Archives For identity

The gift of hindsight is a blessed one in the life of faith. A friend told me once that faith isn’t faith if you can see where you’re going, so the presence of Ebenezers in our lives is a proof God knew we’d need them. “Oh, look!” we can say, pointing at the thing God did back then, “We know He must be aware and present and caring for us now just as He was then.” And then we breathe and walk on through the storms and circumstances of today. Hindsight vision, in the Christian faith, is always 20/20.

It was with this expectation that I began a discipline in January of this year. When I began, I expected all the life-change we’d experienced in 2015—dating, engagement, marriage, moving, new church, new job, job loss, miscarriage—would begin to settle in 2016. I was wrong. 2016 brought more of the same, and much more difficult internal hardship than the external change of 2015. I look back now and see how God put this simple discipline in my path at exactly the right time and for exactly the right year. Never has there been a year of my life when what I would need most were small, simple, faithful disciplines.

In December of last year Ann Voskamp offered a free print-out of twelve verbs for the new year. Pursue, be, expect, give, and so on. You added the nouns yourself and so I did. I wrote out twelve index cards with twelve challenges on them and when the first of each month came, I prayed for wisdom about which one to choose next.

There were months this year, are still months this year, when breathing itself felt hard. Panic took ahold of my heart and mind, rendering me powerless against fear, insecurity, failure, stress, and sadness. I am no stranger to this panic and it was a close enemy of mine for years, but it has been far from me for the past six. In 2016 it came back with a vengeance and left nothing untouched. Normal, everyday acts become fearful. Faithful commitments have become difficult. Simple relationships have been terrifying. Much of that had to do with the instability of our lives the past year and a half. I have been afraid to move my feet in any direction, even planting them deeper, for fear. There’s a lot people don’t know and many have made assumptions about our direction, church search, the reasons we want to be planted in one home for at least two years, our desire to be out of D.C., and more. It has often felt like even voicing my fears brought more judgement and so it was just better to be quiet. These small disciplines again and again and again reminded me of the One Thing I could do today by the Spirit’s help.

I don’t know where you are or what kind of year you’ve had or want to have. I don’t know how unmoored and unanchored you feel. I don’t know what you’re afraid of or excited about. But if you’re struggling to pick up your feet, your head, your eyes, or your heart, this might be a small discipline you can do with the Spirit’s help. He helped me this year. I tacked these index cards above three different sinks in three different places we lived this year and every day when everything around me was shifting and turning, I would remember and breathe and do what the card said.

If you’re looking for a small, simple, easy way of pursuing stability in an uneasy world, here’s Ann’s post with the free printout from last year. Below are each of my cards, and how the Lord worked in my heart with the discipline on them. Feel free to read on, or stop now. I record them here mostly for my own benefit and remembrance, but also because I hope you are encouraged by my Ebenezer.

January

J A N U A R Y  :  Live with Less
We were nearing the end of our savings account after four months of Nate’s unemployment and no job on the horizon. Pinching pennies everywhere. I have always been frugal, but I had never had a mortgage or a husband to be so affected by our financial situation. Learning to live with less in every way pressed into me not simply with a budget, but learning to ask the question: do we actually need this? or have we just grown used to having it? Things like good coffee, craft beer, grass-fed meat—these were luxuries we just couldn’t have. And we were okay. God was our provision, we would say to one another often in January. Not my paycheck. Not Nate’s. Not our savings account. God alone.

February

F E B R U A R Y  :  Let go of expectations
In early February, although we tried hard, the only job offer was in D.C. We bought our house in Denver planning to stay there forever. As we began to pack boxes and explain our early departure, I was mourning deeply in my heart, not only my own expectations, but others. It was during this month Nate and I began to say to one another almost daily to this day, “We can only be faithful to the Word of God, not to an outcome.” We had many expectations during the month of February and I think it’s safe to say not one of them happened in the way we wanted it to, but God.

March

M A R C H  :  Embrace Limitations
March came in like a lion and went out like one too. We spent five weeks living above a stranger’s garage on the edge of D.C. Everything was new and foreign and frightening for me. Nate was gone from dusk until dawn. We knew no one. Everything took longer because traffic was nuts. I was trying to learn the metro system. I was afraid of being home alone and was home alone all the time. We heard gunshots and sirens at all hours of the day and night. All of our stuff was in a storage unit in a dangerous part of town so, once again, we were living out of suitcases (less than eight months earlier, we lived out suitcases in an AirBnB for six weeks in Denver too). I felt my limitations in a way I’ve never felt them before and just had to learn to embrace them. God was teaching me to drop my expectations of what our life would look like, and put my hope in Him.

