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Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward we are strong at the broken places.” I wrote that quote on an index card when I read it in high school and didn’t know how prophetic it would prove to be in my life.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Someone said, a few years ago, “Teach your kids they’re broken, deeply broken,” and the internet swarmed and stung in response. No one wants to believe deep inside the horrible, awful, no good truth. That the gears inside of me will keep getting stuck and rusty, jamming up in inopportune places and too small spaces. No one wants to believe the brokenness on the outside points a terrible truth about the inside.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s not a prosperity gospel to believe that the brokenness on the inside of us results in wars and rumors of wars, gunned down black boys on city streets, cancer, and genocide. It is not a transactional brokenness: you broke me, so I’ll break you. Or, more honestly, I broke me, so He breaks me more. But it is a cause and effect of sorts. Deeply broken people don’t turn the other cheek, not only in war, but also at home when the floor doesn’t get swept and it’s his turn to do the dishes and someone was uncaring or uncouth. It starts with the small fractures and leads to the tremors and quakes until we are all shattered pieces and wondering how we got here.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The world does break everyone and it is not for nothing to say we are stronger at the broken places. I heard it said recently that good eschatology says “The bad gets worse, the good gets better, and the mushy middle is done away with.” I groan for that and so do we all.

The mushy middle is what breaks us, that pliable and soft already/not yet we live in. We groan for the culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven, the new earth, but we’re still here, where missiles fall every four minutes and Christians claw their way into a helicopter from an Iraq hilltop, and journalists are tear-gassed and officers act hastily, and my friend has a tumor and it’s cancerous, and where the tears won’t stop falling this morning because we are broken, yes, it is true. We are deeply broken.

But, on our behalf, so was he.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

A Prayer for a New Home

August 1, 2014

I hand over the keys to our old house today, a final walk-through, the shades drawn, the wood floors shined and bare. I am not sad to leave, do not need one final wistful look behind me. The door closes and I pray the new occupants would banish every ghost we left behind.

It was a hard year in that home, one sweeping, rushing, crashing wave after another. Every time relief seemed near, another wave broke, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

I pray one prayer for our new home. Turning the words over in my mouth like communion bread, I let them dissolve on my tongue until I believe the truth they offer.

“Please, God, let our home be a place of peace. Please, God, let our home be marked by kindness and humility, gentleness and quiet, yes, quiet. Let it be a haven to the stranger, but even more, let it be a haven to those who live within.”

God answers prayer, I know this to be true because I have seen him do so. But I also know this to be true because he says he hears and comes and answers. Jesus said, “if you cannot believe in me, believe on the evidence of me,” but I think we know what his preferences would be.

The tempest rises and circumstances swirl around us, leaving us in tailspins: what went wrong and how? But one thing we know for certain, He does not change, he cannot change. He cannot deny himself—so even if I feel denied what I want and what I think I need, even if I am not comforted by the ways he has been faithful to me, I know he is being faithful to himself.

That may not comfort you, if following a God who is jealous for his own glory seems distasteful. But I cannot help but be comforted by it because I know all the ways I want his faithfulness to me to come would not be for my good, not really, not in the way I want them to be.

Please, God, let this home be a place of peace, of gentleness, of service to you and others. Please let it be a home where you prove your faithfulness to you. And when we cannot believe you are who you say you are, please give us evidence because we are made of earth and breath and are so fragile still.

earth

A Two-Part Invention

July 29, 2014

I have forgotten how to imagine. This year snuffed out my belief in the possible, brought me face to face with reality and it stung, over and over and over again.

I believe, help my unbelief.

I wake this morning in our new home, my bedroom at the back of the house cool, still dark, and quiet. The sound of a closing door, feet padding across carpet, the smell of coffee. These will be our morning rhythms now, the same, but different.

I believe.

Plans have changed and I find myself planted for another year in Texas. I’m grateful to have people wiser than I, and with better counsel, in my life, but cannot deny the panic I woke with yesterday, on moving day. I think I love our new home already, but want to imagine that imagination hasn’t gone the way of hope this year.

Help my unbelief.

Jesus is better than we imagine, but if we imagine nothing, then what is He better than? I feel soul-sucked and dry, that is the honest truth. Lonely and thirsting for things I love that he hasn’t promised me, not ever. But I want to imagine he’s better than all the mountains and seasons and people and clear air I ache for.

