Archives For faith

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I am not so afraid of death as I am of dying, the long slow fall into oblivion. And it is not attached so much to plane crashes and car accidents as it is to the slow death of the everyday. The “punctual rape” Richard Wilbur calls it and it is vulgar, yes, but true of sorts. Every day a little more is shaved off my life and I grow a little closer to the final sleep—and eternal wake. It is the every day dying I do to myself that pains me so much. This is the real dying I fear.

I wake this morning crippled by fears: what ifs and whens, hows and whos. The conversations I must have and the questions I must ask and the corrections to be ministered and the challenges I must accept and the prayers I must pray and the asks I must petition. These seem insurmountable when I list them out in the still dark hours. How, God? and Why Me? —these are the questions I ask.

The thing about death and dying is you can’t stop it. He who numbers and knows our days held the date in his hand before the foundation of the earth. The thing about death and dying to self, though, is it seems like you can stop it. Don’t have the conversation. Don’t submit yourself to correction. Don’t give up what you want. Don’t let go of this grudge or that fear or this offense or that dream. Hoard it all in the belief that you can have it all and take it with you when you breathe your last.

It’s an illusion, see. The belief that we can keep our lives and also we can keep all that is life, or what seems like life. Christ came to give life abundant, but the greatest lie we believe is He won’t and so we must get it ourselves.

I believe it sometimes. Do you?

I fear flying and car crashes, death and dying, yes, but right now I fear conversations and submission and saying, “Not my will, but thine,” far more. The irksome presence of people and demands and desires pressing on me more than I want them to or think I deserve them to.

My pastor recounted a story to me recently about pastoring people and the expectation that sometime they’d finally get it together and his job would be easier. But that’s not the job of a pastor, he said, the job of a pastor is to shepherd sheep and it never ends.

I think this is the role of the person too, at least the Christian person. To shepherd sheep. Dying, bleating, complaining, fussy sheep, who smell and press in and run away and push back—and to wake every morning ready to do it again. To come and die, to lose our lives that we might find them in the face of the great shepherd who leads us—yes us, yes you—beside still waters and restores your soul in paths of righteousness.

And all this for His name’s sake. For His glory. For His renown.

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At the risk of sounding like I’m not looking forward to transplanting to beautiful Denver at the beginning of June and starting a job I can’t wait to do, I have formulated a canned response to: “Are you so excited!?” I am so excited and I am also so, so sad.

The Lord does give and does take away, but he doesn’t always do it in that order. Sometimes he takes away and then he gives, and oh how he has given in the past season.

He has given so well and so plentifully that I cannot help but mourn what I will lose by stepping into other good things. As I navigated making this decision, walking through it with several pastors, elders, and friends from my church, it seemed the more Denver was looking like a probability, the more I longed for what I had already here. The morning I got on the plane to Colorado with one of my best friends for a scouting trip, I was certain I would leave my time there deciding to stay in Texas.

But when we got on the plane after our trip, it was clear to both of us: Denver would become my home sometime soon.

It felt like both a generous gift and a strange gift. The timing felt (and still feels) awkward and uncomfortable. The community of people I have around me currently is the richest I’ve experienced yet at my church; the home in which I live is not without its struggles, but I love it deeply; a man who captures more of my affections every day in every way snuck quietly and surprisingly into my life; nothing about this timing makes it feel good to exit this place.

And yet there is more surety in me about what the Holy Spirit is doing and where he is taking me than I can remember.

. . .

This is just a testimony of sorts, it’s not a formula. I’m not saying, “Let go and let God,” or “Stop trying to control life and everything you ever desired will happen for you.” Those are unhelpful statements at best and terrible theology at worst. What I am saying, though, is I came into 2015 with my palms up and a blank slate. I thought I made a wreck of some things in the previous year, but God knew those things weren’t wreckage, they were seeds, and their time hadn’t yet come.

