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Every time I proclaim how much I love my church, I feel somewhat suspect. I sit under teaching weekly most people only experience at conferences and special events. I sit at the feet of some of the best thinkers and teachers, men and women, in the Church today. Not for one second do I forget it.

I remember it today after getting off the phone with a woman who has loved me, counseled me, and taught me for five years—who I know most women would love an opportunity to learn from. I remember it every time I interact with one of my church elders—men who I trust with my life and heart in every way. I remember it when I leave the office of any one of the pastors at my church who take my words and womanhood seriously—a trait I know many women weep for. I remember it when I travel all over the country and people speak well of my pastors and my people—it is not pride that puffs me up, but a deep gratefulness that the Lord saw fit to plant me here for a season.

But I still feel suspect that I do love her this much. As though it must be always easy to love her because of her better qualities, as though in her beauty she does not have blemishes, or as though I couldn’t possibly understand what it is like to be covenanted at a church of a simpler nature or full of more sinners. I do not imagine the accusation—it comes to me often, usually in the form of veiled compliments, “You’re so lucky you go to that church, with that pastor, and those people.”

. . .

I sometimes feel frustrated with men who are married to above average beautiful women telling single men around them to settle down and marry a perfectly average looking girl (because who’s kidding, there are plenty of us around). It’s hard to take advice like that from a man whose wife of his youth is still smokin’ hot.

This is how I feel sometimes when I talk about my church, like the person with the smokin’ hot spouse telling others to just grow up and settle down and be happy in their local churches.

The longer I am single though, the more I feel the lack of a tender hand of a godly husband in my life. I know there is no guarantee if the Lord brings me into a marriage, that he or I will do one another good all the days of our lives, but there is the hope for it. But when I think of the most beautiful women I know, the more certain I am they are beautiful because they have been tended to by the gardening hands of their husbands for years. He has watered her, loved her, cared for her, and she has flourished beneath his husbandry. She is lovely because he loved her.*

This is what makes the bride of Christ lovely. The Church, when she is presented to her bridegroom will carry none of the stains of this world or blemishes she tries to hide these days. She will be presented pure, spotless, without blame or blemish. She will be lovely because he loves her.

This is what makes our local churches lovely too. Not just my local church, but yours. Loving your local church makes her lovely to you and to others. Her loveliness becomes contagious to everyone—but mostly to you. The more you love her, the more you love her. The more she is loved and cherished, the more she will love and cherish.

. . .

It is a gift to be planted at my church, I know this, but trust me, we have an underbelly and plenty of blemishes. We have faults and failures and holes and lacks. We spend much time pressing back darkness and engaging in discipline. We move too quickly into some things and too slowly into other things. But we deeply love the word of God and we deeply love one another and we deeply love our church because we deeply love The Church.

It’s okay if you love my local church, if you learn from her, glean from her, watch how she functions, but love your local church into what you yearn for her to be. Make her lovely because she is loved.

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*That’s a line from Jesus Storybook Bible, not me. 

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I added up the meetings this week and they valued in the too many for any introvert. They happened in prayer rooms and offices, across coffee tables and over coffee, on our couch late at night and on my bed early in the morning. Listening, talking, walking.

We are in the work of long-suffering, of listening when it seems better to speak, of obeying when the odds suggest we not. We are submitting and silencing, seeking counsel from the wiser and counseling the weaker. It is a lasting joy, but a long-suffering one too. It is hard fought for, but sweet when it comes. It is not popular.

It is easy to create copycats. To say to say as I say and do as I do. To teach to follow me as I follow Christ. But I am not an Apostle or Christ and I quake to tell anyone to follow me. I cannot even trust me, please do not trust me. We ask for the Holy Spirit and we keep on asking, more and more, a helper and comforter, a keeper.

. . .

Today is the two-year anniversary of a little girl on my doorstep. She had a few suitcases, some guitars, no money, no car.

I have known her since she was 14, but really I have known her my whole life. We are different in many ways, but the same questions wrest our souls and tempt our hearts. Two years is not a very long time, but it can feel like an eternity when you are walking with someone who hates God and sometimes hates you too.

Then one day she was crafting a wooden baby Jesus for a nativity scene present and the God she’d crafted in her own image all her life became real. We joke about her blood on the lamb, but four hours in an emergency room on Christmas Eve was no joke. God became flesh and dwelt among her, in her, and through her. And she was changed.

