Archives For fear

This is a story for everyone, but it’s mostly a story about hope and faithfulness and a kitchen table.

I’m supposed to speak about singleness in a few weeks but I can’t help feeling like I’ve given up my card, as though I’ll be the one all the singles sit and roll their eyes at, “Easy for you to say, you’re married.” And it’s true, in some ways some thoughts I have about singleness will sound trite and less than tried and true, but here is a truth: I was single for 34 years and now I am married. That means I am a statistic in two ways: people are staying single longer now than ever, and most people do in fact some day get married. I am not the exception, I am the rule. And I pray for those of you who are part of the first statistic, you will someday be part of the second.

But now here’s my story.

A few years ago a girl came to live with me. I’d known her since she was 14 and knew the cards she’d been dealt set her up for some disappointment in life, and I knew I’d be helping to carry that baggage for a season. What I didn’t know is that I’d often feel like a single parent with her. In the midst of walking through that season, a friend of mine pitched an idea to me. He said, “I think it would be good for her to work on a project and I have a project I’d like to do with her.” It seemed he had a friend, a man recently divorced who helped lead the marriage reconciliation group at our church, who had opened his home up for men to live in throughout the past two years, and who invited more men into his home every week for dinner, conversation, and friendship. One problem: this friend did not have a kitchen table.

So my friend, and my little girl, they embarked on a project: Project Farm Table. It was to be a surprise for the friend and so it was. When they gave the table to the friend, he nearly wept and said it was the best gift he’d ever been given.

Six months later I sat at that table for the first time and listened to the recipient of the gift share some of his testimony. I didn’t know it then, but at the intersection of my friend, my little girl, this table, and that man, I would meet my husband.

This is a story about a table, but it’s actually the story of so much more.

For years I wondered what was wrong with me, why no one wanted to marry me, why God was holding out on me. What I didn’t realize was that my future husband was walking through the discipline of God and the failure of his marriage. For 13 years while I whined about my singleness to God, God was shaping my future husband in the crucible of marriage to someone else. God wasn’t holding out on me, he was working in both of us an eternal weight of glory.

For years I felt convinced that online dating or other mechanisms to meet a husband was not the best, not for me or for anyone. I felt firmly convicted that service to the local church and to God was the mechanism through which God would bring marriage if that was His plan for me. I wrestled, complained, struggled to do this well, but I trusted Him in it. I put my hand to the plow and served, trusting that if God had a husband for me in the local church, then I would know because he would be a man who was faithfully serving, leading, showing hospitality, walking in grace, humbly accepting the discipline of God and other men I knew and trusted. Nate was a man well known by my friends, my elders and pastors, and others. Trusting Nate, following his lead, loving him came swiftly and easily because he had faithfully given himself to the local church in every way. No stone was left unturned in his life—he was fully submitted. And at the proper time we came face to face with one another.

For years I was certain I would have to compromise in a thousand ways if I ever found myself faced with marriage (and did compromise over the years multiple times in multiple ways), but with Nate I found we were both running so hard and so fast toward the kingdom that we were only helped by the presence of one another. He helped loosen chains of fear binding me back and I spurred him on toward confident leadership. My fears that I’d marry someone who didn’t challenge me spiritually and intellectually were baseless. My fears that I’d marry someone who was lazy or indulgent were silenced. My fears that I’d have to marry someone who I wasn’t attracted to or didn’t enjoy were proven wrong. Nate is my better in every way. I don’t say that with an ounce of false humility, I truly mean it. I do not know a finer person, a more humble and gentle man, a harder worker, a more faithful friend, a kinder neighbor, a more generous accountant, or a better servant of God.

Nate was all of those things before meeting me—after submitting himself to the discipline of God in his failed marriage, in his desire to understand and grasp the full counsel of God instead of cherry picking pet theologies, and in his faithfulness to the call of God to minister with the grace he’d been given. He was inviting men into his home, ministering to broken marriages, addicts, serving them around his table, showing hospitality, parking cars at our church’s lot, leading arrogant and broken men in reconciliation to God and to their wives as much as it depended on them. He was doing all this when my friend and my little girl made him a farm table.

