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Holding the Mystery

June 11, 2014

mystery

I live in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same. Our floorplans are swapped or switched a bit, but generally, we are like a row of Japanese diplomats, all bowing our heads to the Suburban Man.

The names of the roads are Springaire and Winter Park and Summerwind and Autumn Breeze—a nod, perhaps, to what the city planners wish would be instead of what is. People keep warning me about the Long Winter (they say, with capitalized letters) up north. I keep reminding them of their long summer, but neither of us can agree which is better. We always want what we can’t have, right?

I live on Summerwind in a house just like my neighbors. We express our individuality with paint colors and shrubbery. A yellow wreath on my door, a terracotta pot with flowers that cannot withstand the heat. As they say, if you can’t stand the heat, something, something.

I stop mid-run tonight in a rare open space of sky. The sky here is lavender at night, clouded or clear. The city lights create a cover of light that covers the light. I can’t stop thinking about how manufactured light crowds out natural light.

We’ve been on a steady diet of Vermeer this week at my house so we are obsessed with color and light and mirrors and mysteries. I can’t stop thinking about how betrayed I feel by recent discoveries on Vermeer and simultaneously how wonderful it seems to know he was more than an artist, but a genius.

The poet Levertov said, “Days pass when I forget the mystery,” and I think of this line often in these neighborhoods and days that pass so seamlessly into one another. I forget the mystery of nuance and life, of curiosity and wonder. It becomes only a perpetual plod toward tomorrow.

But tomorrow is a gift, and the only one of its kind, and God help me to remember that in our matching houses and macchiatos and yoga pants and yearning.

I am reading in 1 Timothy this morning, the qualifications of an overseer, and nestled there in verse 9 these words: “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

How we love and laud the matching, the simple, the clear, the found-out, the known. But how we must hold the mystery of the faith with our consciences clear: the gift of mystery. The gift of the unplanned. The gift of the unknown.

Do you have an unknown before you? A path not clearly defined? A choice which seems impossible? A God you do not fully understand? That is a gift, friend. You can trust the mystery of it all with a complete clear conscience.

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It’s been a season where I have hesitated to write about singleness for obvious reasons. But Tim Challies linked to this post this morning and I wanted to comment on it briefly.

First read the post on how to make your wife more beautiful.

Now, let me say that a woman who is fully loved by her husband is markedly different than a woman who is not, or does not feel loved by him. We all know both women, and there is a definite glow and confidence in a woman who feels the security of her one-woman man.

That said, I worry about the message this sends to unmarried women, particularly those of you who are in your thirties and beyond. Shakespeare said it best “Age, with his stealing steps, Hath clawed me in his clutch.” We cannot stop the inevitable blurring of our birth year behind us and the empty grave in front of us. For a single woman aging feels achingly more hopeless than for a single man as he ages. Every month we watch our fertility fade and the crows-feet crowd in. We feel less beautiful as each day goes on.

On top of that, there is rarely someone tending to the garden of our souls. There isn’t someone delighting in us, in every curve and nuance, every idiosyncrasy, speaking to fears and sheltering us in times of question. The lack of these things begin to eat at the blossom that bloomed in our twenties, and soon the withering comes.

If you know a single woman (and you all do), take a few moments today and encourage her inner beauty. Comment on her character and your hopes for it. Speak to her fears and lead her to the cross. Affirm her good desire to be married,  speak highly of your own marriage, and assure her of her eternal position within the Bride of Christ. And practically: serve her. Nothing makes me feel more cherished as a woman than a brother who notices and serves my sisters and me.

We should desire for the whole bride of Christ, not just the women, or just the married women, to be beautiful. Proclaim the manifold wonder of what the gospel has done in our lives and how it has transformed us.

That is true beauty.

trees

If you are a Villager, or you podcast The Village’s sermons, this weekend Matt is preaching from II Corinthians 5. If you struggle with doubt, I encourage you to listen. One of the things I love about my church is that it is a safe place to wrestle with sin and the brokenness that sin brings into our lives. As I’ve been reading Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I’ve been so freshly encouraged to be honest not only about my sin, but also the brokenness that trickles down as a result of it. Note: if you haven’t read Spiritual Depression, I cannot recommend it more highly.

