Archives For beauty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like those who read Playboy for the articles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”  

The first child brought Leah vindication: God saw her pain and would perhaps legitimize her to her husband.

She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.

The second child brought Leah comfort: God heard her cry and acknowledged that she was hated.

Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.

The third child brought Leah a bargaining chip: God seemed to be vacant, so she fought for his attention.

And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. (Genesis 29:31-35)

The fourth child was Leah’s praise: All the vindication, comfort, and bargaining in the world can’t bring the gospel to earth. She named him Judah, of the lineage of Jesus.

Rachel was loved, Leah was hated, but God brought the Lion of Judah through the loins of Leah. God doesn’t waste your suffering.

 

Like the amputee who still feels pain in his phantom limb, I feel the trepidation of misdirection and mis-decision. I made so many poor decisions in the past year and a half that the choice-making part of my brain feels incapable of going straight in any direction.

On January 1st I will sit with my journal and Bible and ask myself the list of questions I ask every January 1st. I will take stock and inventory of 2014 and look toward 2015 with a hope-filled eye. (God, make it so.)

A friend sat across from me the other day and asked why I can’t just get excited about this new season. Life is about to grow crammed with a new job and classes, plus the things already cramming it full and brimming it over. Yet I feel the phantom pains of the missing limbs: the marriage that didn’t happen, the move that didn’t happen, the date that didn’t happen, the conversation that didn’t happen. I have no regrets and I know the gangrene growing on those limbs would have eaten the whole of my body alive. But I feel the loss of them still.

To say those words, right out loud, feels shameful and sinful.

The things for which I am grateful are overwhelming, but they all came at great cost this year. This is perhaps the first time I can look systematically at good and see how it was brought about by death first.

. . .

This morning I read in Isaiah 11, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” Tears fill my eyes and I can’t keep reading because I see the stump legs and stump arms protruding from my person. All I see is cut off limbs, life interrupted, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

From that stump, though, comes a shoot. And from that shoot comes fruit.

All week I have been meditating on what it means to be cut from and pruned. I have done the work of pruning before, cutting branches that do not bear fruit so they will bear more and better fruit. I know the difficult work of taking what is live and making it live better. But I cannot bring life from a stump, I cannot make a dead and severed thing live again. This is the work of the Spirit alone.

On that fruit the Spirit of the Lord will rest,

The fruit that is borne in me through Him will be wholly His, not mine.

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

He has ultimate wisdom for every path in my life, and full understanding of the details.

the Spirit of counsel and might,

He is the one with words of comfort and strength. His advice directs me, and his power carries me.

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

He knows all and is King over all.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see

He will not fret on January 1st at the year to come.

or decide disputes by what his ears hear.

He does not hold the past year against me. He keeps no record of my wrongs.

. . .

I once had a dream in which I arrived at Heaven with no arms and legs. When Christ asked me, “Child, what made you like this?” I answered, “You said, ‘If our hand offends you, cut it off.’ Every time I looked at my arms and legs, all I could think of was the harm they’ve done to myself and others, so I either cut them off or served with them until they fell off.” I do not know what Christ looks like, but I will never forget the care I saw in his eyes in that dream. It was perhaps the first time I felt the love of a Father. He touched the stumps of my arms and legs and gave to me new ones, but they were not mine and this was clear to me. They were wholly un-of me and wholly of Him.

This is the shoot that comes forth from death. Christ.

God, make it so.

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“What would take you away from Texas?” he asked and I paused. It’s a good question, but it isn’t the right question. “The real question,” I said, “is what would make me stay?”

And I can’t answer that.

Planes, trains, and automobiles have been my home the past four months. I have traveled thousands of miles, had my affections stirred by mountains on the east coast, the southwest, far countries, and from airplane window seats. I have laughed hard, lived well, come home for short spurts of time, and it has been good. But tomorrow I go home for a long time and I cannot wait.

One who knows me well, who has survived my transient feet and wandering heart, said to me recently, “Lo, sometimes I think the thing that would make being in Texas okay is for you to just decide you’re going to be here for a long time.” Those words, and the question above, have been constants in my mind the past few weeks.

Zack Eswine, in his book, Sensing Jesus (which you should buy right now and buy for everyone you know), says, “The quickest way to get home is to stay there.” Zack isn’t making a case for staying when God says “Go,” but he is making a case for staying still in a world full of reasons to leave.

