Archives For life

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

I take a Puritanical view of holiness. Wrestling, fighting, warring, every method and every hope that what I long for will materialize if I am disciplined enough, good enough, kind enough. Isn’t there a little something of Jacob wrestling with God in all our stories?

This morning I am listening to Bon Iver’s cover of I Can’t Make You Love Me and I realize all this effort to prove my love for God is really just an effort to prove his love for me—and I can’t make him love me.

I can’t make him love me if he already doesn’t.

And I can’t make him love me if he already does.

For some that might seem a cruel joke, but it felt a brief comfort to me today. Maybe you are someone who is surrounded by those who love you and it is a continual proof and evidence of His love, but maybe you are like me, and fear every glimpse of favor is fleeting because it always has been.

I understand a bit of Jacob wrestling today: “I won’t let go,” he said. Never mind the blessing part, but first “I won’t let go.” There was something in Jacob that feared if he let go, God would too.

The truth is I cannot make Him love me and I cannot prove my love for him, no matter how puritanical, orthodox, measured, or full my expression is toward Him. He is love and therefore owns love, even my love.

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

On that fruit the Spirit of the Lord will rest,

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

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

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

the Spirit of counsel and might,

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

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

He knows all and is King over all.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see

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

or decide disputes by what his ears hear.

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

. . .

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

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

God, make it so.

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“I was born fighting the status quo,” I told a friend earlier today. My parents have stories of my infant rebellion and it never really stopped, just grew quietly into a mistrust of authority, a silent questioning of every demand, and a bristling fear of boundaries.

I can mask the stubbornness and strong-will in many ways, namely by giving lip-service to whatever will cause the least amount of damage in the end. I am no masochist, I crave peace and mutual consent, but I protect my own opinion even if no other shares it. I care little for going with the flow, but I do because I care more about not making waves.

This propensity has been my nemesis long and hard. Outwardly I am kind and sweet, but inwardly I am mistrustful and suspect. I am positive everyone means harm to me in the long run and my kindness aims to keep that harm as far away as possible. Kill them with kindness, the saying goes.

Today, all day, I have felt the pressing of submission. It comes in the form of people wanting my time and energy. It comes in the form of demands I cannot satisfy. It comes by email, by text, and by face to face. Everyone around me demanding I bend my will and desires to their will and desires. At one point I asked the question: “Why must I bend here? Why can’t they bend here? Why can’t they, for once, see their sin for what it is and serve the greater good here?”

And then I think of Ephesians 5 and true submission.

Before Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives about loving and submitting, he gives instructions to all persons everywhere, ending with this: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

I have learned to submit, not out of reverence to Christ, but as a tool to secure my own safety. I want to keep the peace, not rock the boat, to be seen as docile and kind, for the good of others instead of myself. It is a twisted manipulation, but those are the best and most poison kind.

It is out of reverence for Christ, though, that Paul says we ought to submit.

When I think of revere, I don’t think of my friend Jesus, my brother, my Kinsman Redeemer, my wonderful counselor, or the prince of peace. I think of King Jesus, the one with a sword in his mouth and his face shining like the sun. The awe-inspiring, fear-inducing King Jesus, the one with whom you do not mess.

Submitting is not something we like or enjoy. A pastor friend of mine says, “Submission begins where agreement ends.” In other words, if we agree on this point, it is not mutual submission we are practicing, but common vision. But Paul wasn’t talking about common vision, he was saying, “In fear and awe of the King on His throne, submit to Him by submitting to others. Take the crown off of your head, the expectations out of your heart, and by doing so, you proclaim what you truly worship.” We preach the Kingship of Christ when we practice submission to one another.

Nothing in my day has gone according to plan and I confess, the frustration that was a mere simmer eight hours ago has steadily turned up higher and higher. I’m asking King Jesus to put a burning coal in my mouth, to rend me silent in my own defense, in my own will and preferences, to be sent and to go where He leads, pressed up against those “one anothers” with whom I will eternally worship our King.

