gospel so profound is that it makes all the sad things come untrue. The world is broken and breaking, and afterward we are, as Hemingway said, strong at the broken places.

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

One of the great weaknesses in our world today, even within the Church, is the brokenness of marriage, how it is fractured and divided and fracturing and dividing. But at the crux of that brokenness, we are strong in that place because the great metaphor of Christ’s love for us is marriage. From the very first glimpse of his bride, the first Adam loved her, and the second Adam has done no less.

When we understand the sanctity and holy depth of what marriage is to God, we understand this fractured piecemeal one-flesh difficult thing is simply a broken reflection—and cannot give us the whole picture of Christ’s love for His bride.

That comforts me today because I am the child of divorce and I am the child of broken promises and I am the breaker of promises—but none of that touches the deepest reality of what marriage means to Christ. He doesn’t break His promises; He never leaves His bride; His plan has always been to take what is battered, bruised, soiled, and spotted, and to present her perfect, without blemish.

There are many miraculous metaphors for  life in Christ, dead men brought to life, lame men walking, but none so profound, I think, as the miracle of taking what is broken and making it wholly whole.

If your marriage is buckling under the weight of life and all its complexities today, if you have broken promises to your children and your spouse, if you are the child of divorce and fear marriage (as I do), never forget that if you are His child, He is taking what is broken and making it whole. Today, right now, He is refining and cleansing.

Let these words comfort you today:

…As Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her,
that he might sanctify her,
having cleansed her
by the washing of water with the word,
so that he might present the church
to himself in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle
or any such thing,
that she might be holy
and without blemish.
Ephesians 5:27

The Keeper of the Peace

March 30, 2014

peace

There are all sorts of opportunities to doubt God’s faithfulness and His sustaining goodness to us. Financial difficulties, marriage or roommate difficulties, church difficulties—everywhere we look in life we can see reasons the world would give us for not trusting God in the midst of difficult circumstances or fearful endeavors.

In my life right now it seems in every direction there are opportunities for the enemy to whisper or shout, “You will not have peace!” Our home bears the weight of that threat, my relationships bear the weight of it, my mind bears the weight of it, even my heart bears it. It has been a hard year. I’m not complaining, I’m just confessing that I look around me right now and say with Job, ”I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes (Job 3:26).”

When I feel the lack of peace I tend to go hunting for it. I’ll turn over every rock and stone until I find it, but Isaiah 26:3 says that it is GOD who keeps me in peace. In all my grappling and grasping for it, He’s the keeper of it. All I do is keep my eyes fixed on Him, the author and finisher of my faith (Heb. 12:2).

Choosing today to fix my eyes on Him, not my circumstances or fears. Trusting today that He’ll keep me in perfect peace, like a good father keeps his children in clothing and food, keeps his home in order—this is the way God keeps me clothed and sustained in peace.

My friend Trillia Newbell’s new book United has hit the shelves this week. Trillia is a wise and kind woman whose words regarding race and unity are much needed in the church—especially from a woman. After reading her book, I watched The Loving Story on Netflix, which I’ve highly recommended several times this week. I am also partway through Letters to A Birmingham Jail, edited by Brian Loritts, with contributions by Piper, Chandler, and more.

This week I have been so struck by the importance of ongoing conversations regarding the Civil Rights movement and how they affect current movements in our culture and world. As I read and watch these stories, and learn to how parse this ongoing history (because that’s what it is and will be for a long, long time), I am having to consider freshly what our response to things like gender roles, same sex attraction, homosexual unions, abortion, and even Church and non-profit polity needs to be. These words will be recorded someday in biographies and documentaries. Whether we like it or not, our words matter and they do hold weight.

One thing I was deeply struck by while watching The Loving Story was the original content, first person narratives, film of actual an actual couple being persecuted for their marriage to one another, young and eager lawyers making history in 1968 regarding interracial marriage. In 2014, more than ever before in history, we are content factories.