From Chapter III:

What is the cure for [spiritual depression]? For the moment I shall give principles only. The first principle is evident: above everything else avoid making premature claim that your blindness is cured. It must have been a great temptation to this man to do that. Here is a man who has been blind. Our Lord puts spittle upon his eyes and says to him: ‘Do you see?’ The man says: ‘I see.’ What a temptation it must have been to him to take to his heels and announce to the whole world: ‘I can see!’ The man, in a sense, could see, but so far his sight was incomplete and imperfect, and it was most vital that he should not testify before he had seen clearly.It is a great temptation and I can well understand it, but it is a fatal thing to do. How many are doing that at the present time (and are pressed and urged to do so), proclaiming that they see, when it is so patent to many that they do not see very clearly and are really still in a state of confusion. What harm such people do. They describe men to others as trees, walking. How misleading to the others!

The second thing is the exact opposite of the first. The temptation to the first is to run and to proclaim that they can see, before they see clearly; but the temptation to the second is to feel absolutely hopeless and to say: ‘There is no point in going on. You have put spittle on my eyes and you have touched me. In a sense I see, but I am simply seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ Such people often come to me and say that they cannot see the truth clearly. in their confusion they become desperate and ask: ‘Why cannot I see? The whole thing is hopeless.’ They stop reading their bible, they stop praying. The devil has discouraged many with lies. Do not listen to him.

What then is the cure? What is the right way? It is to be honest and to answer our Lord’s question truthfully and honest. That is the whole secret of this matter. He turned to this man and asked: ‘Do you see ought?’ And the man said, absolutely honestly: ‘I do see, but I am seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ What saved this man was his absolutely honesty.

Now the question is, where do we stand? The whole purpose of this sermon is just to ask that question—where do we stand? What exactly do we see? Have we got things clearly? Are we happy? Do we really see? We either do or we do not, and we must know exactly where we are. Do we know God? Do we know Jesus Christ? Not only as our Saviour but do we know Him? Are we ‘rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory?’ That is the New Testament Christian. Do we see? Let us be honest; let us face the questions, let us face them with absolute honesty.

May Sabbath

May 2, 2014

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It was after writing this post through tears in the early morning hours that I remembered it was almost May. May means Sayable Sabbath month. Usually I feel ready for that 12th month Sabbath; I feel I’ve earned it, worked hard at my craft, swallowed pride, written my heart out for 11 months. But all I feel this year is guilty for how much I’ve hated writing for six months.

In November of last fall I began feeling like I’d lost my voice. I wasn’t sure where it had gone, all I knew was this was a different writer’s block than I’d ever felt before. Usually I press through, write anyway, exercise that muscle, and the words eventually come. But this wasn’t missing words, this was a missing voice.

I was asking the question, “Who am I?” in a way I never have before. I’m not a person who struggles with identity. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, and my proclivities. Every writer has to know a few things before writing a term paper or book: who am I and who is my audience? I’d perfected the answer to those two questions, but suddenly neither of them seemed right anymore. I didn’t know who I was and I certainly had no idea who my audience was.

When we lose our voices I wonder if this is simply God’s grace to us after all—since we are His and He is our only audience.

I think of Isaiah in chapter 6, standing before the throne of God, the seraphim around Him singing one refrain, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.” I think of Isaiah standing there with his head bent down, saying the words, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

Do you feel the uncleanliness of your lips sometimes? Whether you are a pastor or a blogger or a mother or a son, do you feel the clutter and grime that spews from your mouth and your fingers? The realization again and again of how selfish and prideful and arrogant you are and how you cannot clean yourself up enough to stand before the Holiness of God?

I feel it. Oh, how I feel it.

