Archives For life

We’re not even a month in and last night I cried hot wet tears, my head in my pillow and my husband bent over me. It wasn’t a disagreement or fight or argument or any of the things I continue to brace myself for in this thing called marriage, it was the death of me and he, and the newness of we.

When we were barely engaged, preparing his house to be sold, it was a sweltering day, he was bent over a toilet, his hair wet with sweat and his hands deep in cleaning supplies. I stood in the bathroom door, cut-off jeans, dirty hands, a mop bucket of water just spilled in the living room and we laughed. What is there to do when you’re doing so many of life’s big things in such a short time? You laugh and then you just do the next thing. Life was a to-do list.

But then, suddenly, it’s done.

The house is sold. The storage unit is packed. The wedding is over. The honeymoon is over. You’re moved to a new state. You have a house under contract. You start a new job. You go to a new church. You’re no longer two, but one. And then you cry hot, wet tears into your pillow on a Monday night because what happened to your life?

All of the good things, all at the same time.

I came home from Denver four months ago ripe with expectation. A dream job in a city I loved, with a church I admired, in full sight of the Rocky Mountains, in a green and lush state—what more could I ask for? I said as much to a friend at our coffeehouse that morning and what he said back to me began the whirlwind relationship that led to marriage. My husband (I still say that word with timidity, as if trying something for the first time—which I am) and I say to one another all the time, “God doesn’t have to be this gracious to us and to display His faithfulness to us like this, and yet He has chosen to and we’re so grateful.” And we are.

We are.

But even an overwhelming avalanche of goodness is still an avalanche and can crush.

For so many years the lack of so much I desired felt like I was somehow out of bounds of God’s goodness. There was a pasture where His faithful sheep prospered and I had somehow wandered too far from the fold. But it wasn’t my faithfulness that garnered His, I found, it was His faithfulness that drew me back again and again. He hemmed me in, behind and before, and laid his hand on me when I needed it. I still cannot understand His reasons for withholding and now His reasons for giving in abundance, but David knew something of that:

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

Caedmon’s Call has a lyric which says, “The problem with these mysteries is they’re too mysterious,” and this is how I feel about life right now. I cannot understand it and I cannot even try. It is too wonderful, too high, too mysterious, too good, and too hard.

It is enough that I am hemmed in, behind and before, with the hand of the good shepherd upon me for discipline and love, and sometimes both at the same time.

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

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

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

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

I believe it sometimes. Do you?

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

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

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

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

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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.

The plan was to leave Texas almost as soon as I came to her. Six months, see if God was real, and if he could spare any love for a doubter like me, then move on, vagabond my way through life. I figured God (if he was real) could manage an oddity like me better than any one place could.

Five years later: I’ve tried to leave her a half a dozen times but she’s kept me, like the song goes, “Not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway.” A year ago I sobbed on my bedroom floor before signing another year lease. It felt like signing a death warrant. Another hot summer, another suburban home, another brown winter, another flat year.

But God turns our mourning to dancing—or something like it.

. . .

I died a thousand little deaths throughout 2013 and 2014. Every one of them seemed a no to me and my desires. But the best of them were no to my lesser desires and I see that now. I have wanted a great many things, but too often I take the leftovers, certain God means for me to suffer until I am left with only Him.

A hundred decisions loomed in front of me over the past two years and I, like Rebekah, packed my little idols in my bags just in case. I worshipped the lesser gods of marriage, vocation, location, and more. I was certain God wouldn’t give me all the desires of my heart, so I settled for the scraps of just one, maybe two.

But something unexpected happened: the more I submitted to being all here, all in, Texan for as long as God would call me to be, I began to love Texas. Love for her people, her places, and specifically my place in her—it all began to grow. It was small at first, imperceptible glimmers, but it grew stronger and stronger until the thought of ever leaving seemed unlikely. I went to Israel last fall and the strongest emotion I felt while there was not wonder at the land upon which Jesus once walked, but homesickness for my own land.

For Texas?

Yes.

And then in January I got an email, a job offer. It was not in the location I wanted, not in the church I wanted, nothing of what I thought I wanted, and all of the peace I imagined was possible. I did not trust my heart or desires, though, and passed it through to those who know my propensity to worship lesser gods. Elders and pastors and mentors who know my proclivities, my impulsivity, and, more than anything, know the Holy Spirit. The more I let it slip from my grip, the more it seemed God was saying, “No, daughter, this, this is good.”

