Archives For trust

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

. . .

In 2016, I hope:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IV

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

He and I talked this morning, used cliches like, “Well, if no doors open then it’s just the same as a closed door.” I reminded him cliches are cliches because they’re true, and in our case, right now, every door feels slammed shut in the face of the persistent widow. We’re pounding, God, we’re pounding. You’re not refusing us, though, like the unrighteous judge, you’re just not even opening the door. Which is a refusal of sorts, even if a slight more polite.

A few days ago we sent an email to our closest friends. We begged for prayer and clarity. One, an elder from our home church and the man who married us, reminded us of Joseph’s second visit from an angel, in Matthew 2. “Go to Israel!” he is told and so he goes. But before he gets there, “Go to Galilee instead!” and he obeys. It’s just conjecture, but I wonder if Joseph stared at the starry skies and asked himself if he was crazy.

Or if God was.

I would have. I am.

There have been a thousand turns in life, a million corners, and a hundred cliffs I’ve jumped from. I have never known what God was up to or doing. Most of the time I only have enough sight to see the closed door in front of me—rarely stopping to think of the misery He is keeping me from on the other side.

We feel as though in a hexagon of closed doors right now. Every direction, every feeler, every raised hope—dashed by a solid wall in front of us. I have to remember He is making safe a better way, a way that leads on high, and closes us from the path of misery. I have to remember He is not withholding in order to teach us a lesson or punish us, but in order to love us in His best way.

The presence of the babe changed Joseph’s life in every direction. Freedom was a thing of the past, he was submitted to God’s ways from then on—as strange as they might have seemed.

God, in this Advent season, give us Joseph’s heart.

What closed doors are in front of you today? What is God withholding from you because to have it would not be best for you? Do you believe God knows what is best and does it? Even if it doesn’t feel best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, God, we still need a miracle.

. . .

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

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I
Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Tonight begins the second week of Advent. We will light another candle in our dim kitchen, read the evening’s passage, and lift our forks and glasses to another week of darkness.

We’re all waiting for something. My husband is waiting for a job. Some friends are waiting for a uninterrupted day. A friend is waiting for a healthy prognosis for her baby. Another friend weeps on my bed a few weeks ago for the husband she thought she’d have by now. Another just waits to want another day. None of us seem to understand what it means to live behind a glass dimly, to be in the already/not yet, to have and yet not have.

Today, all day, I’ve been thinking of the blind man at Bethsaida. The one who saw men as trees walking. We are people for whom half a miracle is never enough.

Half the Advent candles are lit tonight, and the room still feels all dark.

. . .

What are you waiting for tonight? Where do you feel exiled? What has you captive? What miracles has Christ already done? 

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

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

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

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

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

Especially when Christmas approaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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It occurs to me that I should not tell you the husband has taken to cooking breakfast in the morning. When we first married his plat signature was eggs, “scrambled” in the pan on high heat, and occasionally rice, boiled to mush. Now he handles cast iron cooking like a champ, flipping the over easy eggs over nice and easy, and sizzling sweet potatoes to the perfect combination of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. He always puts some sort of seasonal fruit on the side. And he always makes coffee first thing. It occurs to me I should not tell you this because I’ll come off sounding like one of those pastors who talks about their “smokin’ hot wives” and infuriates bloggers everywhere: This is my husband, who makes perfectly runny eggs and does it with a smile.

In the dearth of authenticity for the generation whose god is authenticity, a model from New Zealand edited all the captions on her instagrams. It’s all over the news this week, as if it is news that the perfect poses took a hundred attempts and her body didn’t come with sacrifices. We all know, underneath the exterior, the presentation, the cropping, and the editing, real life is being lived. We’re doing our best to pretend it’s not, but we all know it is.

This is what the writer meant when he said “Eternity is written on the hearts of men,” and what Jesus intended when he said, “Go into all the world and teach the good news.” We have all been imprinted with life and death and their looming realities, and we all have to hear someone tell us “Yes, that’s true,” or we won’t believe. News isn’t really news, it’s just information, or confirmation, if you will: It really is this bad or this good.