April

A P R I L  :  Believe God’s faithfulness
By the end of April, we had five different buyers sign a contract on our house in Denver and all five backed out with little to no reason. We were hemorrhaging money at this point and were looking down the road at foreclosure. Everywhere we looked it felt like we were being taken from, stolen from, and lied to. I look back now and know with absolute confidence no one had malicious intent, but have you ever just been in a place where you felt like that? That’s what April felt like. The poet said, “April is the cruelest month,” and for us it seemed true. I had to remind myself daily that God was faithful, and all that was required of me was to believe His faithfulness, even if I didn’t feel it.

May

M A Y  :  Learn to garden
I have not always liked to garden and have not learned to do it well, but a wise man once said, “If you work with your head, sabbath with your hands. If you work with your hands, sabbath with your head.” So much of 2016 was me alone with my head and I knew I needed to just do something with my hands. We were still bleeding finances though, and even buying a small packet of seeds felt like an indulgence I couldn’t justify. We did our best to clear out some overgrown gardens in the front yard and plant some little bits. I also went home to New York and brought back a plethora of raspberry plants, lilac shoots, and other things from home to put in our yard. We didn’t know how long we’d be in this house, but I wanted to do my best to do the physical act of planting in hopes that it would grow some roots of another kind in my heart.

June

J U N E   :  Engage emotions
I think I can safely say this was one of the most challenging challenges of my year. For all the writing about emotions and the soul and such that I do, I’m actually pretty terrible at engaging my own emotions. I fear being too emotional, or driven by my emotions, and so it seems easier to just ignore them altogether. Nate and I began seeing a counselor in June, though, because our first year of marriage had been so emotionally fraught with pain. In our first meeting, our counselor said after hearing us talk for a bit, “You guys are both clearly very intelligent, very smart people, but I wonder, do you feel anything?” It was like the floodgates opened in me then, and the entire month of June I cried. I’m not exaggerating. I cried every day. It didn’t feel productive. It felt wrong. And yet it also helped me to feel period. I was able to start mourning some of the Really Hard Things from the year. I reminded myself daily that God wasn’t surprised or ashamed of my emotions, that he made me and loved me.

July

J U L Y  :  Daily Repent
After the emotional dam broke in June, I found July to be a month of repentance. Mostly to God, but also to Nate. It felt like every day there was another conversation about how I failed to communicate, serve, be honest, etc. He is endlessly patient with me, and always forgiving before I need to ask, but July felt like a mac truck hit me and I took him down with me. I think July was a month when I learned what a godly and faithful man God had given me. I thought I knew it before, but July it really sunk in. I was a miserable wreck.

August

A U G U S T  :  Give what I can with His help
In August we were finally back in the black financially. We still weren’t bringing in anything extra, we had sold the house, losing nearly 100k, but were able to pay off the debt we’d incurred to the penny. I knew we were able to breathe a bit financially, but I’d grown so used to not buying anything that the thought of giving anything away felt scary. God had to unclench my fingers around our resources again and teach me to give out of the grace we’d been given. He also taught me to pay attention to how our giving affects others. I think in western Christianity, we like to give anonymously, and I don’t think that’s always wrong, but there’s blessing too in being able to rejoice with others when their need is met. This was a good lesson for me in August.

September

S E P T E M B E R   :  Do things outside
September weather in Virginia was hot and humid, and I’d hoped to be able to do more outside in September, but with a puppy who can’t abide temps over 70 degrees, my options were limited. I tried to sit on our back porch and work as much as possible, and walk Harper (drag Harper) a couple times a day. I love being outside and so this month didn’t feel too different than other months. It was a good reminder to be intentional about it though.

October

O C T O B E R  :  Break bread with others
At this point in our year, we knew that staying in D.C. wasn’t going to be a long term plan for our family. Nate’s commute is at minimum three hours a day, at least once a week it gets up to four hours. This seems to work for some families, but that, combined with the cost of living here and a few other reasons, made it clear to us that we couldn’t stay here. We have tried to be faithful to open our home to new friends and make a place at our table for anyone. We’ve found it harder here than we expected, and I think a lot of that is because we and others know we’re not here long term. This was a challenging card for me because I think it was the first card I really didn’t want to do. I was exhausted from trying to build relationships in Denver and then leaving them, and now knowing we’d be leaving again, I felt like it just didn’t matter. God used the presence of one family in particular here, though, to soften my heart. We don’t see them as often as we saw friends in Dallas or Denver, but knowing they’re here, and we love them, has been enough sometimes. What did happen a lot in October, though, is we had a revolving door of out of town friends and family. I changed the guest room sheets no less than eight times during October and that itself was a blessing. God knew this challenge wouldn’t look like what I hoped, but it would still be a good challenge for October.

November

N O V E M B E R  :  Be unbusy
After the busyness of October and the looming deadline of a big project for me, we called a moratorium on visitors for November. I didn’t let email, phone, writing, people, or chores master me. I had two objectives, to finish my deadline and to love my husband well. I didn’t listen to podcasts, read articles, read the news, read Twitter or Facebook. I didn’t talk politics with anyone. I just kept my head down and worked. And at the end of the month, the world still turned just as faithfully as it has since creation. Who knew?