I believe.

The thing about mountains I love the most is not standing on top of them, though it is beautiful, to see so far, so deep. What I love more is standing beneath them. When the clouds part and the peaks show and I gasp. Who can imagine the time and folding and faulting that brings them to their full glory? I cannot. There is scope on the mountain top, bringing with it a grandeur. Here at the bottom, though, I am only small and inconsequential. Unimportant.

Help my unbelief.

He must increase, I must decrease.

I believe.

mountain

The Loser’s Circle

July 9, 2014

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We’ve known each other since high-school. She the pretty and popular one, I the frumpy and foolish one. She laughs large and lives large and everything she does is punctuated by drama and publicity. We were opposites and friends. Our friendship ebbed and flowed through the years; we have never been close, but we’ve always had a pulse on the other’s life, known a bit of their struggles and joys. We’ve wept and laughed together and occasionally been angry with one another. I love her.

We’ve shared something, too, that united us in more ways than one. There was a pattern that every time I liked a guy, she liked him too. The difference between us was that the guys liked her back. As soon as I knew I would have to compete with her for their attention, I stepped back, gave up. I knew I couldn’t win. And indeed haven’t. She dated the guys I liked, and eventually married one, while I just watched, my heart mourning in silent.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

My name means Laurel Crowned, or Victor, so you would think competition would be normal and natural to me. I am built of candoitiveness and a serious determination to never fail. But whenever countered, I become a palms-up, shrugged-shoulders, give-over sort of loser. The victor who is happy to come in last.

For a long time I thought this was because The First Shall Be Last and other proof-texts we use to make the good guys still feel good, but I’m coming to see it for what it is: pride. The girl who doesn’t mind coming in last doesn’t mind as long as someone crowns her Victor of Coming in Last.

But there is a kind of losing that can put you in the winner’s circle too.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

There’s a new ad circulating called Like a Girl. Whatever you think about the ad or a culture that encourages girls to be like boys, there’s one line in it that gives me chills: “I run like a girl because I am a girl,” and then she knocks it out of the park.

What she is saying is not that she loses to what she is, but that she relinquishes the demand on her to be like something she is not. She is a girl and so she runs like one—and she runs fast and free, unbridled by stereotypes and caricatures. She is herself.

The other night a group of friends and I stayed up too late for a bunch of 30 somethings. We talked about personality types and calling, and one commented that too often we want to be something we are not: the introvert wants to be the extrovert and the thinker wants to be the funny one, and so on. That wasn’t me though. I have never wanted to be the opposite of me. I just want all these knots and knolls in my heart to be better, faster, stronger. For most of my life that meant I competed against myself, but within the gospel’s context, I simply want to be conformed to the likeness of Christ—to proclaim Him just as He made me.

Christ didn’t make me my high-school friend and he didn’t make me a fast runner or an extrovert. He knit me together with these gifts and proclivities, these inclinations and drives, this body and these ideas. Those were his gifts to me and it’s not losing to be them, fully and wholly conforming to him as I embody his image.

When I lose to the world’s expectations of me, I win to Christ’s design for me.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9:24-27

Psalm 16 for Pilgrims

June 30, 2014

thousand

I learned to draw perspective in fourth grade art class. My teacher had a tangle of salt and pepper hair with a shock of white near her left ear. I cannot remember her name. We drew roads, black and yellow, and buildings with angular windows, using our rulers with one eye closed. After that everywhere I went I saw triangles. Roads, stores, cars, floors, tables. Perspective made of triangles.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Two Fridays ago, my mother marries the man she’s shared a home with for nearly a decade. As I watch them pledge their troth to one another, I cannot help but think of perspective: how mine has changed, how hers has. Then I am in a pool, staring up at the covered lanai, made of squares, but not one of them a proper square, no matter how I looked. Then to a conference with 4000 other women, with stories and lives so very different than my own. Now I am back on the road again staring at the triangle-road stretched out, thinking about perspective.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

No matter how far or fast I drive today—over the Gulf Bay and Lake Ponchartrain, Route 10 over acres and acres of swampland, from the pine forests of Pensacola, through the cotton fields of central Louisiana, to the urban sprawl of Dallas—the widest part of the road always seems to be right in front of me.