The past five months, since the signing of the lease, I have been begging God for a reason to leave. The list is long and the opportunities many, but the longer the list grew, the more my love for here grew. I told a friend yesterday that I thought it was sweet of God to give me that love as a going-away present. “You’re terrible at putting things where they belong,” she said while laughing at me. What if that love is God’s call to stay?

I can’t ask that question without feeling an overwhelming sense God’s love for me. It has been a long, long time since I’ve felt His love—I can mark the date and time when it started to unravel for me and it hasn’t stopped. Lesser loves, golden calves, little foxes, and craven images: these crept in with aggressive and deceptive stealth. Always seeming to be good and always falling short.

For a long time I have felt the withholding of good things in my life, feeling as though God would give me a fish or bread only when I could not be sustained without them. That he would only give me necessary gifts, but not just-because gifts.

Charles Spurgeon said, in this morning’s Morning & Evening,

If all these things are to be had by merely knocking at mercy’s door, O my soul, knock hard this morning, and ask large things of thy generous Lord. Leave not the throne of grace till all thy wants have been spread before the Lord, and until by faith thou hast a comfortable prospect that they shall be all supplied. No bashfulness need retard when Jesus invites. No unbelief should hinder when Jesus promises. No cold-heartedness should restrain when such blessings are to be obtained.

Generous Lord, I’m knocking. I’m knocking for a great many things, but I’m knocking most of all for the belief that you are not only a God who gives what is necessary for life, but a God who gives what is abundantly beyond what is necessary.

Tomorrow I get on a plane to fly home from these New Mexico hills. I am homesick for my home in Texas—and that is a miracle, a secreted blessing I’m thanking Him for. But even more, I am homesick for Texas, for the people I love there, the church I can’t believe calls me to it, the coffee-shop where I belong, the small pockets of joy, the conversations that bring me life and the life I can bring in return. That is abundantly beyond my expectations from late July when I only resented Him for making me stay.

I am learning the beauty of stilled feet.

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Look right at me, my pastor says in every sermon at least once. Look right at me.

. . .

Here is what I know about looking:

When I was young, rebellious and caustic, rolling my eyes at my parents at age 10 and sneering at them by age 15, they would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and I felt seen, exposed.

I knew I was already seen and exposed, but I felt it. I felt it when I saw their disappointment or disapproval or anger at me. When I saw it in their eyes. I felt that. I felt every weight and every sin and every bit of my flesh rolled up and held in their parental gaze. And I looked away. I could not hold that look for long, my sin was too great, their anger too heavy.

. . .

When I meet someone, I am desperate for them to know I come in peace, a white flag flown above my head, no judgement, no notions, just me, simple, honest. I am not correcting their grammar or parsing their theology. I am not gathering ammunition for a future war. I look them in the eye, hold their gaze.

Once a week, sometimes more, someone tells me my eyes are intense, piercing into their soul. I feel ashamed of my eyes in those moments, not grateful for them. They are so blue, people say, and I can’t know my own eyes, but so blue eyes in others seem to see straight through—and I see nothing straight through.

I love that you look me in the eye, a friend said. So many people, they look away, but you don’t. You look.

But that’s when I look down, because the truth is I will look at you until you speak something beautiful and true, or difficult and true, and then the beauty is too much for my eyes to hold.

. . .

I am thinking about God today and how He keeps watch. He looks. He holds our gaze when we cannot because we are ashamed or fear-filled or angry. He looks when we are sad or tired or frustrated. He looks.

And more than that, and I am just getting this, He wants us to look right at Him too. The fullness of us looking right at the fullness of Him.

Do you know what I feel when my pastor says, “Look right at me?”

I feel loved. I feel seen. I feel known. I feel like he’s saying, “Hey, look at me and let’s look at the Father together.”

God, help me look at people today, not so that they look back at me, but so that we look at You.

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Coffee with a friend this morning. She’s a bold and beautiful Bostonian wife, confident, kindred, and a blessing to my soul. We talked about the complicated question of attraction—how much it matters and how little. We unravel insights and decide that it still matters—like good Yankees, as though we are the final arbiters on the issue.

We hear often, “Confidence is the most attractive quality in women,” and I envision a thousand women twisting themselves into pretzels trying to eek out the appearance of confidence, because actual confidence is a nearly impossible feat. My pastor taught this past week on hurdles for women (as part of a series on design and intention for the sexes). Our great hurdles? Perfectionism and Comparison. A thousand women were not turning themselves into pretzels in our sanctuary hearing that—they were melting off the defenses because, yes.