James 5:7-8 says, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

I thought I was wasting away last year. Dormant. Standing there, waiting, and for what? I didn’t even know what I was waiting for. But just as I prepare my heart in this day, surrounded by rich bounty, God has been preparing my heart for the past two years, in a fallow field I thought was wasting away. The ground produces best when it is allowed to rest, to sit unused, empty, tilled, waiting for the right time.

Is now the right time? I don’t know. I can’t possibly know, and I have learned that all the certainty in the world doesn’t mean we always get what we want. But I have also learned to trust that barrenness doesn’t mean uselessness.

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Barnabas Piper is releasing Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is not the Enemy of Faith in July and reached out to a few of us who have wrestled in ongoing battles with faith and doubt. Of all the struggles in my life, this is the most pressing and the most fruit-filled. I have found joy and an increase of faith the more I confess and wrestle with my doubt. Barnabas asked five questions about faith and doubt and you can read them here.

“I believe; help my unbelief” is my favorite phrase in scripture. It captures so much of what it means and takes to be a follower of Christ, encapsulating struggle, faith, doubt, obedience, wandering, and repentance. It is deeply theological and personal. For these reasons and more I wrote a book called Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy of Faith (releases July 1) which explores what real belief is and its relationship with doubt in the life of a believer. The challenges of that tension are not unique to me; They’re nearly universal among Christians no matter position, maturity, or church tradition. In the weeks leading up to the release I will share the the thoughts and experiences of several friends of mine – authors, church leaders, writers, thinkers – who honestly answered five questions about faith and doubt.
—Barnabas Piper

 1) What does “I believe; help my unbelief” mean to you?

That God is never surprised by my weakness is a great comfort to me. My pastor says, “God doesn’t drive an ambulance,” which means God isn’t rushing around crazily trying to manage my life. The comfort of that reality allows me to walk in tensions of all kinds, but especially (for me), the tension of “I believe. Help my unbelief.” Belief has never come easily to me, especially belief in God. It’s not that I don’t believe He exists (though there have been extended periods of time of believing that) or believe He’s good, it’s that I don’t believe He means good to me. This is what the father of the demoniac was saying in Mark 9 when he said to Jesus, “If you can!” The entire gamut of doubt exists in that little word: if. It is not a question of yes or no, belief or unbelief, it is a question of whether God can and will. It ultimately has nothing to do with my ability to believe anything, and everything to do with God’s ability to do anything. That’s the tension of “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And it’s the tension that every believer, no matter how strong or weak, must walk in. Blind belief and stubborn doubt don’t serve us—or God. He wants our restless hearts to find our rest in Him. Keep reading.

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“My faith, he said, is the same faith which is found in every believer. Try it for yourself and you will see the help of God, if you trust in Him.”

So ends the book George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer.

This past week my pastor taught on active faith expressed in works. I don’t know that I would have had ears to hear his words quite so well had I not been soaking in the richness of George Muller’s biography for the past few weeks. Multiple times while reading a physical sob rose in my throat and tears filled my eyes. It was not wonder at the faith of Muller (though that was there), but wonder at the God in whom he trusted and the gift of faith on which he acted.

Many nights I would dog-ear my page, close the book, set it beside me, and lay my head on my pillow begging God for a shred of his faith. Just one bit of it, I asked. But why? Why only one bit? Why not be a detective for faith? Sniffing it out, finding it, and taking it captive, looking for it?

Muller said after receiving a gift of one thousand pounds, “I was as calm and quiet as if I had only received one shilling. For my heart was looking out for answers to my prayers.”

My heart was looking for answers to my prayers.

God, I’m praying, make me a looker and a finder. Make me a seer, a hunter, and gatherer of answers to my prayers. Let me not need to pick up every rock or look under every stone—make the answers to my prayers every small thing: breathing, seeing, trusting, believing, knowing.

. . .

