Archives For fear

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

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

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

God is:

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

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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.

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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We’ve come by our attraction to transparent communities honestly—we have been hiding since the third chapter of Genesis. We ache to come out of hiding and to walk in the freedom of Eden again. There are little secrets in us all, taunting us with their presence: “If everyone knew this about you…”

And what if?

I always find it slightly generous of God to have asked Adam the question he already knew the answer to, “Where are you?” Generous because the answer to that question was not for God but for man. Who of us truly wants to face the question, “Where are you?”

Where is your heart?

Where is the meditation of your mind?

What are you thinking about? Obsessing over? Hiding?

Where are you? On the grandest scale of human emotions and proclivities and circumstances and seasons, where are you?

God didn’t ask the question to find the answer. He asked the question because the next words Adam spoke would teach us all, “I was naked and afraid, and so I hid.”

Half the battle warring inside of us is won with those words: I am naked—uncovered, exposed. I am afraid—fearful, worried, full of angst. I am hiding—withdrawing, retreating, running away. And aren’t we all, Adam? Aren’t we all? But most of us will never say the words because we like to talk more about the testimony of yesterday than the valley of today.

A transparent community is not simply one where we talk about what God did yesterday and how we came to enlightenment and grew and how today will be different. A transparent culture of confession is one where we say, “Here is where I am today and I am afraid I will always be like this and my inclination is to hide it away.” That is true transparency. That is true confession.

Eating the fruit made Adam and Eve see the destructive nature of wanting to be like God and we still eat the fruit of that fruit. We want to be like God in a thousand different ways. We want to, like my pastor from Texas says, “Wear a superhero’s cape.”

But humans don’t need capes, they need the skins from the sacrifice, the shelter of the Most High, the mantle of God, the robe of the Father thrown over them as they limp home from squandered inheritances and life beside pigs. Real humans, children of God, stink of the pigsty under the pristine robes of the King.

Stop pretending we don’t stink, friends. Say the words, “I am naked. I am ashamed and fearful. I am hiding.” Let us gather at the threshold gate and run toward home where the Father waits to clothe us with the sacrificial covering of His Son.

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It’s a joke now, lovingly called the “Non-coffee-date,” which syntactically makes no sense but we know what it means. Whenever we tell people our story (three months from first date to wedding date) their incredulity is visible: “But did you even know each other before?”

Yes, of course we did. But we knew each other in contexts in which dating one another for various reasons wasn’t happening. We had overlapping friend groups that eventually morphed into one. He was well known by men I trusted, I was well known by men he trusted. I cheered for him when he’d taken a friend out on a few dates. We had no reason to do anything but cheer one another on in our individual pursuits.

But then: the non-coffee-date in which we did drink coffee and it was not a date.

We spent two hours in our community’s coffee shop, in full view of any frequent church staff customer and no fewer than 30 of our closest friends walking in and out the door. The purpose of the meeting was to continue a conversation we’d been having about pacifism (Sexy, I know.). I’d fought with one of my friends the night before because she wanted me to clarify with him whether this was a date, but I felt this deep confidence in me that God was my Father and he cared for me. I knew Nate was a good man and I had confidence that if it was a date, or he wanted a date, he would ask me, using his mouth, and words straight from the English language. It was just coffee.

At the end of it, he cleared his coffee cup and I cleared mine and he left. “Did he ask you out at the end?” a friend asked. Nope, I said. And then I went home.

Several weeks went by without communication and then a big decision was made by me to move to Denver. The night I came home from my interview trip to Denver, Nate called (on the phone, using words he said with his mouth) and said, “I’d like to take you to dinner. I’d like it to be a date.”

And you know the rest of the story.

I’m telling you this, not just my single girl friends, but my married girl friends too, because so often we grasp for control, clarification, communication. We want to know all the moving parts, all the possibilities. We want to plan for every contingency and every system failure. We want faith that is not blind, we want to see every crack and crevice of the future.

But that’s not, as a friend of mine said once, real faith. Faith isn’t faith if it can see where it’s going. Even that statement fails a bit because if you’re a child of God you do know where this is all going, even if you can’t see it.

Single girls, don’t manipulate and scheme the single guys in your lives. Trust God that when a man sees and knows and trusts God with you, he will do the right thing. It might mean a non-coffee-date or two (if he makes it seven or ten, it’s not bad to ask for clarification, just don’t demand he call it something it’s not—that’s bad for you and bad for him.), but trust God with the outcome. Be faithful, obedient, gospel yourself, and then trust God.

Married girls, trusting your husband isn’t the goal. It’s a means for some things, but not the goal. The goal is to trust God and the overflow of trusting God is trusting your husband. If you feel he has broken your trust, look to God. If you feel he has never given you reason to trust him, look to God. If you just want him to do something, trust God.

All my readers, if you are a child of God, don’t play chess with today. Don’t wake up and scheme how you’ll defeat the enemies of your life. Christ already has. He has defeated depression. Discouragement. Confusion. Fear. Worry. Discontent. Sadness. Loneliness. Christ declared His intentions for you before the foundation of the earth. He called you His. Therefore you are secure, chosen, holy, set-apart, a royal priesthood, saints, sons, and daughters. There is no question. Walk today as if there was no question.

He has also made a plan for work that doesn’t fulfill you, a husband or wife who doesn’t complete you, a local church that doesn’t seem to see you, friends who don’t seem to care enough about you, and every other disappointment you feel. His plan is Himself.  If He gives you nothing you desire today, it is not because He wants you to lack, but because He wants to give you Himself. Trust Him.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
— Abraham Kuyper

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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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.

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

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

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

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

I believe it sometimes. Do you?

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

Even my faith is not mine to perfect?

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

. . .

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

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

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

I don’t know where home is right now.

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

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

I thought I would grow out of this.

Does everyone feel like this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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