It was a burning coal that cleansed Isaiah’s mouth but we are all looking for the nectar and sweet juice to cleanse ours. The affirmation of friends, the compliments of strangers. We want the feel good way to feeling good, not the burning coal, God, not the burning coal.

I have felt the burning coal these last months. Learning the hard way that I am a person of unclean lips and all around me are others with unclean lips. We who are being sanctified and being transformed are still so not. Look, and not too far, you will be undone too.

We do not Sabbath to give God his due, His 10%. We are not tithing our time, giving of our first-fruits. We Sabbath to remember we need Him. We do not need rest or stillness or peace or comfort. We need Him. We need a vision of Him and His holiness. We need a burning coal. We need to be undone. We need to be touched and sent. But only through Him, Lord of the Sabbath.

Normally I have guest writers for the month of May, but somehow that seemed cheap to me this year. I want Sayable to be still all this month, to Sabbath, and to offer to you readers the blessing of one less thing to read. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for sponsors, but I’m willing to lose here. I want to lose here. I want to feel the burning of the coal on my mouth, my voice, my “platform,” and my pulpit. I want to stand before the throne undone.

The Good Ground

March 29, 2014

It is a good place where one can say, “I do not trust you,” to God.

These are the places where God becomes real. Realer than theology books and good sermons, more real than dark nights and soul talk, realer than heaven and hell and all the variances in between. To stand barefoot by the burning bush of your life—or the Spirit—and to say, I do not, I can not, even maybe I will not. These can be good places.

There is a realness to the God of that moment, a reckoning with all the ways in which we have felt the realness of life hurt and bruise us. It is, in some ways, the moment of coming to our senses. It is touch, sight, sound, scent—the aching reality that this is hard, so hard. Harder than it was ever meant to be, and yet, the only way we could come at last home.

Whenever I find myself in the company of one who doubts, I know I am on hallowed ground. Holy ground. I want to take off my shoes and stand there with them for a while. The ground is often a pigsty: it smells, it is muddy, full of animal waste and the rottenest fares of the richest feasts, but it is the place of coming to.

To say, “I do not believe, but God, I want to,” can be the first step toward coming home.

pigsty

leadership

A wise, and lonely, leader once told me, “Leadership is lonely, so choose your friends wisely.” I believed him without hesitation because I saw the aching loneliness whenever he was in a crowd, the uncomfortable posture of one who longs for depth and fears it for the work it will bring.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters from prison thinking often of how long stretches of time alone might have been the fuel he needed to write those letters—and yet, in prison? Alone? In those days, there is no more lonely place I can think of.

Leadership is lonely. It doesn’t look like it, of course, because every leader is surrounded by others, called on by others, even known, in some respect, by others. It seems like all the aching loneliness of being unknown would dissipate if only you stood with the leaders of the pack.

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

One of the most helpful verses I’ve ever memorized is John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Those six words have meant more to me in the swirling storms of suffering and rejoicing, lack and plenty, contentment and desire, than any six words I know. They are the mantra of my life and they are prophetic in a way, speaking future truth into what is not fully realized. They comfort me when I feel the aching loneliness of being both unknown and very known, a nobody and a leader, a friend and a stranger.

Leadership is lonely because decreasing is lonely. The larger the Lord of your life becomes to others, the less they see you, and isn’t that what we all want? Just a bit? To be seen, known, and truly loved? To be unshackled from the collective prison of our minds and hearts, to be free to roam among other commoners, to find our place at the fire or the table, to fit in?

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

This morning I read an article about a couple who were removed from leadership at a school in New England. They were serving Jesus faithfully, wouldn’t sign a paper demanding more from them than their faithfulness to His word, and they were given the boot, stripped of their leadership.

And yet, not.

Because the crowning achievement of every kingdom leader is to be the least, the last, and the lowest. To fulfill their mission in the prison of lonely leadership or unrecognized leadership—a prophet who has no respect.