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In the morning, when the sky is still blushed pink and the babes have just scattered to their lives, I sit in the corner chair and read, drink my coffee slowly and breathe. All of this month it has been the book of Isaiah and I can’t stop the tears when they come. The promise is overwhelming and I wonder what it was like to be the people who dwelt in darkness, deep darkness, waiting for their light to come.

You and I know what it is to long for, to wait, but I wonder whether we have ever felt the heaviness, the belly of anticipation, like Jonah who could not know whether he would be there for three days or three years.

I am gauging out a timeline for something and I can only promise one year, maybe two, but the truth is, I can’t see further ahead than one day, maybe two. Was this how Jonah felt while stomach acids corroded his hope? Making plans and feeling eaten away at all at the same time?

He must increase, I must decrease.

I wonder sometimes whether we who understand the decrease, also understand that God is not against blessing us with every good thing under heaven?

Did his people understand this when Isaiah spoke? This is not it, he says over and over, there is more to come. I would have grumbled and shown him the timeline of my life, of my father’s life, and of his father’s. “What is the more?” I would have asked, and I do, every day.

. . .

Two weeks ago I stand by the synagogue where Jesus read from Isaiah, rolled the scroll, and said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your presence.” I think to myself, “I did not live in that today, but I live in this today and it has still been fulfilled in my presence.”

This Advent I am full of today. The punctual rising and intermittent falling, the motions and the movements. Today is what I have right now, I cannot hold tomorrow, I can barely see into tomorrow, and I cannot gather enough of anything to sustain tomorrow. I have this. Today he has fulfilled his word in my presence—and that miracle itself is enough and does sustain and will fill.

“What would take you away from Texas?” he asked and I paused. It’s a good question, but it isn’t the right question. “The real question,” I said, “is what would make me stay?”

And I can’t answer that.

Planes, trains, and automobiles have been my home the past four months. I have traveled thousands of miles, had my affections stirred by mountains on the east coast, the southwest, far countries, and from airplane window seats. I have laughed hard, lived well, come home for short spurts of time, and it has been good. But tomorrow I go home for a long time and I cannot wait.

One who knows me well, who has survived my transient feet and wandering heart, said to me recently, “Lo, sometimes I think the thing that would make being in Texas okay is for you to just decide you’re going to be here for a long time.” Those words, and the question above, have been constants in my mind the past few weeks.

Zack Eswine, in his book, Sensing Jesus (which you should buy right now and buy for everyone you know), says, “The quickest way to get home is to stay there.” Zack isn’t making a case for staying when God says “Go,” but he is making a case for staying still in a world full of reasons to leave.

The past five months, since the signing of the lease, I have been begging God for a reason to leave. The list is long and the opportunities many, but the longer the list grew, the more my love for here grew. I told a friend yesterday that I thought it was sweet of God to give me that love as a going-away present. “You’re terrible at putting things where they belong,” she said while laughing at me. What if that love is God’s call to stay?

I can’t ask that question without feeling an overwhelming sense God’s love for me. It has been a long, long time since I’ve felt His love—I can mark the date and time when it started to unravel for me and it hasn’t stopped. Lesser loves, golden calves, little foxes, and craven images: these crept in with aggressive and deceptive stealth. Always seeming to be good and always falling short.

For a long time I have felt the withholding of good things in my life, feeling as though God would give me a fish or bread only when I could not be sustained without them. That he would only give me necessary gifts, but not just-because gifts.

Charles Spurgeon said, in this morning’s Morning & Evening,

If all these things are to be had by merely knocking at mercy’s door, O my soul, knock hard this morning, and ask large things of thy generous Lord. Leave not the throne of grace till all thy wants have been spread before the Lord, and until by faith thou hast a comfortable prospect that they shall be all supplied. No bashfulness need retard when Jesus invites. No unbelief should hinder when Jesus promises. No cold-heartedness should restrain when such blessings are to be obtained.