December

D E C E M B E R   :  Grow in peace
We are still in December, obviously, but already I have been learning about the steadfast love of the Lord never changing. Our year has been full of transition and it has not been easy. I want nothing more right now than to be rooted, anchored, moored, and planted. My wildest dream in the world right now is to live in the same house for two years. Partially because we want to start the adoption process, but partially because I just want to be still, have community, build relationships, invest in and be invested in. But God has not unveiled His plan to us yet, and so all I can do is say, “God, You still hold tomorrow. Give me the gift of peace today.” And it is enough, it really is.

 

homemade soupI like to think of myself as flexible, in spirit and person. I am naturally judgmental of myself and not of others, and prone to dissecting my inadequacies with a double edged sword, painfully and precisely. Some call this naval gazing or introspection. I am learning it can be a tool of the enemy to split the Gospel into sections, applying some to me, all to others, and none to the parts I stumble over naming.

Last night we ate soup and homemade bread and in the middle of dinner pulled up a Shane and Shane song on YouTube. We don’t usually keep electronics at the dinner table and by usually I mean we never do, but we were talking about shame and the enemy’s ploy. I had sent this quote from Pilgrim’s Progress to Nate earlier in the day and we were talking about some shame I have been carrying around like a child carries worthless treasures in his pocket: sticks, stones, names that really do hurt you.

“Shame tells me what men are, but it tells me nothing of what God or the Word of God is,” said Faithful. 

It seems to me we’re all carrying shame in some fashion. (Shame is different from guilt, although we often confuse the two—guilt is a true reminder of what you have done, shame is a cloudy reminder of what others or you perceive you have done—but neither are too far gone from the expansive cloak of the gospel.) Few of us will take the time to tell the difference between shame and guilt, and even fewer will raise our hands and say, “That’s me. I am stumbling under the crippling weight of shame.” It is so shameful, see, to confess shame. For the guilty it is easy to point to a specific instance in which the sin was committed, to say, indeed, I have done the thing. But shame? Shame slinks and crowds and cordons and points and laughs and we all feel like blind men groping in the pitch for something to feel guilty about because the shame is too much to bear without a certain wrongdoing to make right.

We can repent for what we did wrong, but it seems impossible to repent for the compulsory constant feeling that we’ve done something wrong. This is shame. Guilt sends you to prison. Shame keeps you out of it but makes the whole world a prison. You cannot go anywhere or see anything without a pulsing reminder that something isn’t right. This is shame.

Years ago my pastor said when the enemy comes and tells him he’s a failure, he’s wrong, he’s terrible, he’s a loser, he tells the enemy back that he is right. He is all those things, and more. This is why the gospel is such beautiful news, he said, because all the things the enemy says about him are true—even worse (lust is as adultery, hatred is as murder!), but Jesus. Sweet Jesus.

Somewhere along this year I’ve had my head down so far I could only see the strewn failures behind me, there is nothing I can do to make any of this year make sense or be made right. I feel shame about marriage, my body, my fear of violence, our loss of financial security, our home, church, all of it. There is not anything in life unscathed from shame these days. If you note something beautiful about any of it, the thing quickest to my lips and heart is how I have failed at all of it. And this won’t make sense to almost anyone, but it makes sense to the enemy and he has taken every foothold he can in the process. And you have places just like that in your life today too.

Last night, that quote from Pilgrim’s Progress, the song from Shane and Shane, my best friend reminding me that whatever accusations come my way are true, but not as true as the gospel which covers them all—these things are raising my head, slowly, surely, reminding me of truth. If this weighty shame is not telling me something about God or the Word of God, then it is not of Him, it cannot be.

This morning I read in Colossians and circle all the times the word “all” appears and it is many. The first chapter is full of them, they’re everywhere. I am reminded that there is no part of my heart or soul that is not covered completely by the gospel of Christ, whether a true failure or a percieved one, His grace is enough. It is all and enough.

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.44.59 AMI’ve been wondering, these past few weeks, when did it become a sin to be sad? We have become little band-aid applicants, carrying them with us everywhere in the form of advice, counsel, scoldings, and, for those unwilling to soil our hands, corridor whispers. We are faster than an ambulance in our rush to clean the scene, sweep away the proof, and move on to bigger and better and happier things. Does anyone think, I think to myself, how silly it is to do such a mediocre job when what is needed is surgery only God can perform?