If you seek leadership, know that what you’re asking for is a life of service and loneliness. It may not look like the glamorous service you suspect lies there. It may be the simple act of looking others in the face, hearing their stories while knowing yours is ever decreasing. It may be a life of quiet prayer. It may be behind a pulpit, which may be one of the loneliest places of all.

But, good and faithful—and lonely—servant, find your joy not in being known, but in making Him known.

Hearing and Being God

February 13, 2014 — 3 Comments

Since the beginning of December I have been thinking about what it means to “hear” God’s voice. I cut my faith teeth in Charismatic circles, so hearing from God for ten years was commonplace in my life. I have pages full of things people heard from God about on my behalf and I am in Texas today because of a small feeling I had one June morning on my back stoop. He said, “Move to Texas,” and I said, “Hell, no.” But then I did.

I don’t handle His voice lightly, but I think I have handled the hearing of His voice lightly.

Because we are His children and He is our father and we know this with our heads—even if we struggle with it in our hearts—we want to believe that He speaks and He speaks to us. This is why we have books like Jesus Calling given back and forth at every holiday gathering and as last minute birthday gifts. Who doesn’t want to hear Jesus Calling?

But what happens when what you were sure that you were sure that you were sure that God said, turns out to be, well, not?

What then?

I don’t have an answer to this question. The only answer I have is to go back to His infallible, inerrant word, and trust His character to be true. Jared Wilson posted a blog today that might be the most important thing we’ll read online this week, or month.

Something happens when you stop submitting to the communal listening of congregational worship and start filling the air with your own free range spiritual rhetoric. Your talk of God starts to sound less like God. He starts sounding like an idea, a theory, a concept. He stops sounding like the God of the Bible, the God who commands and demands, the God who is love but also holy, gracious but also just, et cetera. He begins to sound less like the God “who is who he is” and more like the God who is as you like him.

Read that twice if you need to. I needed to read it three times.

Now think, just for a few moments, about the times in our lives where what God says sounds an awful lot like what we’d like Him to say, or God help us, an awful lot just like us.

The truth is I don’t need that god in my life because I already am that god.

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

I’ve had some good, good people pressing back on me in recent months, asking the same question the enemy asked in Eden and again in the wilderness to Jesus: Did God really say?

Strange how the enemy can ask a question and a friend can ask the same question and we still get their intentions flip-flopped.

I want to ask you the same question today: Did God really say?

If you don’t have an answer to that question, that’s good because it means you can go back to His word and instead of listening for His voice, you can read exactly what He does say (about you, about others, about His character). If you’re hung up on something you think He might have said or you wish He would say, there’s great comfort to be found in knowing for sure He did say.

If you don’t know where to start, start here, in Isaiah 45. It is packed, full and brimming over with what God says.

I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain.
I the Lord speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
Isaiah 45:18-19

Know that I am praying for you today as you and I both relinquish what we think He’s said, and submit ourselves to the truth of His character and word.

Worshiping at the Bar

January 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

I’m not a live show girl. Celebrity doesn’t impress me and groupies crowd my space. The best concerts happen in my car on road trips from north to south and back again. I am the singer and the audience and my wheels hum along. But the stamp on my hand and the heels of my booted feet belie me tonight.

There is wholeness when watching an artist at work. I say to a friend yesterday, “You’re not a compartmentalized man with faith in one box and parenting in another, fiction in one and politics in yet another. Be all you, which is more biblical and less transcendental than it actually sounds.”

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

We are shoulder to shoulder, heads above heads, the smell of beer and crisp Texas winter all around. There is grit and tenderness and the girl in front of me danced wildly one minute and sobbed into the arm of her friend the next.

Music does this to us, I think to myself.

Or maybe it isn’t the music at all, but the lyric of life being lived right in front of us. This artist-woman whose age is there, in the wrinkles on her forehead and the veins on her arms, is living it. Her voice cracking at inopportune places, as if there are opportune places for that anyway. She is a mother to all the rising folk artists I love, and she is the one I love more than all of them combined. But she is older now, and wrinkled and still so very, very beautiful.