All of the opportunities before me now feel broad and pleasant. I want to dip my toes in a thousand pools and test the water in every one of them. But farther ahead, where the road narrows and crests, it all seems scary and unknown. I know what to do today, but what about the thousands of tomorrows after that? It is not perspective I need, but perspective.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

God is for me, who can be against me? God is sovereign, who can thwart his purposes? God disciplines his children in love, why would I avoid it? God is on the crest of the hill, at the narrowest part, preparing a wider path of more joy than I can even hope for. This is the perspective I need. This is the perspective he gives.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Jubilee

June 19, 2014

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I was 13 when I knew I would be a writer even though definitions of verbs and adverbs and gerunds were still a bit hazy in my mind, not to mention my atrocious spelling. I came of age in the coming of age of spell-check which ruined it for us all. No idea how to spell anxious or brevity or volatile or naive? No problem. I wonder what will become of us now that most digital devices anticipate our words before we can spell out even their first few letters. We are already less than literate, now will we be less than half?

I’m no opponent of modernity, nor am I antagonistic to those who spend their resources grabbing up every new resource as it comes. I am writing this on a 15inch MacBook Pro, on which I spent more to get the anti-glare screen and super impressive pixel ratio. I wake up every morning to the alarm on my iPhone which gets me to work on time so I can learn and earn more so I can buy gadgets such as these. Praise God for GPS without which I’ll bet cities wouldn’t grow so fast so quickly.

Stepping back from the whole of it, though, the writing, the spell-check, the convenience, the anti-glare screen, (everything except the alarm), causes a kind of built-in pause, as it is meant to, and this morning I think about the year of jubilee.

Rightly understanding the law’s place is one of the gospel’s great benefits, but sometimes I lament that He who set us free indeed didn’t keep a few of the more beneficial laws around for good measure. The Year of Jubilee would be one I’d have kept because I’m very bad at resting and my guess is you are too. Because we can do everything faster, better, and more efficiently, we can do more and more and more until we’ve lost sight of why we’re doing it at all.

What are we doing anyway?

There’s much talk of obscurity and the normal and going about our business, minding it in light of the Gospel and little else, and this resonates deep in me. But I wonder sometimes if the reason we have this conversation at all is because minding other people’s business is so tres chic these days. “All up in your bizniss” in the street lingo. Sharing it all brings this strange delight, a false sense of togetherness and a true sense of coolness.

I used to think the word community was derived from common and unity, or together and altogether. But it’s not. Com: together and Munus: gift.

Gift, together.

In the Year of Jubilee, God’s people would return to their own land, and return the land they’d inhabited to its original owners. They would set free captives and slaves and servants. They would forgive debts. They would celebrate all year long the gift of God to them. They would community: gift, together. A long year of gifting.

When I set myself down and rest my mind and eyes and ears from all that which threatens to steal my joy, I think it’s the stuff of it all that steals it most quickly. Instead of feeling gifted to by what modernity has brought, I feel stolen from. It steals my time and my energy, my opinion and my coolness. Apart from all that I do or have, I am not cool after all.

But it turns out things don’t steal my joy, my need for them does

What is beautiful about Sabbath and Jubilee and rest, is when I’m set apart from what I do or have, I am nothing—and nothing is what I bring to the cross. Nothing enables me to gift everything and come, trembling and grateful, empty-handed, atrocious spelling, without GPS or alarm, come. Quiet and aware. Stilled and stayed. Comforted by nothing but His grace and love toward me.

fruitI caught of a whiff of longing this morning. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. I stood in the parking lot and let the Texas breeze wash over me—and I felt a burst of hope inside of me: I’m going home!

I am sitting at the table with two dear friends the other day, an elder from my church and his wife, one of my first friends in Texas. They are New Yorkers, upstaters like me, and they have loved me well in my time here. This year has been one long shove, I said, a pushing away from all the reasons I would have to stay here. But are you running? they ask. Is it still running if you’re going home?

New York is a big state, divided into sections. The City, Upstate, the North Country, the Adirondack Region, the Finger Lakes Region, the Thousand Island Seaway, the Catskills. It’s all New York, but so much more than just The City. I’m not moving to the same region from which I hail, but I’m moving to the state I call home. Is it still running if you’re going home?

