Archives For seasons

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The train depot is two blocks from our house and I am learning to tell time by the sound of the train whistle.

When I was single every few months I’d ask the Lord, “How long? How long do I have to wait for marriage? Will it ever happen?” Then in the space of three weeks from conversing to knowing, there he was: the guy I’d marry. When Nate and I were dating and engaged, saying goodnight every night felt like agony, “How long do we have to be apart?” Hyperbolic maybe, especially since from first date to wedding date it was three months. Now, a full year into life together, he spends more than eleven hours a day apart from me. The best part of my day is when he gets home, but the second best part is the text message he sends me before he gets on the train for the trek back to me.

The wait is always worth it.

A friend of mine is married to a man from Belize and for various reasons, they’ve been apart for ten months. Another friend says goodbye to her husband every week while he flies jets around the world and back. Another friend is married to a captain in the army—he’s deployed more than he’s home. And many more friends are married to men who are married to their jobs; men whose faces light up when they sit across from new friends, co-workers, or parishioners, and darken when they get home to dishes in the sink, toddlers, and tired wives.

But I have one friend who has been married to her man for 47 years and she told me once that the longing only grows and it only grows if you encourage it.

Harry Burns was right when he said to Sally, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

For many years I believed the lie that I needed to squelch the desire for marriage. That the longing for it only contributed to the sadness I felt at missing out on it. Then I believed the lie that the first stirrings of love and sadness at being apart from Nate would soon wear off in marriage. Sometimes now I am caught up in the belief that this still present longing to be with him will soon die off.

All of us are waiting for something and the closer we get to the getting of it, the more the longing grows. Christ knew this and this is why He likened us to the Bride and Himself as the Bridegroom. Weddings are so brimming with expectancy, longing, and celebration—the culmination of so much waiting. At last!

But we let dashed hopes and hardened hearts get in the way soon enough. Disappointments, fears, unmet expectations—they grow resentments instead of longings if we’re not careful. Last week Nate was late coming home two days in a row and I wanted to blame traffic, trains, work, and even him for my disappointment, but this is no way to grow longing, I reminded myself.

It is like this with God too. This year has been a year full of dreams let go, mounting frustrations, disappointed hopes, and severe misjudgment. I have sinfully directed my resentment toward God more these days than I have since He saved me. My longing for Him lands silent and limp, like forgotten toys or too small jeans.

Today I pay attention to the train whistle all day. Only one of the trains will bring my love home to me, but all of the whistles incrementally remind me to fan the flame of longing for my King. He too is coming home for me and I want to stand ready, waiting, my longing found completely in Him.

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For the last five springtimes I have lived in a place where it actually did spring into spring. One day it was cold and brown and the next there was green everywhere, leaves growing full-size seemingly overnight. It went from a chilly 45 to a blistering 85 within days and spring had sprung. Texas has her charms, four full seasons are not one. Colorado is her bipolar cousin—albeit less blistering and rarely actually cold, her season changes are like light mirages from the hand of God: now you see it, now you don’t.

It wasn’t the plan to be living back on the east coast so soon. We still feel so whiplashed and exhausted we lose track of things, times, and memories. I lost a whole day two weeks ago. I saw some charges in our bank account and could not remember ever being at either of those two places. Nate coached me into remembrance, but the memories are still slight, barely there. We are at this point of mental exhaustion. I want this season to be over. I want it to be like a Texas winter: frigid and short. Or a Colorado snowstorm: six inches in the morning and gone by mid afternoon.

I have been keeping an eye on all the bushes, shrubs, and trees around our home here. We moved in less than two weeks ago and they are all coming to life these days. I don’t recognize a lot of them so it’s a grand mystery for some of them. What color? What shape? When? It’s as spring should be I think. Brown and stark for so long you’ve forgotten how beautiful it can all be—and how slowly it all comes back to life.

Last night we talked on the phone to a spiritual father of ours. He married us, counsels us, and loves us so deep and well I can’t imagine ever losing him (or her). Thousands of miles between us makes conversation less often, but more sweet in some ways. It seems every time we’ve talked in the past six or seven months he spends most of the time reminding us of what we know theologically and have forgotten spiritually.

He tells us sometimes hard things happen because the world is broken and full of sin—and not because we’re being punished for what we did or didn’t do. He reminds us this is a season—and we are not promised a better one on earth, but we can be assured God is on His throne and knows intimately the length of all seasons. He reminds us to be grateful—for all the swirling difficultly around us, our marriage is solid rock and easy, and that is rare. He papas us. That’s the only way I know to describe it. He reminds me of who God is by reminding me what God looks and acts like. It’s felt brown and stark for so long, I’ve forgotten how good God is.

My writing desk is beside a window in our new house and every day the outside changes in small, incremental ways. So small you wouldn’t notice unless you were paying attention.

A northeast spring is slow and takes three whole months, the way a season should be. The promise of summer is coming and the reality of autumn is certain to follow, ebbing into winter, and then, again, spring.

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In a world of comparisons, ten months of marriage has nothing on 34 years of singleness, so consider me a toddler in the ways of I Dos. I know very little, but here are four things I do know and I thought I’d share them with you today:

1. Marriage is not more sanctifying than Singleness

Don’t believe it for a second if you’re single, and don’t convince yourself of it for a minute if you’re married. It’s a lie that one is more sanctifying than the other. If you got married in your early twenties, you grew up into an adult with your person. You were most sanctified during marriage—but not necessarily because of it. Correlation is not causation. This little lesson should be preached by more married people because it leaves most single people in the church feeling less than and not enough until they’re married. It’s poison. Stop saying it.

