Archives For spiritual growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

January

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

February

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

March

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

April

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

May

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

June

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

July

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

August

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

September

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

October

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

November

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

December

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

 

Wilbert-110I’ve already written on this one pretty extensively, but I want to delve a bit more in the practicality of it today. A short recap though: marriage is not 1+1=1, as we’re led to believe. It’s messier math than we’d like, more like (1-1)+(1-1)=1. We empty ourselves, pouring our lives out for one another, and only through sacrificial love and overarching servant-heartedness, are we able to become one with our spouse. It is not so glorious—or sexual—as I envisioned before marriage, when I thought becoming one was some sort of allusion to consummation. It is, but it’s a whole lot more of becoming a whole lot less. The good news is that, hopefully, someday the one flesh unit you’ve become is a solid and impenetrable one. We’re not there yet, but we’re learning, day by day.

Yesterday I wrote about schedules and how our schedule is to serve the other’s schedule, but on a deeper, heart level, what does that mean? It means entering into conflict without entering into competition. My friend Haley Kirkpatrick (35, married two years, one beautiful baby), said this,

“Marriage is not a competition. I know some books out there talk about competing in a healthy way—outdoing your spouse in kindness, thoughtfulness, respect, and love—but for a competitive person like myself, this is not helpful and just leads to a desire to compete when we’re in the worse, poorer, and sickness parts of marriage. I am not in competition with my husband about who is more tired, who is more stressed, whose back hurts and therefore needs a back rub more. It is easy to compete. It is harder to stop, listen, and love even when I feel tired, stressed, and unable to stand up straight. But it is loving deep and big and selflessly in the worse, poorer, and sickness that makes love so damn good in the better, richer, and healthy parts of marriage, and it is what sustains your love the next time life is worse, poorer, and sick.”

Haley and I are very different people in many ways. One of which is that Haley is a more competitive person than I am. She pushes herself against herself and against others to be the best she can be at everything she does, including being a wife. I am not wired like that, in fact, I’m wired the opposite way. I am still competitive, but she externalizes her competition, I internalize it, so much so that it eats me alive, from the inside out. We both are struggling with the same root issue: we want to be the best, even better than our husbands in some ways. I’m saying this because I think there are people who are clearly competitive people and for them, the difficulty in marriage is vocal, heated, and visible. But for others, the competition is sneaky, sly, and quiet. Instead of a game of words, it’s a game of wills—who can go the longest without bringing up something? Who can stay quiet about something the longest? Who can bear the weight of the other the longest?

I came into marriage with very real fears that every conflict would be loud, heated, and harsh, because this was the example I had growing up. Nate came into marriage determined to not repeat his sins from before, conflict was nonexistent until it was impossible to ignore, he never spoke up about anything, and was passive in his leadership. I feared conflict and he feared the lack of it. God, in His sovereignty though, has given us plenty of it in the first 17 months of our marriage. I remarked to him the other day that what we’ve walked through in the past year is more than what most people married for fifteen years walk through. It’s like God is playing catch-up with our marriage, bringing us to the place most of our peers are in. (That’s a joke. Kind of.)

How do two whole people, with whole opinions and histories and beliefs and visions, dissipate and become one whole unit?

To be honest, I have no idea. Really. No idea. I think it’s a mystery. But here are two things I have to remember often:

Conflict is good

I’ve realized that most of the bad conflict or lack of it, that we’ve experienced is mostly in the way the words are said, not in the words themselves. It is good and right to say, “I don’t like this,” or “I prefer this,” or “I’ve had a really hard day.” But it is not good or right to say those things in order to wound, to assert rights, or to compete with one another. I have not learned this well, but it actually serves my husband when I say, “I do have a preference and this is what it is,” otherwise he’s flying blind. In a new marriage this can be really scary because it’s all heart eye emojis and inside jokes until it isn’t. As soon as you say you have a preference, and especially if you know his preference is different, you’ve entered conflict. But heart eye emojis and inside jokes cannot a marriage grow. We need good, healthy, measured conflict. Nate and I have made some Really Big, Really Hard, Really Deep mistakes this year because we didn’t know how to speak the language of conflict good, so instead, we just kept quiet. Learning the language of conflict is one of the best things we can do in a new marriage. We do that two ways: watching those who do it well and doing it ourselves.

Con means against, but also with

I’ve been learning that the more I am against Nate in something, and by against, I mean our two opinions pressed up against one another, the more of me gets shaved off. This is what the Bible calls “iron sharpening iron.” By allowing the againstness of conflict chip off the parts of me that keep us from being one flesh, I become less and less of my former unmarried self. Don’t let anyone tell you, newly married person, that the process isn’t painful. It is just as painful as becoming the healthy, whole, vibrant person you were before you got married. Just as painful. Sanctification in marriage isn’t harder than singleness, but it is different, mainly in that you’re starting over in a lot of ways.

I envision it like this and maybe this will help you: We are two whole little wooden figurines before marriage and then we come together and the process of conflict shaves off pieces of us, which fall to the ground. We have always thought of ourselves as whole as the figurines, so it doesn’t occur to us to look at the shavings below and think of them as any consequence, but what is actually happening is at the end of this process, the shavings below are imperceptible from one another. They—with all their pieces of conflict, hurt, joy, preference, and desire—are the new unit, the little wooden figurines are no more. That’s the process of sanctification in marriage, the two becoming one. The analogy breaks down of course, but while it works, it works. And it helps me to not look at those scraps on the floor as wasted.