So my husband is making breakfast and it’s a simple thing really, but I heard my pastor say once, “The good will keep getting better, and the bad will keep getting worse.” He was talking about the end of time and the beginning of the kingdom and I loved those words because they are truth and they say two things to me:

The good will keep getting better: All the sanctification worked in our hearts produces fruit of everlasting goodness. It is tainted with sin, yes, but gloriously and increasingly reflecting the God whom we image. That my husband cooks a better breakfast than he did five months ago is not only evidence of a growth in skill, it is an evidence of his desire to serve and love his wife. He is being progressively sanctified, growing in love for his Father and so too in love for his wife. Making breakfast is simply evidence that eternity is written on his heart (and perhaps his belly too). I hesitate to tell you he makes our breakfast because there are a hundred thousand of you for whom that is not true. But where is it true in your life? Where has the good become better as you or someone you know reflects the image of God? That is reason for worship! Not the thing itself, but the God who made it happen.

The bad will keep getting worse: As Christ sanctifies us and grows us in Him, we will see more and more clearly the depth of our own sin. Nate makes us breakfast, but it is sandwiched by conversations daily on the brokenness of our hearts and in the hearts of those we love. In the still dark morning hours, I pray for him and he prays for me, that we would know Christ because we are increasingly aware of our inability to be Christ and to fail Him and those we love. The badness outside our home only looks worse than the badness inside our home—but it’s not really worse. Where is that true in your life? Where do the perfect poses and pithy phrases fall short and you feel the bad getting worse? Praise God He did not make us automatons, robots of code and conduct. Praise God the bad gets worse so we can know he is shaking and stirring and sifting all the dross from the gold. That there is hardship in your world is proof God is still at work. Praise Him for not forgetting you, for writing eternity on your heart and for evidencing it by the longing you have for goodness and beauty.

And now I must go, my breakfast is getting cold.

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Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the rock of ages,” and I have written about it before. It still stands that I’d rather kiss the wave after it’s battered and thrown me against the Rock instead of while it is battering and throwing me. I am human and therefore value self-preservation.

Honeymoon stage is a phrase I wish didn’t enter the Christian’s vocabulary. If marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and the Church and we are to worship at His throne forever in joy, why would we think earthly marriage should be different? I know just saying that has some of you shaking your heads, “Just you wait, Lore, it’s coming for you.” To that I want to say this: our honeymoon was one week and two days long, we spent it in Aspen, eating delicious food and having lots of sex. It was everything a honeymoon should be.

And then we came down out of the mountains to a new city, bought a house, started a job, lived in a basement apartment for a month, tried to make a new and different church feel like home, and we still don’t know who our people here are. Honeymoon was vacation, this is real life.

In the still dark hours of the morning a few weeks ago I made breakfast, sat down to drink my coffee, and read my bible while the man ran and then showered. He joined me when my coffee was drunk and we had a hard discussion on the realities of life: we need a new roof ($15,000) and his car needs $4000 dollars worth of work. That’s nearly $20,000 out of our honeymoon stage budget.

I got to work and he texted a few minutes later to call him. His contract won’t be renewed for his remote job. He understands and is full of faith, and has a skill set that’s useful and employable anywhere, but the kick in the gut still hurts. This wasn’t part of the honeymoon. He’s been looking now for a month and jobs are harder to come by than we thought.

In September I miscarried. For fifteen days I bled and cried and couldn’t answer the question: why? and what? This foreign emotion of being tied to something inextricably and forever felt alien. I am still learning what it means to live “until death us do part,” but that is a two way commitment and this felt painfully one way.

I say all this because I feel the waves and they’re battering and pressing and bruising, but I wake up every single day confident of the goodness of God in the land of the living. I wake up confident that living means really living, really seeing God’s goodness, not lowering my eyes to the sinking depths of life, but raising them to the One from whom my help comes.

Buechner said, “This is the world: beautiful and terrible things will happen,” and I have thought of it often in recent months. Sometimes Colorado is so achingly beautiful and so achingly hard at the same time. And sometimes marriage is. And sometimes church is. And most of the time life is.