I sat across from two friends today, on their back porch. As I shared the burdens and beauties of my heart, the careful complexities of life, they reminded me of where I was a year ago and how they shouldered different burdens with me then. For a moment I was acutely aware of the porch on which we sat, the sound of birds in the trees behind us, the stream trickling quietly below us, the blue sky above us, the water in my water glass, the friends across from me: it was as if every sense of mine was awakened in a split second and I could see.

I read in Chronicles last night, “He did it with all his heart and he prospered,” and I weep because it was right after reading George Muller’s response to man who asked if he had a reserve fund:

“That would be the greatest folly. How could I pray if I had reserves? God would say, “Bring them out; bring out those reserves, George Muller.” Oh no, I have never thought of such a thing! Our reserve fund is in Heaven. God the living God is our sufficiency. I have trusted Him for one sovereign; I have trusted him for thousands, and I have never trusted in vain. Blessed is the man who trusts in him.”

And I think of Jeremiah’s words about the man who trusts in man, who makes flesh his strength: he will not see prosperity when it comes.

God, make me a seer. Make me a looker. My reserve is in Heaven and not just my financial reserve, but my reserve of faith. Every measure of faith I do not have today, you have stored up for me, buckets and piles and mountains of it, ready to give it to those who ask in faith without doubt with all their hearts.

Make me a looker, a seer, and one who weeps for joy at the thousands of answers to prayer you give in every moment of life.

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The quietest voice in my life this time last year was God’s. He was saying, “I have more for you in your singleness,” but I didn’t trust Him. There were louder voices, more immediate voices, more pressing ones—even my own voice, certain that if I did not get married on March 16, I would lose my chance for marriage forever.

See how nagging the voice of doubt?

The belief that God won’t come through. That He will leave me without the thing I want. That He will give me less than what I desire. That He hasn’t heard my specific prayers and requests. That He doesn’t care about my proclivities and inclinations and desires. That everything I love and desire is simply an idol, with nothing good in it. The belief that He has gotten it wrong.

Tim Keller said, “Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.”

This is the creeping doubt that festered in my mind most of 2014. The voices around me seemed louder and more persistent than God’s voice and I felt myself sinking under their demands to be heard. I was the wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind, unstable in all my ways (James 1:6).

But the small voice persisted: I have more for you in this.

I feared that His “more for me” would be a life of begrudging singleness, alone, fearful, unloved, unseen. I feared His “more for me” would mean pretending to enjoy something that wasn’t enjoyable, and felt eternal and long. I feared He would call me to a life of celibacy and I wouldn’t be able to say with the Apostle Paul that it was better.

. . .

It has been a strange seeing that has happened this year. Singleness ceased becoming the lens through which I viewed life, and it became the thing that I have found myself most grateful for this past year. I fear even saying that because it may sound like I have resigned myself to a life I still would not choose for myself. But the truth is I have seen the great gift—and goodness—of my singlehood.

I may have said before that marriage was an equal blessing to singleness, but I struggled to believe that in my heart of hearts. How could having less ever be equal to having more?

. . .

This morning I was sorting through emails—requests for writing, speaking, interviews, job offers—and one persistent theme in them all is that I am a woman and I am single. I have never thought my womanhood not a gift, why would I think my singleness not a gift? Just as God in His sovereignty made me a woman, He made me single today. The same attention and care that went into knitting me together in my mother’s womb, with brown hair and blue eyes, this mind, this heart, all five foot one inch of me that I would someday become, He put that same attention and care into making me who I am today, February 19th, 2015, unmarried.

If that is true, that He is just as attentive to my womanhood as He is to my singlehood, then I have to see it as a gift. One unique thing I bring to my local church is my womanhood—and all the proclivities and oddities that make me me, but I also bring to my church my singlehood.

Yesterday I had a meeting with one of my lead pastors to talk about how we can do better in caring for women at our church and as the meeting was coming to an end, he asked a question about singles and if any of our blind spots in regard to women might be related to our blind spots in regard to singles. I left that meeting thinking, “What a blessing to be able to be a woman and a single today!”