I think of John Piper’s words,

“Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.”

. . .

I hope that encourages us today, newly married sisters, as we look at the scraps of life falling below us. He’s doing something with them. All this conflict is working in us a better marriage, a more whole one. Even if our marriages are without a lot of conflict and are peaceful havens, the world is coming at us a thousand miles a second, and the enemy crouches at our door waiting to rule over us. In the infancy of this union, friend, let’s be sisters who are gentle with our words, faithful with our words, and honest with our words. Our husbands will thank us and it will be a sweet fragrance to our God.

 

Yesterday a friend called to ask for advice. Another friend had told her to proceed one way, a counselor had told her to proceed another. I knew in a sense she was asking me to affirm one or offer a third way. I offered a third way by asking instead what did she think the Holy Spirit was asking of her?

It turned out the Helper had shown her a way in which at the end of the scenario, she would need not only the Help of the Holy Spirit, but also the Comfort if it went as we expected. The Holy Spirit was offering a third way and, I think, the right way.

Nate and I have a saying in our house: Be faithful to the word of God and not a certain outcome. It has saved us from a mighty many scrapes and, to be honest, thrown us right in the middle of some of the hardest predicaments of our lives. To use the word of God not only as a buffer in the midst of storm or the roadmap to treasure, but also to believe the Book of Life may lead to certain death in this world, but it will not return void forever, is a risky thing to do. What seems smart, seems sufficient, seems wise isn’t always what the word of God and the Holy Spirit would ask of us.

Some of us Christians don’t very much like the business of leaning on the Holy Spirit, and with good cause. How many of us have been the recipients of heavy hands on our foreheads and spittle from a prophet’s mouth, men who were purported to be “led by the spirit,” but spewed lies leading to unmet expectations for years later? How many of us have been on the hearing end of someone claiming Jesus told them to get divorced or buy a Mercedes or their son or daughter would be saved on such and such a date, or they would get what they wanted in a certain situation? We all have hopes and we all have preferences, but pinning “the Holy Spirit told me so” onto our hopes feels more like a Get Out Of Jail Free card than the narrow road to Kingdom dependance—which looks more like “If it be God’s will,” than most of us give Him credit for.

What my friend, in the midst of prayer and weeping, had sensed the Holy Spirit telling her to do went against psychology and churchy ideas of tough love, but even more than that, it went against her own flesh. She was, like Paul, compelled to do what in her flesh she did not want to do.

Ah! This, my friend, tells us we’re on the right track.

In an age when it’s all about our stories and our preferences and our feelings, we ought to pay attention when what we are compelled to do seems at odds with what our flesh and the culture around us wants us to do. I am not saying we ought to stick around when we’re being physically or sexually abused (and I know the line is fine here), but some of what we Christians call abuse is really just the brokenness of humanity in such tight quarters. People are sad and it affects us. People are grieving and it’s uncomfortable for us. People are suicidal and we have to be attentive to them. People are angry and we hear them say untrue things. People are fearful and we cannot understand why. This is the sort of brokenness most of us are pressed up against every day. It’s everywhere, we can’t escape it, though so many do and end up building tiny castles with massive moats and standing upon the highest towers refusing to hear any criticism or complaint which makes them uncomfortable.

Paul said, “I bear on my body the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ.” You think for a minute he would have stayed under the whip, the burnings, the shipwrecks, the lashings if the Holy Spirit had not compelled him to? No, friend, without the Holy Spirit he would have been sunk. He would have skedaddled. He would have slunk away, swam away, sprinted away. But with the Holy Spirit he was able to say, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:9,10

Friend, seek solace knowing the wounds you take today are for the sake of Christ—who came into brokenness in order to save to the uttermost.

The Holy Spirit Made me Do it

I read a quote from two of my favorite people the other day: “In a gospel-centered marriage, we can be really, truly, deeply known and at the same time really, truly, deeply loved.” I’ve learned more about the gospel from one of those people than anyone in my life so I’m reticent to push back on this idea, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve given him a hard time, so here’s my careful pushback to this common idea in the church.

1. Even within marriage you will never be wholly known by one another.
2. Outside of marriage you are still known and loved.

Within earthly marriage, which is a beautiful picture of the gospel, we are still clinging to these earthly tents. We can never be truly known inside any human relationship and indeed we are not meant to be. There is beautiful ahava, a give, a love within marriage. A selflessness, a caring, a joy, for sure. But there is not the elusive juxtaposition of being fully known/fully loved. This only exists within life in Christ. When we say this what we communicate to married people is they’re missing something if they don’t feel truly known by the other person. And we communicate to unmarried people they can never be really known outside of marriage.

The church should be the place that gently lifts the heads of two people in a less than perfect marriage (which is all of us) and sets their eyes on Christ as the one who knows and loves them fully now, so they can be set free to love and know one another as fully partially as they’re able here on earth.

The church should be the place that gently lifts the heads of unmarried people and shows them how men like Paul and Jesus and women like Lydia and Mary were fully known and loved by their Father, but fully misunderstood by the men and women around them—and yet they still pressed forward in love doing amazing acts of church planting, bearing the Son of God, miracles, and writing more than half of the New Testament.

