Archives For faith

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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.”
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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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Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the rock of ages,” and I have written about it before. It still stands that I’d rather kiss the wave after it’s battered and thrown me against the Rock instead of while it is battering and throwing me. I am human and therefore value self-preservation.

Honeymoon stage is a phrase I wish didn’t enter the Christian’s vocabulary. If marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and the Church and we are to worship at His throne forever in joy, why would we think earthly marriage should be different? I know just saying that has some of you shaking your heads, “Just you wait, Lore, it’s coming for you.” To that I want to say this: our honeymoon was one week and two days long, we spent it in Aspen, eating delicious food and having lots of sex. It was everything a honeymoon should be.

And then we came down out of the mountains to a new city, bought a house, started a job, lived in a basement apartment for a month, tried to make a new and different church feel like home, and we still don’t know who our people here are. Honeymoon was vacation, this is real life.

In the still dark hours of the morning a few weeks ago I made breakfast, sat down to drink my coffee, and read my bible while the man ran and then showered. He joined me when my coffee was drunk and we had a hard discussion on the realities of life: we need a new roof ($15,000) and his car needs $4000 dollars worth of work. That’s nearly $20,000 out of our honeymoon stage budget.

I got to work and he texted a few minutes later to call him. His contract won’t be renewed for his remote job. He understands and is full of faith, and has a skill set that’s useful and employable anywhere, but the kick in the gut still hurts. This wasn’t part of the honeymoon. He’s been looking now for a month and jobs are harder to come by than we thought.

In September I miscarried. For fifteen days I bled and cried and couldn’t answer the question: why? and what? This foreign emotion of being tied to something inextricably and forever felt alien. I am still learning what it means to live “until death us do part,” but that is a two way commitment and this felt painfully one way.

I say all this because I feel the waves and they’re battering and pressing and bruising, but I wake up every single day confident of the goodness of God in the land of the living. I wake up confident that living means really living, really seeing God’s goodness, not lowering my eyes to the sinking depths of life, but raising them to the One from whom my help comes.

Buechner said, “This is the world: beautiful and terrible things will happen,” and I have thought of it often in recent months. Sometimes Colorado is so achingly beautiful and so achingly hard at the same time. And sometimes marriage is. And sometimes church is. And most of the time life is.

I think often on Psalm 73: the nearness of God is my good, and I ask often that I would not just know his nearness, but I would feel it too.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today, what waves are throwing you against the Rock of Ages or what beautiful and terrible things are happening, but I know this: He is good and He is near, especially to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. His love for you is not a honeymoon love, fervent in the beginning and waning when real life hits. His love for you is everlasting and always good.

In the mountains and in the valleys. In still seas and stormy ones. He remains.

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This past spring my pastor said to me, “The sheep never stop needing a shepherd.” In context he was saying, “I kept waiting for a time when the sheep wouldn’t need me so badly, for a time when they’d grow up and mature, but the truth is as long as God has me here, I’m their shepherd and am called to them.”

This morning we read Psalm 23 and John 10 and last night in a meeting we talked about what faithful and good shepherding looks like and how we fail at it so often. A good sermon does not a good shepherd make. A good spreadsheet does not a good shepherd make. And a good event planner does not a good shepherd make.

To know what makes a good shepherd, we look to the Good Shepherd, Christ.

A good shepherd leaves the flock to find the one (John 10:16)
Good shepherding means at times the majority of the flock may feel left alone, but if they know their shepherd, they trust he will return. They know the business of their shepherd, which is to care for each sheep—even the wayward ones. The good shepherd always returns and teaches his flock to rejoice at the homecoming of the lost.

A good shepherd uses his rod and staff (Ps 23:3)
Good shepherding means faithful disciplining, but it also means knowing discipline is ultimately a comfort. The ultimate aim of discipline is not alienation, but cultivation for the sake of health. The good shepherd corrals his sheep toward the flock because it is the safest place for them.

A good shepherd lays down his life (John 10:11)
A good shepherd does not count his life as something to be grasped or held or protected. He does not protect his personality, his comforts, his time, or his energy. He lays himself across the threshold of the gate and lays down his life.

A good shepherd knows his Father and his Father knows him (John 10:14)
A good shepherd is like Enoch, walking with God. His food is to do the will of the Father. He knows the father more than he knows good theologians or good literature. He is known by the Father, laying bare his life and heart before the one who shepherds the shepherd.

A good shepherd has authority (John 10:18)
A good shepherd does not demand authority or grasp for it. He simply has it because it has been given to him. He does not cajole or fear when authority seems far from him, he knows who his Father is and the task he has been given.

A good shepherd knows where the still waters and green pastures are and leads his sheep there (Ps 23:1)
A good shepherd has adventured out to faraway lands to seek out still waters and green pastures. He has looked under rocks, in dark places, climbed hills, and been sunk in valleys. He seeks and find the stillest waters and greenest pastures for the good of his flock. He does not lead his sheep to mediocre places.