God is sanctifying me in marriage differently than He sanctified me in my singleness, the same as He sanctified me in my thirties differently than He sanctified me in my twenties. It’s the beauty of growth in the gospel and in life. He’s always doing something and always making everything new.

2. Marriage doesn’t make you more financially secure; God is the primary breadwinner

I came into marriage never having had a savings account that topped a few thousand. Nate came into marriage with a fat down-payment for our house in Denver and a hefty savings account. We thought between the two of us (me the penny pincher and him the miser), we’d be set.

Within this year of marriage, we’ve sold a house in Dallas, moved cross-country twice, started two new careers, went through six months of unemployment, and now have a mortgage in Denver and rent in DC—two of the most expensive cities to live in. Any carpet of financial security we had coming into marriage has been ripped out from below our feet. We are less financially secure than either of us have ever been in our lives. We are being whiplashed with bills, costs, and drains from every direction.

I know our story isn’t everyman’s, but it sure does debunk the lie that “Marriage makes you more financially secure.” The reality is having roommates (while that may not be what you desire for the long-term of your life) is a very cost-effective way to live. Those shared bills might feel like a noose around your neck, but they’re half or a quarter of what they’ll be when it’s just one paycheck coming in.

We didn’t plan on one paycheck this year. We planned to live in Nate’s salary and squirrel mine away. Instead we lost Nate’s quickly, and lived on mine and our savings account. It wasn’t sustainable. We can beat ourselves up a thousand different ways on this (We shouldn’t have left Dallas, we shouldn’t have bought a house in Denver, we shouldn’t have banked on him being able to work remotely long-term, we should have researched job options for him in Denver better, etc.), but the reality is, we did what we thought was right and good and honorable and faithful—and all of our plans failed.

I’m learning the only thing I can ever find my security in is God—which is the same lesson I’ve been learning for 35 years. My plans have never worked—never! It was foolish to think that would change just because I got married. God has always required sacrifice of me, always asked for obedience, never given me too much of any good thing. I don’t believe it’s His character to withhold any good thing, but I do believe it’s His character to give us exactly what we need of it and more is never guaranteed. Marriage and money included.

3. This one might be TMI, but here goes: the world tells us to get whatever we can from sex, but the truth is sex is only good if you give what you can—and the more you’re willing to give, the better it is.

That might be confusing, so let me flesh it out (Also, I’m having a very hard time writing this section because suddenly every word is an innuendo of some sorts.):

There was an angst in my singleness that had much to do with wanting a partner, wanting to shoulder the burdens of life with someone, wanting someone to love me, etc. But there was also a very real angst of sexual desire in me. I wanted to be held and loved and pursued. I didn’t need it to end in sex, but it culminated many times in sexual desire being fanned in my life. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. God created sex, sex is good, desiring sex is good, and getting married is good. Burning with passion is actually a good motivation (among other things) for getting married. But sex was what I thought would somehow satisfy some longings of my flesh. I wanted my desires to be met physically.

Sex within marriage is good but its goodness is almost never about my desires being met. My husband is a good and caring man, faithful, kind, gentle. He is tender with me and loves me deeply. But neither of us can satisfy desires that are too deep for words and too complicated for human hands. The best we can do is to come to bed ready to serve one another.

What I have learned about sex is that instead of it being the culmination of all the things of the day, sex is actually a very gritty, raw, messy foundation in our lives.

Instead of being the pinnacle, the point, the top of the triangle (thinking I do all the big, heavy lifting throughout life for the tiny slice of joy at the top), it is actually the base of it. Sex is the biggest part. Not because it happens the most, but because when there are a thousands things throughout the day demanding my attention, and most of them are serving my husband in some way (laundry, dishes, food prep, errands, phone calls, bills, etc.), the foundation we have within sex to serve one another makes the day to day monotony a joy.

The climax of sex is not a romp under the covers, it’s asking him every morning how I can help make his day better. It’s putting a healthy nutritious meal in his lunch bag. It’s running to Home Depot to get a special sauce for the weed-eater. It’s folding the ratty t-shirts from races he ran in high-school.

The foundation of learning to serve within my singleness translated directly to how I learn to serve within marriage. Serving my husband in sex is easy—even if there’s no physical return in it for me, because whether in bed, the kitchen, or Home Depot, serving is the posture of the Christian—married and single.

4. I am not my own anymore; marriage is shared sanctification

This has probably been the hardest adjustment for me to make within marriage. It’s not just about schedule, finances, decisions, etc. Those things are challenging for sure. I’m used to planning my own day, caring for my own finances, and making whatever decisions seemed best to me. I can’t do that anymore. Every piece of me affects a person I love. It’s a joy, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

What is more difficult, though, is the shared burden of sanctification. This relates to point one because I think often times what married people mean when they say “Marriage is the most sanctifying thing,” is that saying I Do to all your mess means more mess in my life. In singleness whenever I walked through challenging things it was almost always easy to see where God was sanctifying me and to make small adjustments in my life to submit to Him in those areas. In marriage, though, it’s two people walking through the same challenges together. God doesn’t waste anything, but sometimes the bulk of the lesson is meant for me and sometimes it’s meant for Nate. How can you tell?

Therein lies the challenge. As we’ve walked through this past season of financial difficulty it has revealed areas in our lives of idolatry, fear, pride, and more. And it has primarily affected Nate. Most of the idols being toppled are his in that area. On the other hand, we’ve just walked through a season where I’ve encountered some fearful things, the shootings, the miscarriages, failed plans, my car being vandalized, Nate’s job loss. Never in my life have I been a fearful person and at every turn these days, I’m afraid of something. God is teaching me He is the only one who is trustworthy and He is faithful.