Neither married people, nor unmarried people will ever feel as really, truly, and deeply known as the ache in our hearts tells us we ought to feel. It is so easy to paint the picture within the Church that marriage can be the nirvana of earthly existence—but friends, if marriages quells all the longing inside of you for something more, than your marriage is not actually gospel-centered, but earthly-centered. Marriage should smack of a holy discontent and a fervent desire to be fully known and fully loved by Christ alone, who then empowers us to walk by the spirit in how we love and know others incompletely.

In the same vein, singleness should meet that holy discontent in the middle and know with full assurance that waiting for marriage to feel known and loved is foolish. Start now. First, Christ does it with more ardor than any spouse ever will. Second, the relationships you have in your life right now can be some of the richest you will ever know if you will submit yourself to being known and loved in them. It’s an act of submission, to be sure, letting your weaknesses be seen, challenged, and pressed into, but Christ has set a good example for you in His submission to His Father on the cross.

Friend, you may be in the happiest marriage known to man or the hardest, you may be joyfully single for life or you may be limping through every day in your wait, but you are fully known and fully loved now. Go now, and love and know as truly as you’re able—albeit imperfectly—knowing the gospel is no respecter of marital status even as it displays the perfect union of Christ and His bride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-10-05 at 8.29.24 AMI never thought I’d be the girl without a family, the willingly orphaned. We left Texas in tears, reading our congratulatory wedding cards on the drive to Colorado through weeping and intermittent sobbing. By we, I mean me.

I love my church family in Texas, never have I left a place looking behind me as I did there; pioneering is in my blood, forging ahead, new, change, adventure. By the time we came to the end of our time in Denver, our first year of marriage was forged in the fire of unemployment, miscarriages, violence, financial loss, and a church leadership crisis. There was no one reason that pressed us out, but the compilation all the reasons made it easier to leave. We looked eastward and hoped for home.

. . .

When I first signed the membership covenant at my church in Texas six years ago, I did it with a confident flourish. My life had been changed there, my understanding of God rocked, settled, firmed, and set to rest. I would have signed my name in blood if it were an option. This was how committed I was to seeing my family thrive there. Years of struggle, walking through imperfect discipline with imperfect people, rubbing up against imperfect leadership and failure to do things the way I envisioned didn’t change my commitment though. Every year, when the time to renew came, I signed the document with joy and confidence. This was my family and family will always fail you, but you don’t back away, you press in. I was the church membership girl, her biggest evangelist.

When we arrived in Denver I asked about signing something, a promise, a covenant to this new body, but I was co-opted in, it seems, by virtue of being employed there. It never felt right with me, but nothing in my life felt right then, everything was new and different and I didn’t know which things were wrong and which were just new. When the email came from my Texas family a few months after we left, telling members it was time to renew, it broke my heart to archive it knowing I was saying “No” to them and still didn’t feel like I was saying “Yes” to anything else yet.

Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him,” but sometimes that rest comes through commitment to a people and a place, and sometimes it takes a long time to get there.

. . .

Before I got married I would encourage my single friends to not view the church as some sort of social gathering or authority setting, but instead to view it as family, through and through. I believed strongly then (and still believe it for my friends) that if God had marriage for me, then it would come through the family of my church. This was an unpopular view, but I held to it without wavering.

Then, one day, in the foyer of my family’s home, with our family milling around us, I met him. It was without incident, without much notice, without care. I noted his beard. He noted my recent travel overseas. We shared a few words of conversation not knowing that less than six months later we’d be sharing everything with one another. I didn’t know it, but there, on the threshold of my family’s home, I crossed the threshold of my married home.

. . .

We have been in D.C. now for seven months. We live in a neighboring city twenty miles as the crow flies from Capitol Hill. But for the same reason I swore I would never live here, it takes Nate a generous average of three hours a day in travel to go to and from work in the city each day. That travel time is the same reason it has taken us nearly seven months to settle on a church home, and it was not the church home we envisioned when we moved here.

We moved here broken, hurting, limping. We felt the weight of failure in every direction: our ability to hold a job, keep a job, love the church, carry a baby, feel safe, pay our mortgage, and more. No illusion of comfort was kept. We felt the fracture down to our core in a way neither of us had ever felt before. Some thought we were pining for what one pastor called, “Our hot ex-girlfriend” of a church, the thriving family we had in Texas, but the thought of comparing my family to a hot ex-girlfriend, a once and done, a flavor of the week is abhorrent to me. She was my family—still is my family, if we believe there is something spiritual about the church covenant (and I do). But that actually wasn’t even what we longed for at all.

We wanted a quiet place, a family that had been pastored for 30 years by the same man who didn’t use social media and who didn’t care about who you knew; a place that was elder-led by an equality of elders. A still and small place, a local place, a place where we could mourn and not be judged, a place where we could weep in the back row and not be rushed to counseling or medication or quick fixes, a place where we could just say, “Hey, we’re broken right now and just want a family.” But we couldn’t find that place and the searching grew wearisome, week after week our search taking us farther from our local village. Finally we heard about a church that would be planted in the fall and we came to know the pastor and his family. We decided that if what we wanted wasn’t possible, maybe God could use us in their lives and them in ours as long as he had us here, while we made plans to relocate to a smaller city. Their friendship is a sweet one, and a needed one. He is pastoral and gentle and vulnerable and fun. She is strong and wise and kind and a friend. We love and are loved by their children. It was not the family we envisioned, but it was the family God set us in for the time we’re here. The church is a month old this week.