I think often on Psalm 73: the nearness of God is my good, and I ask often that I would not just know his nearness, but I would feel it too.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today, what waves are throwing you against the Rock of Ages or what beautiful and terrible things are happening, but I know this: He is good and He is near, especially to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. His love for you is not a honeymoon love, fervent in the beginning and waning when real life hits. His love for you is everlasting and always good.

In the mountains and in the valleys. In still seas and stormy ones. He remains.

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We’ve come by our attraction to transparent communities honestly—we have been hiding since the third chapter of Genesis. We ache to come out of hiding and to walk in the freedom of Eden again. There are little secrets in us all, taunting us with their presence: “If everyone knew this about you…”

And what if?

I always find it slightly generous of God to have asked Adam the question he already knew the answer to, “Where are you?” Generous because the answer to that question was not for God but for man. Who of us truly wants to face the question, “Where are you?”

Where is your heart?

Where is the meditation of your mind?

What are you thinking about? Obsessing over? Hiding?

Where are you? On the grandest scale of human emotions and proclivities and circumstances and seasons, where are you?

God didn’t ask the question to find the answer. He asked the question because the next words Adam spoke would teach us all, “I was naked and afraid, and so I hid.”

Half the battle warring inside of us is won with those words: I am naked—uncovered, exposed. I am afraid—fearful, worried, full of angst. I am hiding—withdrawing, retreating, running away. And aren’t we all, Adam? Aren’t we all? But most of us will never say the words because we like to talk more about the testimony of yesterday than the valley of today.

A transparent community is not simply one where we talk about what God did yesterday and how we came to enlightenment and grew and how today will be different. A transparent culture of confession is one where we say, “Here is where I am today and I am afraid I will always be like this and my inclination is to hide it away.” That is true transparency. That is true confession.

Eating the fruit made Adam and Eve see the destructive nature of wanting to be like God and we still eat the fruit of that fruit. We want to be like God in a thousand different ways. We want to, like my pastor from Texas says, “Wear a superhero’s cape.”

But humans don’t need capes, they need the skins from the sacrifice, the shelter of the Most High, the mantle of God, the robe of the Father thrown over them as they limp home from squandered inheritances and life beside pigs. Real humans, children of God, stink of the pigsty under the pristine robes of the King.

Stop pretending we don’t stink, friends. Say the words, “I am naked. I am ashamed and fearful. I am hiding.” Let us gather at the threshold gate and run toward home where the Father waits to clothe us with the sacrificial covering of His Son.

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It’s a joke now, lovingly called the “Non-coffee-date,” which syntactically makes no sense but we know what it means. Whenever we tell people our story (three months from first date to wedding date) their incredulity is visible: “But did you even know each other before?”

Yes, of course we did. But we knew each other in contexts in which dating one another for various reasons wasn’t happening. We had overlapping friend groups that eventually morphed into one. He was well known by men I trusted, I was well known by men he trusted. I cheered for him when he’d taken a friend out on a few dates. We had no reason to do anything but cheer one another on in our individual pursuits.

But then: the non-coffee-date in which we did drink coffee and it was not a date.

We spent two hours in our community’s coffee shop, in full view of any frequent church staff customer and no fewer than 30 of our closest friends walking in and out the door. The purpose of the meeting was to continue a conversation we’d been having about pacifism (Sexy, I know.). I’d fought with one of my friends the night before because she wanted me to clarify with him whether this was a date, but I felt this deep confidence in me that God was my Father and he cared for me. I knew Nate was a good man and I had confidence that if it was a date, or he wanted a date, he would ask me, using his mouth, and words straight from the English language. It was just coffee.

At the end of it, he cleared his coffee cup and I cleared mine and he left. “Did he ask you out at the end?” a friend asked. Nope, I said. And then I went home.

Several weeks went by without communication and then a big decision was made by me to move to Denver. The night I came home from my interview trip to Denver, Nate called (on the phone, using words he said with his mouth) and said, “I’d like to take you to dinner. I’d like it to be a date.”

And you know the rest of the story.

