Archives For gratitude

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 11.24.05 AM

I have never left well. I’m a runner, an escaper, and I come from a long line of leavers. I color it pretty, as best as I can, but the deep current of my heart rushes to beat feet, run away, slink around the corners and perimeters as I exit, slipping out quietly, hoping no one will notice.

The goodbyes have begun and the tears run freely these days. I tell my home-group I always imagined the weeks before my wedding to be full and rich and unencumbered happiness and bliss, but the truth is I am so conflicted with emotion: happiness and sadness, joy and longing, expectation and heartache. When we leave Nate’s backyard after the ceremony and reception, we leave Texas.

In seven days we leave Texas, our unexpected home.

The realization of what we’re leaving hits hard these weeks. God has disciplined us here and loved us, taught us and grown us, trained us and now sends us, and I don’t think either of us expected any of this. Five months ago he was a tall bearded near stranger and I was entertaining thoughts of life-long singleness and service to the local church. We were okay, you know? We were content and serving the Lord and our church and how much can change so quickly?

It is less about falling in love and more about falling in life. There have been so many times the past few months I think to myself, “Shouldn’t this be harder? More difficult? More wrought with question and doubt and wrestling?” Nothing in my life has come easily and this love came so easily, this move so seamlessly, this job so joyfully—how does one stand beneath the waterfall of common grace and not drown? How do any of us cup our hands and receive all the goodness from God and not stand in still and silent wonder?

I wish I could slow time the next week. I never thought I would be married, never thought I would miss Texas, never dreamed I’d move to Colorado, never expected the gifts of God to taste so good—and feel so full and final.

I want to say goodbye well. Goodbye well to all that Texas has given me, shown me, the ways it has loved me and grown me, but the tension of so much hello on goodbye’s heels feels impossible. I think the goodbyes will happen in increments over the next few months and I think that might be the grace of God too. Gulps of glory one cup at a time.

Texas, I love you. I don’t love your hot summers or your big box stores or sprawling suburbs. But I love your people and I love how you took me away from all the things I thought I loved best so I could see Christ was alone my good. The Village Church, Steps and Recovery, Jeff and Marianne Haley and their parenting of me, Jen Wilkin and her Women’s Bible Study, Matt and Lauren Chandler and the way they have cheered me on, my amazing home-group, Geoff Ashley and his shepherding, Shea Sumlin’s faithful teaching of the word, Radio Lab Discussion Group and the 1099ers, Roots Coffeehouse, the Meadow-Lane girls, Sower of Seeds International Ministries and Red Light Rescue—each of you a glimpse of heaven and eternity and I can’t wait.

Goodbye. I love you. And thank you. I am a life that was changed.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.
Psalm 73:28

mydesign

I have always owned a Bible, scribbled and tattered, ignored or forgotten, but always one somewhere. For most of my life my Bibles were reminders of ways I’d fallen short, paged taskmasters holding the ruler of law over my head. I knew they were supposed to contain the words of life, but mostly they felt like death.

It was a surprising conundrum, then, when the words of the Bible that first preached the gospel to me came from the first verse of the first chapter of the first book. Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the girl who loved words suddenly loved the Word.

Whenever people ask me when I was saved, the easy answer is before the foundations of the earth I was known. The more difficult answer is that I don’t know. I don’t have a calendar date, a circled number to celebrate. I do know I did not understand the character of God until a hot night in September of 2010, on the front row seat at my church’s old campus. And, which is perhaps more, it was the first night I understood that I would never understand the character of God. That His character was as limitless as His creation, as limitless as the “beginning.”

In the time it took to read those ten words, words I had known almost the entirety of my life, I knew my life would never be the same. Through the most rudimentary verse, the one every Christian and most non-Christians can quote, the one we have all read on January first a thousand times over, the Lord opened the eyes of my heart and gave me the slightest glimpse of Him.

I cannot explain it. I cannot explain what I was before—someone who had much knowledge and practice of faith—and what I became after that night. But I was changed.

Since then my thirst for the word, not as a map or guide, nor a dictionary or textbook, but as life has never stopped growing. It is the method, the joy, the comfort, the truth, and so much more. In its pages contain the truest things ever existing: the character of God communicated to his people through every generation. Every verse tells of the gospel if we look hard enough, every book shouts of the plan of a master storyteller.