. . .

I was telling a friend the other day that in all my years of singleness I never once felt my lack of a husband the way I have felt my lack of a church family this year. I wish I could somehow communicate this to my yet unmarried friends—the longing for a nuclear family is not wrong, and there is something beautiful and dear and illustrative of God’s family in a nuclear family, but your church family is—I promise you this—a more lasting and better family than the one you envision or the one you have.

I thought I understood this before, but I have really come to understand it this year. I love my husband and would not trade him for anything on earth, he is a gift to me brought in God’s time and God’s way. But I ache for my church family in a way I never ached for a husband before I knew God would bring me Nate. God does not promise earthly marriage to us, but He does promise family to us, and the Church itself is God’s promise of marriage and a family. It is the promise that Christ is coming again to bring His bride home. It is the promise that He is making all things new. It is the promise that on earth we are spotted and blemished and imperfect and terrible at so many things, but He is washing us with the water of the Word and He is coming to perfect us with His presence.

Friends, there are a thousand difficult things about finding a local church, compounded when you’re married and you need to agree on those things with your spouse, but as imperfect as she is, and incomplete as she feels, she is God’s design for covenant on earth. She is the opportunity to practice what God has made perfect in the new kingdom and new earth. I am still struggling with this reality in ways I haven’t in years. Last night Nate and I talked long while the candles burned low, about the ins and outs of church membership and church membership here and there and what God has taught us and is still teaching us and it was good, but hard, but good.

Something that is true of marriage that is also true of life in the Bride of Christ on earth: disagreement about next steps or future living or big decisions don’t have to mean division, they just mean you talk a little more, listen a little more, ask more questions, pray more, seek understanding more than you seek to be understood. The church is like any other family in that way: work, but oh what a good work.

 

 

Red Leaves

The tree across the street has started changing to red and it stands like a small flame against the darkening green of summer’s maturation. It is strange, isn’t it, how a tree proves its life by its death? We could learn one or two things from the trees.

The waiting grows heavy inside me. Today I talked with a friend who for many years prayed over the distance, spiritual, emotional, geographical, etc., of her family and today we rejoiced because all the immediate ones live within just a few blocks of her. Last week I talked with a friend who waited a long, long time for the baby who came not of her womb, but who came just the same. This morning a friend tells me the job she’s been wanting is happening soon.

We’re all waiting for something, aren’t we? Funny how we order the waits, though. Certain what we’re waiting for is holier or healthier or wholer or harder than what another is waiting for. He’s waiting for his church to grow. She’s waiting for her community to deepen. He’s waiting for a plan to surface. She’s waiting for a husband. He’s waiting for his marriage to heal. She’s waiting for home. He is too. We all are actually.

This year I have grown weary with the hierarchies and echelons of growth in the gospel. I have tired of the corner markets and church-speak. I have wished there were more places where Christians could be tired and weary and wait or even just be okay—knowing that their time there might be longer or harder or deeper than they knew. And that we didn’t all rush to cheer them up, make them look on the bright side, try to rescue them from the depths of what God might be leading them into, keeping them in the shallowness of faith. An unchecked faith is not the faith I want to have.

I am not the girl I was a year and a half ago. I described depression to a friend of mine who lives with a sufferer of it: it was like feeling like a shell of yourself, knowing the inside must exist somewhere, but lacking the arms and hands to feel around for it. I talk in the past tense to her, but the present tense to myself. I remind myself that Christ in me is my hope of glory. Even if I never find myself again, Christ is in me, this I do know.

Maybe “myself” was never all she was cracked up to be.

. . .

I have hurried through my day, trying to order it by tasks which must be done and tasks which might be done and tasks which mustn’t be done no matter how tempting they might be. Writing this is of the latter sort, but self-control is not my strong point.

Plans thwarted by a geographical mishap (I made an appointment for the wrong location) I am driving home and I see the red tree, redder than she was this morning. Or maybe it’s the angle of the sun. It doesn’t matter. She is dying. Beautifully. But still dying. It’s more complicated, I know, but part of her is dying. A useful part of her, a beautiful part of her, and a necessary part of her—the yellow comes, then soon orange, now red, and then brown, and then, like the leaf I found in our back yard yesterday: dead. Autumn is a slow and brilliant death here on the east coast but only if you pay attention.

It is a necessary death but not an eternal one. It is a scheduled death and not an immature one. It is the mark of growth, of maturity, of another year come and gone. It is death, but it is not the end.

The leaves which will come next year (and they will come, mark my words) will be the same and so very different. Of their former selves, but not their former selves. It is like that with us: one day, eternally, but also right now: being renewed. Being built into. Being transformed. Being saved. Being.

. . .

I have grown heavy with waiting and most days I can’t even articulate what I’m waiting for—this is the fog we have been walking through, arms outstretched, trying to feel around for something that feels familiar. So many wonderful strangers have put things in our arms—resources, people, pastors, contacts—but none of those things mean as much as the simple companionship of being known and loved just as you are without what you can bring or be brought.