Two verses, but mostly the same, have played on repeat for me in this year of sadness (Is it okay if I say that out loud? I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, and nothing to lose.). They are from the book of Jeremiah (that great Lamenter for whom we seem to have little use in happy, clappy modern Christianity):

From prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace. (Jer. 6:13-14 & Jer. 8:11)

It is against our nature, I think, to apply pressure to a wound, everything in us wants to be soft with another’s and softer with our own, to handle with care or kid gloves or not handle at all. But the greater temptation is to cover a wound lightly and call it healed: out of sight, out of mind.

I don’t know when exactly the gauging came, but this morning I read my husband’s text in the still dark morning and send my own back. Our prayers are staccato sorts: Help. Pray. Please. Love. Sorry. Forgive. Forgiven. Love. Love. Love. Marriage is beautiful, but sin crouches at our door waiting to pounce and we must rule over it, even with staccato prayers in still dark mornings (Gen.4:6-8). But how did we get here? How did the wound grow from small and tolerable paper cuts to tears on the way home from church and pulsing guilt for the seeming missteps of our year? We both believe in a sovereign God, don’t we? Why then would we falter for one second even, in our belief that He directs our every step—even if it feels like we’ve fallen into a ravine and there is a cliff above us and a rushing river below us—death no matter where we look.

Maybe this isn’t you. Maybe you’re one of those happy, clappy Christians who has never fallen into a ravine or had to scale a cliff or navigate roaring waters. I don’t envy you, although I suppose I should. My pastor used to say, “Suffering is coming for us all. If you haven’t experienced it yet, it’s coming for you.” And I used to believe it had come for me and I had gotten through it okay. I was wrong, and there’s probably more ahead. The truth is I don’t understand the happy, clappy Christians. I really don’t. I don’t understand those who would heal a wound lightly (though I’ve been guilty of it a time or seven), thinking it would be enough to have paid attention for a second and then washed my hands of it, having done my part smartly enough.

There are so many things this year I can’t even begin to tell you but they all mount one big awful offense: God cannot be trusted. I’m horrified to say those words at all, and especially horrified that the offense hurts me worse than it hurts Him. It also isn’t true, and I know this with every fiber of my being. But the arrows carrying their deceitful message come flying still. Who here hasn’t felt the flaming arrows of untruth come battering down on their weary souls? If you say you have not and will not, I beg you to read the accounts of Paul again and then talk to me. What I cannot figure out, though, is how stalwart he stayed through it all.

What I am saying is the same as what Hemingway once said, “This world breaks everyone,” and also “And afterward we are strong at the broken places.” But to pretend the brokenness and the broken places don’t happen or don’t hurt or need to be fixed speedily or need some form of happy, clappy Christian healing with immediacy, is to lie, not only to the wounded, but to yourself most of all.

It is no sin to be sad. I have believed that theologically for a long time and it is being tested in the crucible of truth now. Can one be sad and still trust God? Can one mourn and still know God is good? Can one weep and still know morning is coming? Can one grope blindly in the long night without one single doubt that God stands there, somewhere and certain, in the sea of darkness?

I have thought those things might be possible and now I know they are. My sadness is not a sin, but I will not call “Peace, Peace” until the heavy hand of healing is applied all the way through.

. . .

Maybe you are sad today too, maybe the dark night of the soul has lasted far longer and been far darker than you thought, or maybe you know someone for whom that dark night is their reality. Nate and I watched a film this week where the lunacy of the main character was not portrayed as such from his perspective. To him, his friends were not imaginary, they were as real as he was. We remarked, at the stunning conclusion, how it helped us to have empathy for our friends walking through forms of depression, lunacy, and irrationality in a way we might not have had before. Their pain is as real to them as our pain is to us. I do not need to feel their pain precisely to understand its reality. I pray for this for us all.

Everyone you meet today is carrying some hidden weight, and the temptation to make your own greater in comparison, or to overlook theirs for laziness or fear, will be great. I beg you today: Do not heal a wound lightly, your own or someone else’s. Do not cry, “Peace! Peace!” simply because you want their sunny disposition returned. Sit across from them and ask what hurts and don’t offer counsel or advice or bandaids, ask only for the Savior to be near, because His word says He is and He is the only One who can heal all the way through to the other side.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)

I read an article last summer while we were waiting for our house to close. It cited a survey done listing the ten most stressful things a person can do. To the best of my recollection and in no particular order, the list was:

1. Buying a house
2. Divorce
3. Moving cross-country
4. Death of loved one
5. Getting fired
6. Persistent debt
7. Starting a new career
8. Having your first child
9. Planning a wedding
10. Selling a house

We decided to knock seven of them off the list in one year, and because that wasn’t enough, now we’ve decided to do three of them twice in one year.

. . .

Our beloved little stucco farmhouse in the city went on the market Friday. It’s hard for me to think anyone could ever love our home as much as we do. It was our first home together, and for me, my first home.

I’ve gotten so used to moving (18 in 14 years) it was with robotic motions I packed our bookshelves the other day. I know this drill; I know it more surely than I know how to stay somewhere long. This place, though, this home was supposed to be that.