From the beginning until the amen, it gifts God to us and us to God.

And it will change us.

Tonight my church is beginning a series in the book of James and I cannot wait. The book of James is what my parents would make me write, in its entirety, every time my mouth ran away with itself (which was nearly every day for two years of my childhood). Those composition books were filled with angry scribbled transcriptions and I resented my parents for taming my tongue in this way. But now, twenty years later, those words have become life, the discipline of faith and works, patience and action, words and quiet, they point to a more true thing than a curbed tongue. They point to the sanctifying work of a God who takes a very, very long time to grow us up, make things clear, and bring us into paths of life, to Himself.

His word is a lamp to our feet, no matter how far they have to travel. His word is a light to our path, no matter how long it seems to ramble on.

I have a friend who has always gotten what she wanted, and I have judged her for it. Employment, homes, money, husbands, children, perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect teeth. The world is brimming with opportunity for her, if only she will stare it full in the face demanding it acquiesce to her whims. And it does, every time. I have watched it bow to her for nearly half our lives, no matter how messy the wrestle or how bloody the battle, she always gets what she wants. And she has a beautiful life.

Another friend sent me a text a week ago, “Can we talk?” I have not always gotten what I wanted, and I always assume that is because I don’t deserve it or am not meant for it, that the stretch of my life will be the backhand of God across my every whispered desire. I assume I am always in trouble and text him back accordingly, “Depends. Am I in trouble?”

He spends nearly three hours at my house that afternoon, straight to the point, tender, kind, but unrelenting in his challenges and questions. Where is my joy? Why do I always take the hard road? Why do I think God always means to give me the leftovers? I cry some and listen a lot and talk more in those three hours than I talk in months. I feel heard and seen by him, and a little bit by God too, which is saying more than I can say for this whole year. “Stop punishing yourself,” he says, and another friend said the night before, “You made a mistake a while back and you’re still berating yourself for it.”

. . .

I woke up this morning thinking of the prodigal son, the one who demanded an inheritance and got it, and the elder son who stayed home minding his father’s business but not partaking of the father’s blessings. There have been many seasons where I know I have taken all the good He has given me and squandered it, finding myself face-down in a pig-pen, but today I am the elder son, staring at the fatted calf and not daring to ask for it.

Lest you think, reader, I have never asked, let me correct you because I have. I have asked for the fatted calves a thousand times and a thousand times seen them paraded by me and given to other friends. It is difficult to resent when God gives to those you love, but it is not difficult to resent the God who gives it.

And it is even easier to resent the self who asked for it.

. . .

Perhaps you think yourself a martyr too, like me, certain you will never deserve nor get what you want and so you will die an ascetic’s death, in the scant riches of the poverty gospel. Or perhaps you are like my friend, prone to ask wild things and get them too, scarred and battle worn, but always, always, always winning.

I don’t know if either one of us is more right or more wrong, but I do know both of us need friends who sit across from us for three hours and ask where the true source of our joy is, or if it exists at all.

We know our ultimate joy is in Him, but we are also told to be like the persistent widow, banging on the door at midnight asking for what she needed.

We know he is the treasure in the field, worth everything we own to get, but we also know to ask for bread and fish—which are simply sustaining things and not treasures to any common person.

We know he is the object of our worship, but see how he has clothed the lilies of the field in splendor, inducing our worship of him and satiating our demands to be cared for?

I cannot think it is wrong to ask boldly, but neither can I ask boldly, so I am caught in the tension of simply not asking.

. . .

When I was young I asked for something specific from my parents. They were always generous parents, as generous as they could be in a family of ten. But in this they said no, that one of my younger brothers would be the recipient first for various reasons. But then that same brother died in a sudden accident and our world shattered in every direction. No one was thinking of promises made to children, we were all just trying to survive the catastrophic blow that kept on beating us from every side. Not until a friend asked me this year did I realize I still carry with me a post-traumatic-stress from those few years. I encased myself in getting through it, being strong, protecting my youngest siblings, protecting myself, most days just surviving. My dead brother would never receive the gift, but I would also never receive the gift, because who thinks of gifts when the ground is coming apart around you?

. . .