This weekend we visited some deep and dear friends and one asked me about a traumatic event from last year, to describe it in detail. I shook, but I told it all. The next day, his wife asked me about two more traumatic events from last year, and I told her all of too. It was cathartic in a way I had forgotten, the way true friendship just asks for the story and not for the success.

It has been so long since I felt the freedom to just be sad and hurt and confused and a little bit dead inside—and not feel the need to produce something of it. I know the time to produce will come again, but right now is not that time.

And that’s okay. It’s okay.

Christ in me is the hope of glory and hope cannot disappoint.

Spring cannot help herself, she will come again.

. . .

I don’t know where you are today friend, maybe you’re farther north than me and autumn’s death dance is further along in your life. Maybe you’re in the dead of winter and the stark cowlicks of seemingly dead branches are poking you in every which way. I don’t know. I want to encourage you with these lyrics, though, a song I have had on my mind much, Sovereign Over Us performed here by Aaron Keyes. Pay attention to the prepositions, though, that’s where God is most at work.

There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears

And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear

You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us

When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust

In the words of Vonnegut, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” And so it was, my story has got pneumonia. There’s no doctor for this and no cure or medicine. It’s not writer’s block, it’s the opposite. It’s not fear of saying something, it’s fear of saying everything.

Others think of writers as prophets of sorts. Don’t ask me what writers think of themselves. The way blogs go these days it seems we all think we’re on a reality show or talk show or the stage and we are the star. Someone’s salvation is always resting on the crux of how well a writer can write it, and what we need someone to tell us is maybe it’s just the working out of our own salvation in the crux. I have never understood people who had books “just burning” inside them to be written or who have always known they would be a writer or who have messages they know only they can tell. I have always been on the other side of the spectrum, tapping the mic endlessly asking, “Is this thing on?” if only to say to the naysayers and bystanders and passersby that there is nothing to see here, carry on.

Thank you for staying, readers and friends. You didn’t have to and I’ll understand if you leave. I might leave if this was the story I came to hear. Or I might not. I have been prone to unpredictable behavior of late. This is what I do want to say to you though, if you have the patience and the benevolence to hear it.

This is how it happened, from the almost beginning: Nate and I met in the foyer of our church, it was a non-event except that I liked his beard and he was still not dating girls. A few weeks later a church in Denver asked me to consider working with them. I hemmed and hawed and talked with pastors and elders and friends and traveled there three months later to figure things out. Then I came home and made the decision in a conference room upstairs in my church with a few pastors and elders and friends.

I also told them then that the night before Nate Wilbert had asked me out. Who knew what would happen? Not us.

The decision to go to Denver was made, though, and when Nate and I knew we would be getting married, the decision to go to Denver was back on the table for a hot minute, and by minute, I mean second. “Do you wanna?” “Yeah, I wanna.” “Okay, let’s.” There was a bit more to it, but that was the general decision making process. We hardly knew one another but we knew we were going to get married and that everything in our lives was going to be One Great Adventure because we were doing it together and everything looks shinier when you’re in love.

Denver or bust. Except we didn’t really expect the bust. Everyone says it, but no one actually expects it.

Then the bust: a newly acquired house, a new job with more challenges than we could have envisioned going in, a few miscarriages, shootings, job loss, and so much more. You know the wrap. What you don’t know, maybe, is that we’d been encouraged to step back from leadership as much as possible in our first year of marriage. We were going from living in the middle of ministry in our respective homes to our primary ministry being one another. He didn’t know how to do that well in his first marriage and I sure didn’t know how to do it at all. So envision with me this: two people who don’t know how to swim, deep sea diving into a wreckage where they have to surface with precious artifacts without damaging them. This was our first year.

You know most of the story—but not all of it, please don’t ever assume you know all of someone’s story unless you’ve sat across from them with tea or coffee or your beverage of choice and watched them cry ugly tears or say angry words while you just sat there and were a presence beside them. This is bonus talk right here, not the point of this post at all. I just want to remind all of us that we fall under the shiny spell of interconnectivity more often than not, commentating on lives based on photos and 140 characters. As if the sum of a life can be measured in a snapshot or 140 letters.

Am I rambling, I probably am, but if there’s something I’ve learned a lot this year it’s how easy it is to assume really bad things or really good things in the lives of people as we voyeuristically and unthinkingly scan the artifacts they share. Social media isn’t a lie, friends, as some would have you believe, but it is just the tip of many, many things. So, maybe I should rephrase, you don’t know most of the story, in fact, you know very, very little of it. The mountain of things you don’t know about our lives this past year could not be moved by the pile of things you do know.

Moving on.

So, bust it was. We didn’t intend on leaving Denver, or the church. It’s not the church’s fault we were newly married and had disobeyed good counsel and had jumped in with both feet and were in over our heads. We had every intention of staying, of Nate finding a job there, and of learning to swim. But, God, in His strange sovereignty (and I don’t say that sarcastically, I truly mean it was strange), did not provide a job there.

When Nate first broached the subject of looking out of state, and in fact the mid-Atlantic region, my first response was, “Well, if we’re looking out of state, why not Texas?” For reasons I didn’t know at the time, though, his response was an emphatic no. And because my dear husband had uprooted his life to move for my job in Denver, I agreed to the mid-Atlantic region if a job awaited him there. He went to high-school in DC and had fond memories of the place, but I confess, I was envisioning something more along the lines of bucolic pastures and Shenandoah valleys. I am nothing if not idealistic.