I look through this list and see the myriad of ways I fail at shepherding anyone, even my own heart, and I remember Isaiah’s words in chapter 30:

In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.

If you feel less like a shepherd and more like a lost sheep these days, leading other sheep in wandering ways, return. Rest. Quiet. Trust. Christ is the Good Shepherd and in His goodness He is leading you to good places.

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I wake this morning in the still dark hours and breathe deeply, in and out. Deep breaths are a luxury I have found in cities stationed a mile high. Everyone said they would come and this morning they finally did. I have rarely thought to thank God for my physical breath, the act of inhaling and exhaling, but since moving here I do.

Before we came here we went on a weekend trip to Austin with two friends. In the car they told us of the steps involved in healthy transition. I think grief was in there somewhere, and ethnocentrism, perhaps there was also difficulty breathing, but I can’t remember.

Something akin to fog was in there though and sometimes the fog is so thick in this season I can’t see a way around it. I work every muscle to remember names and stories and people and faces, to be faithful with the task in front of me, to remember the time for writing will come again eventually, just not today. Everyone knows the thing about fog is you must just go right through it. You dim your headlights, trust the road ahead, move slowly, and go.

I read Psalm 91 today:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

The shadow of the Almighty is still a shadow, I think to myself, and shadows are something akin to fog. I think of how the Israelites were led by a cloud and Elijah prayed for one and how God created all of them. Shadows don’t feel like walking in the light, but they are still evidence of light, and this I remind myself daily these weeks and months. There is a stayed joy and faith in me, a steady, calm peace pulsating through me. We have not taken wrong steps or made poor decisions, but even good steps take work and wise decisions take time, and sometimes the fog must be waded through.

We lay there in the dark this morning and he knows I am thinking hard, “What’s on your mind?” he asks, and I can’t answer. Too many of these days feel like too much. We wonder aloud together if the fog will lift and when and how. The truth is we have no promise that it will, but we do have a cloud to lead us, and the shadow that falls from it, and we are sheltered in the midst of it, and He is faithful and kind and good.

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I used to worry that God would make me marry a man who bored me or didn’t like to read or didn’t challenge me or who didn’t have a beard. You see my frivolity? A beard? I spent time worrying God would make me marry a clean-shaven, soft-cheeked, hairless-faced guy. But I stand by the other desires: I wanted to lay on a blanket by a lake and discuss church and Church, theology and Isaiah, politics and the shape of the clouds. I wanted to never get tired of talking to him. Or listening to him.

As I made my way through my twenties and then thirties, and dated good, nice, solid, kind men, I still found myself slightly stomach-knotted at the thought of tying myself to any of them for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine it would be worth giving up singleness (as difficult as it was and lonely as I felt) to latch myself to any of them—and latch myself to that stomach-knottedness—for life. They were good men, but they weren’t Nate.

A friend asked me the other day how a girl can avoid settling. The market is what it is, she said, and the pickings are slim. I hear her sentiments and shared them for 34 years and I hate the platitudinous answer I gave her, which was this: don’t settle.

And I wasn’t talking about settling for a man without a beard or a man whose physique may not be what you envisioned or who might have blond hair instead of brown and who may not play the guitar or write love poems for you—in this regard, women, settle yourselves down. No, I meant this:

Don’t settle in the belief that God knows what is best for you today and tomorrow and all the days of your life. He has given you the blessed-horrible gift of singleness today. One day you feel its blessedness and another you feel its horridness, but either way, it is the gift you have today. The question of settling is not attached to a man at all, but to the God whose job alone it is to give you the gift of a mate. So the question is not “Should I settle for a man who is less than what I envisioned?” and really, “Should I settle in the belief that God doesn’t hear or care about the desires of my heart?”

. . .

Nate and I have created a small ritual in our lives these days. At five o’clock, when the workday ends, we knot our sneakers, he slings a blanket over his shoulder, and we walk to the lake a few blocks away. We find a spot high enough up that we can see the sun set over the Rockies and we talk until it creeps down behind them. Sometimes one of us rants. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes he just listens, or I do. The other day we talked about Church history and architecture, and when the wind came blowing down the hill I pressed myself against his strong back, touched his beard, and I thanked God for not giving me the chance to settle. I thanked him for all the stomach-knotted uncertainty I’d had for the past 34 years. It was God’s good protection for me, and such a familiar feeling that when I knew I would marry Nate, I knew it with a surety and freedom I couldn’t have had without all those years of knowing it was not right.

Sisters and friends—and brothers, you too—do not settle for less than the belief that God has written your story before the foundation of the earth and he is the giver of good and perfect gifts in the proper time. He cares about birds and lilies and beards and you.