God is teaching both of us things in paramount ways, but they are different things, and the struggle in being one flesh is entering into that sanctification process with the other. It feels like our feet are cemented to the floor and we can barely encourage ourselves, how do we begin to encourage one another?

This is what I’ve been learning: I am not my own anymore. In the past, I was the primary preacher to my soul. I was my best encourager. I was the one who pulled myself up by my bootstraps. But I’m not anymore, I feel paralyzed in the encouragement of my own soul. But I am not paralyzed in the encouragement of Nate’s soul. This is the gift of walking through the mud together: I know the words that lift up his eyes to the hills, and he knows the words for me. It’s beautiful and painful, precious and hard. We are not our own anymore.

. . .

This is long, I know, but I’m hoping it helps some other newlyweds along the way and some singles who might be believing lies about themselves or their married friends.

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I can’t get a friend’s words out of my head: “The enemy can’t steal my praise.” She says them to us over Eggs Benedict and my first coffee all week. Tears ebbed over the corners her eyes and she says it three times over: He can’t steal my praise. I knew then when I’ve suspected for a while. The enemy has stolen my praise.

I think I knew it months ago when my arms hung limp at my sides during worship at church. Distracted by the Sunday morning to-do list that hangs over the heads of those employed by local churches or by the myriad of other things nipping at my heart for attention, I knew I was refusing to praise right then. The road in front of me split in obvious ways: choose to worship or choose to despair. And I chose despair.

I told Nate months later that every time I’ve been able to get just my mouth above water this year some other thing dunks me back under. I couldn’t praise if I wanted to. This is what I said to him through angry, hot tears as we drove in a UHaul loaded with all our earthly belongings toward some unknown and frightening new direction of life.

My arms still hang limp by my sides.

Choosing to not praise or forgetting how or simply not having the energy or desire to do so—call it what you will, the words of praise are foreign to my lips these days. I should be embarrassed to write it, to say it, to put it out in public places in public ways, but I think desperation knows no shame. I take comfort in the laments of David these days. His soul felt so taken from him sometimes he had to search to find it and command it to worship.

More bad news comes this afternoon and we begin to despair again. Worried. Angry. Frustrated. (God, we can’t bear much more of this. Relent, please?)

A lyric I heard on Sunday repeats itself to me: “We find rest rejoicing.” I think I’ve had it backwards. I’ve been hoping if we find rest it will be followed by rejoicing, but this says it’s the other way around: the way to rest is to rejoice.

Today I clean the bathroom of our small AirBnB in Maryland. I clean the kitchen. I take our laundry to the laundromat. I fold every t-shirt with care and precision. I make the bed. I put away the laundry. I stare into our small and sparse refrigerator and plan dinner. I stare at slate blue and mint green walls. I wish I had a book that’s been packed away since February 3rd. I talk to our realtor. I cry. I hang up Nate’s shirts. I put away the dishes. With every rote motion I say these words to myself: I find rest rejoicing.

I don’t know how to rest these days and I’ve forgotten how to really rejoice. But I do know how to say words with my mouth that my heart doesn’t fully believe, and this is where I will start: God, you are Creator of the universe and you know my name and you know, too, that I am only made of dust. Relent, please. I worship you.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Exodus 33:14-17

Marrieds love to tell singles going through transitions and hard times, “At least you’re not tied down! At least you’re free to be flexible! At least you can make your own schedule, etc.” Singles love to tell marrieds going through transitions and hard times, “At least you have each other! At least you’re married! At least you don’t have to do it alone!” The truth is that painful circumstances in our own lives can bring offensive, short-sighted, and dismissive platitudes to real struggles in the lives of other people.

Freedoms that exist within singleness come with a cost and the partnership that comes within marriage can mean a similar cost.

In singleness, the freedom of scheduling means more time spent walking through dark and difficult things with many different people. It can feel incredibly isolating to walk through hard things in other people’s lives and then come home alone to a lonely home and an empty bed. That freedom you envy in your single friend’s life comes with a cost.

In marriage, the partnership of a spouse means you can’t go home at the end of the coffee date, you can’t schedule your life in compartments of ministry time and personal time. It’s all ministry time, making dinner, raising children, making money, even having sex, it’s all ministry—and sometimes it’s incredibly difficult ministry. That partnership you envy in your married friend’s life comes with a cost.

In singleness, the freedom of flexibility means sometimes there is a very strong lack of stability. There isn’t a family needing to be provided for, so it can feel like your job is expendable to your employers, it can feel like you’re the only one paying all the bills, and it can feel like life is just one lease to another. The situation in your marriage might be the same, but “Until death us do part” gives one form of stability many singles desire and do not have. That flexibility you envy in your single friend’s life can mean an isolating instability for them.

In marriage, the partnership of fidelity also means there is a strong temptation to hope in that stability instead of in God. There’s a constant wrestle within marriage to console yourself with the belief that “at least we have one another,” when in truth that is a ploy from the enemy. We have God. The same as when we were single. The gift of a spouse can become a gift we begin to worship, to find comfort in, and trust in, instead of the Giver. God alone is faithful. That partnership you envy in your married friend’s life can mean a constant and strong temptation toward idolatry.

Marriage and singleness are both sanctifying, neither one is more or less. If you ask me where I was more sanctified, marriage or singleness, I would tell you the sanctification doesn’t even compare because it is precisely and exactly the same.

In singleness I struggled with idolatry, selfishness, fear, pride, self-sufficiency, and so much more. In marriage I struggle with all of them still, not more, not less, the same. God, in His goodness, shows me that He is the same whether I am single or married by showing me that I am the same too. The only difference in these sanctifying agents is that for 34 years singleness was the best way to prove, distill, and refine me, and now marriage is God’s best way to prove, distill, and refine me.