This is what life does to us, when we live it. Not compartmentalized and neat, sectioned off into safe places and dangerous ones. We live it all, splayed out, because this is who He made us to be.

I think of Jesus on the cross. For some this was God’s great artistry, the deus ex machina—the predictable surprise ending. But it isn’t only the vulnerability of His son crying out that we stand our faith upon, but the jubilant rising of Him three days later.

There is nothing compartmentalized about this life, not for the Christian, and not for the pagan either. All of life touches and dances and weeps and were it not that way, we would be puppets or robots or, worse still, skeptics, all of us.

I am practicing for heaven tonight, swaying with the bar folk and the church folk, the worshipers at the stage of their god, staring at the imago dei there in all her creator’s glory. Whether she testifies of it or not, even the rocks will cry out.

None of us can help it.

We are who we are, full on, splayed out, in ignorant worship or intentional, we cry out.

The nearer we draw to the culmination of all things, the coming of Jesus Christ to reclaim what has been His all along, the more it seems people despise clarity.

If we think the Bible is clear on one matter there are ten thousand others who think our clarity is prideful at best and historically inaccurate at worst. See, they point to generations before who walked in unenlightened truth, they thought the Bible was clear too—and see how wrong they were?

I have been reading Colossians over and over again in the past week. Colossians has always seemed the simplest book to me, clear, concise, easy. It’s a book that I point new believers to, and it’s a book that is deeply comforting to me in moments when my own faith seems complicated.

Today I read the section under the title, Paul’s Ministry to the Church. Would you read this? Read it slowly, read it as best as you can in Paul’s pastoral voice to the Church in Colossea, but also to the Church here today (boldface mine).

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

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

A few years ago I walked out of my local church with a new and powerful sense of trust in what God had worked in my life through the way I was parented. I don’t talk often about my family here on Sayable, but bear with me here. No family is the ideal, mine included. If you were to ask my parents, they would (and have) confessed a litany of regrets—and trust me, each of their offspring bears the scars of their unfortunate choices. But.

But.

But God.

Hebrews 12:10 says our fathers “disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them.” That short phrase set something free in my life, something I wasn’t aware even existed inside of me. A nagging unbelief that God would use the sinfulness of my parents to do a deep work in my life—and the subsequent unbelief that all my mistakes would be used in the future of another.

God takes what seems foolishness and works in us a great maturity.

Our job is to simply proclaim what seems true—with great humility—in the great hope that what IS true will be seen one day face to face, in full glory, in absolute clarity.

Did churches and men and women proclaim partial doctrine through the years? Did teachers through the ages get it wrong sometimes? Did they have opinions on slavery, gender issues, baptism, and the creation of earth that were wrong? Did they say something was clear that later seemed less clear, or perhaps more clear? Yes. But did they do the great honor of standing before the Lord in clear conscience and proclaim what they thought wisest? Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. But it is done and it has worked for us and in us a greater maturity.

Here is one thing the Bible is clear on: Christ is coming back to claim His own, He is coming back to see us face to face, with no dim glass between us, and I can trust His clarity in that.

And if He is certain in this one thing, He is certain in others, and so I will continue to proclaim and teach, with great humility, great hope, and great wisdom, what I trust He has said clearly.

Wipe that Glass

January 7, 2014 — 1 Comment

The first thing we know about God is He is Creator. He takes nothing and makes something. He makes many somethings. More somethings than any one of us will ever see in our entire lifetime.

Staggering.

I understand God as Creator, but if He is Creator, that means He is infinitely creative—and that is something I will never be able to grasp or understand.

He is involved in every iota, every molecule, every atom, every gene, every thought, every action—and He is infinitely creative, which means He never stops creating.

Just thinking about that for three minutes staggers me.

But it becomes so real, so personal, when I think about all the ways He has been creative with me—and the accompanying realization that He isn’t finished with me yet. He is still creating, still teaching, still growing, still perfecting, still forming.