. . .

I stood in that church building a few weeks ago, the sunlight streaming through the windows of the hundred year old sanctuary, the Rocky Mountains to the west outside, the liturgy spoken and sung by all of us, small families and staff on all sides of me who’d done nothing but bless me and answer every question posed to them over four days—and I worshipped God. I worshipped God because he heard all my prayers and during all my attempts to thwart Him and take the lesser portion, He was still storing up the greater one.

This is an announcement of sorts, true: I have been handed the description to a job that only existed in my dreams and been told, “It is yours if you want it.”

But this is also a proclamation of sorts: the lesser gods will always be there clamoring for my worship.

They will be prevalent in Denver, Colorado at Park Church where I will work with their leadership team to train and make disciples in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. They will be there as much as they have been here in Dallas, Texas where the Lord brought me to the beautiful and full knowledge of Him, trained me in discipleship, taught me submission, and helped me to see He did not bring me out to the desert to die, but to truly learn that man does not live by bread alone—or all the feasts we think will bring us life—but we live on Him and His words and His water and His plans.

Those lesser gods do not always seem like the worst decisions. Mostly often they are just the less than good decisions. I have not fully learned that lesson and I suspect God will always be teaching it to me. But I have learned this lesson: I cannot thwart His purposes. He will not let me live on the crumbs while a feast awaits on the table above.

. . .

If you’re my family at The Village, I sent this in a letter to the elders last week: I’ve been more loved here than I could have ever imagined. The Lord saved me here and taught me more about the gospel, studying the Word, loving discipleship, loving women, submitting to leadership, loving discipline, than I could have known was possible. The Village Church is honestly the most humbling and beautiful common grace I’ve experienced, and you’ve each played a role in that. I’ll never stop being grateful for it and each of you. My heart is broken to leave, but expectant to go.

I mean that for the rest of you too. My heart is broken to leave this place and I’ll be more mourning than rejoicing for the next two months as I prepare to go. I want to end my time here well, which means prioritizing the girls at #highchapelhouse and my immediate community of friends and leaders. We will have a come-one-come-all going away party at Roots Coffeehouse the first week of June, details forthcoming. Thanks for understanding my limitations over the next few months. And thank you for loving me. At the end of one meeting about this with some elders and pastors here, one of them said, “You can always come home,” and my heart knew that home was Texas and you, so thank you. 

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

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

And the girl who loved words suddenly loved the Word.

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

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

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

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

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

And it will change us.

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

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

One of the reasons I’m grateful for my male friendships is because they press me in issues from different points of view. Paul Maxwell is one such guy and Christianity Today published some of the results of our conversations this week. We co-authored this piece on modesty and the yoga pants phenomenon that’s taken the female fashion trend by storm. I hope no matter where you land on the subject of female modesty and male lust, you’ll take a few minutes to read. Yes, we know there are far more important issues in the world, but we believe that global mindedness begins with being personally submitted in the small things. Enjoy! 

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She comes in the coffee shop like she does every day. In every shape and size and age. She just worked out, she just had a baby, she just got out of bed, she’s headed out for the night, she is running errands. She is every woman—she’s you and she’s me. And she’s wearing yoga pants.

“There’s just not much left to the imagination,” thinks the guy sipping his coffee. “Not much extra room for the Holy Spirit.” He works hard to exercise discernment and accountability for the issues he had with porn in past years. He has a wife who isn’t getting younger. He has a fiancée with whom he is trying to maintain purity. He is inundated with flashy ads intended to wire male brains to think one thing about the female form. He is every man—he’s you and he’s me. And he’s surrounded by women in yoga pants.

The question of whether yoga pants are appropriate attire to wear in public has swirled online in recent years, following the garment’s rise in popularity as a casualwear staple. For millions of women, yoga pants are “the new jeans,” worn well beyond the yoga studio and gym.

Among Christians, these form-fitting pants get wrapped in the modesty debate, most recently with a viral post from a blogger sharing her conviction to stop wearing yoga pants and leggings. Then came responses with treatises on freedom and morality and lust and modesty culture. And defenses. And cynicism. And hysteria. And spite

And here we are, fighting about yoga pants.