There were interviews all over the mid-Atlantic region, but the one job I didn’t want him to get was the one job—out of myriads of interviews and applications—he was offered. In the heart of D.C. Across the street from the Smithsonian, in view of the Capitol, and every stately monument along the way.

I remembered driving through D.C. years ago. It was Thanksgiving weekend. I was traveling to a friend’s wedding in the Carolinas. It took me nearly four hours to get around the beltway. I swore to myself, probably drawing blood with my fingernails into my palms, that I would never live in a place like this. I was made for hills and mountains and crickets and fireflies. I know there are some who love and feel called to D.C. and these people I commend, but give me the country air and people and problems there. I would never live in D.C.

I remembered saying the same thing to the Lord right before I moved to Texas, though, and see how I was wrong? So I didn’t say any of that to my dear husband. As much as I couldn’t see myself or our family, or him, thriving in the area, I wanted him to feel wanted and approved of and needed by someone, anyone. And they were offering him a job. So I kept my mouth shut and I said, “Babe, I know you want to work and I want you to work, so wherever that is, I will follow you.”

And I did. And we’re here. And his commute is three hours a day. And this week they told him they’re most likely moving his team to another building in the District—one that will add 30 minutes to his commute, making it an even four hours of traveling a day. Whenever we mention that to people around here (because the cost of living pushes people outside the city), they nod and say things like, “Yup, well, that’s just how it is here.” Or “Well, sometimes you have to make sacrifices.” I want to across from those people and say, “You don’t have to. What you’re saying is ‘I’m choosing to sacrifice community on the altar of my commute and job.’”

But we’re not.

Here is why I told you all that above, in case you’re wondering. I’m telling you because in the first move to Denver we moved for my job and he did not talk to me about some reasons he had for wanting to leave Dallas. The second move to D.C., we moved for his job, and I did not talk to him about some reasons I had for not wanting to move here. We both sinned against one another in that process and I have all sorts of excuses for why: we didn’t know one another well, we were just figuring this out, we loved the other one and wanted them to flourish, our proclivities and personalities are to stuff things instead of expose them, and we gave into our flesh in these ways. There is so much more to say, but that’s the bottom line. We sinned, a bit unknowingly and naively, but still sinned.

I’ve said before that marriage isn’t hard, not like the drama queens say with their hands across their perspiring brow, “Marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.” Marriage isn’t hard like that. It’s got hard things for sure, but what’s hard about marriage is you’ve put two sinners together until death them do part. And for us, we left the safety net of community and friends, and like frogs in slowly boiling water, our sin was eating us alive, we just didn’t know it.

Until now.

Even though the cost of living is high here and he is gone twelve hours of our day and we’re struggling to feel at home here, and now know we’re not going to be at home here, we’ve also had space and time to sit under the weight of our sins of omission toward one another. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, “So you withheld your true feelings, big deal, harder things are coming for you.” Except withholding those feelings and fears and hopes meant we moved across the country twice, lost a church community twice, lost $100,000 and our home, lost a lot more than just the benefit of having your feelings known. So, all I’m saying is there was a big price for those small secrets.

Everyone knows that seeing a counselor means everything is going to be fixed though, so that’s what we’ve been doing. Kidding. We told our counselor first thing, “We don’t expect you to be our savior,” and he’s made good on that expectation. But it has been helpful, in the way that peeling an onion is good before cutting it up. You peel back the layers and then you cry a lot. It’s like paying money every other week to peel a single onion together. I highly recommend it.

He’s asked good questions and pressed pretty hard on some things and not very hard at all on other things, but in the process it’s getting revealed that Nate and I need to learn to emote and talk and that it’s okay to say, “I don’t like _____, and that’s okay.” And also it’s okay to grieve what we’ve lost this year. And also it’s okay to not be super Christians. And it’s okay to withhold information from blog readers and even friends, but not from one another. And it’s okay to say, “Denver wasn’t a mistake. D.C. wasn’t a mistake. But also moving again doesn’t mean we’re running away.”

It’s been cathartic to be able to step back, a year into marriage, and talk about, well, what do we actually want our lives to look like, what do we want our family to look like, when we can start the adoption process, how we want to raise our kids, what sort of church do we want to be married to and serve in, what do we value in church leadership, what do we value in a city, in a town, in the country, how little can we live on instead of how much. All of those questions are things that maybe should be talked about before marriage (though I think the pressure to have all questions answered before marriage is one of the ways the enemy keeps people living in sin instead of covenant), but they are certainly things that should be talked about within marriage and without fear.

We’ve been doing that en masse. It’s been a veritable share-fest around our house these days. We’re making lists and unmaking them. We’re talking through cities and ruling them out. We’re aiming toward relationship building instead of job getting. We’re concentrating our search on churches and not employment. A job is important, even necessary before we move, but our primary posture right now is: where is God calling us to love one another, to raise a family, to invest into a church and city and people, to grow old in our marriage together?

So, because seven is the number of perfection, we’re making it The Seven Moves of 2015-16.

And we think we know where that place is.