. . .

Whatever it is you’re afraid of today, whatever you’re holding on to, despite God saying, “I have more for you in your lack than in your envisioned plenty,” consider letting it slip through your grasp. Sometimes less is more. God’s equations and equality cannot compare to ours—think of Christ, who of all men deserved to be exalted and yet did not count equality as something to be grasped, but became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6).

Singleness is not a cross to bear. The final cross has already been born and because of it, we have been set free to count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Him (Phil 4:8). Whatever He is asking you to trust him with—job loss, singleness, barrenness, moving, your life—count it as loss, one tear, one painful pull, one crashing moment of grief at a time.

Knowing Him surpasses it all.

A few nights ago, after spending Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room and then a series of unfortunate events following, I found myself in the pharmacy at midnight. I turned to the man sitting next to me on grimy chairs, both of us bleary-eyed and said, “Merry Christmas.” He grunted in response and I wanted to cry.

I’ve been hesitant to ask many people how their Christmas was, not because I didn’t want to know, but because I didn’t want them to ask back. Mine was memorable, but not in the ways we like Christmas to be memorable.

. . .

There’s a woman whose story I’ve been following a bit over the past few months. Her husband sent me an email months ago asking if I wanted to review her book. Requests like these are many, but his email was different, and I paid attention. Since then I’ve followed her writing and journey with sorrow and joy. Her name is Kara Tippetts and she has cancer. It has ravaged her body so completely there is nothing left to do but call hospice, which her husband did today.

I read her recent post with tears streaming down my face because what a light and momentary affliction my Christmas week was. Even with another roommate in the Emergency Room this morning and with the weight of life falling heavy on another and the business of living on another—what light affliction. What a momentary suffering. This mama is curled next to her babies and they are watching her slip into the longest sleep. This mama has to hand their futures and living over to her pastor-husband and to the Lord in a way most mothers never will, and couldn’t imagine. And yet how gloriously she suffers.

She suffers knowing it is light—even though it is the heaviest thing she will ever bear. She suffers knowing it is momentary—even though she longs to stay here as long as possible, to simply give them one more memory of her smile and her love. She suffers knowing there is a weight of glory beyond all comparison.

I cannot wrap my mind around that—and I am not meant to, not fully. I don’t think any of us can, not really. Not until we are facing sure and certain death on earth, until its cold grip is nearly complete and our soul slips into the warm presence of Christ. But I want to understand it. I’m begging God to help me understand it tonight.

The only way I know to understand, though, is not to set my eyes on my suffering, but to, like Paul said, not look at the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. I cannot see redemption in this life, no matter how hard I wish for it or look for it. Even my dreams pale in comparison to the glory I know he has prepared for me, so why would I set my hopes on them?

The transient things are seen—and this life, oh this turbulent, tumultuous, tenuous life is so visible, so seen. I see it in every direction of my life and the lives of the people I love. But there is a stayedness in the living dying of Kara Tippets and I am jealous for it. I do not envy her cancer, but I envy the way she has let the cancer eat away at bitterness or fear instead of feeding it.

I let the cancer of fear and insecurity and doubt feed more fears and insecurities and doubt. I stare at my light afflictions, daring them to prove themselves lighter. I trudge through my momentary afflictions, making it a slower and more weighty journey. How much better to set my eyes on the one to whom I run, to run with endurance, and to find myself arrived still astounded at the glory I behold? To spend my life imagining the glory and still find myself surprised at its splendor?

Let that hope of glory be the mark of our suffering, friends.

Pray for the Tippetts family. God, pray for them.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
II Corinthians 4:17-18

(Kara’s blog is currently down, but when it’s back up, here’s the link.)

Kara Tippetts

In the morning, when the sky is still blushed pink and the babes have just scattered to their lives, I sit in the corner chair and read, drink my coffee slowly and breathe. All of this month it has been the book of Isaiah and I can’t stop the tears when they come. The promise is overwhelming and I wonder what it was like to be the people who dwelt in darkness, deep darkness, waiting for their light to come.