Rather than taking sides and settling for boundaries or restrictions, we—as women and men—can talk about what it means to approach these conversations with a biblical ethic that respects the people involved, their bodies, and their sexuality, all of which were made by God and declared good. As a girl and guy following the back-and-forth, we see how parts of this debate aren’t actually up for debate.

Continue reading to hear our surprising take on the modesty discussion. 

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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

Today is her first day of school. Orientation, really, but I have learned to count the small blessings. She crawled into my bed last night and we talked about everything until I was falling asleep and she was too giddy to sleep. “Thank you for bearing with me,” she said. And of course it’s okay, I said, it’s my joy, but what I was thinking was how long the paths to life are and how very thorny along the way.

This morning I woke up to make her breakfast, toast and eggs, runny like she likes them, and I thought of the person who made me go to college orientation a dozen years ago. I was a wounded bird in those years and the thought of a classroom frightened and intimidated me, but at her urging I went. I was out of place, older than all my classmates, wildly unprepared for the liberal atmosphere, and I thrived. I sent her a message this morning: thank you for making me go to school, for sticking with me.

. . .

Some friends and I talked late last night about discipleship and long-sufferingness. The long road is, as I said, thorny along the way and we are too often softened by psychology and words like “healthy boundaries” and “my time.” To disciple is to make and to mature, but it often seems a far more glorious thing to make than to mature. We grow lazy and pass people off, as if they were the baton we pass instead of the message we ought to be passing.

This morning I think about how Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and how desperately we all long for that. But he did it at home, in his father’s house, sweeping the sawdust, listening to his mother, caring for his siblings, learning to craft furniture and construct buildings, learning Torah. He did it for years and years and years and years and years, in faithful discipleship from those around him. And others did it with him—even those who knew his true nature as Messiah.

Haven’t we grown weary though? In doing good? Doesn’t our good so often seem to fall on deaf or dumb or fear-filled ears? How long, oh Lord, until we see wisdom and stature from train-wrecked marriages and wayward children and unrepentant friends and, God, my own heart? How long?

Love is long-suffering, though, suffering long. The way is thorny and marked with setbacks plenty. We will administer correction or challenge or wisdom, or walk so long with someone through darkness it feels like the end is never coming.

. . .

I sit with someone yesterday and talk about how a seed can’t grow to maturity if we keep digging it up and replanting it. It has to bed itself deep in the dark earth, it needs the musky darkness to break open and grow, and then it needs light and water and time to grow into maturity and we cannot rush that process—no matter how difficult it is to stay, to be long-suffering, to enter in, to do the difficult work of people.

We need stayers in the kingdom, those who will do the difficult work of discipleship, who walk with the weak as they grow in wisdom and stature, in spiritual things and physical things, in intangible ways and tangible ways. Long-suffering makers and maturers.

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A friend and I talked the other night of friendship and what it is made of, ours specifically. We have learned in our friendship not to give advice. Sometimes it is sought, and then we give it, but sparingly, because we have learned the value of the wrestle.

The wrestle in the Christian faith is not a glamorous or sought after place, I find. We are arrivers, winners, finishers, rarely do we let the wrestle do its work in us. We strain forward, but sometimes so fast we miss the small irks and tiny pains that teach us to slow and listen and hear and constrain. We advise instead of enter in alongside; we teach instead of walk beside. There is a place for teaching and advising, but I wonder if we would be more wholly sanctified if we did less of those and more of entering and walking.

Tonight I read these words in Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus:

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:52)

Jesus says that the Bible knowledge the teachers communicated “took away the key” that others needed to actually know God. A key opens and locks a door. They described the door for people, but they had no way to open the door for themselves or for others. Make no mistake: when it came to door description, they were accredited experts. They spent their days gathering people to look at the door, to painstakingly memorize every line, crack, corner, color, and carving. The Bible teachers and the congregations possessed an expert (keyless) knowledge of an unopened door.