. . .

We got the job offer in January, but we waited, like we wait for birthdays or anniversaries, certain if we hold out long enough what we really desire will materialize. February 5th was the day we knew—bank account considering and emotional fortitude allowing—a decision would need to be made. The decision itself felt easy by then: when you only have one option, the decision is just made for you. It’s like a magic trick with none of the magic and only the tricks.

. . .

I have never moved before without a sense of calling, a certain direction, a knowing. I’ve always known what it is I’d be doing and where and why. But this time feels like a giant question mark and a blank stare. I’ll go back to writing again, of course, but that answer hardly satisfies anyone—including myself. Writing is the luxury of the very wealthy or the bread and butter of the very poor, but not for a middle class wife in northern Washington, DC. Another word for her is lazy and this is the lie I’ve begun to believe about the next season of life.

A comfort is we’ll be back on the east coast, where family and friends live and where our roots are. That’s a truth I can stand on and hope in for the time being. Being three hours from my best friend? We haven’t been that near one another since we were 18 years old. If I am going to anything, I am going back to it, and that is an incredible blessing.

. . .

I am learning what it means to be called to a man and the calling to which he feels called, and still be a whole person with a full gamut of hopes. I’d follow this man anywhere on earth. I trust him with my whole heart and respect his desires, goals, and ambitions. It is not the following I struggle to do, but the identity I leave behind in the doing of it. Eight months ago one of my editors asked me to write an article on identity and my new one as wife. I still have not written the article because every single time I begin to feel settled and at home in today, tomorrow warns me it’s coming and it won’t be easy.

. . .

This morning in church a friend sat near me and said, “I think maybe the Lord is going to lead you into a time where you can rest and be nurtured, instead of outgiving yourself and nurturing others.” Nate and I have verbalized the hope for that to one another, but not to anyone else, so her words were comforting.

The Lord hears and knows that we are dust.

. . .

I thought for sure I would get at least a year in one home, but seven months to the day we moved in, a moving truck will pull up to our curb and load our possessions. We will hand the keys to a power of attorney and we will drive away, again.

I used to admire the nomadic life, the one of minimal material worth. I used to long for the vagabond way, always on pilgrimage to Zion. I used to long for heaven so deeply that each move was only a reminder I wasn’t home yet.

Last night I dreamed of a farmhouse outside Washington, DC. One with white walls and a fireplace, a few trees, and a plain and bright kitchen. Maybe it only exists in heaven. And maybe even it wouldn’t ever be home enough.

. . .

Yesterday we have a line of people viewing our home and I simultaneously pray they all love it and hope no one ever buys it ever. Nate and I spend the day out, coffee shops, bookstores, movie theater, just driving. At the bookstore downtown I ask a tall man passing by me to reach the book on the top shelf: The Evolution of Washington DC. I hold the book to my chest and walk back to Nate on the couches and I read every page of that book sitting there. I grew up on the east coast, drenched in all the history I could handle, but now this piece of history will become a piece of my history and I want to learn to love it.

. . .

When I was in middle school I read a true story of the pioneers who crossed the American frontier in a Conestoga wagon. There was a paragraph about a mother who, when the traveling grew too long and the wagon too heavy for their sickly oxen, parted with her piano on the plains of Colorado before the mountains. I have never forgotten that picture. All she could think of, the book said, was how much her home would miss the music.

And all I could think of was how musical those plains would become.

For the Lord comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Isaiah 51:3

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Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the rock of ages,” and I have written about it before. It still stands that I’d rather kiss the wave after it’s battered and thrown me against the Rock instead of while it is battering and throwing me. I am human and therefore value self-preservation.

Honeymoon stage is a phrase I wish didn’t enter the Christian’s vocabulary. If marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and the Church and we are to worship at His throne forever in joy, why would we think earthly marriage should be different? I know just saying that has some of you shaking your heads, “Just you wait, Lore, it’s coming for you.” To that I want to say this: our honeymoon was one week and two days long, we spent it in Aspen, eating delicious food and having lots of sex. It was everything a honeymoon should be.

And then we came down out of the mountains to a new city, bought a house, started a job, lived in a basement apartment for a month, tried to make a new and different church feel like home, and we still don’t know who our people here are. Honeymoon was vacation, this is real life.

In the still dark hours of the morning a few weeks ago I made breakfast, sat down to drink my coffee, and read my bible while the man ran and then showered. He joined me when my coffee was drunk and we had a hard discussion on the realities of life: we need a new roof ($15,000) and his car needs $4000 dollars worth of work. That’s nearly $20,000 out of our honeymoon stage budget.

I got to work and he texted a few minutes later to call him. His contract won’t be renewed for his remote job. He understands and is full of faith, and has a skill set that’s useful and employable anywhere, but the kick in the gut still hurts. This wasn’t part of the honeymoon. He’s been looking now for a month and jobs are harder to come by than we thought.