I’m sitting at that farm table now, in our kitchen, in our new house in Denver. And I’m marveling at God. God who never sleeps, nor slumbers, but keeps. He kept both of us while we were making foolish decisions and good ones. He kept both of us while we were holding tenaciously to beliefs we had and our confidence in them and in Christ. He kept both of us in the midst of difficulty, trial, faithfulness, and sadness. He kept.

I wanted to tell you this story for a few reasons:

One, if you are single, remember: God is not sleeping.
Two, if you are in a difficult marriage, remember: God is not sleeping.
Three, if you are serving your local church tirelessly, remember: God is not sleeping.
Four, whoever you are, in whatever circumstance you’re in, remember: God is not sleeping.

He’s keeping.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.49.55 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 12.43.15 PM

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.

“To be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond.”

I read this quote in a book and was warmed by its presence. In a complementarian culture it can be tempting to tout the party line, “Men initiate, women respond,” as though the complexities of human nature and God-ordained orders can be summed up in pithy four word statements.

What about all the women we see in scripture who initiated and the men who responded? “Yes, but order!” the dogmatic pounds his fist and says with the full authority of Paul and the early church behind him. But what about Eve, the mother of all living, the nurturer of life (Gen 3:20)? Adam may have planted the seed, but it was Eve who did all the work. Isn’t this the nature of nurturing? And isn’t that also an initiating, sustaining work?

The real work of a woman is to be long-suffering. To see what is—but also what can be, and then to nurture it every step along the way (Prov 31). This is an initiating work if there is one because all around us the message is to stop when the going gets tough, make time for me, to treat ourselves, to omit or abort what is inconvenient. The real work of the feminine woman is to work and to keep and to tend and to pioneer forward in the face of risk and uncertainty and what is frightening (I Pet 3:6).

The real work of the feminine woman is to initiate kingdom work on earthly soil, to sleep by the seeds deep under the dirt, and to burst with anticipation and then at last joy when her work is born (Rom 8:22).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

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

design (6)

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.

design (3)

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

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

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

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

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

Cut

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

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

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

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

Nothing has gone unscathed.

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

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

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

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.

photo (10)

design (1)

It isn’t so much that I feel he will let go of me, but that I will let go of him. That I will grow so discouraged with repetitive mistakes and ambles into sin, that I will lose sight of the Most Glorious and fix my eyes on the lesser things. It creeps in inopportune ways and places, times and moments. It snags itself on my heart and won’t let go, a constricting weakness—an oxymoron if there ever was one. I know I am certain and sure in him, but only because I know HE is certain and sure in himself.

It is comfort, then, that it was Jesus himself who prayed for Simon Peter, that his faith would not fail. Jesus knew what waited for Peter on the other side of things and it was not a life without sacrifice. Jesus warred for Peter on his behalf that his faith would not fail.

I am of little faith. From the outside looking in, you see strength and consistency, but the inside of this heart is rotted with the stink of faithlessness and fear, doubt and condemnation, discouragement and self-pity. But Christ wars for me? He holds me fast? He cannot deny himself? This singular note is my only praise:

You will hold me fast. 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,
a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain
Hebrews 6:19

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

A few weeks ago someone tweeted a link to a song called He Will Hold Me Fast and I have been listening to it on repeat. Listen here.