Reader, I would like to wrap this up for you, but like the gifts I wrapped on Christmas Eve and were torn open twelve hours later, I don’t know that wrapping things up is always as effective as we like to think in evangelical circles. The difficult truth is I have been challenged this week, but not changed, rebuked, but not repented, asked of and not asked in return. I cannot wrap this up for you, neatly and in order, pithy and prideful. I am unfinished, like the nativity scene my roommate was carving for me until she cut her hand and we spent our Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room. Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus are complete, standing on our mantle, but the manger is still in the garage on the work-bench, half finished. A reminder to me that the people who had waited for a great light saw it that night in Bethlehem, but the story still wasn’t finished and wouldn’t be for thousands of years. Two-thousand years later I would still be afraid to ask the Savior to show Himself present.

On a hill a few weeks ago, overlooking the shepherd’s fields and the city of Bethlehem, we sung the words, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I thought to myself, in Christianity it is okay to say our hopes are met in Him, but our fears? Do we ever talk about our fears being met in Him? Our trembling, angst-filled, angry, sad fears? Will these be met in Him too?

Bethlehem and the Shepherd's Fields

Bethlehem and the Shepherd’s Fields

Like the amputee who still feels pain in his phantom limb, I feel the trepidation of misdirection and mis-decision. I made so many poor decisions in the past year and a half that the choice-making part of my brain feels incapable of going straight in any direction.

On January 1st I will sit with my journal and Bible and ask myself the list of questions I ask every January 1st. I will take stock and inventory of 2014 and look toward 2015 with a hope-filled eye. (God, make it so.)

A friend sat across from me the other day and asked why I can’t just get excited about this new season. Life is about to grow crammed with a new job and classes, plus the things already cramming it full and brimming it over. Yet I feel the phantom pains of the missing limbs: the marriage that didn’t happen, the move that didn’t happen, the date that didn’t happen, the conversation that didn’t happen. I have no regrets and I know the gangrene growing on those limbs would have eaten the whole of my body alive. But I feel the loss of them still.

To say those words, right out loud, feels shameful and sinful.

The things for which I am grateful are overwhelming, but they all came at great cost this year. This is perhaps the first time I can look systematically at good and see how it was brought about by death first.

. . .

This morning I read in Isaiah 11, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” Tears fill my eyes and I can’t keep reading because I see the stump legs and stump arms protruding from my person. All I see is cut off limbs, life interrupted, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

From that stump, though, comes a shoot. And from that shoot comes fruit.

All week I have been meditating on what it means to be cut from and pruned. I have done the work of pruning before, cutting branches that do not bear fruit so they will bear more and better fruit. I know the difficult work of taking what is live and making it live better. But I cannot bring life from a stump, I cannot make a dead and severed thing live again. This is the work of the Spirit alone.

On that fruit the Spirit of the Lord will rest,

The fruit that is borne in me through Him will be wholly His, not mine.

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

He has ultimate wisdom for every path in my life, and full understanding of the details.

the Spirit of counsel and might,

He is the one with words of comfort and strength. His advice directs me, and his power carries me.

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

He knows all and is King over all.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see

He will not fret on January 1st at the year to come.

or decide disputes by what his ears hear.

He does not hold the past year against me. He keeps no record of my wrongs.

. . .

I once had a dream in which I arrived at Heaven with no arms and legs. When Christ asked me, “Child, what made you like this?” I answered, “You said, ‘If our hand offends you, cut it off.’ Every time I looked at my arms and legs, all I could think of was the harm they’ve done to myself and others, so I either cut them off or served with them until they fell off.” I do not know what Christ looks like, but I will never forget the care I saw in his eyes in that dream. It was perhaps the first time I felt the love of a Father. He touched the stumps of my arms and legs and gave to me new ones, but they were not mine and this was clear to me. They were wholly un-of me and wholly of Him.

This is the shoot that comes forth from death. Christ.

God, make it so.

design (7)

Cut

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

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

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

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

Nothing has gone unscathed.

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

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

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

increase

Every few weeks I’ll tweet the following: “People, pray for your pastors!” I mostly do it because I need to be reminded to do so, but also because I know how much it means to my pastor friends to know they are prayed for by their people. You can look in any direction today and see churches, leaders, pastors, and flocks crumbling under weights of sin, failure, financial ruin, and more. Not only do I not want to see that happen at my church, I don’t want to be ignorant of the pressures on pastors and their families.

But prayer isn’t the only way we can encourage our pastors. Below are some biblical ways we can increase their joy.