Some day, and not very far in the future, our children and their children WILL use our words for better or worse. That makes me want to be very sober-minded and slow to speak, slow to give opinions, especially ones that have not been tried or put through the fire.

There are a number of polarizing situations at play in the world, just today I can think of three huge ones concerning religious liberties, homosexual unions, and abortion—oh, friends, let’s be careful, very, very careful of how we respond. Not in fear of what will someday be used against us, but in wisdom for the sake of future generations.

These are not simply ideals and ideas—they are people, real people.

Thanksgiving-02

Congregant Caricatures

March 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

The thing about caricatures is you always know who it is just by looking at it:

caricature

And yet, you know you can’t trust the likeness.

Right?

A caricaturist zeros in on several points on a person’s face. Maybe it’s a slightly larger nose, or a bit of a crooked smile, or maybe something as pedestrian as deeply blue eyes or a natural blush. The caricaturist’s aim is to exaggerate and minimize what sets the face apart. His aim is not to make ugly, but often times a caricature looks ugly. If you’ve ever had one done you know the righteous indignation that accompanies first sight,

“I don’t really look like that!” you say, and of course you don’t.

But you kind of do. Not really. But sort of. Enough that you’re recognizable, not enough that anyone who knows your face well would say it’s an exact likeness.

Within culture at large, and Church culture especially, caricaturists abound. In some ways, they’re the comedians of the inner circle; the Jon Acuff and Jen Hatmakers. They zone in on the ridiculous and ludicrous parts of the Christian life and family and help us all laugh at ourselves. They satire, and they’re good at it, and we laugh at them because they’re helping us laugh at ourselves.

When Caricature goes badly is when a sly artist studies a theology or movement solely to find the weak or shallow parts. Then they pound out a blog post heard round the world for a split second and then life goes on as normal. A moment of fame while everyone points and laughs at the funny man in the picture, asks how could he be so silly and stupid and ugly, and how could he not know he’s so silly and stupid and ugly.

Ha ha.

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

Here’s the other thing about caricatures: we know the elongated nose or tiny eyes or stout neck are true about us; in fact, nobody sees our face in the mirror, under such a microscope as we do.

But when the caricature is passed around as truth for long enough, everyone starts to believe that’s our real face. That’s who we really are. But it’s not.

That’s not the person who wakes up in the morning, drinks their coffee while they read the bible, who packs lunch for her kids or drops the shampoo in the shower, who can’t find their keys where they left them, who buys coffee for the person behind them in line, who killed it at the meeting with his coworkers, who meets weekly with a guy who just needs prayer and a friend, who forgot to put gas in the car, who falls into bed every night exhausted and confident that they are doing exactly what God designed them to do and be and look like.

Who cares about a caricature when there are real people to be seen?

If you are tempted to zero in on a particular face of a movement and draw for the world a caricature they won’t forget, what you need to remember is at the end of the day we throw those caricatures in the garbage. Nobody really wants to look at them, and especially not the subject of the drawing. Why? Because it’s not true. It’s partially true, which makes it not true.

If you want people to listen to what you have to say, really listen, not just rally around you, or press like on your Facebook post, you have to sit with them and be true with them, and be truthful about them.

I asked an artist one time, a man who paints likenesses that almost breathe with life, how he made the paintings.

“Do you take a photo and paint from that?” I asked him.

“Oh, no,” he said, “I make the subject sit in front of me, hours and hours and hours. How could I paint them life-like if I did not see them living?”

If you came here looking for gossip, this is not where you’ll find it. I alluded to a few things in my recent post on Same Sex Attraction and Delaying Marriage, so consider these thoughts just a continuation of that post.

First, I want to say that I bear no ill will toward my parents in any way. Hebrews 12:10 says, “Your fathers disciplined you as it seemed best,” and whatever that verse means for you, for me it means I can trust my parents did what they thought best. They did not intend harm toward me or my siblings in the schooling or spiritual choices they made for our family. That does not mean we were not harmed, only that I know they were doing what they thought best.