So an infinitely creative God, constantly creating and recreating His people, is a God who can be trusted to not make mistakes. Every scrap of my spectacular story, every rag of my richest rich, every moment of my mind—these form who I am and who I am becoming. He knew the washed up, backwards, inside-out, upside-down story He’d bring me through and He knew that through the mess I’d see Him.

And I’d see Him through a glass dimly, but that dirt and grime, that’s mine. I own that grime. God let me have that grime because otherwise I’d never understand His holiness, His set-apartness. Now all I can do is never stop asking Him to wipe that glass clean.

I love that.

I really love that.

I love it because it’s my hope, more than anything, that we’d spend our lives helping others to clean that grime. To take a rag and say, “You too? Me too. Let’s clean it together. Let’s see Him more clearly, love Him more for Who He truly is.”

I don’t know what your grime is, but I know God knows it. He made it, every atom and molecule. He knows your issues with fundamentalism, gender roles, abuse, theology, culture, suffering, depression, death, divorce, fear. He knows it all. And He’s so creative that He knows how to draw you in, grime covered you, and show you Himself, holy and splendid, majestic and clean.

It’s spectacular.

The Promise of Place

December 29, 2013 — 5 Comments

Grey Texas days are my favorite. Because they are so rare, or because I love grey more than blue, I don’t know. Back home trees enclose me and so I feel safe. Here there are no towering pines or old maples, so I take the clouds instead and find a haven in them.

Being away for a month was good for me. I did not miss Texas, but I missed place.

The truth is I feel misplaced these days. Misplaced by God, misplaced by men, misplaced, mostly, by myself. I have never felt comfortable in my own skin, but these past months I have felt a foreigner even to myself.

Who is this person? I ask as I roll over awake in the morning, when I hug a friend, when I try to explain myself, excuse myself, examine myself. I feel a stranger to her and estranged from her. As though I’ve forgotten how to take my own pulse, as though I am unsure I have a pulse.

That sounds hyperbole and I know it, but I feel it all the same. The creeping darkness of discouragement snatches away courage, not its opposite, affirmation, as it might seem.

It is a dark day outside and there are dark days all around us. Have you felt it? I am not prone to pessimism except when I am.

I am reading Hebrews this morning, about Abraham and the promise, and I remember the promises God gave him: land, east and west and north and south; descendants as many as the stars; a son, a babe, just one. Just one.

God put Abraham in his place and gave him place and then gave him a place in history. We know him because of his son, and his son’s son, and his son’s son’s son and so on. Because God took a man on a mountainside, an old man, and gave him place.

I wonder sometimes if Abraham knew the gift of place on that day. If he knew he was destined for good things, a forefather of faith and many mentions in the canon. Or if he only stood there and just believed what God told him.

Romans says that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4.22). The truth is my righteous anything has felt like a failure this year, but faith? Faith, not in the promise itself, but the giver of the promise? The promise of place, not for place’s sake, but for the promise-giver? Faith I can muster up, if I try.

He said He’s prepared good works for us (Eph. 2.10) and I have to believe that. When good anything feels very far off and very impossible today. He has prepared a place for us (John 14.2) and whether that is here, in this home, or in a new heaven and new earth, God said it.

Father, help me to know my place. That the very safest place for me is at the foot of the cross, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as your daughter, as a discipler and learner, a friend. Most of all, help me to see Christ in His place, high and lifted up, seated on the throne, parenting a world, and following the direction of His Father, wholly unconcerned with His place even while He prepares a place for us.

The Long Way Home

December 15, 2013 — 2 Comments

I drive home tonight with the snow coming full at me, like swimming in the solar system. You know it if you’ve driven in it, coming down fast, coming down full, laying thick. It’s so beautiful it takes my breath away, I get dizzy at its beauty. But the road is ahead and it slinks long and dark and the snow lays thicker and my tires take me home to the stone house over the bridge on the hill by the river.

I grew up driving on these roads.