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold;
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Saviour loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight,
Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight,
He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost;
His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost,
He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died,
Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied;
He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life,
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight,
When He comes at last!

thousand

I learned to draw perspective in fourth grade art class. My teacher had a tangle of salt and pepper hair with a shock of white near her left ear. I cannot remember her name. We drew roads, black and yellow, and buildings with angular windows, using our rulers with one eye closed. After that everywhere I went I saw triangles. Roads, stores, cars, floors, tables. Perspective made of triangles.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Two Fridays ago, my mother marries the man she’s shared a home with for nearly a decade. As I watch them pledge their troth to one another, I cannot help but think of perspective: how mine has changed, how hers has. Then I am in a pool, staring up at the covered lanai, made of squares, but not one of them a proper square, no matter how I looked. Then to a conference with 4000 other women, with stories and lives so very different than my own. Now I am back on the road again staring at the triangle-road stretched out, thinking about perspective.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

No matter how far or fast I drive today—over the Gulf Bay and Lake Ponchartrain, Route 10 over acres and acres of swampland, from the pine forests of Pensacola, through the cotton fields of central Louisiana, to the urban sprawl of Dallas—the widest part of the road always seems to be right in front of me.

All of the opportunities before me now feel broad and pleasant. I want to dip my toes in a thousand pools and test the water in every one of them. But farther ahead, where the road narrows and crests, it all seems scary and unknown. I know what to do today, but what about the thousands of tomorrows after that? It is not perspective I need, but perspective.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

God is for me, who can be against me? God is sovereign, who can thwart his purposes? God disciplines his children in love, why would I avoid it? God is on the crest of the hill, at the narrowest part, preparing a wider path of more joy than I can even hope for. This is the perspective I need. This is the perspective he gives.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

fruitI caught of a whiff of longing this morning. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. I stood in the parking lot and let the Texas breeze wash over me—and I felt a burst of hope inside of me: I’m going home!

I am sitting at the table with two dear friends the other day, an elder from my church and his wife, one of my first friends in Texas. They are New Yorkers, upstaters like me, and they have loved me well in my time here. This year has been one long shove, I said, a pushing away from all the reasons I would have to stay here. But are you running? they ask. Is it still running if you’re going home?

New York is a big state, divided into sections. The City, Upstate, the North Country, the Adirondack Region, the Finger Lakes Region, the Thousand Island Seaway, the Catskills. It’s all New York, but so much more than just The City. I’m not moving to the same region from which I hail, but I’m moving to the state I call home. Is it still running if you’re going home?

When I first visited New York I was 18 years old, a sullen teenager whose parents wanted to buy an old farmhouse and homestead it, growing organic vegetables and raising animals. I was born and bred in an affluent county north of Philadelphia. The earthiness of our new home didn’t bother me, but the humbleness of it did. It was a bigger, grander house than the one we’d left, but the life we now lived was simpler. I never felt at home there.

New York took from me, from beginning to end, it seemed. The timeline of my time there is dotted with its thievery. Home, life, family, security, finances, faith. By the time I left, my small car packed with every earthly belonging, I would have been glad to never return.

I tell one of my girls this morning that it was the lonely, poor, and rejected times where I now see the providence of God. It was not New York that stole from me, it was God who pruned from me. Cutting off what didn’t bear fruit. My first three years in Texas I felt strong and tall and healthy, free of the dead branches. But new branches grew and they have to be pruned too. That is the truth I am learning: to bear healthy fruit, even new branches have to be pruned.

One of the most painful lessons God’s children must learn is that we are not God, and our strength is only as strong as our dependence on Him. He is our strength. That which bears fruit in us, is born of Him. He is the producer, not us. He is also the farmer and the vine-keeper. He decides what is not best, what is not fit to produce.

I have some fears about moving back to New York, going home to a state that took from me, a place where my faith withered and died. I have fears that feel paramount today. Fear that some will think I am running away. That some will think I will never settle down. That I am making a mistake. That there, where I am known, I will slip into old patterns and ways of thinking. Deadly things.

But at the bottom of those fears, I land on one solid truth: He prunes. He takes away and gives something better. And he does it over and over and over and over again until we are his likeness. Because He is the vine and the vine-keeper, and truest fruit-bearer.