It’s a place that holds a dear spot in my heart and a place that’s only a few hours from his family and a few more from mine. It’s a place I spent many happy years and many more happy holidays. In the past few years it has been like a vortex for some of my closest friends, pulling them back to various neighborhoods and churches. It’s the place I wept to leave and always feel at home coming back to. At the end of the month we’re traveling there together for a few days, to see if God might be drawing us there too.

We’re holding it loosely, but we’re talking about it instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist. And for the first time in a long time, we’re feeling excited and expectant and hopeful. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t say to me, “I’m really looking forward to our visit there.” And each time he does, I remember again what it means to be drawn closer to another person in a strange way. I can’t explain it. I know it’s good. And hard. And not impossible. Not easy. But good.

One of the things we failed to do in Denver was to prioritize relationship over normal mechanisms for getting a job. Partially Nate just didn’t have any connections there aside from other church staff. We were only there a few months when he lost his contract. We didn’t know where to turn or to go. He turned to sharpening up his resume, online searches, Linkedin connections. In Dallas he would have had a job in weeks. We knew this because he’d never been without a job and never had to look for one. But in this new place he didn’t have relational capital built up and he confesses now his pride got in the way of working on it.

In this season, we have been deeply convicted that God is more than capable of being our provision in every way, including by giving Nate a job. We have prayed more as a couple and found joy in restraint in the past few weeks, by not trying to manhandle this situation, but by being patient and faithful. We’re reaching out to friends in the area, we’re passing his resume on, and we’re scheduling meetings for him when we’re down there in a few weeks, but we’re not going to put getting a job before building relationship and building on relationships we already have there. In the ministry world that’s the norm, but in the business world, in Nate’s world? That is abnormal and especially abnormal when we don’t live in the city we’re looking to be in. But we’re trusting God is bigger and better than norms and we’re just asking for clarity in all things.

This is nearly 3000 words and kudos if you’ve made it this far. I wrote this mostly for me, but for you too, if it helps you to pray for us or for you to understand you. That’s why I write at all, honestly. It’s not to be understood by you in some needy way. None of us need to be understood by anyone and no amount of postulating or explaining will accomplish it anyway. I’ve learned that. But I write because it’s humbling for me and maybe it helps one or two of you understand yourself too. I’d be happy with that.

Will you pray friends? For us and our marriage? We have no idea whether we’ll be moving or not, but we’re learning to communicate, to dream, to talk, to be honest, and all of that is good wherever we live. But also pray for you, that you would learn to take your hands off your wounds, to stop self-protecting in your marriages and friendships, to be vulnerable with your fears and concerns. Not to the whole world, like Vonnegut says, but to one, just one.

Chattanooga or bust.

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There are eighteen attributes of God posted on the walls of the Kids Village rooms at The Village Church. Learning those attributes, committing them to memory, and pulling them out whenever I have doubted the character of God throughout the past six years has been one of the most life-changing disciplines of my life.

After I posted this photo, several people asked for the full list or a link to the posters. A few of the guys in the Comm department told me they’ll think about getting something up in the next year, but until then, I asked for permission to reprint the complete list. It was written by Anne Lincoln Holibaugh, the director of Kids Village for years and one who worked hard to create a well-oiled machine in that area. She’s brilliant. If you know her, tell her (and all the Kids Village/Little Village people) thank you today.

Here are the attributes in list form. Below, if you click on the image, there’s a high resolution image I put together that you can print out and put on your fridge or frame or wherever it would be helpful for you to visualize the bigness of God on a regular basis. I really mean it when I say committing these characteristics of God to memory has been one of the most life-changing disciplines for me. They’re easy to remember, they remind me I am not God, and they speak to nearly every lie I am tempted to believe about Him.

God is:

Wise: He knows what is best
Generous: He gives what is best
Loving: He does what is best
Good: He is what is best
Unchanging: He never changes
Creator: He made everything
Provider: He meets the needs of His children
Holy: He is completely perfect
Just: He is right to punish sin
Glorious: He shows his glory and greatness
Sovereign: He has the right, will, and power to do as He pleases
Compassionate: He sees, cares, and acts when His children are in need
Merciful: He does not give what His children deserve
Attentive: He hears and responds to His children
Worthy: He deserves all glory
Deliverer: He saves His children from wrath
Refuge: He provides places of safety for His children
Almighty: Nothing is too hard for God

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I’ve been lost for almost a year.

It has its perks, of course. I never would have known, for instance, the left turn I thought would take me in the general direction of home, would actually take me past a local gardening center I hadn’t found yet. Or the right turn I thought would head me toward the Super Target would actually end me up on a dead-end street. You win some, you lose some. Or get lost some.

They say moving is one of the most stressful things your body can do and they probably say moving cross-country twice in one year is like throwing yourself into a spin cycle and then tumble dry on high. “How do people do this well?” I ask myself almost daily. I have to look on the bright side, otherwise every wrong turn ends me up in tears.

Isaiah 30:19
For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.

I wander the aisles of the Super Target for an hour this morning. I have no agenda, no list, and no aim. “This is what lonely people do,” I think. “Crazy people.” “But I am not one of those people,” I say to myself, pay for my purchase, and leave. Then I get lost on 242 or 262 or 252 or one of those numbered roads around here.