Friends when we are tempted to start a sentence to anyone walking through a different and hard season with the words “At least…” remember the God we serve only and ever gives the best in every season. He is not doing the least of anything in your life.

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Grant us peace, as we make important decisions. Some of us are facing career changes, church choices, economic challenges, and health issues. Free us from the foolish notion that there is only one right choice to make. Actually, there is only one right God to trust, and that is you. Lead us, as we lean on you, Father.

Scotty Smith

The day after I flew home from an interview in Denver in March, Nate asked me out. Three months later—to the day—we said our vows in his back yard, celebrated with 150 friends and family, got into his VW at 10pm, and began our drive to Colorado.

I had been processing this job and move for months as a single, and then suddenly this would affect two individuals—and a marriage. If we were simply two individuals, it probably wouldn’t have changed much about the decision. Throw a marriage into the mix, until death do us part, richer, poorer, sickness, health, honor, obey, and all that stuff, it changed everything.

For 34 years I’ve made decisions as an unmarried person. I didn’t move anywhere, sign a lease, take a job, quit a job, go to school, take on debt, buy a car, sell a car, book plane tickets, or go grocery shopping with the interests of another person above my own. I considered others, but on the cusp of every decision, I was the principle player and the decisions were mine to make.

In marriage there is nothing all mine anymore. That’s a joy almost all of the time. And a hard, hard thing the rest of the time.

I don’t have a husband who is lording decisions over me, making them without me, or not considering me in the making of them. But I do have a husband whose desire is to be the primary provider financially, whose desire is that his wife would flourish in every aspect of life. I have a husband who lays down his life to serve his wife in even the most minute decision.

He laid beside me the other night and whispered, “I wish I could be a better husband.” I thought for a moment and then said, “I can think of 63 ways I could be a better wife to you and not one way in which you could be a better husband.” I’ve continued thinking through that the past few days and still can’t come up with one, not even an inconsequential one. He serves me so fully and loves me so wholly I’m stumped to find a place he doesn’t outdo himself in honor toward me.

When I had made the decision to move to Denver and then put it on the table when marriage was looking like a certain direction, we had one serious conversation about it and decided to move forward. Denver is a tech city, full of start-ups, and IT professionals. Nate has a 16 year career as a Senior Level Data Architect and has never lacked a job. We expected when his contract at DFW airport was over, finding employment in Denver would be easy. We bought a house, settled in, dreamed about growing old here.

And then his contract was over sooner than we expected. Four and a half months later, 90 applications, dozens of interviews, what we’re finding is when your expertise is in a tool that billion dollar corporations use and you live in a city full of small to mid-sized start-ups, finding a job can be nearly impossible. He has worked harder in the past four months than I saw him work in the year before. He has faithfully sat at the desk in the front room every single morning at 8am and searched, applied, and interviewed until past 5pm every night. If I doubted his ability to be faithful in difficult times before, I have no doubt now: the man has a super-natural God-given gift of faithfulness.

. . .

So here we are. We have one offer on the table (out of state), and a few more possibilities coming in in the next week or so. We’ve made a matrix, made lists, tried to wager where we might end up, and had our hopes crashed more times than I can count in the past few months. We’re exhausted. We’re confused. We’re weary. We didn’t plan this.

One of our mentors said to us a few months ago:

“The Lord has a way of changing our course when we have already heard clearly and heeded the call to the first course. I am reminded of how in Matthew chapter 2, Joseph is told by an angel to go back to the land of Israel but before he can get there he is warned in a dream to stay away! He winds up in Galilee. You know the rest of the story. I am reminding you of this so you are not afraid to hear a new call from the Lord to go somewhere else, even though you were affirmed by others to go to Denver. The Lord’s plan is better than ours and when he calls or grants release we obey. Its a good thing because we serve a good God.

You belong to Him. You cannot move so far He cannot find you or use you or grow you or cause you to suffer for His glory. David said it this way, “It doesn’t matter where I go because wherever I go your hand is upon me. Your will cannot be thwarted nor your glory diminished. Even if I hide from you.” My paraphrase of Psalm 139:7-12.”

I’ve gone back to that email a dozen times or more in the past few months. We thought we heard clearly and I think we did. And I also think our plans aren’t always His plans. I still don’t know what our plans will be, but I’m writing this for a few reasons:

1. We feel strongly in this season it is good and right to allow others a glimpse into our process. In the Church too often we see two attitudes from many. The first is to keep everything private until the Great Reveal. The second is to process decisions with anyone who will listen. We do not want to do either. We want to say to you, to God, and to ourselves, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on Him.” We want to invite you to pray with us and for us. We have good counsel and know we are cared for by God in the midst.

2. We want to make sure our new friends in Denver know there is no other reason for the consideration of moving except Nate’s job situation. Without going into details, the past seven months at Park Church have been weighty, hard, heavy, and heartbreaking for many people at Park. Nate and I have said through it all, “If the only reason God called us here was to walk through this season with Park, to press for rest among the staff, to encourage clear communication and Gospel centrality in the midst of a hard situation—we accept that and trust Him with the rest of our lives.”

We have had a few people concerned we’re considering a move because the church situation was too hard. I won’t deny it has been one of the hardest seasons of life, but the church situation is only one piece in a 30 piece pie. It wouldn’t be a reason for us to leave. We love the local church, we love the brokenness of humanity, and the ways God uses us in the midst of brokenness. If you know Nate or me at all, you know God has given us a special love for difficult people and circumstances. We consider it an honor that he would toss us into a mix like this. We are considering a move only because of Nate’s job.

. . .