The problem was not the Bible itself but how it was being used apart from Jesus. After all, a light shone into our eyes is still a light that shines in the darkness, but it does not help us to see. The problem isn’t the light itself, for the light retains the capacity to illumine. The problem is the way we are using it. Such light so used in our eyes actually blinds us for a moment. We blink and blink when the light is pulled away. We see spots. Exposure to such a torch certainly gives us an experience of light that is powerful and unforgettable, but this kind of power neither airs our vision, nor clarifies our path. We stumble with squint amid the blur once we try to walk. Because of this, a wise old pastor was right: “It is possible for us to develop a false sense of knowledge.

I know this is not Eswine’s full intention in this passage, but it has me thinking of all the advice, noise, and voice given in Christless counsel. We are brimming full of good ideas and plans—at least I am. More and more, though, I want to still my voice, quiet my words, cease trying to fix problems or offer easy wisdom—even if that wisdom is shaped from scripture and spiritual insight. Sometimes we are not being helpful by simply shining a bright light into someone’s face. It is better to shine the light in the path and then walk alongside them in it.

I want to endeavor to walk in the paths of life in my friendships. Christ’s word, not mine, offers the most abundant life. His word, not mine, is the lamp to our feet and light to our path.

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A few nights ago, after spending Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room and then a series of unfortunate events following, I found myself in the pharmacy at midnight. I turned to the man sitting next to me on grimy chairs, both of us bleary-eyed and said, “Merry Christmas.” He grunted in response and I wanted to cry.

I’ve been hesitant to ask many people how their Christmas was, not because I didn’t want to know, but because I didn’t want them to ask back. Mine was memorable, but not in the ways we like Christmas to be memorable.

. . .

There’s a woman whose story I’ve been following a bit over the past few months. Her husband sent me an email months ago asking if I wanted to review her book. Requests like these are many, but his email was different, and I paid attention. Since then I’ve followed her writing and journey with sorrow and joy. Her name is Kara Tippetts and she has cancer. It has ravaged her body so completely there is nothing left to do but call hospice, which her husband did today.

I read her recent post with tears streaming down my face because what a light and momentary affliction my Christmas week was. Even with another roommate in the Emergency Room this morning and with the weight of life falling heavy on another and the business of living on another—what light affliction. What a momentary suffering. This mama is curled next to her babies and they are watching her slip into the longest sleep. This mama has to hand their futures and living over to her pastor-husband and to the Lord in a way most mothers never will, and couldn’t imagine. And yet how gloriously she suffers.

She suffers knowing it is light—even though it is the heaviest thing she will ever bear. She suffers knowing it is momentary—even though she longs to stay here as long as possible, to simply give them one more memory of her smile and her love. She suffers knowing there is a weight of glory beyond all comparison.

I cannot wrap my mind around that—and I am not meant to, not fully. I don’t think any of us can, not really. Not until we are facing sure and certain death on earth, until its cold grip is nearly complete and our soul slips into the warm presence of Christ. But I want to understand it. I’m begging God to help me understand it tonight.

The only way I know to understand, though, is not to set my eyes on my suffering, but to, like Paul said, not look at the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. I cannot see redemption in this life, no matter how hard I wish for it or look for it. Even my dreams pale in comparison to the glory I know he has prepared for me, so why would I set my hopes on them?

The transient things are seen—and this life, oh this turbulent, tumultuous, tenuous life is so visible, so seen. I see it in every direction of my life and the lives of the people I love. But there is a stayedness in the living dying of Kara Tippets and I am jealous for it. I do not envy her cancer, but I envy the way she has let the cancer eat away at bitterness or fear instead of feeding it.

I let the cancer of fear and insecurity and doubt feed more fears and insecurities and doubt. I stare at my light afflictions, daring them to prove themselves lighter. I trudge through my momentary afflictions, making it a slower and more weighty journey. How much better to set my eyes on the one to whom I run, to run with endurance, and to find myself arrived still astounded at the glory I behold? To spend my life imagining the glory and still find myself surprised at its splendor?

Let that hope of glory be the mark of our suffering, friends.

Pray for the Tippetts family. God, pray for them.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
II Corinthians 4:17-18

(Kara’s blog is currently down, but when it’s back up, here’s the link.)

Kara Tippetts

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

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

Bethlehem and the Shepherd's Fields

Bethlehem and the Shepherd’s Fields