Manassas is shaped like an oblong diamond tilted to the left, which is beautiful I suppose in its own right, but sure makes a fool out of anyone who has a good sense of direction, like me. Denver was sensible: numbered streets running east west, alphabetical streets running north south. Early settlers must have started life on the east coast and decided that kind of chaos wasn’t their style. A hundred years later and I was more than grateful for their future thinking.

Early settlers of Manassas had no such intention.

I’ve been lost for a year and I’ve also felt lost for a year. I wake every morning wondering if this will be the one, the one I finally feel like myself, feel awake, energized, purposeful, and curious. I did not waste my life before this year and now I wander the aisle of Super Target unseeing and bland.

There are details underneath this surface page we haven’t told you and won’t, and I’m sure some of you wonder what in the world my problem is and I honestly wonder too. It’s been a painful year, or in the vernacular, as one of our friends in Denver told us this week: “This year sucked.” It did, we laughed and then sobered: it did.

I could cry for all the sucking this year has been. Sucking us of life and joy and hope and roots. It wasn’t just us, it was all of the things put together, stirred, beaten, and battered, baked on high until the smoke alarm went off.

Isaiah 30:20
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.

A friend told me today it’s okay to wear t-shirts and yoga pants all day these days. I feel guilty sometimes, like life isn’t worth showing up for. But she reminds me comfort isn’t always a sin.

Nate tells me maybe this is just a stopping point for us, we will plant ourselves here for four or five years, help this church plant in the area, see what God does. He is as full of faith and faithfulness as I am full of doubt and doubtfulness. I wonder if it’s okay to not be okay while still knowing someday things will be okay.

Isaiah 30:21
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

I pass a mom in Super Target today trying to calm her newborn who screams. She’s fretting and embarrassed, and I put a hand on her shoulder and say, “You’re doing a good job and it’s going to be okay.” Her eyes fill with tears and mine do too. We both know it’s true and it’s still the hardest thing in the world to believe.

All of us feel lost sometimes.

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In the midst of conflict within the local church the first thing we need to understand is that we are never promised a clean, unspotted, unblemished church (Ephesians 5:27). The bible repeatedly makes the case that the local church on earth will be broken and blemished until Christ presents us clean and spotless.

Therefore, when we encounter brokenness in the local church our response is not to run the other direction, complain, or grow angry at the institution. If we are Christians, then we believe the bible, and the bible says we are imperfect. The crux for the Christian is how we respond, then, to the imperfect church family of which we are a part.

As humans we can be tempted to respond in a few different ways to conflict within the local church. Philippians 4:1-9 has a clear pathway for how Christians walk through conflict.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

1. We can be tempted to speculate: Philippians 4 begins with Paul naming two individuals in the church at Philippi who were disagreeing in the Lord. We are not told what the nature of their conflict was. We are not told who brought it first to anyone’s attention. We are told very little, in fact, of the details of the situation. Paul thought it important to not name the specifics of the situation. God ordained that godly men would lead the church as elders and that the body would submit to them as under-shepherds knowing they know specifics of things we might never know. This is a good and safe place for the Christian.

In verse 7 Paul says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying there’s a peace that passes all kinds of speculation. It’s a peace the world cannot give. It’s a peace that even knowledge cannot give. No matter how hard we grasp for the details of a situation, they cannot give the peace that only God can give. When we are tempted to speculate here, let’s entrust our questions to God and ask for a peace that passes the limited answers we’re given.

2. We can be tempted to judge: Paul begins this chapter with the conflict, but he quickly follows it up with the truth that these women have “labored side by side with [him] in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of the fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” What we know is there are some faithful women who have encountered the brokenness of life on earth as humans. But it doesn’t change the fact that these women labored hard alongside the other early Christians.

When the temptation comes to judge, remember the faithfulness that Paul commends. Is there any perfect leader or Christian? No. But commend the faithfulness of all. Flee from the temptation to judge the process, people, or church. Commend faithfulness.

3. We can be tempted to be divisive: Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul is saying in the midst of this time be reasonable, don’t be anxious, make your requests known to God. Do it with thanksgiving. Exercise gratefulness for what the Lord has done and is doing. Fight anxiety with the truth of the word. Be so full of the Holy Spirit in this time that it is “known to everyone.”

Instead of being divisive, trying to cause division, discord, creating “teams,” or pitting people against one another, rejoice in the Lord always. And again, because it’s so important, rejoice. Fight the temptation to cause division in God’s church.

4. We can be tempted to gossip or listen to gossip: Paul says in verses 8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul is saying in response to this situation where there are unknowns, conflict, and a lack of understanding, do this instead. Think about the things that are true, just, pure, lovely, commendable, etc..

Paul isn’t saying to trick ourselves into being and feeling great. He is saying, though, to lift our eyes up to what is eternally and foundationally true, God Himself, the most true, most commendable, most lovely of everything. Do not be tempted to sit in a pit of gossip with other speculators, panning for the nuggets of curiosity. Climb out of that pit, trust those he’s put in place to lead your local church, and flee from gossip.

Maybe you’re in the middle of conflict right now. Or maybe you’re not in the middle of it, but your ears are juicy for the details of it. I hope and pray this passage encourages and challenges you as it has for me. Let’s all aspire to live quieter lives, trusting God to build His church wholly.

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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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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.