This is long and if you’ve made it this far, I’m grateful. I probably wouldn’t have said much about this at all if the two points above hadn’t been raised by enough people. We want to walk in transparency, so thank you for reading and listening.

Please pray we have a few more options soon. We’ve set a tentative decision date of February 5th.

Please pray we would all trust God’s will in this season, not our own and not the will of others. Everyone has preferences and everyone’s preferences are different. Nate and I even have different preferences. God’s will, what brings Him the most glory, is the only thing that matters.

Please pray we would worship in the meantime. The object of your worship is revealed in times like these and the past several months have revealed so many small idols (comfort, the ability to have children, financial security, a home, friendships, community, church, and more). We want to worship Him alone.

Please pray we would be strengthened. We are weary and without much vision for tomorrow.

Thank you for all those prayers. We’re grateful for each one.

 

Once I sat at a farmhouse table eating a hurried breakfast. An old preacher sat at the other end, a stranger to me, a friend to the owners of the farmhouse and the table. It was a time of life when the monotony of the everyday clung to my heart like packing peanuts to a pea coat. Wake. Work. Rinse. Repeat. I look back at those years, living in that grey painted farmhouse with the terra-cotta shutters, as one of the richest of my life—not because the gifts overwhelmed me, but because of the patience and faith being worked in me unbeknownst to me.

The old preacher didn’t know me at all but others claimed he carried prophetic gifts. Prophecy, at the time, seemed to me a fools gold. I’d been in the charismatic church long enough, had pages of prophetic words spoken over me, and nothing seemed to come to anything. It looked pretty on the outside, but on the inside it was soft rock, talc—scrape at it enough and its powder rises and falls and comes to nothing. “This is the word of the Lord,” became double-speak for “I’ll feed you candy so you won’t look for meat.” I came to resent the word of the Lord because most of what I knew of him came from old preacher men and not the Word of God himself.

Turns out I was the one wrong all along. There’s no one else to blame for the fact that I thought words spoken by modern day prophets held more weight than the words contained in the Living and Holy Word of God. Whenever I think of those word offerings from itinerant and infallible men now, I am grateful they are not the ones I’m called to trust, and I’m grateful they spoke to me kindly, gently, and in a way that revealed my own unbelieving heart.

As I sat there eating my toast with jam, this old preacher asked me questions about my day and life. I gave him one word answers, stunted for fear, perhaps, that I didn’t measure up to what the prophets always said about me. “A great ministry ahead!” “Touching thousands!” “A portion that would astound you to think of it!” I had learned to scoff when the hand passed over me those days. If only they knew the pittance of my life. Prophets became liars in my mind. But I have never forgotten the words of Pastor Baker, sitting at the farmhouse table:

“The Lord’s hand is on you for ministry. Do not buy into the secular value system, there are going to be paths ahead of you that just make sense in everyone’s eyes and yet there’s going to be this little thread of doubt in you, that’s the spirit of God. Listen to it, even if it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. You hear his voice. You can know.”

One thread of doubt is an anomaly, a whole mesh of them is a tapestry. In all my life I have been a tapestry of doubts. I have learned to reason through great decisions not with a certainty of direction, but with an absence of doubt. I check my heart not for “This is the way, walk in it,” but for “If your heart does not condemn you, you have confidence in God,” and therefore move forward. I moved to Texas like this. I broke an engagement like this. I quit my job like this. I married like this. I moved to Denver like this. The answer has always been for me not the place of the most certainty, but the place of the least doubt. It’s precarious, it’s risky, and it can seem to the whole world you are a bundle of irrationality. I do not regret a single decision and God has revealed his goodness to me every single time not in the preface to the decisions, but always in the aftermath.

I still think back to those old prophet’s words whenever there are major decisions to be made. I care little for going with the flow, the opinions of others matter less and less to me. It is not them I will stand before someday and make an account. My question is not even what the Spirit is doing. “What” should be of little account to us. “Where” could matter a little, I suppose. What I continually come back to, though, is “Who.” Whose voice am I listening for? Whose approval do I desire? Whose path do I ultimately trust?

These are unpopular questions in a world driven by popularity both in opinion and trend. We all want approval. We all want ease. We all want a life unhindered by the immediate and difficult call of “drop your nets and follow me.” Great calls of great ministries sound good, taste good, look good, but at the end of it all, the question we’re asked is “Were you faithful?”

Were you faithful to walk through a muddy time of monotonous life?

Were you faithful to run to the Word of God instead of the word of men?

Were you faithful to wrestle with doubt and certainty?

Were you faithful to drop the comfort of what is known? What is easy? What is expected?

Were you faithful and obedient to the Spirit in the everyday?

I don’t know the answer to these questions yet. When He asks me at the throne I hope my answer is yes, but I also know I will not be able to lie before the Holy God, and so it might just be “I tried. I failed a lot. I listened to wrong voices. I meandered down deceitful paths, but God, at the end of it all, I tried to be faithful.”

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In a staff meeting a few months ago I used the words “my people” in reference to a trip I was about to take to Texas. “Maybe you shouldn’t use the words ‘my people,'” two of my coworkers said to me later, “Since you’re here now and we’re your people now.”

It took a long time for those people in Texas to become mine, but leaving them in June (even with the gift of a new husband) was one of the saddest partings I’ve experienced. At my wedding—a day when you’re supposed to be glowing and thrilled—I left sobbing and cried through the thirteen hour drive to Colorado the next day. I fought hard to feel at home in North Texas and when it finally settled in for me, it settled in deep. Covenanting with the church there was not a mere signed paper and lip-service, it was family to me. They are family to me still. I am just one of thousands—and my presence is missed as just one of thousands—but I miss the hundreds I am apart from now.

. . .