Generous Lord, I’m knocking. I’m knocking for a great many things, but I’m knocking most of all for the belief that you are not only a God who gives what is necessary for life, but a God who gives what is abundantly beyond what is necessary.

Tomorrow I get on a plane to fly home from these New Mexico hills. I am homesick for my home in Texas—and that is a miracle, a secreted blessing I’m thanking Him for. But even more, I am homesick for Texas, for the people I love there, the church I can’t believe calls me to it, the coffee-shop where I belong, the small pockets of joy, the conversations that bring me life and the life I can bring in return. That is abundantly beyond my expectations from late July when I only resented Him for making me stay.

I am learning the beauty of stilled feet.

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Coffee with a friend this morning. She’s a bold and beautiful Bostonian wife, confident, kindred, and a blessing to my soul. We talked about the complicated question of attraction—how much it matters and how little. We unravel insights and decide that it still matters—like good Yankees, as though we are the final arbiters on the issue.

We hear often, “Confidence is the most attractive quality in women,” and I envision a thousand women twisting themselves into pretzels trying to eek out the appearance of confidence, because actual confidence is a nearly impossible feat. My pastor taught this past week on hurdles for women (as part of a series on design and intention for the sexes). Our great hurdles? Perfectionism and Comparison. A thousand women were not turning themselves into pretzels in our sanctuary hearing that—they were melting off the defenses because, yes.

The attractiveness of confidence has become, in some circles, just as damaging to a woman as the unattainable perfection of her legs or breasts—a mere commodity intended to woo and win the affection of a man. A man, who will, ironically, find that once married, her veneer of confidence falls to reveal mountains of insecurity and valleys of poor character. Beauty or confidence, it matters not which, if the use of them is to acquire legions of male attention—or even only one male’s attention—the span will be short.

We love to talk about love, the necessity of romance and the viability of attraction. You’ll find singles paging to Song of Solomon often for our defense on what is important in finding a spouse (conveniently contextualizing for our day: The curves of your thighs are like jewels—but better have a thigh gap; Your navel is a rounded goblet—located beneath tight abs; Your waist is a heap of wheat—with no extra to spare, please, etc.), but we forget the lament of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes:

When you get old,
the light from the sun, moon, and stars will grow dark;
the rain clouds will never seem to go away.
At that time your arms will shake
and your legs will become weak.
Your teeth will fall out so you cannot chew,
and your eyes will not see clearly.
Your ears will be deaf to the noise in the streets,
and you will barely hear the millstone grinding grain.
You’ll wake up when a bird starts singing,
but you will barely hear singing.
You will fear high places
and will be afraid to go for a walk.
Your hair will become white like the flowers on an almond tree.
You will limp along like a grasshopper when you walk.
Your appetite will be gone.
Then you will go to your everlasting home,
and people will go to your funeral.

I know I write often in these places of fleeting beauty and the wasting of our bodies, but I think it is because it is so important that we remember this: Solomon opened this passage with, “Remember your creator while you are young.”

I imagine Solomon delighting in the buxom pleasures of his bride and then finding a quiet place, away from her delights, and pacing back and forth, again and again, reminding himself of the fleeting time and the Maker of all that is good: “Remember your creator, Solomon, remember Him.” He has to discipline the remembrance of his God into his head and heart because the godessness of his wife is before his eyes, unintentionally enticing him to worship her over his Creator. He has to discipline his eyes, not before the beauty of all the women around him, but to turn again and again to the Maker of the beauty around Him. “Remember, Solomon, remember who truly lasts.”

Confidence in a woman—and a man—is a beautifully attractive quality, but not for its own sake, no. The most endearing beauty of confidence is one that remembers her creator, remembers his dust-likeness, remembers her fragility, remembers his frailty. It is a confidence that comes through discipline and active recalling, “I am not my own, I was bought for the ultimate price, and for that I present my body as a living sacrifice to Christ.”

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