The attractiveness of confidence has become, in some circles, just as damaging to a woman as the unattainable perfection of her legs or breasts—a mere commodity intended to woo and win the affection of a man. A man, who will, ironically, find that once married, her veneer of confidence falls to reveal mountains of insecurity and valleys of poor character. Beauty or confidence, it matters not which, if the use of them is to acquire legions of male attention—or even only one male’s attention—the span will be short.

We love to talk about love, the necessity of romance and the viability of attraction. You’ll find singles paging to Song of Solomon often for our defense on what is important in finding a spouse (conveniently contextualizing for our day: The curves of your thighs are like jewels—but better have a thigh gap; Your navel is a rounded goblet—located beneath tight abs; Your waist is a heap of wheat—with no extra to spare, please, etc.), but we forget the lament of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes:

When you get old,
the light from the sun, moon, and stars will grow dark;
the rain clouds will never seem to go away.
At that time your arms will shake
and your legs will become weak.
Your teeth will fall out so you cannot chew,
and your eyes will not see clearly.
Your ears will be deaf to the noise in the streets,
and you will barely hear the millstone grinding grain.
You’ll wake up when a bird starts singing,
but you will barely hear singing.
You will fear high places
and will be afraid to go for a walk.
Your hair will become white like the flowers on an almond tree.
You will limp along like a grasshopper when you walk.
Your appetite will be gone.
Then you will go to your everlasting home,
and people will go to your funeral.

I know I write often in these places of fleeting beauty and the wasting of our bodies, but I think it is because it is so important that we remember this: Solomon opened this passage with, “Remember your creator while you are young.”

I imagine Solomon delighting in the buxom pleasures of his bride and then finding a quiet place, away from her delights, and pacing back and forth, again and again, reminding himself of the fleeting time and the Maker of all that is good: “Remember your creator, Solomon, remember Him.” He has to discipline the remembrance of his God into his head and heart because the godessness of his wife is before his eyes, unintentionally enticing him to worship her over his Creator. He has to discipline his eyes, not before the beauty of all the women around him, but to turn again and again to the Maker of the beauty around Him. “Remember, Solomon, remember who truly lasts.”

Confidence in a woman—and a man—is a beautifully attractive quality, but not for its own sake, no. The most endearing beauty of confidence is one that remembers her creator, remembers his dust-likeness, remembers her fragility, remembers his frailty. It is a confidence that comes through discipline and active recalling, “I am not my own, I was bought for the ultimate price, and for that I present my body as a living sacrifice to Christ.”

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Last week I rounded a corner in a Nashville convention center and came to face to face with three elders from my local church. One hugged me and I nearly cried. I haven’t been home in three weeks, and was only home about two weeks before that, and will only be home a few weeks before I leave again, this time for overseas and then other states.

I don’t know where home is right now.

Tonight I sat on the far left side of the sanctuary, where I always sit when I’m home, and I hardly recognized anyone sitting around me. We are a big church, but a small service, and I still felt the ache of everyone moving forward but me.

I told someone tonight I feel like I’m a kid with a pile of treasures, none of them making sense, all of them seeming valuable, but no idea where they belong or when.

I thought I would grow out of this.

Does everyone feel like this?

Like life is one series of mountains and molehills and ebbs and flows and you’re always waking up wondering where time went and if you’re too far behind to catch up, or too far ahead to stop now?

I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want to waste it and I’m terrified of wasting it.

Faithfulness seems so mundane in a world ripe with success and achievements. I want to live a minimalist’s life, but I do it loudly, punctuated with images of what I’m doing and quotes of what I’m reading, hoping my simplicity will stick—if to no one else, at least to me.

But I do want to live a quiet life, and sometimes I resent the Lord for not allowing me the wallowing permitted to those who live behind closed doors and high fences. I dream of a house on a mountainside or an ocean inlet surrounded by pines. I dream of poetry and a fire in the fireplace and dinner on the table, a husband-partner, and children too. I have always dreamed of those things, unwaveringly since I knew how to dream. And those things have always been withheld because He knows those treasures are not what is best for me today.

Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” but the questions I’m always asking are, “Where is my deep gladness? And what are you hungering for, world?”

The world’s hunger, as best as I can see, is to behold His beauty, and this I find is my deep hunger too. And if my gladness is found in his temple, his Holy place, then it turns out the pile of treasures in my pocket are not many, but one. Just one thing: to dwell in His house, to behold His beauty, to meditate in His holy place. This is the one thing I need and the one thing for which the world hungers. This is the unwasted life.