Be of the same mind:

Every parent knows when his kids are squabbling, there’s no peace to be had. How much more joy is there when we, out of selfless ambition, decide to be of the same mind? There is a very intentional choice we must make at times to bite our tongues or not prove ourselves right. We shouldn’t ignore injustice, of course, but sometimes family means submitting ourselves to one another. Paul said it would “complete [his] joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Count them worthy:

Paul spoke to Timothy about the worth of double honor. Double honor isn’t exactly what our generation likes to give to anyone. We indulge in celebrity, where we drink every drop from their gold-tipped lips, or we fall on the other side, cautious and suspect of every leader. But Paul says these guys labor in word and doctrine. They’re laboring on our behalf, working to see in us a greater hope in Christ and the gospel. So not only will you never hear me say anything bad about one of my pastors (a single honor), I labor to speak well of them and to them every chance I get (a double honor). I want them to know I appreciate their investment in me, our church, the Word, and gospel initiatives.

Respect them:

I’m a question asker, rarely do I accept anything at face value, and I’ll chew on ideas until they’re unrecognizable in their original form. Because of that propensity, I can judge my leaders instead of simply respecting their time, study, devotion to the gospel. The truth is I have covenanted myself to these elders, to this body, for this time. I have counted them worthy simply by saying, “Yes, I am a covenant member of The Village Church.” We respect them by making every effort to do as Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” These guys may not always make the decisions that I’d make, but I want to esteem them highly because of their work.

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

I reached out to a few pastors and wives to ask about other ways we can practically encourage and support our pastors as they “keep watch over our souls.”

“Words are inexpensive but rich. Genuine appreciation, heartfelt gratitude can bring healing, strength, encouragement, and vision.”

“Value the elder’s wife in her unique gifting. Do not confer, by extension, the office and responsibilities of eldership on the elder’s wife. Meaning: she is not automatically the “women’s pastor” or the head of any other department by virtue of her position as the wife of an elder.”

“Offering to take us out to coffee just so you can share what the Lord is doing in your life and how you are growing in grace (i.e. not a meeting where we are expected to give advice or answers, but can just listen and glory in God’s goodness).”

“Let us know you are praying for us and what exactly you are praying.”

“Encouraging family time/ rest time. I’ve heard the joke “Sunday is the only day you work,” plenty of times in my life. It’s funny and I’ve said it a lot but when it’s time to rest I love when people really guard that time and certainly don’t act resentful of it.”

“Everyone assumes the pastor and his family have tons of friends; they seem to know everyone, after all! That said, in my experience, we’re generally the ones extending ourselves and reaching out. Sometimes we just want to have someone spread a tablecloth, light some candles, and offer their friendship through a simple meal and a welcome into their home. Leadership can be a lonely place, in all actuality.”

“Bring a meal over if you catch wind of a season of nights when the pastor isn’t home. If I (a pastor’s wife) feel the strain of ministry ever, it’s in the 12-20 day stretches of him being out night after night after night.”

Every few weeks I tweet this: “People, pray for your pastors.

I do it because I need reminders that the men who lead my local church are faithful and godly, but still human and fallible. They hurt just like we do. They struggle to build systems just like we do. They need to repent just like we do. They aren’t superhuman. They’re fully human. So I pray for my pastors often. Not just my lead pastors (although I recognize they are more in the public eye more often), but for my groups pastors, our recovery pastors, our resource pastors, etc. I love the men who shoulder the pastoral responsibilty for my church. I respect them. I entrust myself to them. And because of that, I want to be invested in their fruitfulness. One way I can do that is through prayer.

Here are some things I pray for my pastors:

Pray they would love God above wife, wife above children, children above church, and church above their own life.
Pray they would mourn over their sin, instead of getting lost in busyness.
Pray their mourning over sin would lead to repentance and not death.
Pray they would set a watchman over their time, words, and family.
Pray they would not buckle under culture’s sway.
Pray they would lead with humility and gentleness, boldness and wisdom.
Pray they would ask for help when they need it and that we would give it quickly.
Pray they would rest.
Pray they would work hard.
Pray they would play.
Pray they would have minds that sharply divide the word of truth, and hearts that vulnerably discern the hearts of men.

Pray they would seek only God’s glory and not their own.

Here’s one more important thing I pray for them.