I’ve been reading in 1 Peter the past few weeks and though I make my way through the entire book each day, it’s the first verse that stops me every time: “To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…”

Have you ever felt exiled? Being far away from those I love and those who love me somehow trumps every other emotion in those times. This past week I was supposed to be with two of my best friends, gallivanting around the Adirondacks, going thrift shopping, and painting by candlelight on the kitchen island. All week long they posted images of their adventures and I felt exiled. It was my choice to stay in Colorado this week, but I still felt far away from those I loved—like an exile. “Everyone’s hanging out without me” can be the sentence on repeat in those moments. One of our best friends in Texas moved to Indiana this week and the going away party was filled with our community there—the tears leapt to my eyes before I could stop them. We belonged there too.

One of the questions I ask Nate often these days is, “Did we make a mistake? Was moving here a mistake?” He takes a moment to respond, because this is his way, and then he says, “No. We moved here with good counsel, much prayer, and confidence in what God was doing. Today’s circumstances don’t change God’s purpose with our lives. Regardless of where God takes us in life, we can trust God in bringing us here seven months ago.” I am grateful for this man.

What Nate is reminding me again and again is you can feel like an exile and still be elect. You can be chosen by God for a purpose and a plan, even one that doesn’t makes sense and keeps you far from “your people” and feels uncomfortable. You can chew the bread of adversity and sit in a circle of strangers—and still be loved and known and chosen by God for that purpose.

This is a hard truth to swallow. Even if we feel like wherever we are is home forever, there are moments in all of our lives when we’re certain we’re the exile. Certain someone is talking about us. Hanging out without us. Growing together without us. Certain we’ll never be known as deeply as we long to be. We all wake every single morning and in some way feel our exile, our apartness. Moses’s words ring true for us all: “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” Wherever we are, we’re not home, and that’s okay. We were made for heaven, not this world.

The comfort is in this, though: In Him we are drawn near to the Father who does not change, who does not remain far off, who chose and redeems His children. The elect, exiled for a time, but still gloriously, safely, comfortingly His.

. . .

My two best friends stood before my favorite mountains together yesterday without me and our other best friends are going through the motions of life as normal in Texas. We miss them all terribly, and they will always be our people, not because we have chosen them to be so, but because Christ has called the whole dispersion together in unity as the Church—no matter how far apart we may be.

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Photos from Ashley McCauley Photography.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children,” but we don’t much like that do we?

It’s been a weekend where I’ve been laying low for multiple reasons, the principle of which is I miscarried again and the secondary of which is I slipped on black ice and have a swollen scraped knee to prove it. I was meant to be at my brother from another mother’s wedding this weekend in New York, but canceled my flight at the last moment because the church family here had a week for the books. It’s really been seven months for the books—my books at least—but this was the culmination of it, and when your job is to shepherd, you don’t abdicate when the storms howl around the flock.

Nate still can’t find full-time work.

I came home from the member meeting at church yesterday and fell into bed and cried the sort of tears we reserve for death of a loved one or agony of the deepest kind. The sort where you hyperventilate and your husband can’t fix anything so he just lies beside you and rubs small circles into your back. I mostly cried but said words too, words I probably didn’t mean and some words I probably did.

Half our friends say the first year of marriage is the hardest, but we think marriage is a breeze, it’s all the other things that are the hardest.

He read the Chesterton quote aloud to me a few weeks ago and we’ve come around and around to it, in these horrible ordinary days. Both of us have believed the lie that if you work hard things will go well for you, if you honor those around you, you will be honored, if you pursue your passions, you will do your passions. We are unafraid of hard work, honoring those ahead of us, and the pursuit of passions. But what we have found is vanity of vanities, it’s all vanities. These things themselves are not useless pastimes, but they certainly aren’t the guarantee of extraordinary lives. My pastor in Texas said once, “You can’t put God in your debt,” and also we can’t put life in our debt either.

Circumstances are not what we planned, nothing about this year has been what we hoped for or thought we’d gain. Here we have been small and faithful people with secreted hopes for greatness. But that is not the Kingdom is it? The backwards upside down kingdom.

Tonight we lit candles and ate pizza from a box, and joked about how this might be our last meal and when we should put the house on the market. I have emailed a realtor on the east coast and Nate has put in months of 60 hour weeks applying and interviewing. There is nothing glamorous in these ordinary days. They are beautiful because they are life, but they are painful, disastrous even, and not at all what we thought they would be.

Earlier this year in the three month whirlwind, where everything good was happening and as quickly as it possibly could, I remember saying to the Lord, “It is so good to feel your love so tangibly these days, but I hope I remember it when everything good isn’t happening.” I think a lot about Job these days. I have walked through many painful months and years before, but never saw myself as kin to him, but now I do. The difference is I trust God in these pains, and though he slay me, still I will trust him. And it makes all the difference.

For the ordinary people in the painful ordinary days, trusting Him—and not our plan—is the extraordinary difference.

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Two weeks ago I sat on the couch in a therapist’s office. The couch was the micro-fiber kind where the color changes depending on which way you’ve run your hand or where you’re sitting. From my vantage point it was light grey.

I was there because I witnessed the shooting—and nobody comes out of that unscathed. But ten minutes into my verbal dump (She’d called it an “Intake Meeting,” which is just an official way of saying, “Tell me all your junk.”) the shooting was at the very bottom of a very long list of very hard things this year.

“It sounds like to me,” she said, “you’re in survival mode and you have a lot of grieving to do.”

It was a statement, but there was an inflection at the end making it a question. And my shoulders fell. I ran my hand along the couch, it was dark grey now.