In September I miscarried. For fifteen days I bled and cried and couldn’t answer the question: why? and what? This foreign emotion of being tied to something inextricably and forever felt alien. I am still learning what it means to live “until death us do part,” but that is a two way commitment and this felt painfully one way.

I say all this because I feel the waves and they’re battering and pressing and bruising, but I wake up every single day confident of the goodness of God in the land of the living. I wake up confident that living means really living, really seeing God’s goodness, not lowering my eyes to the sinking depths of life, but raising them to the One from whom my help comes.

Buechner said, “This is the world: beautiful and terrible things will happen,” and I have thought of it often in recent months. Sometimes Colorado is so achingly beautiful and so achingly hard at the same time. And sometimes marriage is. And sometimes church is. And most of the time life is.

I think often on Psalm 73: the nearness of God is my good, and I ask often that I would not just know his nearness, but I would feel it too.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today, what waves are throwing you against the Rock of Ages or what beautiful and terrible things are happening, but I know this: He is good and He is near, especially to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. His love for you is not a honeymoon love, fervent in the beginning and waning when real life hits. His love for you is everlasting and always good.

In the mountains and in the valleys. In still seas and stormy ones. He remains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know the rest of the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stare blankly, my eyes registering her eyes and her story but I can’t remember her name. This happens more often than not right now. I’m shrouded in a gray fog only I can see and sometimes it’s all I can see. The questions are all the same: how is marriage? how is living in Colorado? how is your new job? how is your new house? I’m grateful to be asked at all, but how many times can I reply with ambiguous gratefulness, “God is so good and generous to us!” just so I can avoid thinking through the whole ramifications of the question?

How is marriage?

How is Colorado?

How is my new job?

How is our new home?

They are good, but all so tender and new, hardly recognizable in their current form. When does a seed begin to bear fruit? When it drops into the dark earth? When it breaks apart? When it presses through to light? When it blossoms and blooms? Or does it happen back, far back before that, when it is still part of fruit itself? I don’t know.

A friend tells me this morning she feels like she’s walking in a fog and I hear it but it isn’t until I pray for her at the end of our time that I remember God made fog too.

Maybe he made fog so we would slow down, stay home, remember we are dust. Maybe he made it because the earth needed only a mist and not a heavy rain. Maybe he made it because we can’t see through it and we need mystery because we need faith. I don’t know why he made fog or why we spend seasons walking through it, our hands outstretched for some semblance of normalcy, something hard and certain and firm and known.

I think about Elihu, Job’s friend who got it mostly right,

Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.
For he draws up the drops of water;
they distill his mist in rain,
which the skies pour down
and drop on mankind abundantly.
Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
the thunderings of his pavilion?
Job 36:26-29

Father, I confess this season is abundant in its blessings and rich in your visible goodness, but I also confess the fog feels suffocating sometimes. I know not why or how you make rain or mist or spread the clouds or cause thunder—and I know even less how to walk with faithfulness when so much of my day feels like groping in the dark for a familiar place. But I also remember with the psalmist, to “Praise you from the earth, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling your word!” I think of Christ on the stormy Galilee and Noah on the boat and Moses on the cusp of the sea and even Jonah in the hot desert and I remember you hold the weather on earth and the weather in my heart and you decree it all and you are great. When the fog clears and I see you face to face, let it be all of you I see and not the faces in the crowd or my identity or calling, but you.

fog

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We woke in the 2am hour to catch our early flight home from Denver. We are bleary-eyed and bloodshot and learning as we prepare to leave this place, we will leave tired. Finishing well is a common idea in Christianity, but not oft practiced well. Every day I see more I’ve dropped, more people I’ve failed, more relationships I know I cannot give my bests or second bests to as my time here ends. This is a humbling time.

I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. It’s not my first time through and yet it’s wrought with more meaning this time. Eugene is at his pastoral best as he teaches people to minister well—which means, sadly, some things do not end well. People are gifts but they are not presents. We cannot wrap them up with paper and bows and call them finished, not ever. This is a humbling realization for anyone in the work of people.

Faithfulness to the word of God and not an outcome is the mantra coursing through my being the past few months. I am an idealist and outcome is my operative word. I want to see a path and take it until a clearer path emerges. I do not fear the unknown, I fear the known. God’s word is the clearest directive we have and yet I trip myself up on good ideas, three points, and a clear plan. It is the wrestle of my soul these days as I watch the sand slip through the hourglass and my time in Dallas-Fort Worth ending.

I just didn’t expect to leave in media res. I didn’t expect the unknown would be leaving here, not necessary forging to Denver. And I didn’t expect to be so sad. So, so sad.

How do you be faithful when you know you’re leaving? It feels like a spiritual prenuptial agreement. I’ve married myself to this place and these people and this church and leaving her feels like tearing myself in two.