When I first visited New York I was 18 years old, a sullen teenager whose parents wanted to buy an old farmhouse and homestead it, growing organic vegetables and raising animals. I was born and bred in an affluent county north of Philadelphia. The earthiness of our new home didn’t bother me, but the humbleness of it did. It was a bigger, grander house than the one we’d left, but the life we now lived was simpler. I never felt at home there.

New York took from me, from beginning to end, it seemed. The timeline of my time there is dotted with its thievery. Home, life, family, security, finances, faith. By the time I left, my small car packed with every earthly belonging, I would have been glad to never return.

I tell one of my girls this morning that it was the lonely, poor, and rejected times where I now see the providence of God. It was not New York that stole from me, it was God who pruned from me. Cutting off what didn’t bear fruit. My first three years in Texas I felt strong and tall and healthy, free of the dead branches. But new branches grew and they have to be pruned too. That is the truth I am learning: to bear healthy fruit, even new branches have to be pruned.

One of the most painful lessons God’s children must learn is that we are not God, and our strength is only as strong as our dependence on Him. He is our strength. That which bears fruit in us, is born of Him. He is the producer, not us. He is also the farmer and the vine-keeper. He decides what is not best, what is not fit to produce.

I have some fears about moving back to New York, going home to a state that took from me, a place where my faith withered and died. I have fears that feel paramount today. Fear that some will think I am running away. That some will think I will never settle down. That I am making a mistake. That there, where I am known, I will slip into old patterns and ways of thinking. Deadly things.

But at the bottom of those fears, I land on one solid truth: He prunes. He takes away and gives something better. And he does it over and over and over and over again until we are his likeness. Because He is the vine and the vine-keeper, and truest fruit-bearer.

Holding the Mystery

June 11, 2014

mystery

I live in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same. Our floorplans are swapped or switched a bit, but generally, we are like a row of Japanese diplomats, all bowing our heads to the Suburban Man.

The names of the roads are Springaire and Winter Park and Summerwind and Autumn Breeze—a nod, perhaps, to what the city planners wish would be instead of what is. People keep warning me about the Long Winter (they say, with capitalized letters) up north. I keep reminding them of their long summer, but neither of us can agree which is better. We always want what we can’t have, right?

I live on Summerwind in a house just like my neighbors. We express our individuality with paint colors and shrubbery. A yellow wreath on my door, a terracotta pot with flowers that cannot withstand the heat. As they say, if you can’t stand the heat, something, something.

I stop mid-run tonight in a rare open space of sky. The sky here is lavender at night, clouded or clear. The city lights create a cover of light that covers the light. I can’t stop thinking about how manufactured light crowds out natural light.

We’ve been on a steady diet of Vermeer this week at my house so we are obsessed with color and light and mirrors and mysteries. I can’t stop thinking about how betrayed I feel by recent discoveries on Vermeer and simultaneously how wonderful it seems to know he was more than an artist, but a genius.

The poet Levertov said, “Days pass when I forget the mystery,” and I think of this line often in these neighborhoods and days that pass so seamlessly into one another. I forget the mystery of nuance and life, of curiosity and wonder. It becomes only a perpetual plod toward tomorrow.

But tomorrow is a gift, and the only one of its kind, and God help me to remember that in our matching houses and macchiatos and yoga pants and yearning.

I am reading in 1 Timothy this morning, the qualifications of an overseer, and nestled there in verse 9 these words: “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

How we love and laud the matching, the simple, the clear, the found-out, the known. But how we must hold the mystery of the faith with our consciences clear: the gift of mystery. The gift of the unplanned. The gift of the unknown.

Do you have an unknown before you? A path not clearly defined? A choice which seems impossible? A God you do not fully understand? That is a gift, friend. You can trust the mystery of it all with a complete clear conscience.

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It’s been a season where I have hesitated to write about singleness for obvious reasons. But Tim Challies linked to this post this morning and I wanted to comment on it briefly.

First read the post on how to make your wife more beautiful.

Now, let me say that a woman who is fully loved by her husband is markedly different than a woman who is not, or does not feel loved by him. We all know both women, and there is a definite glow and confidence in a woman who feels the security of her one-woman man.

That said, I worry about the message this sends to unmarried women, particularly those of you who are in your thirties and beyond. Shakespeare said it best “Age, with his stealing steps, Hath clawed me in his clutch.” We cannot stop the inevitable blurring of our birth year behind us and the empty grave in front of us. For a single woman aging feels achingly more hopeless than for a single man as he ages. Every month we watch our fertility fade and the crows-feet crowd in. We feel less beautiful as each day goes on.