You and I know what it is to long for, to wait, but I wonder whether we have ever felt the heaviness, the belly of anticipation, like Jonah who could not know whether he would be there for three days or three years.

I am gauging out a timeline for something and I can only promise one year, maybe two, but the truth is, I can’t see further ahead than one day, maybe two. Was this how Jonah felt while stomach acids corroded his hope? Making plans and feeling eaten away at all at the same time?

He must increase, I must decrease.

I wonder sometimes whether we who understand the decrease, also understand that God is not against blessing us with every good thing under heaven?

Did his people understand this when Isaiah spoke? This is not it, he says over and over, there is more to come. I would have grumbled and shown him the timeline of my life, of my father’s life, and of his father’s. “What is the more?” I would have asked, and I do, every day.

. . .

Two weeks ago I stand by the synagogue where Jesus read from Isaiah, rolled the scroll, and said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your presence.” I think to myself, “I did not live in that today, but I live in this today and it has still been fulfilled in my presence.”

This Advent I am full of today. The punctual rising and intermittent falling, the motions and the movements. Today is what I have right now, I cannot hold tomorrow, I can barely see into tomorrow, and I cannot gather enough of anything to sustain tomorrow. I have this. Today he has fulfilled his word in my presence—and that miracle itself is enough and does sustain and will fill.

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So much of faith, for me, has been finding it again. Some have been given the gift of simple faith, easy, a natural bow into belief. That is not my story, nor my portion. All my faith has been wrestled for, won, lost, contended for, gained, slipped away, and shattered—again and again. Whenever I think I have found it, I find (most times) what I’ve found is myself and sometimes I am the greatest enemy of my faith.

I am not a fitful sleeper—sleep comes quickly to me and stays deep until morning most nights. But I slept fitfully last night, waking every hour. I was hot. I was cold. I was tense. I was afraid. I was contending.

Perfectionism is my vice and faith is its greatest gain. I set my sights on lesser things, sure, perfect thoughts, perfect writing, perfect design, perfect diet, perfect words, perfect image, perfect clothes, perfect home, perfect friendships. These elusive gains, for me, shadow the ever escaping faith I so desperately desire.

I ache for simple faith. I long for it. In the middle of the night I groan for it. I beg for it, pleading that he would so captivate my mind and heart, that I would be so fat on the feast He has provided in himself, that faith would slip into my heart and hands and stay for life.

But he has almost always withheld the gift of perfect faith.

. . .

For the past few weeks—at church, at small group, at our kitchen table—Hebrews 12:1-2 has been in our mouths.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It is nearly 4am and I have been lying there, in my twisted comforter and sheets for an hour, wrestling with the current capture of my mind. II Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ—but what about when the thoughts feel so enemy, you’re sure Christ won’t want them in his fold?

I stop on that thought: the idea that Christ wouldn’t want my rags, that his righteousness wouldn’t cover my wrestlings, that his goodness wouldn’t provide for my sin—and I remember “Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.”

Even my faith is not mine to perfect?

Everything in my life feels out of my ability to control, and faith is too?

. . .

Someone called me brave the other morning and I responded I have nothing to lose, but the truth is, I am brave because I am afraid of losing faith. The only way I know to keep it is to contend for it. But if Christ is the perfecter of my faith, then it is his to keep and hold—and contend for on my behalf.

I fall asleep in this truth: my faith belongs to Him, to grant to me in his time, his way, through his purposes, and for his goodness. It is his to perfect, not mine. And it is his to perfect in me—not mine to be wrestled for and won. The command for me in Hebrews 12 is to run with endurance. Faithfully asking for faith, obediently walking in obedience, gracious receiving grace. All his, perfecting in me the gift of faith.

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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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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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.

When the sands beneath my feet shift and I fumble for nonexistent footing, when in every direction there is another soul to disappoint, another person to fail, another fear to face, this is when I need the unchangeableness of God.