I mentally ticked down the list of things to grieve this year and she was right. Moving away from friends, our church, our community, losing the newness of an unknown baby, Nate losing his job, my job being more complicated than I could have imagined: yes, we are grieving and surviving each day feels like a win if we can do it.

. . .

It seems to me we Christians are very much about the testimony of “have suffered” or the theology of “we all will suffer,” but very few of us want to talk about the suffering in the middle of it. We pep-talk our friends by telling them All The Good Things They Have to be Thankful For! We use exclamation points and all caps, because, yes, God is good, this is true. But it is also true that God, in his goodness, does hard things. The big news is good, but the small news is bad, and the small news makes better press.

This year has been arguably the hardest yet. The gift of a wedding came smack in the middle of it, timely and gratefully. But it does not change the bookends of January, February, and March, or the last six months. There are some days I feel like I can’t breathe. That’s not an excuse, but it is a reason.

I’ve disappointed a lot of people this year, fallen short of their expectations, not been able to enter into their sufferings, rejoicings, or difficulties in ways I wanted to. I’ve faced my humanity in a way I never have before: my inability to meet with every person, respond to every email or text, think through every situation, or be healthy, happy, and hearty through hard things. I remember a quote from I Capture the Castle, “Wakings are the worst times—almost before my eyes are open a great weight seems to roll on my heart.” That great weight rolls on my heart every day without fail.

I’m not asking for sympathy or forgiveness—though I’d love both. But writing all this out is an attempt, small as it is, to ask if you’re a praying person, would you pray for our 2016? God isn’t limited to New Years and Old Ones, but I suppose he likes a clean slate as much as anyone—seeing as he started with the first one.

. . .

In 2016, I hope:

To write about my marriage. To actually live and write into the depths, goodness, hardness, and beauty of it, without fear for how it will be received. I have struggled to write about marriage because of how my unmarried readers long for it and how my married readers compare theirs to it. The beauty of writing vulnerably is everyone identifies. The mess of writing vulnerably is everyone compares.

To mourn the loss of some really beautiful things the Lord gave and then took away. A solid community, a safe neighborhood, a healthy church, a baby, singleness, time/energy to write, financial independence, Nate’s job, confidence about where we’ll be living or where Nate will be working in the next year, confidence about anything, really.

To be okay with not being okay. To not submit my fears, frustrations, sadness, limitations, and difficulties to a job description or a perception of what being a good Christian is or what people perceive from reading Sayable. I am not a good Christian, only a broken one.

To prepare more people with the reality that I will disappoint them. I am not the Christ. Nate and I talked this morning about nine relationships in my life in the past three years where I failed to prepare them for my humanity and they each carry the disappointment still. I want to learn to not over-promise and under-deliver—because no matter how hard I try, I will always under-deliver. I never pretended to be perfect, and have tried my best to show that I’m not, but I want to say it more in the same breath that I point to the One Who Is.

To remember God has written our story before the foundation of the earth. He knows it intimately, the losses and the gains, the fears and failures, the joys and pains. We may skip over all those small moments, thinking they are meaningless or there’s no time, but He ordains each and every one for His glory and our sanctification and joy.

No matter how blank the slate of 2016 seems to be, He has already filled it and knows the ten-thousand moments within it.

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III
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Yesterday was my birthday and in a meeting a little after 11am we heard a rapid succession of gunshots outside our office windows. By the time we looked the shooter was reloading and beginning on his second round of gunfire toward a single officer.

We ducked and looked again. The idiom, “Like a train wreck, you can’t look away,” comes to mind. I asked myself later a thousand times—every time the image replays in my head: “Why didn’t you look away, Lore? Why didn’t you close your eyes?” Right now I fear that image will be in my head forever, but I have lived through trauma and I know it all fades eventually.

I ask Nate why this morning, “Why does he think God has let us be so near to the stink of death and the snuffing of life recently? What is He teaching us? For what does this prepare us?” This all just seems senseless and this morning I message a friend back east: “Sometimes I just want to come home to small town living, to cloister myself away in an old farmhouse, to let this season be about the growing light instead of the looming dark.”

Sin is so dark.

I think, in this second week of Advent, of the Christ-child grown. Grown for one purpose: to look on sin and take it for us all. I think of him in the garden: Father, take this cup from me? Begging to not have to look on sin, to not face the grave so we wouldn’t have to.

But He didn’t look away. And through the grave he brought victory.

. . .

Live a quiet life.
I Thessalonians 4:11

He must increase, I must decrease.
John 3:30

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:23

They loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12:11

To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21

The way up is the way down, I know this and yet the sliver of light above is so tempting to fixate upon. The promise of a little life here on earth seems to be more lasting than eternal life with the Father above.

I checked every door twice last night and rushed into my car in the garage this morning, suspicious of every car parked along our street. I looked both ways twice before getting out of my car at work today and had to take a deep breath before leaving. Fear has never been my nemesis. At least not fear of wicked men and hearts. I fear my own heart more than I fear others. But these weeks have made me fearful. I think again, “I shouldn’t have looked. Why did I look?”

This passage from Ephesians plays through my mind this afternoon, full of the knowledge of the someday coming. All the things we see and think we see and shouldn’t have seen and cannot forget we’ve seen: from these we will someday arise and stand, in the full light of Christ and he will look and shine on us.

For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:14

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II
Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

When only half the candles are lit, we see men as trees walking. We see partway and yet think we see the whole of it.

We’ve been begging God for direction these weeks and made a feeble decision—not a bargaining chip and not a giving up or giving over—but toward the path of knowledge as best as we can see it. Sometimes God gives peace without understanding, peace that passes understanding. Sometimes He gives peace but barely, and no understanding. We are in the latter.