I won’t deny I have been holding my breath for weeks, afraid to let it out. But today is the two-year anniversary of her coming to Texas and the two month anniversary of the day that everything changed for her.

God saved her. I got to watch the change, but I was powerless to save.

She is so much like me in so many ways, and so much like others in so many ways, but she is more and more like Jesus and the Spirit inside of her than anyone else.

I tell someone the other day that she is my letter, like Paul said of the Corinthians, “You are our letter, written on our hearts, known by all.” But not my letter, written by me for others, but “a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Her disciple-making is from and by Christ alone, I merely, as my pastor says, “got to play.”

Mini-me making is a passing fancy. Disciple making is a long-suffering joy.

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A few weeks back I sat across from one of my pastors while he delivered the news of my deficit. The words came in a halting tumble, the words of a messenger, not the accuser. “Do you see evidence of this in your life,” he asked. I let out my breath because no accuser is louder than the enemy in my own head. I am all those things and more, the list never stops, never ceases; pile on the claims and I will swallow every one.

“I have heard the claims,” I said, and I’ve been checking my heart and home and hearth to see if there is any wicked way in me.

He leaned in as I recounted the weeks leading up to this moment and when I finished he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to bother you,” I said, because it was the truth, but also because I was afraid.

. . .

I don’t remember when it was that I realized if God knit me together, with all my parts and pieces, then he knit me together with all my proclivities and purposes. That the same careful attention he gave to my shape and my size, he gave to my mind and my heart.

For the girl who had only ever known a deep and turning angst in her soul, this made a poem out of a pauper. I had always wrested with depression, anxiety, an unnerving panic at inopportune times. But I had also seen purpose and beauty and a haunting art to all of life too. The horrible badness about me cut me deep enough to let the piercing lightness all the way in.

Even the mundane moments, the 10,000 little moments, all of them little crosses, little funerals, the little concerns rising—these all turn me again and again to Him.

. . .

“There is an impulsivity to you,” he said. “It’s part of what makes you a treasure to us. You’re, what’s the word, bohemian? Never going to go with the flow, always on the fringe, an artist. As you submit your weaknesses to us, I don’t want you to lose the treasure of those perceived weaknesses. It’s what makes you you.”

. . .

It has taken me a very long time to learn—and I haven’t learned, but am learning—that the world is full of people to whom one way makes sense. Wrestle this way, no, not that way, this way. Be this way. Stand over here. Be this. Eat that. Don’t go there. Advice is a thousand times more common than real affirmation and real affirmation is so heavy laden with flattery we most times can’t see anything straight.

And this we know: in our weakness, He is glorified. In our weakness, He is made strong. In every way we cannot do, it is because He has done. In every “I don’t know,” or “I have failed,” He says, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden.” And in this we rejoice.

I did not rejoice, sitting there, across from a pastor who loves me, knows me, who is for me, and, which is more, who is for Christ formed in me. Who of us rejoices when we hear our accusation? But I rejoiced later and 10,000 times since. Every day a reminder that I have miles to go before I arrive at eternity’s door. Every day a reminder that God knew what He was doing when he knit me—just as I am and full of so much more.

As he passed by,
he saw a man blind from birth.
And his disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered,
“It was not that this man sinned,
or his parents,
but that the works of God
might be displayed in him.
John 9:3

mydesign

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

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

And the girl who loved words suddenly loved the Word.

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

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

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

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

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

And it will change us.

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

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

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We’re an ambitious lot, you and me. Armed with our five and ten year plans, our budgets, our ideas, our visions. We stockpile shortcuts and wisdom and switchbacks, the fastest and easiest routes to success. We set high goals and adhere to rigorous demands and diets and designs in the pursuit of domination over some thing in our lives. We determine to win.

Yesterday a friend and I talked for a few minutes about the plague of ambition in Christianity. He talked in military analogies and I think I disagreed until we came to an agreement. We agreed, at least, that some of us need to learn to slow down and some of us need to move forward.

In the translation of I Thessalonians 4:11 I have memorized, Paul says to make it our “ambition to live a quiet life and attend to our own business and to work with our hands,” and I love that. Yet it is one of the few times the word ambition is used in the Bible. And every other time it’s used, the word is tied to negative adjective: selfish.