I told someone recently it is my nature to trust easily, but, like Mr. Darcy, “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” That is not the posture of a disciple of Christ, this I know, and I work hard on this aspect of my nature. Forgiveness is not the problem, trust is.

The bible doesn’t command us (ever) to trust people. We’re called to trust the Lord, and to honor others, to, as much as it’s possible, be at peace with all men. But trust them? Trust is nothing less than a miracle, astounding wherever it rises.

In the discussion on marriage, homosexuality, and the gospel happening at the ERLC Conference, it occurs to me how the rhetoric the two sides of these subjects use are so often similar: take off your masks, live transparently, be who you are. In some ways we are fighting for the same thing, but instead of using the words to administer healing, we have flung mud-clods at one another.

I think about the blind man, blind through no sin of his own, but for the sake of God’s glory. Jesus knelt, spit on the ground, and placed mud on his eyes. Who of us trusts mud will do anything other than soil us further? Especially a blind man, who lived on the same dirt that would heal him?

We are all a little bit like Mr. Darcy, aren’t we? Hoping all things, but losing our good opinion once we’ve been on the receiving end of a particularly wicked clod of dirt. How do you have a conversation, though, with someone you cannot trust?

We are mud-dwellers, like the blind man. All of us. Doing our best with our portion, our history, our nature, our blindness, our prejudices, our limited scope of the dirt in which we live. It can be tempting for all of us to place the blame of our circumstances on so many things—but, Christ, sweet Christ, the second Adam—made of dust—takes the blame off of all that, points to His Father and says, “For Him. For His sake.”

And then he kneels, mixes spit from his mouth with dust from the earth, and does the unlikely thing: presses it to the blind man’s eyes. He makes what is dark, even darker. Makes what is dirty, even more dirty. Covers what is closed, even more closed. Good hope, once lost, now seemingly lost forever.

Darkness.

And then.

Light.

It can be tempting when we speak about polarizing subjects to use mud as a weapon instead of a healing agent. To use rhetoric and lost trust to increase the divide instead of close it. But Christ is a reconciling agent and nothing is beyond his ability to change and heal.

Let us be healing handlers of mud.

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I was born cute—came squalling out of the womb with a head of dark hair and blue eyes. The hair turned blond before my first birthday and the eyes turned bluer. We were all small babies, petite and small-boned. I was born cute and stayed that way until I hit my teens.

Something happened in middle school; I remember the moments exactly, imprinted on my mind and heart. You never forget a trusted adult calling you homely or pinching the flesh on your strong thigh, saying, “If you can pinch it, you’re too fat.” I killed cute in middle school and claimed ugly instead.

Continue reading at Christianity Today. 

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There are things I ought to have learned in science class, but I was too busy hankering for art class to pay much attention.

Did you know that the reason the autumn leaves are so spectacular in the northeast is because the weather has an indecisive air to it? It’s true. One night it’s cold enough to frost and the next day it’s warm enough to kayak in a tshirt. In the mountains the reds and oranges are deep and rich, and in the valley fields the green is vibrant and lush. The sky is almost always a steel blue, nearly grey, but still clear. I cannot describe this well enough, I know. I’m sure I tend to romanticize it because I tend to romanticize everything. It makes for a better story, see?

But trust me: it is beautiful here. Even today, while it rains steadily outside the side porch where I complete my wedding tasks of the day, it is beautiful (of course it helps that my wedding tasks for the day were to take buckets of flowers and make them into eleven presentable bouquets).

Tonight I’m going to leave these bouquets of roses and hydrangeas, seeded eucalyptus and ranunculus here on the porch—outside, where temperatures will probably dip into the forties. I’ll leave them here. And for the same reason the leaves get more and more spectacular, I have no fear for these flowers.

It goes against my gut to do this, leave them outside. Because flowers bloom in the warmest months, I assume that’s where they’ll thrive best. But years in Texas are teaching me that while the heat may force a bloom to open, it does little to sustain it.

We all need a little indecisive air, a bit of a chill, to be sustained.

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

I had a conversation with a friend the other day and she’s asking the right questions: why does it have to be so hard sometimes? Why does it have to hurt? I don’t have answers for her. I’m finding the more I know, the less I really know.

But I know this: those leaves wouldn’t take our breath away if they weren’t dying in the process.

And I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I hate death, it is nothing but stings and barbs. But I love life because it is nothing but newness and cycles.

