Archives For faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

January

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

February

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

March

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

April

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

May

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

June

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

July

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

August

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

September

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

October

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

November

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

December

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

 

homemade soupI like to think of myself as flexible, in spirit and person. I am naturally judgmental of myself and not of others, and prone to dissecting my inadequacies with a double edged sword, painfully and precisely. Some call this naval gazing or introspection. I am learning it can be a tool of the enemy to split the Gospel into sections, applying some to me, all to others, and none to the parts I stumble over naming.

Last night we ate soup and homemade bread and in the middle of dinner pulled up a Shane and Shane song on YouTube. We don’t usually keep electronics at the dinner table and by usually I mean we never do, but we were talking about shame and the enemy’s ploy. I had sent this quote from Pilgrim’s Progress to Nate earlier in the day and we were talking about some shame I have been carrying around like a child carries worthless treasures in his pocket: sticks, stones, names that really do hurt you.

“Shame tells me what men are, but it tells me nothing of what God or the Word of God is,” said Faithful. 

It seems to me we’re all carrying shame in some fashion. (Shame is different from guilt, although we often confuse the two—guilt is a true reminder of what you have done, shame is a cloudy reminder of what others or you perceive you have done—but neither are too far gone from the expansive cloak of the gospel.) Few of us will take the time to tell the difference between shame and guilt, and even fewer will raise our hands and say, “That’s me. I am stumbling under the crippling weight of shame.” It is so shameful, see, to confess shame. For the guilty it is easy to point to a specific instance in which the sin was committed, to say, indeed, I have done the thing. But shame? Shame slinks and crowds and cordons and points and laughs and we all feel like blind men groping in the pitch for something to feel guilty about because the shame is too much to bear without a certain wrongdoing to make right.

We can repent for what we did wrong, but it seems impossible to repent for the compulsory constant feeling that we’ve done something wrong. This is shame. Guilt sends you to prison. Shame keeps you out of it but makes the whole world a prison. You cannot go anywhere or see anything without a pulsing reminder that something isn’t right. This is shame.

Years ago my pastor said when the enemy comes and tells him he’s a failure, he’s wrong, he’s terrible, he’s a loser, he tells the enemy back that he is right. He is all those things, and more. This is why the gospel is such beautiful news, he said, because all the things the enemy says about him are true—even worse (lust is as adultery, hatred is as murder!), but Jesus. Sweet Jesus.

Somewhere along this year I’ve had my head down so far I could only see the strewn failures behind me, there is nothing I can do to make any of this year make sense or be made right. I feel shame about marriage, my body, my fear of violence, our loss of financial security, our home, church, all of it. There is not anything in life unscathed from shame these days. If you note something beautiful about any of it, the thing quickest to my lips and heart is how I have failed at all of it. And this won’t make sense to almost anyone, but it makes sense to the enemy and he has taken every foothold he can in the process. And you have places just like that in your life today too.

Last night, that quote from Pilgrim’s Progress, the song from Shane and Shane, my best friend reminding me that whatever accusations come my way are true, but not as true as the gospel which covers them all—these things are raising my head, slowly, surely, reminding me of truth. If this weighty shame is not telling me something about God or the Word of God, then it is not of Him, it cannot be.

This morning I read in Colossians and circle all the times the word “all” appears and it is many. The first chapter is full of them, they’re everywhere. I am reminded that there is no part of my heart or soul that is not covered completely by the gospel of Christ, whether a true failure or a percieved one, His grace is enough. It is all and enough.

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.44.59 AMI’ve been wondering, these past few weeks, when did it become a sin to be sad? We have become little band-aid applicants, carrying them with us everywhere in the form of advice, counsel, scoldings, and, for those unwilling to soil our hands, corridor whispers. We are faster than an ambulance in our rush to clean the scene, sweep away the proof, and move on to bigger and better and happier things. Does anyone think, I think to myself, how silly it is to do such a mediocre job when what is needed is surgery only God can perform?