One of the elders at the church where I will covenant next said to me yesterday: “It would be a problem if you weren’t sad.” And I know he’s right. I just hadn’t counted on being so sad about leaving Texas.

This isn’t about much, I suppose, just some thoughts on a perfect overcast spring morning in Texas. I’m supposed to be writing a paper for school; I’m sitting in the coffeeshop I’ve sat in nearly every day for two years; I’m across the table from a man who loves and serves the Lord more than he loves and serves me, which is more than I thought possible; down the road from the local church who has discipled me in the richness of the gospel for five years; I’m known and loved here, and, which is more, I know and I love here. No matter how many balls I drop or relationships I inevitably fail—those things don’t change. God did not bring me here to leave me here, but neither did he bring me here to leave me unchanged by here.

The sad, unfinishedness of this season is good, I think. It would be arrogant to think my exit would be without either, as though my presence here would demand a simple extraction plan. My heart has found a home here and it took far longer than I wanted or expected, but I’m grateful for the gift of it as I make my way to a new home.

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Every spring my social media feed bursts with photos of children sitting in fields of bluebonnets, an annual tradition in Texas. It’s purported to be a crime to pick a bluebonnet, our state flower. (It’s not.) It’s definitely a crime that I’ve lived here for five years without ever coming close enough to a bluebonnet to be tempted to pick one.

In Texas, bluebonnets mean spring. With such little variation between seasons, we get stuck in a cycle of light green to dark green to brownish green to less green and back again. As a native of the Northeast, my soul craves the ebb and flow of nature’s clothing, the predictability of life and death, and the knowledge that within three months change is coming.

Similarly, Christian culture has groomed me to believe that as sure as spring, summer, autumn, and winter, my spiritual life operates in seasons. Elation. Joy. Discouragement. Fear. Worship. Obedience. Death. Life. During extended times of doubt, someone is always ready to tell me, “This is just a season; wait it out!”

But are they right? (Keep reading at Christianity Today…)

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At the risk of sounding like I’m not looking forward to transplanting to beautiful Denver at the beginning of June and starting a job I can’t wait to do, I have formulated a canned response to: “Are you so excited!?” I am so excited and I am also so, so sad.

The Lord does give and does take away, but he doesn’t always do it in that order. Sometimes he takes away and then he gives, and oh how he has given in the past season.

He has given so well and so plentifully that I cannot help but mourn what I will lose by stepping into other good things. As I navigated making this decision, walking through it with several pastors, elders, and friends from my church, it seemed the more Denver was looking like a probability, the more I longed for what I had already here. The morning I got on the plane to Colorado with one of my best friends for a scouting trip, I was certain I would leave my time there deciding to stay in Texas.

But when we got on the plane after our trip, it was clear to both of us: Denver would become my home sometime soon.

It felt like both a generous gift and a strange gift. The timing felt (and still feels) awkward and uncomfortable. The community of people I have around me currently is the richest I’ve experienced yet at my church; the home in which I live is not without its struggles, but I love it deeply; a man who captures more of my affections every day in every way snuck quietly and surprisingly into my life; nothing about this timing makes it feel good to exit this place.

And yet there is more surety in me about what the Holy Spirit is doing and where he is taking me than I can remember.

. . .

This is just a testimony of sorts, it’s not a formula. I’m not saying, “Let go and let God,” or “Stop trying to control life and everything you ever desired will happen for you.” Those are unhelpful statements at best and terrible theology at worst. What I am saying, though, is I came into 2015 with my palms up and a blank slate. I thought I made a wreck of some things in the previous year, but God knew those things weren’t wreckage, they were seeds, and their time hadn’t yet come.

James 5:7-8 says, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

I thought I was wasting away last year. Dormant. Standing there, waiting, and for what? I didn’t even know what I was waiting for. But just as I prepare my heart in this day, surrounded by rich bounty, God has been preparing my heart for the past two years, in a fallow field I thought was wasting away. The ground produces best when it is allowed to rest, to sit unused, empty, tilled, waiting for the right time.

Is now the right time? I don’t know. I can’t possibly know, and I have learned that all the certainty in the world doesn’t mean we always get what we want. But I have also learned to trust that barrenness doesn’t mean uselessness.

I.

I am not like those Israelites in the wilderness, the ones who handed over their riches to make the likes of a golden calf. I clutch to my idols in their original form. I do not trust a maker of any sorts with my valuables, I trust only myself. I adorn myself in them.

II.

I wonder sometimes if all the Israelites gave Aaron their jewelry on that day, or if there were some who held back because an idol in their hands was better than one melded with a hundred thousand other idols.

III.

Remember when Rachel hid the idols of her father’s household in her satchel? She carried them with her just in case. Just in case God failed her, just in case He didn’t come through, just in case the unseen God wasn’t as dependable as the seen gods. Just in case He didn’t give her what she wanted.