On top of that, there is rarely someone tending to the garden of our souls. There isn’t someone delighting in us, in every curve and nuance, every idiosyncrasy, speaking to fears and sheltering us in times of question. The lack of these things begin to eat at the blossom that bloomed in our twenties, and soon the withering comes.

If you know a single woman (and you all do), take a few moments today and encourage her inner beauty. Comment on her character and your hopes for it. Speak to her fears and lead her to the cross. Affirm her good desire to be married,  speak highly of your own marriage, and assure her of her eternal position within the Bride of Christ. And practically: serve her. Nothing makes me feel more cherished as a woman than a brother who notices and serves my sisters and me.

We should desire for the whole bride of Christ, not just the women, or just the married women, to be beautiful. Proclaim the manifold wonder of what the gospel has done in our lives and how it has transformed us.

That is true beauty.

Moving

June 4, 2014

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetWhen I first moved to Texas, it was hot. It was 100 degrees the mid-September day I crossed into the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth. I was on a mission. The church I knew I’d be calling home was holding a quarterly event we call Group Connect and I knew if I wanted to make this place home, I’d need a group.

I drove ten hours that day and got there late, didn’t find a group, but talked to a person who put me in touch with Jen Wilkin who taught Women’s Bible Study. I only wanted to know one thing: is this the kind of women’s bible study where weepy women cry and complain and take prayer requests that sound like gossip? I was assured it wasn’t and so I went.

And God, that hidden man, the monster of my heart, the one I feared, at times hated, and rarely trusted, split the veil in two. This temple, for the first time maybe ever, knew what it was like to approach the throne with confidence, to be full of the Holy Spirit, to cease sacrificing the lamb of self and to trust Him. I was home.

It was a new kind of home for me, the vagabond pilgrim. I’ve always been the girl who moved a lot. Comfortable with risk and averse to complacency, I’ll nomad my way through life if it means more treasure in heaven and less on earth. But this kind of home, in Christ, in the gospel, it was new and different. It fit. I never liked Texas, but I was home. Inside the doors of my church I found a people who became my family.

This past week my pastor had a few of us stand during Elder Led Prayer (a once a month prayer meeting at my church, mostly attended by covenant members and staff) and receive prayer. I didn’t see all those who had hands on me, but I felt them. I felt the hands of my family and the prayers of the saints. I left that night and felt so full and so at home.

But, dear reader, all has not been right in this temple-home of mine. Some of you know all the details, some of you have suspected, some of you guessed, but this year has been hard. Hard in hard ways. Ways that make me wonder daily what I’m doing wrong, or what God is doing right.

I have known since I moved here that Texas wasn’t the long-term plan. I moved here with the intention of staying six months. Six months has turned into four years and they have been four good years. But it has become increasingly clear to me that my heart is back in the northeast, that my soul yearns for four seasons, for the darkness of winter, the light of spring, the death of fall, and the life of summer. Even more than that, my heart yearns for the people of the north. I love those people. I love their wild eclecticness, their independence, their fierce can-do-itiveness. I love their ideas and philosophies. I love how hard they are, and how soft, how welcoming and how hard to win they are. I can’t get the northeast out of my blood, out of my soul. I get them because I am part of them.

When I moved here four years ago it was a fluke. Texas was nowhere on my list or mind. A certain mid-sized city in New York was my aim and then one day I knew it wasn’t, couldn’t be. I have never regretted that decision. He brought beauty out of the ashes. He taught the pilgrim how to pilgrimage.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka (Valley of Weeping),
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

That was the verse God gave me to meditate on before I moved to Texas and I have seen how he has taken my weeping and turned it to joy, a dry land and made it bear fruit. He has given me strength after strength, given me men and women who have pushed on those strengths and called me to deeper and stronger places. Everything he has done with the gifts he has given me, has surprised me. He has shown me his character in a fullness I never knew possible, he has put a new song in my heart, a song of praise to our God. That is a blessing I know I will never understand fully. All I can do is be grateful.

And I am.

And yet I am leaving, heading back up to the northeast, to the people who I love with my whole heart, to lilacs, rivers, lakes, and mountains, small churches with great needs, to gospel-dry places with gospel-rich people.