The ambition to the faithful act of quietness, the faithful plot of my own business, the faithful work of my hands—this is an ambition we are less than hopeful about putting on our faith-resumes.

Let’s be ambitiously quiet today. Ambitiously faithful to our plot. Ambitiously working with our hands. Let’s see what God does with the opposite inclination of our society and culture.

Let’s still.

 

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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This article isn’t actually directed toward singles, but married folks, so if you’re tempted to skip because you think it doesn’t apply—it’s actually JUST for you!

I can barely navigate a few real-life dating prospects, let alone imagine constructing pithy profiles and smartly angled selfies to snag myself a guy. While others check out their options online—the percentage of American adults using dating apps and websites has tripled in the past three years—I’m tempted to go the other direction, deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts, making my online self less accessible (or perhaps more mysterious?) to the male mass.

Every year, between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, online dating registrations soar. There are a myriad of reasons for this: the difficulty of holidays spent single; New Year resolutions; desire to not be by themselves in dark, winter nights; pressure from family; and more.

One thing is clear, it is written on the heart of every man and woman that it is not good for them to be alone.

Continue reading at Christianity Today.

If you’d like to hear a followup I did regarding this article, WORDFM interviewed me today. It begins at the 13:00 minute mark and perhaps my heart will come through a little more clearly if anyone is interested.

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kara Tippetts

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

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

Bethlehem and the Shepherd's Fields

Bethlehem and the Shepherd’s Fields

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He must increase, I must decrease.

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

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

. . .

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

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

design (6)

So much of faith, for me, has been finding it again. Some have been given the gift of simple faith, easy, a natural bow into belief. That is not my story, nor my portion. All my faith has been wrestled for, won, lost, contended for, gained, slipped away, and shattered—again and again. Whenever I think I have found it, I find (most times) what I’ve found is myself and sometimes I am the greatest enemy of my faith.

I am not a fitful sleeper—sleep comes quickly to me and stays deep until morning most nights. But I slept fitfully last night, waking every hour. I was hot. I was cold. I was tense. I was afraid. I was contending.

Perfectionism is my vice and faith is its greatest gain. I set my sights on lesser things, sure, perfect thoughts, perfect writing, perfect design, perfect diet, perfect words, perfect image, perfect clothes, perfect home, perfect friendships. These elusive gains, for me, shadow the ever escaping faith I so desperately desire.

I ache for simple faith. I long for it. In the middle of the night I groan for it. I beg for it, pleading that he would so captivate my mind and heart, that I would be so fat on the feast He has provided in himself, that faith would slip into my heart and hands and stay for life.

But he has almost always withheld the gift of perfect faith.

. . .

For the past few weeks—at church, at small group, at our kitchen table—Hebrews 12:1-2 has been in our mouths.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It is nearly 4am and I have been lying there, in my twisted comforter and sheets for an hour, wrestling with the current capture of my mind. II Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ—but what about when the thoughts feel so enemy, you’re sure Christ won’t want them in his fold?

I stop on that thought: the idea that Christ wouldn’t want my rags, that his righteousness wouldn’t cover my wrestlings, that his goodness wouldn’t provide for my sin—and I remember “Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.”

Even my faith is not mine to perfect?

Everything in my life feels out of my ability to control, and faith is too?

. . .

Someone called me brave the other morning and I responded I have nothing to lose, but the truth is, I am brave because I am afraid of losing faith. The only way I know to keep it is to contend for it. But if Christ is the perfecter of my faith, then it is his to keep and hold—and contend for on my behalf.

I fall asleep in this truth: my faith belongs to Him, to grant to me in his time, his way, through his purposes, and for his goodness. It is his to perfect, not mine. And it is his to perfect in me—not mine to be wrestled for and won. The command for me in Hebrews 12 is to run with endurance. Faithfully asking for faith, obediently walking in obedience, gracious receiving grace. All his, perfecting in me the gift of faith.

I tell a friend yesterday that I miss liturgy, but the truth is I have never had it.