Two verses, but mostly the same, have played on repeat for me in this year of sadness (Is it okay if I say that out loud? I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, and nothing to lose.). They are from the book of Jeremiah (that great Lamenter for whom we seem to have little use in happy, clappy modern Christianity):

From prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace. (Jer. 6:13-14 & Jer. 8:11)

It is against our nature, I think, to apply pressure to a wound, everything in us wants to be soft with another’s and softer with our own, to handle with care or kid gloves or not handle at all. But the greater temptation is to cover a wound lightly and call it healed: out of sight, out of mind.

I don’t know when exactly the gauging came, but this morning I read my husband’s text in the still dark morning and send my own back. Our prayers are staccato sorts: Help. Pray. Please. Love. Sorry. Forgive. Forgiven. Love. Love. Love. Marriage is beautiful, but sin crouches at our door waiting to pounce and we must rule over it, even with staccato prayers in still dark mornings (Gen.4:6-8). But how did we get here? How did the wound grow from small and tolerable paper cuts to tears on the way home from church and pulsing guilt for the seeming missteps of our year? We both believe in a sovereign God, don’t we? Why then would we falter for one second even, in our belief that He directs our every step—even if it feels like we’ve fallen into a ravine and there is a cliff above us and a rushing river below us—death no matter where we look.

Maybe this isn’t you. Maybe you’re one of those happy, clappy Christians who has never fallen into a ravine or had to scale a cliff or navigate roaring waters. I don’t envy you, although I suppose I should. My pastor used to say, “Suffering is coming for us all. If you haven’t experienced it yet, it’s coming for you.” And I used to believe it had come for me and I had gotten through it okay. I was wrong, and there’s probably more ahead. The truth is I don’t understand the happy, clappy Christians. I really don’t. I don’t understand those who would heal a wound lightly (though I’ve been guilty of it a time or seven), thinking it would be enough to have paid attention for a second and then washed my hands of it, having done my part smartly enough.

There are so many things this year I can’t even begin to tell you but they all mount one big awful offense: God cannot be trusted. I’m horrified to say those words at all, and especially horrified that the offense hurts me worse than it hurts Him. It also isn’t true, and I know this with every fiber of my being. But the arrows carrying their deceitful message come flying still. Who here hasn’t felt the flaming arrows of untruth come battering down on their weary souls? If you say you have not and will not, I beg you to read the accounts of Paul again and then talk to me. What I cannot figure out, though, is how stalwart he stayed through it all.

What I am saying is the same as what Hemingway once said, “This world breaks everyone,” and also “And afterward we are strong at the broken places.” But to pretend the brokenness and the broken places don’t happen or don’t hurt or need to be fixed speedily or need some form of happy, clappy Christian healing with immediacy, is to lie, not only to the wounded, but to yourself most of all.

It is no sin to be sad. I have believed that theologically for a long time and it is being tested in the crucible of truth now. Can one be sad and still trust God? Can one mourn and still know God is good? Can one weep and still know morning is coming? Can one grope blindly in the long night without one single doubt that God stands there, somewhere and certain, in the sea of darkness?

I have thought those things might be possible and now I know they are. My sadness is not a sin, but I will not call “Peace, Peace” until the heavy hand of healing is applied all the way through.

. . .

Maybe you are sad today too, maybe the dark night of the soul has lasted far longer and been far darker than you thought, or maybe you know someone for whom that dark night is their reality. Nate and I watched a film this week where the lunacy of the main character was not portrayed as such from his perspective. To him, his friends were not imaginary, they were as real as he was. We remarked, at the stunning conclusion, how it helped us to have empathy for our friends walking through forms of depression, lunacy, and irrationality in a way we might not have had before. Their pain is as real to them as our pain is to us. I do not need to feel their pain precisely to understand its reality. I pray for this for us all.