Not really. I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania. That’s where first steps and lost teeth and history tests and high school graduation happened. But it was on these roads that I grew up, that I came into my adulthood, that I lost faith in everyone and God, Him too. And it is these roads that I find myself back on, so at home, so full of faith in God and still not in everyone, or anyone.

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

A friend and I drove on these roads for so many hours today. Heated seats in a snow ready Suburu made the drive more than bearable, almost enjoyable. We talked about the kingdom and the gospel and faith and planting churches and love and life and hard conversations and good ones. He dropped me off at my car in Potsdam tonight and hugged me tight and I nearly cried and I’m nearly crying now.

This place is so known to me and I am so known here. I know its cracks and crevices, its hills and valleys, real and metaphorical. I know its roads and turns and I anticipate them by rote. The anatomy of here is home and my anatomy is home here.

I am not homesick for here anymore than I am homesick right now for my very own bed or home in Texas, or anymore than I am homesick for heaven, really. Heaven is just the place where we are surrounded by those who love most—and it is not us that they love most, but this is why it is the safest place of all. That kind of love transcends this horizontal home.

But I leave my friend and weep on the way home, diving headfirst into the Milky Way of snow, gulping up the north country air that smells of woodsmoke and cold and snow—which is a scent I cannot describe even if I try. I weep because coming here reminds me to set my sights on something better than the flurries in front of me, but on the long road before me.

It is a long way home and we are all so far away still.

Maranatha.

Completion

December 2, 2013

I’m trying to be careful to not write much about my relationship with a good man. I know the seeping envy that hearing too much of that talk can do to hearts. I am my brother’s keeper, and my sister’s, and I want to steward well.

The truth is this fall has been one of shaping, shifting, breaking, filling, hurting, misunderstanding, loving, trusting, and hoping. I have a feeling marriage is all of those same things, only fuller and harder.

My hands have been so filled with good things over the years that I have found it difficult to open them and choose another good thing. Paul said singleness was better and that soothed me for a long time, pacifying my desire for a partnership and love. It soothed me so well that I found such deep substance in my singleness after my cries wore off. Not always perfectly—there were still times I longed for someone, anyone really, to be mine. But most of my time I enjoyed my freedom to think, be, say, do whatever I felt full license from the Holy Spirit to do. I felt full.

Fullness is good until you find yourself trying to fit just one more thing, especially if it is of particular importance to fit in, like a boyfriend or fiancee or husband sort of importance. Then that nasty full feeling makes you feel your selfishness and gluttony in sickening ways. You come face to face with how very much you’ve been building a kingdom that looks like Christ’s, but using your own cook and cleaner and interior designer. His kingdom, my throne.

Last week in a meeting with a couple who’ve taken us under their wing and love, I was asked, “What do you want? Deep down, what do you want?”

The answer I gave was cushioned and caveated by “When I let myself,” and “But I don’t think it’s possible,” but deep down what I want is just a life of simplicity. One where I am not standing behind a blog façade, where I greet my neighbors over the fence, and can peaches and keep my front door open and unlocked. That is what I want.

The next question he asked was: “Why can’t you just do that?”

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

All this week I’ve been paying very close attention to what I want, really want, and here’s why: because I know and trust the Holy Spirit within me, I know that my deepest wants and desires bring Him joy, and if they bring Him joy, they bring me joy.

There are so many things on the surface that compete for my joy, things that pacify me, or tide me over, but the truth is God created me for His glory, so something about what I love naturally brings him joy.

I know this is meandering and may not make much sense, but I want to help myself and you understand that what we want deep down is not marriage or love or partnership or singleness. Those things are good, but they all come with a price. What we want deep down is for our joy to be full—and Christ wants that too, He said so. What brings us joy and completes that joy is to remain in His love.

I have not remained in His love in recent years. I have known His love theologically, but there has still been a part of me that has eschewed His love and groped instead for the cross—and not His cross, but mine. The cross I thought He was asking me to bear by being single or ministering beyond my capacity or choosing a life I didn’t necessarily want, but thought He wanted from me.

