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It is midwinter, or nearly so, and we got a small dusting of snow last week as if God was saying, “It is winter and I’ll prove it to you.” The windows have been open the last two days though and the air has that damp, mossy scent of midwinter or, in the colder climate of my home, early spring when all the snow has melted. It has been hard to be content here this year and yesterday the day began folding in on itself before it had really begun. It was still dark outside and I was late for an appointment, my keys locked in the car and my husband nearly to work with his set. He met me last night with profuse apologies for locking them in there and I’d forgiven him before it happened. It wasn’t him I was so mad at, it was all of the other things that are out of my control and how helpless I feel to change any of it.

I read a checklist of sorts the other day, questions to ask when you feel, as the article termed it, dead inside. I don’t feel dead inside, not in the least, but I do feel numb and cold and sad and really, really tired in a way I’ve never felt before. One of the questions was, “How much new are you facing?” I said to Nate later that night, reading that question felt the same as when I queried on social media about good mattresses to buy because we have struggled to sleep deeply this year, and my mother-in-law quipped, “It could have something to do with the fact that in the space of one year, you’ve had to learn to sleep in three different time zones.” It was a moment of clarity for me, and the empathy I’ve longed for from someone else. “Oh. Three different time zones. I am tired, and it’s not a tired a good night sleep will fix.”

This isn’t meant to be an excuse, though I know it sounds of one. It’s more just a reminder to me that I don’t receive the grace God gives in the form of common things like sleep or good coffee or a good cry on the back porch or a long bath. I don’t receive them without their sniggling sidekick shame.

Last night after Nate’s apologies about the keys and after I told him, again, it was an honest mistake (And by honest, I don’t just mean not intentional, I mean, they were locked in there because he had tried to serve me by starting the car early with one set on that one snowy day and locking the front door with the other set.), we had a fight. We don’t do shouting matches and stomped feet and slamming doors, but last night was the first time in our marriage I wanted to. I felt so misunderstood and unheard and unable to explain how deeply sad and tired I am about some things—things I’d beg you to not assume, because either they’re not that complex and the joke’s on me, or they are, and the joke’s on you. The base of our fight rested on the premise of every fight known to man since those two feuding brothers in Genesis four: unmet expectations.

It is hard to learn the difference between good hopes and bad ones, godly ones and ungodly ones, righteous longings and selfish ones. Even the most righteous hope can be tinged with self-gain and even the nastiest longing finds its roots in the hope for something good and right. We love, Saint Augustine said, in a disordered way. We either want the right thing in a wrong way or the wrong thing in the right way and we press the longing for God farther and further down, until someone asks what we want, and we can’t even answer straight because we’re so confused.

Nate asked me last night what would happen if I didn’t get what I want (in this case, a good and right God-ordained desire) and I couldn’t answer. And when I finally did, I sputtered out words about knowing the theological answer but not being able to shake the unshakeable longing in my heart for what I know is right.

I woke this morning with the words from Psalm 68:6 in my head, “He sets the lonely in families,” and then I read this from Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), author of Out of Africa, or, if you prefer—as I do—Babette’s Feast and more.

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.

I know there is a home out there, a place where we will eventually settle and be settled, and as much as I long for it to be somewhere on earth, it may not come until the earth is new and the kingdom of God is established on it. This morning, though, I am comforted by Blixen’s blessing, “Blessed are the homesick,” because there is a promise of God following it: one day, we shall go home.

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field

Debate the legitimacy of picking one word for your year at its beginning or end, it’s okay. Words are beautiful and vast and also complicated and what you think you might be asking for at the start may turn out to be something altogether different at the end. God is sovereign enough to create many words and also sovereign enough to sum all of creation into one: good.

As for me, at the beginning of 2016, I asked for “settled.” Upon reflection on the first day of 2017, though, I felt the year turned out to be more “stuck.” And upon further reflection, I’m coming to realize they are not such different words after all.

Years have a way of doing this to us, don’t they. Flipping our expectations around and giving us nothing of what we asked and everything of what we needed. I felt stuck all of 2016. Stuck moving to D.C. Stuck at the mercy of my husband’s employment. Stuck at home. Stuck in premature commitments we made. Stuck without a church. Stuck without our community. Stuck in the mid-Atlantic region. Stuck in work. Stuck in life. Nothing in our lives seemed to move forward, everything felt like it moved backward or not at all. It was the longest year of my life, and at the end, looking back, all I could see was an untouched field, ignored, unkempt, and overlooked.

As I said last week, God is doing something in that fallow field though, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. It doesn’t move the field forward. It doesn’t use the field. It doesn’t catch the eye of bystanders or passersby. The fallow field is settling into itself, dirt into dirt into dirt into dirt. At the end of the fallow year what started as a tilled and sifted soil, has turned hard, solid, packed into itself, stuck and settled.

I asked for settledness in 2016 and, from my perspective, got nothing but more uprootedness, less surety, more change and less certainty. We literally have no idea where we’ll be living in a few months. I feel stuck here and stuck for all of life today. But God, in his goodness, makes what seems stuck settled. Not that we are meant to stay here for all of time, or will never leave, or in two months won’t be packing up the moving truck for the third time in less than 20 months, just that, what God did in 2016 was settling. He sifted the field of our hearts in ways we never desired and wouldn’t have asked for if pressed. He packed truths so deep down in our hearts we could stand on them as firm as stone. He did not plant or water or bother too much with anything else, He just let what seemed stuck settle.

As Nate and I talked though the coming year—with no idea where we’ll be living, working, communing—I felt the Lord reminding me that we can make plans, but it’s in Him we ultimately hope. And the words, “Hidden Roots” kept coming to mind. Oh no, I fussed, I’ve had enough with the hiding. I want to flourish! grow! bear fruit! do something! But again and again, as we worked through heart-revealing questions and answers, those words came to mind. Before we see the sprouts, before we see the fruit, before we see the harvest, we know the roots are growing, being nourished, flourishing, unseen, unnoticed, overlooked still. A freshly planted field looks the same as a fallow one to everyone but the farmer.