I’m telling you this, not just my single girl friends, but my married girl friends too, because so often we grasp for control, clarification, communication. We want to know all the moving parts, all the possibilities. We want to plan for every contingency and every system failure. We want faith that is not blind, we want to see every crack and crevice of the future.

But that’s not, as a friend of mine said once, real faith. Faith isn’t faith if it can see where it’s going. Even that statement fails a bit because if you’re a child of God you do know where this is all going, even if you can’t see it.

Single girls, don’t manipulate and scheme the single guys in your lives. Trust God that when a man sees and knows and trusts God with you, he will do the right thing. It might mean a non-coffee-date or two (if he makes it seven or ten, it’s not bad to ask for clarification, just don’t demand he call it something it’s not—that’s bad for you and bad for him.), but trust God with the outcome. Be faithful, obedient, gospel yourself, and then trust God.

Married girls, trusting your husband isn’t the goal. It’s a means for some things, but not the goal. The goal is to trust God and the overflow of trusting God is trusting your husband. If you feel he has broken your trust, look to God. If you feel he has never given you reason to trust him, look to God. If you just want him to do something, trust God.

All my readers, if you are a child of God, don’t play chess with today. Don’t wake up and scheme how you’ll defeat the enemies of your life. Christ already has. He has defeated depression. Discouragement. Confusion. Fear. Worry. Discontent. Sadness. Loneliness. Christ declared His intentions for you before the foundation of the earth. He called you His. Therefore you are secure, chosen, holy, set-apart, a royal priesthood, saints, sons, and daughters. There is no question. Walk today as if there was no question.

He has also made a plan for work that doesn’t fulfill you, a husband or wife who doesn’t complete you, a local church that doesn’t seem to see you, friends who don’t seem to care enough about you, and every other disappointment you feel. His plan is Himself.  If He gives you nothing you desire today, it is not because He wants you to lack, but because He wants to give you Himself. Trust Him.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
— Abraham Kuyper

This past spring my pastor said to me, “The sheep never stop needing a shepherd.” In context he was saying, “I kept waiting for a time when the sheep wouldn’t need me so badly, for a time when they’d grow up and mature, but the truth is as long as God has me here, I’m their shepherd and am called to them.”

This morning we read Psalm 23 and John 10 and last night in a meeting we talked about what faithful and good shepherding looks like and how we fail at it so often. A good sermon does not a good shepherd make. A good spreadsheet does not a good shepherd make. And a good event planner does not a good shepherd make.

To know what makes a good shepherd, we look to the Good Shepherd, Christ.

A good shepherd leaves the flock to find the one (John 10:16)
Good shepherding means at times the majority of the flock may feel left alone, but if they know their shepherd, they trust he will return. They know the business of their shepherd, which is to care for each sheep—even the wayward ones. The good shepherd always returns and teaches his flock to rejoice at the homecoming of the lost.

A good shepherd uses his rod and staff (Ps 23:3)
Good shepherding means faithful disciplining, but it also means knowing discipline is ultimately a comfort. The ultimate aim of discipline is not alienation, but cultivation for the sake of health. The good shepherd corrals his sheep toward the flock because it is the safest place for them.

A good shepherd lays down his life (John 10:11)
A good shepherd does not count his life as something to be grasped or held or protected. He does not protect his personality, his comforts, his time, or his energy. He lays himself across the threshold of the gate and lays down his life.

A good shepherd knows his Father and his Father knows him (John 10:14)
A good shepherd is like Enoch, walking with God. His food is to do the will of the Father. He knows the father more than he knows good theologians or good literature. He is known by the Father, laying bare his life and heart before the one who shepherds the shepherd.

A good shepherd has authority (John 10:18)
A good shepherd does not demand authority or grasp for it. He simply has it because it has been given to him. He does not cajole or fear when authority seems far from him, he knows who his Father is and the task he has been given.

A good shepherd knows where the still waters and green pastures are and leads his sheep there (Ps 23:1)
A good shepherd has adventured out to faraway lands to seek out still waters and green pastures. He has looked under rocks, in dark places, climbed hills, and been sunk in valleys. He seeks and find the stillest waters and greenest pastures for the good of his flock. He does not lead his sheep to mediocre places.