It is strange, this season of learning to make decisions as two become one, yet no longer just one. It is a dance, not like the Sugar Plum Fairy or Swan Lake, though, choreographed and in time. It is a dance of submission to one another, hearing, learning to see, understand. To look in his eyes when he speaks in a broken, halting voice of the deep sadness. To lift my eyes when they are tear-filled and weary. To really see one another, past the veil of autonomy, beneath the cloud of independence, to lean into one another and lean together into Christ.

At the end of it, I take his hands or he gathers me to his chest and we repeat the same variation of words every day, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on Him.”

I think of the blind man in John 9. The disciples asking, “Whose sin put him here? His own? His parents?” And Jesus, sweet Jesus, reminding them it was no one’s sin, but for the glory of God alone.

Sometimes the only reason we need a miracle is for God’s glory.

But, God, we still need a miracle.

. . .

What path are you on this Advent? What things do you wish to understand? Where has God given you blindness or lameness simply as an opportunity to worship Him? Where do you seek wisdom?

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A few months ago I had a conversation with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about her upcoming marriage to Robert Wolgemuth, their joy in one another and the Lord was palpable. Nancy has faithfully served the Lord for over fifty years of singleness, teaching women to love and study the word, and reflect their maker in wholeness. I’ve benefited from her ministry, but mainly I’ve benefited from her example. Here was a woman who served the Lord in her singleness for a very long time. While there was an overarching confidence in her call to singleness, though, fifty years of life in this world can threaten our confidence in a great many things.

Robert and Nancy have now married and their wedding video is here. I urge you to take fifteen minutes when you can find them and watch it. Even if you do not feel the call to singleness, or even if you are already married, what is most present and beautiful in their story is not the theme of marriage or singleness, but of trusting God in all kinds of circumstances.

One of the things Nancy talks about is how she has always taught the gospel as the love story it is: a Groom coming to make his bride beautiful and bring her to himself, but how now she would learn to bring glory to God in the telling of that same story as a married woman. I agree and have said for years the church understands singleness better than any other entity on earth because we intrinsically know what it means to long for what we do not have in fullness.

But what happens when you get married and the longing dissipates or distills or even disappears? What happens when you wake up next to a man who does fill so many of your longings? What happens when you live within the walls of a home you’ve desired for 35 years? What happens when your message of longing feels a bit less present and a bit more satiated?

This morning I read the preface to John Piper’s Advent readings, The Coming of Indestructible Joy. He writes, “Peter [in II Peter 1:13, 3:1] assumes that his Christian readers need to wakened. I know I continually need awaking. Especially when Christmas approaches.”

Especially when Christmas approaches.

I have still been thinking about Philippians 2:12 this week, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” These words in particular: “much more in my absence.” Another way of saying this is, “especially in my absence.”

One look around my world these days and I have it all: a husband who loves me, a beautiful home of our own, a good job, a home bursting with friends this weekend. But one thing I do not have is Christ in His fullness—and I need every reminder possible of his absence. Nothing magical happens when you get married, but something is risked: the constant, pressing, angst of desire. Not for an earthly spouse, but for the heavenly one.

Whoever you are, and wherever you are today, a few days before the eve of Advent, remember the longing especially in his absence. Remember the people who waited decades and centuries for the coming of Christ. Remember “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). Perhaps your longing is pressing and present, perhaps it is dormant and dulled, but it is there, somewhere. Find it. Empty your world this season of things and distractions, or instead keep them, and make them serve as reminders of the shadows they are.

We walk in darkness, partial blindness. We see, like the blind man at Bethsaida, “men as trees walking.” We see partially, not fully. We long for wholeness and live in shadows. We have and do not have. We exist in the already and the not yet. Let’s press apart the closed over pieces of our hearts, the pieces that have forgotten to long, or the pieces that only know longing for earthly things.

This Advent season, let’s especially long especially in our groom’s absence.

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Here’s an exercise: let’s keep an account of the words coming out of our mouths and filling up our hearts today. How many of them are informed by the word of God and how many of them are informed by Christian culture and how many of them are informed by the world’s culture?

Here’s an example: “Marriage is the most sanctifying agent in a person’s life.”

Word of God?
Christian Culture?
World’s Culture?

I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the first.

More and more I hear married people touting that line, and more and more I wish people would add a two small words to it: “…for me.”

What is communicated by saying marriage is the most sanctifying agent in life is that anyone who isn’t married can’t be as sanctified as a married person. Marriage is not always God’s best sanctifying agent. All of life is sanctification, and He may use one agent in one person’s life and another in another person’s life. At the ripe old age of 34, singleness has been the most sanctifying agent in my life. Perhaps at the age of 70 I will be able to say marriage has trumped it for me, but I think it will not have been marriage but life itself that did it.

God’s children are sanctified through whatever means God ordains to work in them His pleasure, His discipline, and His glory. Marriage, for the one who married young, may be the agent doing it for one. Singleness, divorce, widowhood, parenthood, or handicap might be the agent doing it for someone else.

Marriage is full of distractions. Singleness is full of longing and loneliness. And both are full of the other. We will be sanctified in each season to its fullness just as God designed.

Singles, stop believing true sanctification is around the corner, holding out on you, taunting you with the illusion you’re incomplete as a Christian unless married. You are incomplete—sanctification is progressive and no one has arrived. Embrace today’s sanctification.

Married people, stop saying marriage is more sanctifying than long and difficult seasons full of other gifts from God. We rob from others the beauty of this: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

If you’re God’s child a work was begun in you before the foundation of the earth and will be completed in God’s best way for you in preparation for eternity with Jesus Christ. Marriage—union with Christ—is the signifier of the completion of our sanctification!

Single and married friends, today is God’s best sanctifying agent in your life.