Archives For gratitude

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Last year on this day it was a balmy 70 degrees. We spent the entire day out on the back porch in our pajamas, reading, reflecting, and reveling in the time together.

Every year-end my ritual is to close out the year asking myself seven questions, declare the year over, and then ring in the new year with five expectant questions. I do this because I love Mondays and the firsts of the months, the thresholds of sermons and new babies. I love new. Whether I finish well or not matters little to me—I love the thrill of new.

The thrill of new has taken me all over the world, to life in different cities with strangers, to new experiences and new challenges, it has taken me places emotionally and spiritually that I never thought possible. It rarely disappoints.

But this year, at the end of 2012, I’m a little slow to ring in 2013. Maybe it’s the melancholy skies, the raindrops outside my window, maybe it’s the marathon 2012 was, or the marathon 2013 promises to be. I don’t know. I just want to stay the moments, if I can. I know I can’t, but I wish I could.

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In 2012, some small miracles happened that let me take a month long sabbatical to spend working on a book. I know. A book?! It’s a book that is nearly complete, but for various reasons I won’t let out of my hands for some time, it just isn’t time yet. But 2012 let me write it, and you all helped.

In 2012, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the pilot year of a discipleship program at my church. For me it means waking up in the 4am hour, reading and wrestling through difficult portions of scripture, and attempting to do school again after many years absence. To spend ten months studying theology and each book of the bible, to grasp some principles of pastoral theology, and to be invested in by some great minds—2012 gave me that.

In 2012, all three of my roommates fell in love in a three month time span. I felt hurt, neglected, overlooked, and finally, beautifully seen by God in deep and rich ways. He did not give me the love I wanted, but He gave me some gentle fathering and better bread.

In 2012, I made it all the way through a one year lease and then some. This has never before happened to me in my life. We have just begun year two in this small home on Meadow Lane and never have I been more at home in a house. Thank you 2012 for making space for me.

In 2012, I walked into a publications scheduling meeting at work discouraged, tired, spent, ready for a change, though still deeply passionate about my job and place of employment. During that meeting I was surprisingly offered a position change for 2013 that was a direct answer to prayer in multiple ways.

In 2012, I asked for bread and fish and God did not give me the bread and fish I asked for. But He did not give me stones or serpents, as I’d come to expect, and this is growth friends.

In 2012, Sayable more than tripled her subscribers, more than quadrupled her readership, and quit using comments. She felt like work to me like never before, like trudging through mud to plant seeds where there is no guarantee of fruit. There are pockets of joy in her field, but to be honest, those pockets are harder to find. More readership means more accountability, more accountability means more joy—even if it is simply eventual joy. Thank you, dear readers, for pushing me toward the pleasant boundary lines, the places of deepest joy—even if it means staying out of other fields.

In 2012, God showed me what it is like to press through when the thrill is not there, when all things feel old, when nothing feels new, when skies are grey, and when it seems to rain on my parade. The Father is showing me what it means to stay the course, plant deep, subsist on today’s manna, to let tomorrow worry about itself, to trust that if the only new I ever see is that final and glorious day when He makes all things new—that is enough.

Dayenu.

new

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I have a friend who has made a seeming mess of his life. This is nothing he wouldn’t tell you himself and already has, in a way. Whenever we talk he makes it no secret that the path behind him is strewn with destruction.

But here’s the thing about my friend: for one brief moment and then twenty more, in ways that wouldn’t be known to him until nearly a decade later, he was leaving a indelible mark on this writer’s life. It was his words, yes of course, editorials in the Wall Street Journal or evangelical news magazines, sentences crafted with poise and prose and pointed statements. But it was his beautiful self-deprecating confessionals that truly won me over.

“If a Christian can be a writer like this and a sinner like this, there is hope for me,” I remember thinking one day after one such editorial rife with confessions of failure.

There are two camps of writers from where I stand: those who love words, who craft sentences that go down as smooth as brandy with a burning aftertaste, and those who love truth or opinion and wield it every which way no matter how it sounds.

To marry the two is an awful and beautiful call, and it’s done so rarely, see?

One only needs to read twitter or the myriad of blogs in the world to see that opinions are never lacking. But insight and beauty? A paragraph (And who reads paragraphs anymore? But that is another post altogether.) that knocks out and draws close in the same moment? A rarity. Gold, if you ask me.

But to craft such words, the author has to be willing to wrestle. Not just wrestle with himself, but wrestle with God. And not just wrestle with God, but wrestle in full view of the world. And not just wrestle in view of the world, but do it in such a way to make the rest of us know it is a beautiful thing to wrestle well in the light of a God who sees and knows already.

Few are willing to sell tickets to that show.

So when you find such a writer (and please find one at least? They are rare, but they are there. Scour the internet, read the last article in every magazine, ask a friend with good taste in writing and truth.), tell them, if you can. Tell them their words changed you, shifted something inside of you. They will wave it off and talk about the unsanctified deeps of their soul, but tell them.

It is no easy task to craft a sentence, especially in a time when so many believe they’re writers just because they have something to say. Saying something and saying it well are two different sayings, and we would all do well to remember that and keep our tongues still. So tell the ones who have said something and said it well that they have done so.

And maybe someday, nearly ten years after you first read their article, you will find yourself friends and fellow admirers of one another, and—which is more beautiful and humbling—you will find that it is now your own written wrestlings that comfort and encourage them in the battleworn deeps of their soul.

 

Bread

This morning in class we read through the last few chapters of Matthew, including the final supper. I couldn’t help the tears that pooled in my eyes while our campus pastor read the words in that small paragraph. The last supper, yes, but the inaugural supper, that too. The first supper. The first communion. I love that.

So it is fitting, I think, that today I’ve written on that supper over at Grace for Sinners, the blog of Matthew Sims. I hope you’ll head over there and read about a Savior who fulfills the law and uses the word “often.”

“He knows us so well to use a word like often.

We need this, with our hearts so prone to attempting and trying, to sacrificing the modern lambs of our time, our tithe and our truant hearts.

We need this, we who do not understand that the kindness of God draws us to repentance and anything less is a marauder of faith and a shortcut to legalism.”

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