Second, I want to say that God is not a wasteful God. He does not pile up the scraps of our lives and bemoan the loss. He is a careful artist and potter, shaping and shifting, knitting and building, crafting those made in His image to be more and more like Him. He is careful and attentive. He does not waste experiences or difficulties or joys or pains. Every single moment of my life has been held in His capable hands. I see that more today than I ever have before and I trust Him.

Now, let’s talk about homeschooling and sex scandals

If you were a part of the homeschooling revolution of the 80s and 90s, then you were most likely a child of someone who came of age in the 60s and 70s. These were the hypnotic, drug hazed years of rock n roll, hippies, bra-burning, Woodstock, and the Jesus Movement. These were people who knew how to sin big—and who came to Jesus big. For most of our parents, even if they were not part of those movements, they were influenced by them—for better or worse.

As any parent, and especially ones new to faith, would do, they protected their young often to the point of over-protecting. They banned rock music, R rated movies (or PG13 if you were my parents); they monitored clothing choices not only for modesty, but also for looking too much like the world; they monitored friendships—especially friendships between boys and girls (more on that in the aforementioned post).

Folks, I have stories I find laughable now, but then? In the moment? Rage inducing stories. It was tough to be a child in that atmosphere. We were ruled by the fear of what might become of us. There was little grace in our communities—in fact, it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that the word grace ever entered my vocabulary as something other than a girl’s name.

These parents intended to protect, and they did, but drawing boundary lines close around your daughter still does not protect her from herself. Naming things as off limits to your son does not keep him from delving into the darkness in his own heart.

You can monitor modesty and measure hemlines, but you cannot moderate the temperature of your child’s heart. You can eliminate songs with beats, but you cannot temper the beating of your child’s heart for artistry. You can talk about not defrauding the hearts of boys or girls, but you cannot control the trigger in their hearts that jumps when they feel chemistry.

The problem is, for many and most of these homeschooling parents, they tried to do just that.

Full disclosure for a moment here

I was not simply a homeschooled kid. My family brushed shoulders with some of the upper echelon of the homeschool movement of the 90s. My parents produced an award winning book for homeschoolers and I spent most of my youth surrounded by the most deeply entrenched in the movement. We were taking over the world, one homeschool convention at a time.

Within these homeschool circles, because there was much protection, there was much trust with likeminded individuals (I remember being disciplined and rebuked often by other parents in my family’s circle), and kids were free to roam among their likeminded peers. There was a common habit of putting the older children in charge of the younger children—but all of us still just children. And all of us bit with the curiosity that forbidden fruit offers. I had my first encounter with sexuality when I was 10 years old. I cannot even remember all the times my peers were either accused of sexual curiosity, abuse, or simply “going too far.” It was epidemic—and still never talked about.

Natural curiosity lies abed in everyone. We all want to know about things. All sorts of things. How they work, if they work, who knows how to make them work, and if they’ll work for us. For many of these homeschoolers though, the questions about sex and relationships were squelched—even the good ones.

You can protect your kids from almost anything, but if you don’t teach them that their greatest threat is self and the sinfulness that lies inside them, they’ll be surprised by it every time.

Curiosity kills the cat—and sometimes the mouse too.

In the past few years more and more allegations of sexual abuse or assault within conservative movements has come to light (SGM, ATI, BJU, PHC, and far more).

Friends, we should not be surprised.

I believe that much of the sexual abuse and scandal that’s coming to light these days is directly related to the sin of legalism. It was Eve telling the serpent, “God said we could not eat or touch.” There was so much fear surrounding the other things in life (music, clothing, doctrine, even food), that to broach the subject of sex just seemed almost other-worldly.

We added to the gospel, to the truest things God ever said. We got knowledge of good and evil, but for many in the homeschooling movement, we prided ourselves on keeping the knowledge inside and the evil locked safely out. We never let ourselves realize the heart contains all the knowledge and evil it needs to have things go very, very badly indeed.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.44.17 PM

Note: These are just my thoughts and commentary on a bit of my own experience. I believe most parents who spearheaded these movements realize their error at this point—and most of us, the product of these movements, certainly realize it.