Everyone you meet today is carrying some hidden weight, and the temptation to make your own greater in comparison, or to overlook theirs for laziness or fear, will be great. I beg you today: Do not heal a wound lightly, your own or someone else’s. Do not cry, “Peace! Peace!” simply because you want their sunny disposition returned. Sit across from them and ask what hurts and don’t offer counsel or advice or bandaids, ask only for the Savior to be near, because His word says He is and He is the only One who can heal all the way through to the other side.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)

I have dreamed of doing laundry for a long time. I dreamed of a washing machine near my kitchen, the table piled high with his and hers and theirs, the backyard with a line strung through it, billowing sheets and hand-towels and discreet underthings with the sun bleaching everything to near new.

I dreamed of what that laundry meant and how it would be proof that life had settled and moved into a rhythm, not an easy one, but a known one. The poet, Richard Wilbur, says, “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry / Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam / And clear dances done in the sight of heaven,” so I cannot help myself for romanticizing it. Since I first read this poem I knew that if Love ever called me to the things of this world, this was the thing I wanted to be called to: nothing on earth but laundry, his and hers and theirs.

I think of this today and every day now because we live in a rental house where the laundry is tucked in a narrow closet in a small back room upstairs, where the doors aren’t level and never stay opened or closed, depending on what I want them to do. And where the washer, and the dryer above it, are barely large enough for a single load of hand-towels. The dryer finishes with a buzz so loud you can hear it on our back porch and front porch too. And the floors aren’t level and so for 45 minutes while the washer cleans, it also shakes our home near to falling apart. Every day I wonder, “Will this be the day it comes crashing through to the kitchen below?” This is not the laundry I imagined doing with my life.

I cried hard today on the phone with my husband. I knew I would before he called, I knew if he mentioned a certain string of words he is prone to mentioning these days in a certain order that all the things inside of me would break and be nudged out of their crevices and I would cry.

Richard Wilbur wrote also “The soul shrinks / From all that it is about to remember, / From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,” and I used to think I knew what that meant. Before the laundry of my life—and not my dreams—became reality. I imagine rows of people lining up to say in my general direction, but not to me, “I told her so.” I falter. I fall.

This is not the laundry I imagined once: the sort billowing on clotheslines in the backyards of cabins or farmhouses or small bungalows; the sort worn by people who knew a hard day’s work, but knew how to rest too; the sort where the lights and the darks never landed in the same heap in the corner of the closet, and where they always landed in baskets and not heaps in the corners of the closet to begin with.

This laundry is loud and hard and long and mixed and never ending. It is everywhere and always and all the time. It is folded and put away and then tomorrow it is in need of wash again. It never ends. It is the “punctual rape of every blessed day” and today I break with it. The washer is pounding itself into the wall again and the dog is barking downstairs and the door won’t stay open long enough for me to hold a basket and go out of it. There is work to be done for others and work to be done for myself and I am still wearing the shorts I pulled on at 5:47 this morning. I have not brushed my teeth. I have had three cups of coffee and three wide mouth Mason jars of water and the dog won’t stop whining and my husband and I are disagreeing in a frustratingly agreeable way and now the dryer is buzzing three times at me and I crumble because this is not the laundry I imagined.

I bring the basket of clean clothes into our closet and pull the necks of shirts over the cedar hangers. I catch a scent different than detergent. The scent of my husband. His dress shirts hanging above with a new rule instated by me: wear your shirts more than once because I cannot make laundry my whole life. I gather them in my hands and pull them close and inhale. The smell of work and soap and laundry and him, my love, my thing of this world.

Love does call us to the things of this world and it looks more like “clear dances done in the sight of heaven” than I thought it would. Quiet faithfulness, echoing silence, long days, little praise, the presence of God and a puppy and not much else. This was not the laundry I imagined, but it may be the laundry I needed.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
BY RICHARD WILBUR

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
“Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.”

There are eighteen attributes of God posted on the walls of the Kids Village rooms at The Village Church. Learning those attributes, committing them to memory, and pulling them out whenever I have doubted the character of God throughout the past six years has been one of the most life-changing disciplines of my life.