I love life because I know I will die a million deaths until the final one, but each one makes me a little more vibrant in the process, and each one brings the promise of newness. That’s something I can plant my soul in.

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I’ve written here, more than a decade’s worth of doubts, fears, concerns, questions, deaths, heartbreak, joy, moving, lessons, and learnings. In many ways this place is the very public working out of my salvation. Were you to peruse the archives you would find much poor theology and even more narcissism. This page has been my heart splayed out for anyone to read and I’ve bled myself dry for it.

Last night I said to a friend: sometimes silence is the best sanctification, and I numbered all the things happening in my life right now that I can’t talk about publicly. At least not this publicly.

There’s so much of the blogosphere that lauds transparency and authenticity, but even that is rife with trophy stories and humble brags and I am strangled by the fear that I will join their ranks if I so much as whisper the words aloud. The truth is that even good things bring with them deep breaths and open palms. I do not know how this or that will turn out and I can’t even guess. And I don’t want to give you the opportunity to guess. Because I am selfish? Perhaps. Because I am fearful? For sure. But also because some things are best worked out in quiet, gentle, and still ways. Sometimes our rest is found there, in the stillness, in the peace.

Sometimes writing in this place has been the best sanctification for me. But today silence might be my best sanctification.

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Isaiah 30:15

Cut

I said no to a lot of things this year and in every direction branches have fallen. Good, seemingly healthy branches and dead ones too. Their absence has left me feeling naked and exposed, broken and wondering: what did I do to deserve the axe to my soul?

I learned long ago to not make plans, partially because nothing in my life goes according to one, but also because they become a breeding ground for resentment when I am disappointed in their failure. There were seeds of doubt in me this year that grew into fear and developed into anger. Not anger at others, but anger at myself, mostly, and anger at God. Maybe others knew I was being pruned, but I felt unjustly ruined.

It has been a strange dichotomy for me. Before 2010 I lived most of my life perpetually mistrustful of God, with a brooding anger at him. Since 2010, though, his goodness and prevailing trustworthiness has been steadfast and immovable. I have never known anything like it and still am in awe of what a constant God he is when not encumbered by the caricatures and Sunday School stories we make him out to be like. 2014, though, has been a year where I have seen my glaring disappointments and failures front and center. If there were places of pride in my life and heart, places I thought on the brink of full sanctification, this year has wrecked every one of them.

Jill Andrews has a song called Cut and Run where she says, “And it’s just like me // to walk away so early.” All my life that is my propensity. I walk away early instead of digging in deep. But this year He wouldn’t let me. He made me wait, long past the time when everyone else said to walk away. He stayed me, and then still cut me. It felt unfair, the antithesis of his goodness.

Nothing has gone unscathed.

Making the decision to stay in Texas was an act of faith for me three months ago. I felt physically nauseous when I signed our lease; it felt like a death warrant for me in some ways, and I am not prone to exaggeration. It was in part an act of submission to leaders in my life who are wiser than I, and in part submission to the Lord who presses deep on my propensity to run when the going gets tough. I began to submit a thousand small things to others too, in a way I balk against naturally. There have been times in my life when I felt suffocated by submission, no part unscrutinized by others. And there have been times when I have soared in submission, being set free under good leadership who wanted good for me. But this season of submission has felt both restraining and freeing.

The other night my closest Texas friends and I sat around a fire for half a night. The moon rose behind us and the coyotes howled. I didn’t say much, which is not unusual, but I listened a lot. I listened to laughter and sorrow, stories and life. All the things God uses to bring us to today.

He has been healing some things in me in the past few months. Not growing new branches yet, but healing the cuts from the old ones. Signing that lease, living with the four souls in our home, going to my hometown in Pennsylvania, good conversations, intentionally digging in at my church, working on projects that bring me joy, putting aside projects that steal my joy, choosing home more than choosing traveling, saying no to so many things, so I can say yes to what is most important: sitting at the feet of my good and faithful and kind Savior—the true vine, the true root, the true tree.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties virginity became a source of embarrassment for me, and I wasn’t surprised. I was one of few in my community (married or single) who had maintained that single shred of chastity. My married friends were procreating often enough that it was no secret who was having lots of sex. My single friends were confessing across coffee or at my kitchen table that they were sleeping with their significant others. Or rather, there was no sleeping happening, since there is no rest for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22). These girls and guys were eaten up with guilt. I honestly believe it was a combination of God’s grace and fear of guilt that kept my body covered. It’s not dignified, or admirable, but it’s the truth.

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