A few nights ago I sat on the corner of our couch, faced my friend, and wept. Hot, sad, gross tears. The sort that feel shameful even as they fall from your face because you know they’re selfish—but you can’t change the hurt, the wounding you feel. The injustice of pain.

Whenever I hear even whispers of any sort of prosperity gospel—that if we do righteous acts, God will respond with righteous acts—my skin crawls with the falsity of it. But I cannot help the sneaking presence of it in my heart, even on my best day, especially on my best day.

I did this and this is how you repay me, Lord? I was faithful. I was righteous. I was long-suffering. I was. I am. And you are what? Where? Where are you?

Tonight I’m thinking of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and of entering into Christ’s sufferings. I’m thinking of the agony of the garden, those last moments when Jesus asked His brothers: can’t you even for one minute stay with me? Stay with me. Be with me here. In my last moments? In my sufferings? There’s a part of me that just longs to be there, in that place, with Christ. I am like the child in the back of the classroom waiting to be picked, the woman with the issue of blood pressing through the crowds, Peter stepping out of the boat onto the water—begging to be let into what He’s doing—even in His sufferings.

But when I taste those sufferings, oh, how I blanche. How I balk. How I complain. How I fear. How I demand.

Many people can’t handle a God who would slay, but tonight I know that even in the midst of the slaying, He is a staying God. Even when I leave, He follows through. When I fear, He stands on. When I barter and cajole and beg and plead, He offers without cost, without money. He slays so He can heal.

It is midmorning and I spread the logs apart, the time for morning fires over, the day’s work ahead. The embers still crack and spark and I stare at their orange and grey glare for a few minutes more.

There has been a dormant joy in my heart these last months. Depression is never such a stranger to me that I don’t recognize her creeping around the eaves and windows of my heart. We are old enemies, she and I, and old friends too.

She is different this time around. She knows where my faith lies and my certainty rests, and it isn’t in my hope or future, but His glory. I count all my hope and future as loss in the surpassing joy of knowing Him. But I have to count it and the counting never ceases.

If all I count are the blessings and joys, will I hold to tightly to the losses when they come? I ask it rhetorically but I ask it earnestly. I know idolatry, we have been friends too. If I do the math, it must only be that I decrease and He increases. In this life only one of us gets to live. It is in heaven, in final glory, that we are both alive.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” said the man who would be a martyr. I look around me and grasp at things, hopes, dreams, losses, always keeping, never giving.

God, help me lose.

Help me spread wide the logs, chance the death of flame, let the embers burn themselves out, and help me do the work of the day. Help me count as loss all things—even good things. Turn my wins upside down and my face to you. Let my counting not be accumulating but subtracting til there is nothing left but You.

I used to dream of canning peaches and hanging laundry on lines, letting it billow in the northern breeze. I was set on a life of simplicity, kneading bread dough by hand, peeling apples at a wooden table marked and scarred by time and use. Reading storybooks aloud to calico-clad babies and lighting candles every night on the dinner table. This was the life of which I dreamed and felt within my grasp. It never materialized and I felt the ache of that deep in my gut years over and over. Sand slips more easily through fingers than through an hourglass and it is so very hard to hold time for long.

I signed leases and moved houses and states and tables. I forgot those dreams or buried them beneath convenience and the fear of missing out on real life while I waited for dream life to happen.

I spent years placing my hand over the ache of want, stilling my heart of its desires, trying to live well in today. Aren’t we such foolish creatures? To think we can capture a vapor and own it for any measure of time?

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

No bridal showers would bring me the things that made a home so I dove deep into thrift stores and bargain bins, my home made of second-hands and hand-me-downs. It feels lived in but I wonder how well I have lived in it? Someone else marred my table-top, someone else chipped my favorite bowl, someone else created my art.

But this is the life I love. This reusable life. It reminds me life is a vapor and time is short and things are falling apart and I am too.

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

Richard Wilbur wrote,

The soul shrinks

From all that is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
And cries,
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

I have never forgotten that poem or the autumn day in college when I first read it. Love Calls Us to the Things of This World and it means we must love the vapor too because it is the stuff of life—the laundry, the rising steam, the clear dances done only in the sight of heaven. We love the marred table and the calico clothes and the lit candles because these are not the meaning of life, but they help us remember the work, the dirt, the mess, the grit of life.

Convenience is not our friend, my brother and my sister, ease is not our aim.