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It’s not the promised land, but it’s pretty close. I can’t stop telling him all the things I love about here. The river. Autumn’s last pop of the brightest green. The Honey Crisp apples we’ll pick this week. The bookstore whose corners I know better than any department store on earth. And the people. The people.

Here I have been more loved and more known than any place on earth. They knew the rawest form of me, the me who still didn’t understand the love of the God and the grace he’d given me if only I’d see it. When I come home here, brimming over now with the most beautiful gifts of the gospel, I hope it makes up for the years of begrudging giving I did here. I know it doesn’t, but I hope it does. I didn’t understand giving could be beautiful, but mostly because I didn’t understand the Giver of all this beauty.

We arrive, road-worn and travel-weary—three almost full days on the road with a busy conference schedule in between. Thank God for audio books and Radio Lab and sitting beside the man I love for 28 hours. In the early morning still dark hours I hear him say in my ear, “I hear water running.” I smile to myself because he thinks it’s a toilet or a sink or some other problem, but I know there’s water falling over the dam less than twenty yards from our open window. I cannot wait to share this place with him.

I think of Psalm 50, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” This place isn’t the promised land and in many ways I felt more taken from than given to in the years I lived here. But I come back here, full of the love of God and the grace I know, and see the heavens proclaiming the work of their God and the trees clapping their hands with praise. The Milky Way last night brighter and brighter as the moon slowly closed its white eye.

I know it has always been here for me to see, the veil just hadn’t been torn. I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish I had known then what I know now about the character of God and my incapable heart. He was telling me in a thousand ways: through the love of people, the beauty of this land, the goodness of the local church, in the corners of bookstores, and the piles of apples that taste sweeter than any sugared candy ever could. Every common bush was aflame with His beauty and wonder, I just didn’t see.

It’s easy to be distracted by all we believe is Zion. The best of what God has given here on earth, the land of milk and honey. It comes through in many forms and ways: idolatry never looks like idolatry until we see it’s just overlaid gold leaf on a wooden form—rotting away from the inside out. All through the scripture God tells his people: All of this points to me but isn’t me. Look up! Look up!

And the promise is true and the same to us today: whatever captures our eyes and keeps our hearts, if it isn’t Him, it isn’t the perfection of beauty. Coming home reminds me of that. It’s beautiful here, and I’m loved and I love, but it all just an exercise in faith. Love calls us to the things of this world by calling us first to see the maker of it.

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I spend all morning at the social security office and at the DMV(s). I go armed with a Texas driver’s license, a passport, a birth certificate, a marriage license, two proofs of residency, forms filled out, and find, once again, bureaucracy is all about that inconvenience. A name change is all I get after several hours in lines and in traffic. (Tell me again why they don’t put all of the DMV services in just one building?)

A whole day off feels thwarted when I finally get home, plus I’d forgotten to drink coffee in the morning. I slump in our estate sale chair and sulk silently to myself: nothing about this season feels like it’s easy. The first three months of our relationship, pre-marriage, were brimming over with blessing, but also ease, in some ways. God just felt so faithful and so surprisingly good around every corner. But the last three months—post marriage, post move, post new church/job/community/city—sometimes I wake up in the morning and want to bury my head back in the pillow. It’s all so much new.

I tell a friend today I’ve finally decided to give myself a year to acclimate. If, after a year, I can feel like myself in just one of these new identities, I will consider it a win.

I make coffee, open a cookbook, and get under a blanket to read. Something about food and traditions makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. Our daily rituals together: French press in the mornings, breakfasts of eggs (three for him, two for me) and sweet potato hash, some sort of fruit and greens, sometimes bible reading, and then again at night, slicing vegetables, browning meat, setting the table, lighting the candles. These are the times I feel most myself, and most like someday all of this new and foreign will feel as comforting as the sliced cherry tomato on the wooden cutting board or the amount of time I know it takes to make a perfect steak on the cast iron. These are rudimentary things, but sometimes it is the comfort of the small things.

I page through the cookbook and find a garden rose in it from six months ago, when he first brought me flowers he picked from his garden. They were in a short Mason jar and I knew I would love him forever then. Has it really been six months? Forever is such a very short time and such a long time too.

I know these months of transition are only months, and soon a year, five years, ten will have passed before I know it. I want to slow time sometimes, still it, just to remember, but I also want to speed time, run through it, because it is so hard. We miss our friends and our community, the people who love us best. We miss laughing hard and loud and deep and long, and beers out on the back porch. We miss being known. We are our best friends and favorite persons, but we miss who we are when it’s not just us.

Today my name changed from Lore Ann Ferguson to Lore Ann Wilbert and he came and sat down beside me on the estate sale chair: “Thank you for taking my name,” he said, and I said, “Of course, what other name would I ever want to take?” And it occurs to me that a name change is a very small thing that takes a very long time to grow accustomed to. So too with life here, I suppose. What is a new address? Nothing, really, but also it is everything too.

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