Will I be home there? I don’t know. But I know for sure He is at home in me.

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If you are a Villager, or you podcast The Village’s sermons, this weekend Matt is preaching from II Corinthians 5. If you struggle with doubt, I encourage you to listen. One of the things I love about my church is that it is a safe place to wrestle with sin and the brokenness that sin brings into our lives. As I’ve been reading Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I’ve been so freshly encouraged to be honest not only about my sin, but also the brokenness that trickles down as a result of it. Note: if you haven’t read Spiritual Depression, I cannot recommend it more highly.

From Chapter III:

What is the cure for [spiritual depression]? For the moment I shall give principles only. The first principle is evident: above everything else avoid making premature claim that your blindness is cured. It must have been a great temptation to this man to do that. Here is a man who has been blind. Our Lord puts spittle upon his eyes and says to him: ‘Do you see?’ The man says: ‘I see.’ What a temptation it must have been to him to take to his heels and announce to the whole world: ‘I can see!’ The man, in a sense, could see, but so far his sight was incomplete and imperfect, and it was most vital that he should not testify before he had seen clearly.It is a great temptation and I can well understand it, but it is a fatal thing to do. How many are doing that at the present time (and are pressed and urged to do so), proclaiming that they see, when it is so patent to many that they do not see very clearly and are really still in a state of confusion. What harm such people do. They describe men to others as trees, walking. How misleading to the others!

The second thing is the exact opposite of the first. The temptation to the first is to run and to proclaim that they can see, before they see clearly; but the temptation to the second is to feel absolutely hopeless and to say: ‘There is no point in going on. You have put spittle on my eyes and you have touched me. In a sense I see, but I am simply seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ Such people often come to me and say that they cannot see the truth clearly. in their confusion they become desperate and ask: ‘Why cannot I see? The whole thing is hopeless.’ They stop reading their bible, they stop praying. The devil has discouraged many with lies. Do not listen to him.

What then is the cure? What is the right way? It is to be honest and to answer our Lord’s question truthfully and honest. That is the whole secret of this matter. He turned to this man and asked: ‘Do you see ought?’ And the man said, absolutely honestly: ‘I do see, but I am seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ What saved this man was his absolutely honesty.

Now the question is, where do we stand? The whole purpose of this sermon is just to ask that question—where do we stand? What exactly do we see? Have we got things clearly? Are we happy? Do we really see? We either do or we do not, and we must know exactly where we are. Do we know God? Do we know Jesus Christ? Not only as our Saviour but do we know Him? Are we ‘rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory?’ That is the New Testament Christian. Do we see? Let us be honest; let us face the questions, let us face them with absolute honesty.

May Sabbath

May 2, 2014

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It was after writing this post through tears in the early morning hours that I remembered it was almost May. May means Sayable Sabbath month. Usually I feel ready for that 12th month Sabbath; I feel I’ve earned it, worked hard at my craft, swallowed pride, written my heart out for 11 months. But all I feel this year is guilty for how much I’ve hated writing for six months.

In November of last fall I began feeling like I’d lost my voice. I wasn’t sure where it had gone, all I knew was this was a different writer’s block than I’d ever felt before. Usually I press through, write anyway, exercise that muscle, and the words eventually come. But this wasn’t missing words, this was a missing voice.

I was asking the question, “Who am I?” in a way I never have before. I’m not a person who struggles with identity. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, and my proclivities. Every writer has to know a few things before writing a term paper or book: who am I and who is my audience? I’d perfected the answer to those two questions, but suddenly neither of them seemed right anymore. I didn’t know who I was and I certainly had no idea who my audience was.

When we lose our voices I wonder if this is simply God’s grace to us after all—since we are His and He is our only audience.

I think of Isaiah in chapter 6, standing before the throne of God, the seraphim around Him singing one refrain, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.” I think of Isaiah standing there with his head bent down, saying the words, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

Do you feel the uncleanliness of your lips sometimes? Whether you are a pastor or a blogger or a mother or a son, do you feel the clutter and grime that spews from your mouth and your fingers? The realization again and again of how selfish and prideful and arrogant you are and how you cannot clean yourself up enough to stand before the Holiness of God?

I feel it. Oh, how I feel it.