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

A threshold waits in front of me, a coming home of sorts. Marriage and life with a man so wholly different than me and so wholly loving to me, it makes me wonder how you start fresh with so many years behind you. So many scars and mars, chips and cracks—how do you make new with so much old?

I don’t have an answer to that friends, but I know love does call me to the things of this world. It is an angst I wrestle with daily in these months. How to be distracted, my attentions divided by good things? Without love I am a clanging symbol, a noisy gong. And love is work. All of love is work. Beautiful work, like canned peaches and billowing laundry, rising steam, lit candles, but still work.

Let there be nothing on earth but the work of love, even if some days it looks only like laundry.

IMG_0241

When I first met my ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend we were six of us sharing a hotel room for a Thanksgiving wedding. I hugged her hard and I meant it. “Welcome to the Makeshift Family,” I said, and I hoped she would be forever. And then she was.

This morning I am lying on my hammock, my glasses pushed up on my head, staring up at the trees above me, an oak and one I don’t know its name.

In the Impressionist era they would make paintings of small dots of color and this is what someone with less than twenty/twenty vision sees. I wonder if the Impressionists were really just suffering of poor eyesight, but nothing about my view looks poor. I am talking to one of my closest friends on the phone. We are talking about serious things and I stop and tell her about pointillism and Seurat, and how no matter how well I can explain what I see—small circles of color, all the same size, but different shades and lightness of color and sky—I cannot explain this to her. It is beautiful and tragic at the same time. Beautiful because it is, and tragic because my eyesight is poorer than 80% of the population and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Tonight at church one of our pastors shared about the Israelites complaining in the wilderness, “Take us back to Egypt!” they fussed and we all laughed but who of us doesn’t wish ourselves back in what seemed sore but good enough for now?

I rolled over and hugged my pillow tight tonight, wishing for homes. College years with the best friends I’ve ever known. People who know me and who I know even though we’re nearing a decade out. They all married one another, except me and one other. He lives in Colorado and is smart enough to find a girl to marry and get his PhD in bio-chemistry all at the same time. I haven’t talked to him in a few months and it feels like longer. The rest—thank God for Facebook. They are having kids and moving houses and being family together and I am in Texas and Texas feels very far away from what I love and what is still not best for me today.

I have wished for their lives sometimes, the homes, the husbands and wives, the babies growing and toddling and talking. I know they’re not perfect, but there is a togetherness they all have that I do not. I have wished myself back into that season. I have wished myself sick. I squint my eyes to see it clearly, but oh, what I see with my tilted vision, my clouded eyes. It is beautiful and tragic, this world. Beuchner said, “Here is the world; beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid,” and I love it because it is true.

Here is the world, and it will mess you over in a myriad of ways. Beautifully and tragically and back again for good measure. Welcome to the family, it isn’t perfect, but it’s home, in a strange distorted way. You can’t go back, you can’t ever go back, your eyesight has failed you and still it’s beautiful here. But I can’t describe it to you, even if I try.

Hindsight is only 20/20 if you have perfect sight and I never will but it still looks like home from here.

387103_669705533246_1123382129_nThe last time we were all together under one roof. I don’t even know how many bodies are asleep in this picture. But I love every one of ‘em. 

It’s been a few months of feeling discouraged and one of the effects of that is I simply don’t want to write for you. I don’t want to write at all, but I especially don’t want to write for you. I don’t want to be found out, so to speak. I don’t want the world to know my first love feels likes seconds and my *gospel wakefulness feels tired. I don’t want you to know I’ve been struggling with condemnation, fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and weariness. I am ashamed of those feelings—especially because I know they are anti-gospel and they are born in me as a result of not reveling in Godward affections.

plant

Tonight I was remembering some of the things that set my soul free a few years ago. Not the sermons or books specifically, but the realizations:

1. I am the younger brother AND the older brother. I hate restrictions and I love approval, I hate poverty and love lavish attention.

2. God is not more or less interested in me because of my legalism or licentiousness: His provision is the same for both.

3. The gospel doesn’t only carry the power to save me, but also sanctify and sustain me.

4. I cannot put God in my debt by being good, holy, or faithful enough.

5. All my righteous acts are like filthy rags.

6. God is not beholden to my view of Him. My concept of good is not His definition of good. My ideal of His faithfulness is not His attribute of faithfulness.