I look through this list and see the myriad of ways I fail at shepherding anyone, even my own heart, and I remember Isaiah’s words in chapter 30:

In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.

If you feel less like a shepherd and more like a lost sheep these days, leading other sheep in wandering ways, return. Rest. Quiet. Trust. Christ is the Good Shepherd and in His goodness He is leading you to good places.

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I wake this morning in the still dark hours and breathe deeply, in and out. Deep breaths are a luxury I have found in cities stationed a mile high. Everyone said they would come and this morning they finally did. I have rarely thought to thank God for my physical breath, the act of inhaling and exhaling, but since moving here I do.

Before we came here we went on a weekend trip to Austin with two friends. In the car they told us of the steps involved in healthy transition. I think grief was in there somewhere, and ethnocentrism, perhaps there was also difficulty breathing, but I can’t remember.

Something akin to fog was in there though and sometimes the fog is so thick in this season I can’t see a way around it. I work every muscle to remember names and stories and people and faces, to be faithful with the task in front of me, to remember the time for writing will come again eventually, just not today. Everyone knows the thing about fog is you must just go right through it. You dim your headlights, trust the road ahead, move slowly, and go.

I read Psalm 91 today:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

The shadow of the Almighty is still a shadow, I think to myself, and shadows are something akin to fog. I think of how the Israelites were led by a cloud and Elijah prayed for one and how God created all of them. Shadows don’t feel like walking in the light, but they are still evidence of light, and this I remind myself daily these weeks and months. There is a stayed joy and faith in me, a steady, calm peace pulsating through me. We have not taken wrong steps or made poor decisions, but even good steps take work and wise decisions take time, and sometimes the fog must be waded through.

We lay there in the dark this morning and he knows I am thinking hard, “What’s on your mind?” he asks, and I can’t answer. Too many of these days feel like too much. We wonder aloud together if the fog will lift and when and how. The truth is we have no promise that it will, but we do have a cloud to lead us, and the shadow that falls from it, and we are sheltered in the midst of it, and He is faithful and kind and good.

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I used to worry that God would make me marry a man who bored me or didn’t like to read or didn’t challenge me or who didn’t have a beard. You see my frivolity? A beard? I spent time worrying God would make me marry a clean-shaven, soft-cheeked, hairless-faced guy. But I stand by the other desires: I wanted to lay on a blanket by a lake and discuss church and Church, theology and Isaiah, politics and the shape of the clouds. I wanted to never get tired of talking to him. Or listening to him.

As I made my way through my twenties and then thirties, and dated good, nice, solid, kind men, I still found myself slightly stomach-knotted at the thought of tying myself to any of them for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine it would be worth giving up singleness (as difficult as it was and lonely as I felt) to latch myself to any of them—and latch myself to that stomach-knottedness—for life. They were good men, but they weren’t Nate.

A friend asked me the other day how a girl can avoid settling. The market is what it is, she said, and the pickings are slim. I hear her sentiments and shared them for 34 years and I hate the platitudinous answer I gave her, which was this: don’t settle.

And I wasn’t talking about settling for a man without a beard or a man whose physique may not be what you envisioned or who might have blond hair instead of brown and who may not play the guitar or write love poems for you—in this regard, women, settle yourselves down. No, I meant this:

Don’t settle in the belief that God knows what is best for you today and tomorrow and all the days of your life. He has given you the blessed-horrible gift of singleness today. One day you feel its blessedness and another you feel its horridness, but either way, it is the gift you have today. The question of settling is not attached to a man at all, but to the God whose job alone it is to give you the gift of a mate. So the question is not “Should I settle for a man who is less than what I envisioned?” and really, “Should I settle in the belief that God doesn’t hear or care about the desires of my heart?”

. . .