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

Life is simpler here at home. Oh, there are complex things here, but the life people live is simple, robust and yet unencumbered by so much of what I have found myself surrounded by in recent years. Here I remember who I am in the deepest parts of me and I am loved and my joy is made full.

It is joy that fills us to complete, not duty, calling, or the expectations of others.

What do you want?

A few weeks ago I left work and drove to Austin with a small luggage bag and not a lot of expectations. I didn’t feel nervous, excited, scared, or expectant. I felt, I’ll be honest, suspect. I knew Jennie Allen had asked the lot of us there to talk Church and I’m a Church girl, so that was enough for me. But what was IF?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one on top of that west Austin hilltop asking the question.

I also wasn’t the only one who left three days later still asking that question.

And that is exactly why I’m on board with IF: Gathering.

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Because there was a tremble in Jennie’s voice on that first day and on the last day and on the phone the other day. It’s a tremble that I don’t hear in the Church very often. And it’s a tremble that draws me in. It sounds like faith and expectation and unknowns and it sounds like the Holy Spirit.

This is why I think IF: Gathering is worth every penny. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Church, we are fat on the feast that is knowledge, puffed up with pride and principles, gluttons for information and checklists. We want to see the Father or we want to be Jesus-only-Red-Letter Christians, but the Holy Spirit is there wanting, longing, waiting to teach us all things (John 14:26).

What Jennie and the team are doing is not only different from any conference I’ve seen, they are also doing something that requires buckets and waves of faith. The sort of faith that presses them into the Rock. Peter asked Christ,”To Whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And the team at IF is saying just that.

What else could they do?

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So the preliminary IF: Gathering was worth every penny to me. And if it cost you a penny, it would be worth it to you. But in an expression of faith and an expectation of the same Holy Spirit who fell heavy on our three days in Austin, the leadership team at IF has decided to open the February gathering at no cost to you.

Not no cost, not exactly. Because as Bonhoffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.”

The cost of being a part of IF: Gathering is the same as the cost of being a part of your local church and the global church. It is to come and die. Die to your own expectations and designs, dreams of platform growth or opportunistic voyeurism. It is to die to self and to love the Church in a way that is sacrificial and eye-opening. To see the Church in all her glory and in all her brokenness.

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There are two ways you can participate in IF: Gathering. The first is to attend the central gathering in Austin, Texas along with 1200 other women who desperately love the Church and the table at which we all sit. UPDATE: Registration closed.

The second way, and I hope so many of you will take this route, is to hold a gathering in your own town. Invite women from other churches and faith-backgrounds. Sit at the table. Worship the same Jesus. Commune with one another. The ground before the cross is the most beautifully level ground in the world. Bring that level ground home in a tangible way. There is something so powerful about women opening their homes and lives to one another, reaching across their own tables, over food they have made with their own hands, surrounded by the stuff of their own lives—this is the beautifully messy bride of Christ.

One of my favorite moments at the initial gathering last month was when 50 women from every corner of the Church came to the middle of the room and didn’t see eye to eye, but saw the cross, the beautiful, wonderful cross.

What is IF: Gathering?

Peter asked Jesus, “Show us the Father and it is enough for us.” And Jesus replied, “No, I’ll ask the Father and He will give you another Helper to be with you…He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

IF is nothing. I promise. Jennie would say the same thing to you. It is nothing but a room where the Holy Spirit is welcome to do what He will.

If you’d like to register for IF, whether in Austin, TX or in a local gathering near you, register here. And consider contributing to the financial cost of holding the gatherings. The team isn’t asking for a registration fee, but it costs a pretty penny to help things like this run smoothly and in a way that serves as many as possible. Pure Charity is handling that, so consider giving if you can. (They’re a trusted organization, promise!)

UPDATE: IF: Austin sold out in less than an hour. But you know what? IF: Local has the potential to be deeply impacting in beautifully different ways. I hope you’ll consider it a blessing to be a part of a Local gathering. Open registration begins tomorrow.