The solution is the whole gospel—and to flee whenever you catch even a drift of another gospel. There are “other” gospels everywhere—pet theologies, dogmatic arguments, dramatic treatises on any subject offering the real truth and real life, but Christ alone is it. Christ alone.

If you find yourself heading into a belief system that places more emphasis on any outworking of the gospel, than it does on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, flee.

leadership

A wise, and lonely, leader once told me, “Leadership is lonely, so choose your friends wisely.” I believed him without hesitation because I saw the aching loneliness whenever he was in a crowd, the uncomfortable posture of one who longs for depth and fears it for the work it will bring.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters from prison thinking often of how long stretches of time alone might have been the fuel he needed to write those letters—and yet, in prison? Alone? In those days, there is no more lonely place I can think of.

Leadership is lonely. It doesn’t look like it, of course, because every leader is surrounded by others, called on by others, even known, in some respect, by others. It seems like all the aching loneliness of being unknown would dissipate if only you stood with the leaders of the pack.

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

One of the most helpful verses I’ve ever memorized is John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Those six words have meant more to me in the swirling storms of suffering and rejoicing, lack and plenty, contentment and desire, than any six words I know. They are the mantra of my life and they are prophetic in a way, speaking future truth into what is not fully realized. They comfort me when I feel the aching loneliness of being both unknown and very known, a nobody and a leader, a friend and a stranger.

Leadership is lonely because decreasing is lonely. The larger the Lord of your life becomes to others, the less they see you, and isn’t that what we all want? Just a bit? To be seen, known, and truly loved? To be unshackled from the collective prison of our minds and hearts, to be free to roam among other commoners, to find our place at the fire or the table, to fit in?

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

This morning I read an article about a couple who were removed from leadership at a school in New England. They were serving Jesus faithfully, wouldn’t sign a paper demanding more from them than their faithfulness to His word, and they were given the boot, stripped of their leadership.

And yet, not.

Because the crowning achievement of every kingdom leader is to be the least, the last, and the lowest. To fulfill their mission in the prison of lonely leadership or unrecognized leadership—a prophet who has no respect.

If you seek leadership, know that what you’re asking for is a life of service and loneliness. It may not look like the glamorous service you suspect lies there. It may be the simple act of looking others in the face, hearing their stories while knowing yours is ever decreasing. It may be a life of quiet prayer. It may be behind a pulpit, which may be one of the loneliest places of all.

But, good and faithful—and lonely—servant, find your joy not in being known, but in making Him known.

Hearing and Being God

February 13, 2014 — 3 Comments

Since the beginning of December I have been thinking about what it means to “hear” God’s voice. I cut my faith teeth in Charismatic circles, so hearing from God for ten years was commonplace in my life. I have pages full of things people heard from God about on my behalf and I am in Texas today because of a small feeling I had one June morning on my back stoop. He said, “Move to Texas,” and I said, “Hell, no.” But then I did.

I don’t handle His voice lightly, but I think I have handled the hearing of His voice lightly.

Because we are His children and He is our father and we know this with our heads—even if we struggle with it in our hearts—we want to believe that He speaks and He speaks to us. This is why we have books like Jesus Calling given back and forth at every holiday gathering and as last minute birthday gifts. Who doesn’t want to hear Jesus Calling?

But what happens when what you were sure that you were sure that you were sure that God said, turns out to be, well, not?

What then?

I don’t have an answer to this question. The only answer I have is to go back to His infallible, inerrant word, and trust His character to be true. Jared Wilson posted a blog today that might be the most important thing we’ll read online this week, or month.

Something happens when you stop submitting to the communal listening of congregational worship and start filling the air with your own free range spiritual rhetoric. Your talk of God starts to sound less like God. He starts sounding like an idea, a theory, a concept. He stops sounding like the God of the Bible, the God who commands and demands, the God who is love but also holy, gracious but also just, et cetera. He begins to sound less like the God “who is who he is” and more like the God who is as you like him.