I was raised on the hard pews of a stucco church in southeastern Pennsylvania. Our only liturgy was the blessed quiet life we lived. My first communion was in a house-church when I was seven, the bread baked fresh, the grape juice drunk from small glass tumblers. This was before the Big Baptist church with its plastic cups and small, round, salty oyster crackers. There was a brief pass through an old Catholic sanctuary, our services were non-denominational though and we only rented the building. I have never forgotten the stained glass. In college I had a brief fascination with the Episcopalian church across from campus, mostly because when I left church, church didn’t leave me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the motions, the liturgy, the order, and the smallness of it all.

What I really mean when I say I miss liturgy, is that I miss the order. I have never had order, but I long for it.

A friend of mine has converted to the Orthodox church. He told me once the confession, prayer, and fasts remind him he is human and needs someone to expect more of him than he expects of himself.

But isn’t grace so much more beautiful? I want to balk. Wouldn’t it be better to see Christ as the fulfillment of those rules and boundaries, instead of something you still have to do? I think my friend would say to me that every time he presses against those boundaries, he is reminded again and again that Christ has fulfilled them. I think it’s a beautiful thought, but I am a recovering legalist and rules of any kind are my Jack Daniels and my pain pills, so I have to say no-thank-you, and move on.

. . .

What I miss most about liturgy is the community of it. Community means to “Gift together,” and I miss the gift of gifting together. Gifting to one another, to God, and, in some ways, to ourselves. We are saying words, rote and memorized perhaps, but the same words forming on our tongues. We are asking the Lord to hear our prayer—not just my prayer, but our prayer, because if only my prayers are answered and never yours, what have we gained, any of us?

. . .

In my church we read the same bible version, and if we don’t have a bible, we use the one in the seat-back in front of us, which is our gift to you if you don’t have one. (These words are said every weekend at every service because Baptists have liturgy too.) We collectively open to the passage, read together, and then listen. Sometimes we are reading from a passage in the lower right hand part of the bible and something beautiful happens, I hold my breath and wait for it:

A thousand people turning their pages at the same time.

I forget to turn my page sometimes because I love the sound so much. That is the sound of my people. We do not have the liturgy of confession and repentance built into our service, but we do have the liturgy of turning pages. The collective confession that we are literally on the same page and going in the same direction. These are my people, and I am theirs, I say in my head. This is what it means to gift together, to community.

This is our liturgy.

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Last week I rounded a corner in a Nashville convention center and came to face to face with three elders from my local church. One hugged me and I nearly cried. I haven’t been home in three weeks, and was only home about two weeks before that, and will only be home a few weeks before I leave again, this time for overseas and then other states.

I don’t know where home is right now.

Tonight I sat on the far left side of the sanctuary, where I always sit when I’m home, and I hardly recognized anyone sitting around me. We are a big church, but a small service, and I still felt the ache of everyone moving forward but me.

I told someone tonight I feel like I’m a kid with a pile of treasures, none of them making sense, all of them seeming valuable, but no idea where they belong or when.

I thought I would grow out of this.

Does everyone feel like this?

Like life is one series of mountains and molehills and ebbs and flows and you’re always waking up wondering where time went and if you’re too far behind to catch up, or too far ahead to stop now?

I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want to waste it and I’m terrified of wasting it.

Faithfulness seems so mundane in a world ripe with success and achievements. I want to live a minimalist’s life, but I do it loudly, punctuated with images of what I’m doing and quotes of what I’m reading, hoping my simplicity will stick—if to no one else, at least to me.

But I do want to live a quiet life, and sometimes I resent the Lord for not allowing me the wallowing permitted to those who live behind closed doors and high fences. I dream of a house on a mountainside or an ocean inlet surrounded by pines. I dream of poetry and a fire in the fireplace and dinner on the table, a husband-partner, and children too. I have always dreamed of those things, unwaveringly since I knew how to dream. And those things have always been withheld because He knows those treasures are not what is best for me today.

Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” but the questions I’m always asking are, “Where is my deep gladness? And what are you hungering for, world?”

The world’s hunger, as best as I can see, is to behold His beauty, and this I find is my deep hunger too. And if my gladness is found in his temple, his Holy place, then it turns out the pile of treasures in my pocket are not many, but one. Just one thing: to dwell in His house, to behold His beauty, to meditate in His holy place. This is the one thing I need and the one thing for which the world hungers. This is the unwasted life.