IV.

Sometimes the only way you can spot an idol is to have it wrenched from your hands. Empty hands can reveal idolatry.

V.

Sometimes idols in the ancient Near East were the big kind you envision in temples, massive stone or golden statues with people prostrate around them in every form. But common ones were small ones, pocketed bits of clay and wood and rock—things they could pull from their pockets at a moments notice, to fill the void, cure boredom, feel validated, and seek answers from.

VI.

The message to the idol worshipper is the same as to the law worshipper, the same to the younger son as to the elder, the same to the Gentile as to the Jew: that idol and that law will only reveal your need for a Savior and a Father.

VII.

Underneath the gold and silver plated idols was the stuff of the earth: clay, wood, rock. All that glitters is not gold. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”
Isaiah 30:22

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I added up the meetings this week and they valued in the too many for any introvert. They happened in prayer rooms and offices, across coffee tables and over coffee, on our couch late at night and on my bed early in the morning. Listening, talking, walking.

We are in the work of long-suffering, of listening when it seems better to speak, of obeying when the odds suggest we not. We are submitting and silencing, seeking counsel from the wiser and counseling the weaker. It is a lasting joy, but a long-suffering one too. It is hard fought for, but sweet when it comes. It is not popular.

It is easy to create copycats. To say to say as I say and do as I do. To teach to follow me as I follow Christ. But I am not an Apostle or Christ and I quake to tell anyone to follow me. I cannot even trust me, please do not trust me. We ask for the Holy Spirit and we keep on asking, more and more, a helper and comforter, a keeper.

. . .

Today is the two-year anniversary of a little girl on my doorstep. She had a few suitcases, some guitars, no money, no car.

I have known her since she was 14, but really I have known her my whole life. We are different in many ways, but the same questions wrest our souls and tempt our hearts. Two years is not a very long time, but it can feel like an eternity when you are walking with someone who hates God and sometimes hates you too.

Then one day she was crafting a wooden baby Jesus for a nativity scene present and the God she’d crafted in her own image all her life became real. We joke about her blood on the lamb, but four hours in an emergency room on Christmas Eve was no joke. God became flesh and dwelt among her, in her, and through her. And she was changed.

I won’t deny I have been holding my breath for weeks, afraid to let it out. But today is the two-year anniversary of her coming to Texas and the two month anniversary of the day that everything changed for her.

God saved her. I got to watch the change, but I was powerless to save.

She is so much like me in so many ways, and so much like others in so many ways, but she is more and more like Jesus and the Spirit inside of her than anyone else.

I tell someone the other day that she is my letter, like Paul said of the Corinthians, “You are our letter, written on our hearts, known by all.” But not my letter, written by me for others, but “a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Her disciple-making is from and by Christ alone, I merely, as my pastor says, “got to play.”

Mini-me making is a passing fancy. Disciple making is a long-suffering joy.

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Someone asked me how to fall out of love with her ex-boyfriend. “You don’t,” I said. “The problem is not that you love him too much, it’s that you love everything else too little.”

What sets marriage apart from every other relationship is not the love between a man and a woman (although that love is a mystery, who can comprehend it?), it is merely covenant. Love waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows, and there are some days when we barely love ourselves let alone love others. Covenant binds the man and woman together when love seems an impossible venture.

So how do you fall out of love? What if your heart has been broken, your boyfriend didn’t love you back, your girlfriend couldn’t make her ardor match yours? What if you’re the one standing there, empty hearted while they make off with both theirs and yours? In the absence of covenant, how do you fall out of love then?

You don’t.

Oh, there will be some sorting that needs to happen, some grasping and understanding. You will need to be able to discern what about your relationship was idolatrous or lustful and what was good and holy and right and true. You will need to be able to repent for loving the wrong things too much and the right things too little. But you will also need to be able to understand the nature of real love, biblical love, means you cannot stop loving another person, not ever.

The problem is not that we love them too much, but that we love others too little. We do not extend to them the same grace or walk with the same long-suffering. We are perhaps guilty of objectifying or only loving the way someone made us feel—and this is not love, but a cheap counterfeit, flimsy and fleeting, and we ought to fall out of that.

Falling out of love is an anti-Christian idea. Christians must love all the more—even and especially the ones who deserve it the least.

If you are standing somewhere, nursing a broken and bleeding heart, know this: God is willing and working His goodness in that brokenness. But also know this, the way through this is to love others with the same fervor and intensity and selflessness that you brought to your relationship. Nurture them, encourage them, delight in them, enjoy them. As your capacity to love grows, you will find that former flame no longer burning higher than all the others, but a mere light along the path that brought you into the most full and robust love there is. The love of God.

“I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little….No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much—i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserve.” C.S. Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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