Read that twice if you need to. I needed to read it three times.

Now think, just for a few moments, about the times in our lives where what God says sounds an awful lot like what we’d like Him to say, or God help us, an awful lot just like us.

The truth is I don’t need that god in my life because I already am that god.

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

I’ve had some good, good people pressing back on me in recent months, asking the same question the enemy asked in Eden and again in the wilderness to Jesus: Did God really say?

Strange how the enemy can ask a question and a friend can ask the same question and we still get their intentions flip-flopped.

I want to ask you the same question today: Did God really say?

If you don’t have an answer to that question, that’s good because it means you can go back to His word and instead of listening for His voice, you can read exactly what He does say (about you, about others, about His character). If you’re hung up on something you think He might have said or you wish He would say, there’s great comfort to be found in knowing for sure He did say.

If you don’t know where to start, start here, in Isaiah 45. It is packed, full and brimming over with what God says.

I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain.
I the Lord speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
Isaiah 45:18-19

Know that I am praying for you today as you and I both relinquish what we think He’s said, and submit ourselves to the truth of His character and word.

Talk it In/Out

February 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

I process internally. I’m rarely ready to discuss anything or contribute anything to a conversation until I’ve chewed on and distilled every possible scenario in my head. Because I’m bent this way, I always think it is more helpful to process things internally. You know who doesn’t agree?

All of my friends.

Yup. For some reason I seem to attract verbal processors like hipsters to coffee bars. Nearly every one of my close friends is someone who wants to hash and rehash every thought process. They want the counsel of many, and talking through things helps them distill the good counsel from the bad.

The downside? They want to do that with me.

I don’t seem to mind it when they want to hash around their own problems in that way, but when they want to process my situations in that way, nine times out of ten, I end up feeling bullied or not heard. I feel like a project to be fixed instead of someone to just be heard. But all they’re doing is loving me the way they love to be loved.

However, when they want to talk over things with me, and all I do is listen, they can feel like I don’t care about their problems. I do. I really do. I’m just not ready to give my thoughts until I’ve thought through them.

The other side of the coin is I’ll have thought through a situation for a long, long time, and come to someone with every possible angle considered. I’m rarely looking for their advice, I just feel like I need to say, “Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.” But because I’m coming with a neat bullet-point list, the problem figured out, the best option to take, fully processed, my friends can feel like I’m the one bullying them.

It’s a no win, right?

Well, without Christ it’s a no win.

James says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Because I am naturally bent toward that, I can take this verse and vilify everyone I know who just wants to “talk it out.”

But the book of Proverbs says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” So which is it? Shut up or get talking?

I don’t think it’s either or, honestly. But I do think we need to keep three things in mind in every relationship:

1. The necessity of keeping the Holy Spirit and Fruit of the Spirit central in every conversation we have. When we’re motivated by the things of the Spirit, we’re going to be motivated not to be heard or responded to, but to be like Christ in our listening and in our counsel. Good advice is meaningless if it’s not empowered by the Spirit. Likewise, good listening is active listening, not just thought-filing.

2. If you’re an external processor, be mindful of trying to do so with internal processors. It can feel bullying, even if you mean it in earnest helpfulness.

3. If you’re an internal processor, be mindful of bringing your fully processed ideas to external processors. It can feel condescending, even meant kindly.

Sometimes the best thing, even for verbal processors, is to be slow to speak. And sometimes, even for internal processors, it is to seek the counsel of many. Above all, the counsel we need most is Christ’s, and the voice we should be listening to the most is His.

Worshiping at the Bar

January 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

I’m not a live show girl. Celebrity doesn’t impress me and groupies crowd my space. The best concerts happen in my car on road trips from north to south and back again. I am the singer and the audience and my wheels hum along. But the stamp on my hand and the heels of my booted feet belie me tonight.

There is wholeness when watching an artist at work. I say to a friend yesterday, “You’re not a compartmentalized man with faith in one box and parenting in another, fiction in one and politics in yet another. Be all you, which is more biblical and less transcendental than it actually sounds.”