It was a burning coal that cleansed Isaiah’s mouth but we are all looking for the nectar and sweet juice to cleanse ours. The affirmation of friends, the compliments of strangers. We want the feel good way to feeling good, not the burning coal, God, not the burning coal.

I have felt the burning coal these last months. Learning the hard way that I am a person of unclean lips and all around me are others with unclean lips. We who are being sanctified and being transformed are still so not. Look, and not too far, you will be undone too.

We do not Sabbath to give God his due, His 10%. We are not tithing our time, giving of our first-fruits. We Sabbath to remember we need Him. We do not need rest or stillness or peace or comfort. We need Him. We need a vision of Him and His holiness. We need a burning coal. We need to be undone. We need to be touched and sent. But only through Him, Lord of the Sabbath.

Normally I have guest writers for the month of May, but somehow that seemed cheap to me this year. I want Sayable to be still all this month, to Sabbath, and to offer to you readers the blessing of one less thing to read. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for sponsors, but I’m willing to lose here. I want to lose here. I want to feel the burning of the coal on my mouth, my voice, my “platform,” and my pulpit. I want to stand before the throne undone.

A few nights ago I sat on the corner of our couch, faced my friend, and wept. Hot, sad, gross tears. The sort that feel shameful even as they fall from your face because you know they’re selfish—but you can’t change the hurt, the wounding you feel. The injustice of pain.

Whenever I hear even whispers of any sort of prosperity gospel—that if we do righteous acts, God will respond with righteous acts—my skin crawls with the falsity of it. But I cannot help the sneaking presence of it in my heart, even on my best day, especially on my best day.

I did this and this is how you repay me, Lord? I was faithful. I was righteous. I was long-suffering. I was. I am. And you are what? Where? Where are you?

Tonight I’m thinking of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and of entering into Christ’s sufferings. I’m thinking of the agony of the garden, those last moments when Jesus asked His brothers: can’t you even for one minute stay with me? Stay with me. Be with me here. In my last moments? In my sufferings? There’s a part of me that just longs to be there, in that place, with Christ. I am like the child in the back of the classroom waiting to be picked, the woman with the issue of blood pressing through the crowds, Peter stepping out of the boat onto the water—begging to be let into what He’s doing—even in His sufferings.

But when I taste those sufferings, oh, how I blanche. How I balk. How I complain. How I fear. How I demand.

Many people can’t handle a God who would slay, but tonight I know that even in the midst of the slaying, He is a staying God. Even when I leave, He follows through. When I fear, He stands on. When I barter and cajole and beg and plead, He offers without cost, without money. He slays so He can heal.

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A month ago today was to be my wedding day.

I was never the girl pouring over scrapbooks of wedding ideals or scrawling my crush’s names in margins on notebooks, I am far too pragmatic for such things. I wore a ring and I planned a wedding.

But today I am not wearing a ring and passed through March 16 with one long sigh and then sleep.

I suppose sometime the shame will lift, the feeling of failure will abate, the questions I ask of God and myself will be quelled. But for today they hang heavy, shrouding all of me. I am strangely okay with the hiddenness of today—though I long for the joy that comes in the morning.

He must increase, I must decrease.

. . .

Sayable has always been a place of vulnerability and transparency. If you know me in flesh, you know I am no over-sharer—quite the opposite, I must be mined for information. But here, on Sayable, I have no shame, or haven’t. The whole point of Sayable is to say; yet the past months have been a time of shame, fear, questions, and quiet, and this has bled into all my writing, especially here.

Some say, “No need to go public,” and some argue, “No one needs to know anyway!” But this past week I read yet another account of a man fallen from ministry and think to myself, “If we cared less about what people thought, and more about ministering through our weaknesses, I wonder if we’d ever get so high we had a place to fall from?”

The thing about ministering through weakness is you have to go straight through it, diving, like the poet Adrienne Rich said, into the wreck. But diving through and into is painful and revealing and I’m afraid I may still fall in the meantime.

There is no great theology to be found in the todaying of my life. It is the punctualness of my inner clock, waking to the same shame and sadness, the fear that because God is enough, all I ever get will be God—and will He be enough? Really enough? I know He will be, but if I don’t ask the question, I won’t remember the answer four-hundred times a day, and I need to remember the answer.

What is diving if not one long fall? Knowing I am caught and held, amidst the wreckage, among the damage, to find the treasure.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
Adrienne Rich