After I posted this photo, several people asked for the full list or a link to the posters. A few of the guys in the Comm department told me they’ll think about getting something up in the next year, but until then, I asked for permission to reprint the complete list. It was written by Anne Lincoln Holibaugh, the director of Kids Village for years and one who worked hard to create a well-oiled machine in that area. She’s brilliant. If you know her, tell her (and all the Kids Village/Little Village people) thank you today.

Here are the attributes in list form. Below, if you click on the image, there’s a high resolution image I put together that you can print out and put on your fridge or frame or wherever it would be helpful for you to visualize the bigness of God on a regular basis. I really mean it when I say committing these characteristics of God to memory has been one of the most life-changing disciplines for me. They’re easy to remember, they remind me I am not God, and they speak to nearly every lie I am tempted to believe about Him.

God is:

Wise: He knows what is best
Generous: He gives what is best
Loving: He does what is best
Good: He is what is best
Unchanging: He never changes
Creator: He made everything
Provider: He meets the needs of His children
Holy: He is completely perfect
Just: He is right to punish sin
Glorious: He shows his glory and greatness
Sovereign: He has the right, will, and power to do as He pleases
Compassionate: He sees, cares, and acts when His children are in need
Merciful: He does not give what His children deserve
Attentive: He hears and responds to His children
Worthy: He deserves all glory
Deliverer: He saves His children from wrath
Refuge: He provides places of safety for His children
Almighty: Nothing is too hard for God

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 12.37.39 PM

I’ve been lost for almost a year.

It has its perks, of course. I never would have known, for instance, the left turn I thought would take me in the general direction of home, would actually take me past a local gardening center I hadn’t found yet. Or the right turn I thought would head me toward the Super Target would actually end me up on a dead-end street. You win some, you lose some. Or get lost some.

They say moving is one of the most stressful things your body can do and they probably say moving cross-country twice in one year is like throwing yourself into a spin cycle and then tumble dry on high. “How do people do this well?” I ask myself almost daily. I have to look on the bright side, otherwise every wrong turn ends me up in tears.

Isaiah 30:19
For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.

I wander the aisles of the Super Target for an hour this morning. I have no agenda, no list, and no aim. “This is what lonely people do,” I think. “Crazy people.” “But I am not one of those people,” I say to myself, pay for my purchase, and leave. Then I get lost on 242 or 262 or 252 or one of those numbered roads around here.

Manassas is shaped like an oblong diamond tilted to the left, which is beautiful I suppose in its own right, but sure makes a fool out of anyone who has a good sense of direction, like me. Denver was sensible: numbered streets running east west, alphabetical streets running north south. Early settlers must have started life on the east coast and decided that kind of chaos wasn’t their style. A hundred years later and I was more than grateful for their future thinking.

Early settlers of Manassas had no such intention.

I’ve been lost for a year and I’ve also felt lost for a year. I wake every morning wondering if this will be the one, the one I finally feel like myself, feel awake, energized, purposeful, and curious. I did not waste my life before this year and now I wander the aisle of Super Target unseeing and bland.

There are details underneath this surface page we haven’t told you and won’t, and I’m sure some of you wonder what in the world my problem is and I honestly wonder too. It’s been a painful year, or in the vernacular, as one of our friends in Denver told us this week: “This year sucked.” It did, we laughed and then sobered: it did.

I could cry for all the sucking this year has been. Sucking us of life and joy and hope and roots. It wasn’t just us, it was all of the things put together, stirred, beaten, and battered, baked on high until the smoke alarm went off.

Isaiah 30:20
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.

A friend told me today it’s okay to wear t-shirts and yoga pants all day these days. I feel guilty sometimes, like life isn’t worth showing up for. But she reminds me comfort isn’t always a sin.

Nate tells me maybe this is just a stopping point for us, we will plant ourselves here for four or five years, help this church plant in the area, see what God does. He is as full of faith and faithfulness as I am full of doubt and doubtfulness. I wonder if it’s okay to not be okay while still knowing someday things will be okay.