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

We are shoulder to shoulder, heads above heads, the smell of beer and crisp Texas winter all around. There is grit and tenderness and the girl in front of me danced wildly one minute and sobbed into the arm of her friend the next.

Music does this to us, I think to myself.

Or maybe it isn’t the music at all, but the lyric of life being lived right in front of us. This artist-woman whose age is there, in the wrinkles on her forehead and the veins on her arms, is living it. Her voice cracking at inopportune places, as if there are opportune places for that anyway. She is a mother to all the rising folk artists I love, and she is the one I love more than all of them combined. But she is older now, and wrinkled and still so very, very beautiful.

This is what life does to us, when we live it. Not compartmentalized and neat, sectioned off into safe places and dangerous ones. We live it all, splayed out, because this is who He made us to be.

I think of Jesus on the cross. For some this was God’s great artistry, the deus ex machina—the predictable surprise ending. But it isn’t only the vulnerability of His son crying out that we stand our faith upon, but the jubilant rising of Him three days later.

There is nothing compartmentalized about this life, not for the Christian, and not for the pagan either. All of life touches and dances and weeps and were it not that way, we would be puppets or robots or, worse still, skeptics, all of us.

I am practicing for heaven tonight, swaying with the bar folk and the church folk, the worshipers at the stage of their god, staring at the imago dei there in all her creator’s glory. Whether she testifies of it or not, even the rocks will cry out.

None of us can help it.

We are who we are, full on, splayed out, in ignorant worship or intentional, we cry out.

Pot, Meet Kettle

January 13, 2014 — 9 Comments

My first blog was on a Live Journal domain (remember those?). I took its name from a Burlap to Cashmere song that, to this day, I still don’t really understand the full meaning behind. I just knew I loved the three words strung together. The year was 2000 and my family was turned upside down in about a year. You name it, we experienced it in that year. I didn’t know where to turn, or to whom, and so I turned to anonymity.

I became a blogger.

In 2000 a blogger was either Jason Kottke, posting links to interesting content on the rising web, or it was an angsty teenager ranting about life. It was my last year as a teenager, so I fit nicely in the latter category. I wrote voraciously. Sometimes three posts a day. I didn’t care who read, or if anyone did, but I began to find a community of other bloggers. There was this brotherhood among us of sorts, people from all over the United States who stumbled on words not their own but which could be. I don’t have other words for it but divine. It was divine in the sense that it was almost otherworldly at that point. There were no dating sites, chat rooms were still a little strange, actually meeting someone in real life was rare and coated with suspicion. But it was also divine in the sense that it was a timely gift from God.

I spent years working out my salvation on the pages of the internet. By the time Sayable was birthed in 2008, I was one of the seasoned bloggers. My readership was still small by comparison, but in the annals of history, I was nearing mid-life at least. Every thought I’ve had about God has somehow been worked out on Sayable, or its younger siblings.

Writing is sanctification, if you’ll let it be.

This morning I opened my feed reader and read, as I do every morning. I find more and more often, I am just skimming. I open the posts with catchy titles or intriguing photos, so I am guilty of that which I complain of, I know. But I am so weary of the noise of blogging: the effort to churn out content instead of cherish the conviction.

One of my favorite quotes is by Lindford Detweiler, and I’ll never forget it. I love it so much that I screen printed it and it is the welcoming art as you walk into our home:

Music and art and writing: extravagant, essential, the act of spilling something, a cup running over…The simultaneous cry of ‘you must change your life, and welcome home.’ I’ve been trying to write songs again, and I’ve been hitting a maze of dead ends. I want the songs to reveal something to me, teach me something. It’s slow going. I’m not sure where I’m going. Uncertainty abounds. But the writing works on me little by little and begins to change me. That’s why I would recommend not putting off writing if it’s something you feel called to: if you put it off, then the writing can’t do the work that it needs to do to you. Yes, I think there’s something there. If you don’t do the work, the work can’t change you. (No one expects to change overnight.)