7. Man’s approval is impossible to attain. God’s approval is completely wrapped up in His Son.

8. God is not surprised by my lack of faith or my abundance of faith, by my questions or my fears, by my pride or my sin. On the threshold of His kingdom He will not deny access to me because I didn’t understand an aspect of theology or walk in complete faith in certain areas.

9. The Holy Spirit is not tapping His toe waiting for my faith to be big enough or my ear to be tuned. He dwells in me, empowering me to accomplish everything God has ordained for me to accomplish with every gift He formed me to have before the foundation of the world.

10. God is for my joy. He is most glorified when I am most satisfied in Him. My complete confidence and joy in the Holy Spirit, through the finished work of the Son, to the honor of the Father, brings the triune God glory.

It was encouraging for me to simply write these things out, and so I thought I’d share them with you. Perhaps you’re struggling too, or perhaps you’ve never experienced gospel wakefulness, and these points will help you along that way. Either way, I hope you’re encouraged. Also, I suggest you take a few minutes to write out what the gospel means to you, or has shown you. Even just to remind truths or clarify errors in your thinking.

*Gospel Wakefulness is not my term, but Jared Wilson’s . Jared wrote a book by the same title, but he has also written extensively on it on his blog Gospel Driven Church. Jared is one of the most Godward gazing people I know. His blog has been a constant source of encouragement in the past few years and I recommend every one of his books with full assurance you will be encouraged. Seriously, buy his books. All of ‘em.

8374449306

Sometimes we just need to stay hungry, she says to me through tears, and I remind her that Jesus said His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him. We are silent for a few minutes before thanking one another for being bread and fish.

Last fall I wanted to ask for something or someone and the Lord told me no or wait or yes or maybe but that He would sustain in the meantime. What I did not expect was the sustainment He gave. She lives on the west coast, in rainy Portland, she studies Hebrew and is a whole head taller than me. She’s blond and beautiful and has a sleeve tattoo and we regularly cry through our conversations. I didn’t ask for her—she was not what I asked for.

Sometimes, she told me once, we think we’re asking for bread, but we’re really asking for a stone, and when He gives us bread we don’t recognize it because we’re still looking for the stone.

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

I read a quote from Kathy Keller in the book she co-wrote with her husband, the inimitable Tim Keller, “Sometimes a pig doesn’t know the worth of a pearl, to him it’s just a pebble.” I underlined those words, scribbled beside them, and cannot stop thinking about them.

Sometimes I’m asking for a stone instead of bread and sometimes I feel like a pebble instead of a pearl.

I find it a bit strange that Jesus said He would built His Church on the rock, crooking his finger at Peter, petra, Rock. On the backs of men who would deny Christ three times before He could forgive His followers saying they know not what they do? On the backs of those who sink after three steps out on watery faith? On the backs of those zealots? Those fools?

It occurs to me that God is the only one who knows the worth of stones, pebbles, pearls, and rocks.

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

If we don’t ask for bread, we might feel satisfied for a long time sucking on the cold, hard emptiness of a stone—thinking it was all He had for us. Or perhaps we have ourselves convinced, like the old fable, that our stone soup is satiating and full.

And still, somehow, He’s building His Church, accomplishing the will of the Father, on the backs of stone-sucking fools like us.

Jesus said to them,
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me
and to accomplish his work.”

John 3:34

We filled our glasses and pulled our chairs close to the fireplace. Only a few of us, but enough still to carry the conversation, none of us noticed when midnight rolled past, and so we asked more questions.

I don’t make resolutions because I know I can’t keep them. Instead I just ask God to birth and build in me what I cannot do myself. Two years ago it was fearlessness. This past year it was to ask. I still don’t know what 2013 will be, but I’m afraid it might be to just ask again.

This morning I read Psalm 1 and I tell myself I am the tree—planted by streams of water, but who only yields fruit in its season and this is not my season. This is the season to ask, but not receive. It doesn’t make me less a tree because fruit doesn’t fall from my laden branches.

It is winter and the trees are bare outside, cold wet cowlicks standing stark on flat brown Texas spreads. I stand outside this morning in the damp cold, the gray skies overhead, cupping my coffee and asking for what seems impossible.

The acorns and leaves carpet our backyard, fruit borne in its season, now lifeless on floor of the earth, making space and way for new fruit.

I turn my hand up and ask for fullness in the right time and not before.

resolutions