I am no stranger to failure and no one sets the bar higher for me than I. My name means victor, or crowned with laurel, but I know the wreath will never set on my head. I’ve kicked it out of the way, refused to beat my body and bring it to submission, to run the race with endurance. I am a loser because I lost before I began.

This is my great sin. I give up. Give over. Give in.

I read in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction a few days ago,

The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us.

And in Somewhere More Holy this,

It’s a subtle poison that seeped into her skin, as it does many children. It’s acidic, etching into your mind: these good things are not yours to have. If anyone tells you what a fine job you’ve done, think instead on your failings. When someone gets angry at you, instinctively assume he is right to do so. If someone offers you love, remember that he doesn’t really know you. Maybe that’s what keeps so many of us running from God–His awful claim to know us, as he peers out from beneath his blood-stained brow, whisper with thirst-swollen tongue that he loves us even now, even as He hangs on his man-fashioned cross. We run away shaking our heads and bitterly chuckling, thinking nobody in his right mind can look into the black hearts we secretly carry in our chests and still love us that way, that we can be lovable only so long as nobody really knows us.

My pastor says it this way:

The enemy is telling you the truth about your sin, but you tell him the truth about your God.

Tonight I read in the book of Hebrews, a truth not about me—because all the things I believe about me fail me time and time again. Tonight I read of his unchangeableness:

In the same way God,
desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise
the unchangeableness of His purpose,
interposed with an oath,
so that by two unchangeable things
in which it is impossible for God to lie,
we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement
to take hold of the hope set before us.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul,
a hope both sure and steadfast
and one which enters within the veil,
where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.
Hebrews 6:17-20

This is a race I gladly lose, a forerunner I gladly fall behind, and an anchor amidst the shifting sand.

A friend and I have been talking about the little moments, the decisions we make with each movement, namely that necessary organ we generally consider the seat of our emotions: the heart. He quoted Paul Tripp the other day: “The character of your life won’t be established in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments,” and I couldn’t help but think of the 9,999 little moments in my life and day that seem to careen me completely opposite from where I want to go.

I read a quote from William Blake last night, “If you would do good, you must do it in Minute Particulars.” I’ve already quoted it here so forgive me the vain repetition; but perhaps it will not be so vain after all.

Ruth is the heroine I fancy not for marriage advice (who wants to encourage girls to lay at the bed of their desires?) nor for life advice (who of us would be content with the leftovers from anything?), but for these words: “Where you go, I’ll go.”

It is the minute particulars, the 10,000 little moments, the one foot in front of another, the going that makes the difference in our lives. I have been learning, or letting God do the difficult work in me, of the little things, the small life, the life that may make no noticeable difference whatsoever. The life that may only be a hand on top of a roommate’s head, to let her know I am here and I love her, the life that may make the same two eggs and pile of spinach every morning, the life that wouldn’t be missed if it was gone because it pointed to the One who never leaves. The small life.

The small life is made of counting those moments, going where He goes, and this is the life to which I am not predisposed. I feel lost in details, confused, self-shaming and God-doubting. Give me the mountain top and let me run free of cares and commitments and I will shine. But in the valley there are rivers to navigate and trees to see around and torrential rains and hills blocking my view of the light. In the valley the small details matter because there is no way up but around them.

Richard Wilbur used the words, “The punctual rape of every blessed day,” and it catches me every time. Such vulgarity to describe such meniality. But isn’t that what it is? A thousand times a day we feel the scraping of world against flesh and flesh against spirit. We know what it is to be taken advantage of and shamed in every direction. How then do we live? How do we see past the minute particulars?

We, like Ruth, say,” Where you go, I’ll go,” and then we do it. One foot in front of another, one painful lift of atrophied muscles after another, one stalwart look after another, 10,000 times until we have arrived on eternity’s shores and look into the blessed face of our Kinsman Redeemer.

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