I’m weeping even now, as I read over that quote again by one of the finest lyricists I know. Here is a man who lets the writing do the work in himself. And I want that, friend and fellow writer, I want that for us. No matter what work it is that we put our hands to, I want it to do the deep work in us. The hard work, the cleansing work, the sanctifying work.

Blogging is hard work, I would never tell anyone otherwise, don’t make it easy by simply building a platform or gaining readers. That is not the point of blogging, and it is not the point of writing. We write to do the work in us, and God willing, in others. The publishers will use those big words about marketing and growth, but at the end of the day, those things will steal the soul of the writing you need to do.

Writing is sanctification and writing is God’s blessed gift to only a few of us. If you are a writer, don’t sell that sanctification for a contract or a deal. Turn your palms up, slow your mind, and do the upside-down work of the kingdom: your name always decreasing, ever increasing His.

Wipe that Glass

January 7, 2014 — 1 Comment

The first thing we know about God is He is Creator. He takes nothing and makes something. He makes many somethings. More somethings than any one of us will ever see in our entire lifetime.

Staggering.

I understand God as Creator, but if He is Creator, that means He is infinitely creative—and that is something I will never be able to grasp or understand.

He is involved in every iota, every molecule, every atom, every gene, every thought, every action—and He is infinitely creative, which means He never stops creating.

Just thinking about that for three minutes staggers me.

But it becomes so real, so personal, when I think about all the ways He has been creative with me—and the accompanying realization that He isn’t finished with me yet. He is still creating, still teaching, still growing, still perfecting, still forming.

So an infinitely creative God, constantly creating and recreating His people, is a God who can be trusted to not make mistakes. Every scrap of my spectacular story, every rag of my richest rich, every moment of my mind—these form who I am and who I am becoming. He knew the washed up, backwards, inside-out, upside-down story He’d bring me through and He knew that through the mess I’d see Him.

And I’d see Him through a glass dimly, but that dirt and grime, that’s mine. I own that grime. God let me have that grime because otherwise I’d never understand His holiness, His set-apartness. Now all I can do is never stop asking Him to wipe that glass clean.

I love that.

I really love that.

I love it because it’s my hope, more than anything, that we’d spend our lives helping others to clean that grime. To take a rag and say, “You too? Me too. Let’s clean it together. Let’s see Him more clearly, love Him more for Who He truly is.”

I don’t know what your grime is, but I know God knows it. He made it, every atom and molecule. He knows your issues with fundamentalism, gender roles, abuse, theology, culture, suffering, depression, death, divorce, fear. He knows it all. And He’s so creative that He knows how to draw you in, grime covered you, and show you Himself, holy and splendid, majestic and clean.

It’s spectacular.

Counting Down

January 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

It is midmorning and I spread the logs apart, the time for morning fires over, the day’s work ahead. The embers still crack and spark and I stare at their orange and grey glare for a few minutes more.

There has been a dormant joy in my heart these last months. Depression is never such a stranger to me that I don’t recognize her creeping around the eaves and windows of my heart. We are old enemies, she and I, and old friends too.

She is different this time around. She knows where my faith lies and my certainty rests, and it isn’t in my hope or future, but His glory. I count all my hope and future as loss in the surpassing joy of knowing Him. But I have to count it and the counting never ceases.

If all I count are the blessings and joys, will I hold to tightly to the losses when they come? I ask it rhetorically but I ask it earnestly. I know idolatry, we have been friends too. If I do the math, it must only be that I decrease and He increases. In this life only one of us gets to live. It is in heaven, in final glory, that we are both alive.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” said the man who would be a martyr. I look around me and grasp at things, hopes, dreams, losses, always keeping, never giving.

God, help me lose.

Help me spread wide the logs, chance the death of flame, let the embers burn themselves out, and help me do the work of the day. Help me count as loss all things—even good things. Turn my wins upside down and my face to you. Let my counting not be accumulating but subtracting til there is nothing left but You.