Isaiah 30:21
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

I pass a mom in Super Target today trying to calm her newborn who screams. She’s fretting and embarrassed, and I put a hand on her shoulder and say, “You’re doing a good job and it’s going to be okay.” Her eyes fill with tears and mine do too. We both know it’s true and it’s still the hardest thing in the world to believe.

All of us feel lost sometimes.

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For the last five springtimes I have lived in a place where it actually did spring into spring. One day it was cold and brown and the next there was green everywhere, leaves growing full-size seemingly overnight. It went from a chilly 45 to a blistering 85 within days and spring had sprung. Texas has her charms, four full seasons are not one. Colorado is her bipolar cousin—albeit less blistering and rarely actually cold, her season changes are like light mirages from the hand of God: now you see it, now you don’t.

It wasn’t the plan to be living back on the east coast so soon. We still feel so whiplashed and exhausted we lose track of things, times, and memories. I lost a whole day two weeks ago. I saw some charges in our bank account and could not remember ever being at either of those two places. Nate coached me into remembrance, but the memories are still slight, barely there. We are at this point of mental exhaustion. I want this season to be over. I want it to be like a Texas winter: frigid and short. Or a Colorado snowstorm: six inches in the morning and gone by mid afternoon.

I have been keeping an eye on all the bushes, shrubs, and trees around our home here. We moved in less than two weeks ago and they are all coming to life these days. I don’t recognize a lot of them so it’s a grand mystery for some of them. What color? What shape? When? It’s as spring should be I think. Brown and stark for so long you’ve forgotten how beautiful it can all be—and how slowly it all comes back to life.

Last night we talked on the phone to a spiritual father of ours. He married us, counsels us, and loves us so deep and well I can’t imagine ever losing him (or her). Thousands of miles between us makes conversation less often, but more sweet in some ways. It seems every time we’ve talked in the past six or seven months he spends most of the time reminding us of what we know theologically and have forgotten spiritually.

He tells us sometimes hard things happen because the world is broken and full of sin—and not because we’re being punished for what we did or didn’t do. He reminds us this is a season—and we are not promised a better one on earth, but we can be assured God is on His throne and knows intimately the length of all seasons. He reminds us to be grateful—for all the swirling difficultly around us, our marriage is solid rock and easy, and that is rare. He papas us. That’s the only way I know to describe it. He reminds me of who God is by reminding me what God looks and acts like. It’s felt brown and stark for so long, I’ve forgotten how good God is.

My writing desk is beside a window in our new house and every day the outside changes in small, incremental ways. So small you wouldn’t notice unless you were paying attention.

A northeast spring is slow and takes three whole months, the way a season should be. The promise of summer is coming and the reality of autumn is certain to follow, ebbing into winter, and then, again, spring.

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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

Marrieds love to tell singles going through transitions and hard times, “At least you’re not tied down! At least you’re free to be flexible! At least you can make your own schedule, etc.” Singles love to tell marrieds going through transitions and hard times, “At least you have each other! At least you’re married! At least you don’t have to do it alone!” The truth is that painful circumstances in our own lives can bring offensive, short-sighted, and dismissive platitudes to real struggles in the lives of other people.

Freedoms that exist within singleness come with a cost and the partnership that comes within marriage can mean a similar cost.

In singleness, the freedom of scheduling means more time spent walking through dark and difficult things with many different people. It can feel incredibly isolating to walk through hard things in other people’s lives and then come home alone to a lonely home and an empty bed. That freedom you envy in your single friend’s life comes with a cost.

In marriage, the partnership of a spouse means you can’t go home at the end of the coffee date, you can’t schedule your life in compartments of ministry time and personal time. It’s all ministry time, making dinner, raising children, making money, even having sex, it’s all ministry—and sometimes it’s incredibly difficult ministry. That partnership you envy in your married friend’s life comes with a cost.

In singleness, the freedom of flexibility means sometimes there is a very strong lack of stability. There isn’t a family needing to be provided for, so it can feel like your job is expendable to your employers, it can feel like you’re the only one paying all the bills, and it can feel like life is just one lease to another. The situation in your marriage might be the same, but “Until death us do part” gives one form of stability many singles desire and do not have. That flexibility you envy in your single friend’s life can mean an isolating instability for them.