Nate and I have created a small ritual in our lives these days. At five o’clock, when the workday ends, we knot our sneakers, he slings a blanket over his shoulder, and we walk to the lake a few blocks away. We find a spot high enough up that we can see the sun set over the Rockies and we talk until it creeps down behind them. Sometimes one of us rants. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes he just listens, or I do. The other day we talked about Church history and architecture, and when the wind came blowing down the hill I pressed myself against his strong back, touched his beard, and I thanked God for not giving me the chance to settle. I thanked him for all the stomach-knotted uncertainty I’d had for the past 34 years. It was God’s good protection for me, and such a familiar feeling that when I knew I would marry Nate, I knew it with a surety and freedom I couldn’t have had without all those years of knowing it was not right.

Sisters and friends—and brothers, you too—do not settle for less than the belief that God has written your story before the foundation of the earth and he is the giver of good and perfect gifts in the proper time. He cares about birds and lilies and beards and you.

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It’s not the promised land, but it’s pretty close. I can’t stop telling him all the things I love about here. The river. Autumn’s last pop of the brightest green. The Honey Crisp apples we’ll pick this week. The bookstore whose corners I know better than any department store on earth. And the people. The people.

Here I have been more loved and more known than any place on earth. They knew the rawest form of me, the me who still didn’t understand the love of the God and the grace he’d given me if only I’d see it. When I come home here, brimming over now with the most beautiful gifts of the gospel, I hope it makes up for the years of begrudging giving I did here. I know it doesn’t, but I hope it does. I didn’t understand giving could be beautiful, but mostly because I didn’t understand the Giver of all this beauty.

We arrive, road-worn and travel-weary—three almost full days on the road with a busy conference schedule in between. Thank God for audio books and Radio Lab and sitting beside the man I love for 28 hours. In the early morning still dark hours I hear him say in my ear, “I hear water running.” I smile to myself because he thinks it’s a toilet or a sink or some other problem, but I know there’s water falling over the dam less than twenty yards from our open window. I cannot wait to share this place with him.

I think of Psalm 50, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” This place isn’t the promised land and in many ways I felt more taken from than given to in the years I lived here. But I come back here, full of the love of God and the grace I know, and see the heavens proclaiming the work of their God and the trees clapping their hands with praise. The Milky Way last night brighter and brighter as the moon slowly closed its white eye.

I know it has always been here for me to see, the veil just hadn’t been torn. I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish I had known then what I know now about the character of God and my incapable heart. He was telling me in a thousand ways: through the love of people, the beauty of this land, the goodness of the local church, in the corners of bookstores, and the piles of apples that taste sweeter than any sugared candy ever could. Every common bush was aflame with His beauty and wonder, I just didn’t see.

It’s easy to be distracted by all we believe is Zion. The best of what God has given here on earth, the land of milk and honey. It comes through in many forms and ways: idolatry never looks like idolatry until we see it’s just overlaid gold leaf on a wooden form—rotting away from the inside out. All through the scripture God tells his people: All of this points to me but isn’t me. Look up! Look up!

And the promise is true and the same to us today: whatever captures our eyes and keeps our hearts, if it isn’t Him, it isn’t the perfection of beauty. Coming home reminds me of that. It’s beautiful here, and I’m loved and I love, but it all just an exercise in faith. Love calls us to the things of this world by calling us first to see the maker of it.

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This morning in staff prayer we read Psalm 73 which ends with the words, “But as for me it is good to be near to God.” Another translation, which I love, reads, “The nearness of God is my good.” I always remember Enoch when I read this verse, Enoch who “walked with God and then was no more for God took him.”

What must it be like to walk with God, and walk so near to him that God did not have an earthly end for him, but simply took him? How God took him, we don’t know but historians have their hypotheses. What is important, though, is that the nearness of God was Enoch’s good and so he walked with Him.

I want that kind of walk. I get caught up in to-dos and “wearisome tasks.” I take my eyes off Christ for ten seconds and suddenly I’ve imagined all sorts of scenarios in which the world needs me and forgets Him. My flesh fails me and my spirit is weak. My feet stumble and my steps slip. I forget how to simply walk, one foot in front of another beside the God who is my only good.

If you’re feeling heavy with wearisome tasks and slippery steps, if you feel far from God today, remember it is His nearness to you that is your good. The onus to be near is on Him and if you are His child, He is near. He promises to never leave, be in step with him, walk simply, forget the race. Walk with God, He is already walking with you.