In marriage, the partnership of fidelity also means there is a strong temptation to hope in that stability instead of in God. There’s a constant wrestle within marriage to console yourself with the belief that “at least we have one another,” when in truth that is a ploy from the enemy. We have God. The same as when we were single. The gift of a spouse can become a gift we begin to worship, to find comfort in, and trust in, instead of the Giver. God alone is faithful. That partnership you envy in your married friend’s life can mean a constant and strong temptation toward idolatry.

Marriage and singleness are both sanctifying, neither one is more or less. If you ask me where I was more sanctified, marriage or singleness, I would tell you the sanctification doesn’t even compare because it is precisely and exactly the same.

In singleness I struggled with idolatry, selfishness, fear, pride, self-sufficiency, and so much more. In marriage I struggle with all of them still, not more, not less, the same. God, in His goodness, shows me that He is the same whether I am single or married by showing me that I am the same too. The only difference in these sanctifying agents is that for 34 years singleness was the best way to prove, distill, and refine me, and now marriage is God’s best way to prove, distill, and refine me.

Friends when we are tempted to start a sentence to anyone walking through a different and hard season with the words “At least…” remember the God we serve only and ever gives the best in every season. He is not doing the least of anything in your life.

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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.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children,” but we don’t much like that do we?

It’s been a weekend where I’ve been laying low for multiple reasons, the principle of which is I miscarried again and the secondary of which is I slipped on black ice and have a swollen scraped knee to prove it. I was meant to be at my brother from another mother’s wedding this weekend in New York, but canceled my flight at the last moment because the church family here had a week for the books. It’s really been seven months for the books—my books at least—but this was the culmination of it, and when your job is to shepherd, you don’t abdicate when the storms howl around the flock.

Nate still can’t find full-time work.

I came home from the member meeting at church yesterday and fell into bed and cried the sort of tears we reserve for death of a loved one or agony of the deepest kind. The sort where you hyperventilate and your husband can’t fix anything so he just lies beside you and rubs small circles into your back. I mostly cried but said words too, words I probably didn’t mean and some words I probably did.

Half our friends say the first year of marriage is the hardest, but we think marriage is a breeze, it’s all the other things that are the hardest.

He read the Chesterton quote aloud to me a few weeks ago and we’ve come around and around to it, in these horrible ordinary days. Both of us have believed the lie that if you work hard things will go well for you, if you honor those around you, you will be honored, if you pursue your passions, you will do your passions. We are unafraid of hard work, honoring those ahead of us, and the pursuit of passions. But what we have found is vanity of vanities, it’s all vanities. These things themselves are not useless pastimes, but they certainly aren’t the guarantee of extraordinary lives. My pastor in Texas said once, “You can’t put God in your debt,” and also we can’t put life in our debt either.

Circumstances are not what we planned, nothing about this year has been what we hoped for or thought we’d gain. Here we have been small and faithful people with secreted hopes for greatness. But that is not the Kingdom is it? The backwards upside down kingdom.

Tonight we lit candles and ate pizza from a box, and joked about how this might be our last meal and when we should put the house on the market. I have emailed a realtor on the east coast and Nate has put in months of 60 hour weeks applying and interviewing. There is nothing glamorous in these ordinary days. They are beautiful because they are life, but they are painful, disastrous even, and not at all what we thought they would be.

Earlier this year in the three month whirlwind, where everything good was happening and as quickly as it possibly could, I remember saying to the Lord, “It is so good to feel your love so tangibly these days, but I hope I remember it when everything good isn’t happening.” I think a lot about Job these days. I have walked through many painful months and years before, but never saw myself as kin to him, but now I do. The difference is I trust God in these pains, and though he slay me, still I will trust him. And it makes all the difference.

For the ordinary people in the painful ordinary days, trusting Him—and not our plan—is the extraordinary difference.

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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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