I have no idea what at the end of 2017 will be revealed to be God’s best for our lives, but at the onset, I know he is asking for more of the same: hiding in him alone, our refuge, our strength, our vinedresser, our farmer, our keeper.

If you feel stuck today and have for a while, consider, too, that perhaps God is settling some truths down deep in you. Ask yourself what they might be. What have you learned this year that you could have not learned in a year of much forward motion? What have you learned about God in the stillness of your year? What have you learned about yourself when social engagements, ministry, being in the public eye, might not have given you a chance to learn? What have you learned about your home? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your church? Your habits? All of this “stuckness” is teaching something if we’ll look closely enough.

I hope your Christmas holiday brought many reminders that our hopes and fears are met in Him. This is an easy season to polarize, isn’t it? Either all we feel is fear or all we feel is hope. Yet, when we let ourselves be still for a moment, those hopes and fears crash into one another and every optimist becomes a realist and every pessimist becomes one too. If we’re children of God, our reality is that all these hopes and dreams and fears and sadnesses converge in one grand truth: that He is enough. Should we never have a home, never have a child, never have the job we want, never be out of debt, never be well all the way through, never go home, never be whole, never be brave, never be quiet, He is enough.

This past month I’ve realized something about life for me now. Since I was nineteen, for seventeen years now, I have been mostly autonomous. I made the choices I thought were best for my life. I dove into schooling, church life, roommate living, vocation, vacation, schedule, and more. I ate when and what I wanted to. I woke when I wanted to. I moved when I wanted to. My existence wasn’t selfish—I tried my best to submit myself to pastors, leaders, friends, community—but it was in many ways self-directed. This is a beautiful aspect of singleness and one that is inordinately useful for the growth of the kingdom of God. Paul wasn’t wrong when he wrote of the undistractedness of singleness. Godly singleness is a time ripe for so many endeavors and adventures, and I’ll never stop being grateful for all those God gave me. Marriage, also like Paul said, is full of distractions and I find the primary one to be our lack of autonomy.

Before marriage it sounds delightful to be united with a partner forevermore, to go to sleep next to and wake beside, to cook dinner for and budget with, to pray with and laugh with, to build traditions alongside and create a home with another person. It sounds delightful and it is. It has been nothing short of a gift. But it is also a thousand little deaths, primarily that my dreams, hopes, plans, desires, and time are in the mutually submitted and mutually sticky position of being inextricably linked to another person sinner man husband, and his to mine. Nate’s hopes sometimes clash with my fears and my hopes with his fears. When this happens it would be easy to manipulate my way into getting what I want or for him to exercise dominion over me in a perverted attempt to lead, but a godly marriage this does not make. And so, a thousand little deaths we die.

If your hopes and fears are met with clashing and smashing ideals in every direction, if every time you feel the inkling of hope, it meets with another’s fear or maybe your own, if every fear you have is pulled into the vulnerable arena of another’s hopes, I am praying for you today. I am praying all of those hopes and fears are met in Him today, not in the gain of what you want or the getting of what another wants. In Christ alone.

Here are some things I’ve enjoyed this week:

This interview of Brett Lott on Cultivated.

This piece from Jeffrey Overstreet on Watership Down.

This article from Gina Delfonzo on Graham Greene, Glennon Melton, and Jen Hatmaker.

This conversation between John Blase and Winn Collier.

This response from J.D. Vance on the success of Hillbilly Elegy.

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We taught ourselves Pinocle last week. No telling whether we’re doing it right. What other two person card games are there?

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I was reminded last week of some commitments I made last December to write about marriage more this year (after being fearful of writing about it in 2015). I’m glad to reflect and see that God released some of that fear in me. He grows us incrementally, doesn’t He? Without us even noticing it or even feeling it. I feel less proficient at everything else in my life this December than I did last December, but one thing I know for sure: I did write more about my marriage, the struggles, the wins, the sadness, the loss, the glory, in 2016. I have always been grateful for the existence of Sayable, if for no other reason than it reminds me year after year after year: we are being transformed, being built together, being made into a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit leaves nothing untouched.

This year, as I gathered our regular New Year Questions, as well as a list of ten questions for husbands to ask their wives and wives to ask their husbands, I recalled writing an article for Christianity Today a few years ago called, Dating by Q & A. The premise of the article is too often, in an attempt to not waste our time or heart’s affection, we treat dating like a job interview, checking off boxes and deciding to move forward or stop, without ever really knowing the person at all. I tried to make the case that a good marriage is built on true friendship, and true friendship only comes through open-handed relationships—the sort where there are no expectations, just delight at finding so much in common.

I remembered my first few conversations with Nate: first, briefly in our church foyer, then more at his home while he and I washed dishes, next around another table with some of our closest friends, and then across from one another at our coffee shop, and then, finally, a four hour first date. All of these conversations flourished around a central theme: we asked questions, copious amounts of them. From the start, in the foyer, it was “How was your trip home to New York?” and “How was your trip with the guys to Colorado?” Then it moved on to conversations about specific work we were doing at our church, or upcoming trips. Soon it sparked a conversation about pacifism, which led to hearing his testimony, the heartbreak of his marriage and the ways the Lord redeemed and grew him, and then on and on until one day, we couldn’t stop talking to one another. Soon engagement, and then our pre-marital counseling meetings (and the book we walked through) with our mentors and dearest friends at The Village. These all centered around questions we had to think and talk through.

It still takes me by surprise when after days and days of feeling bottled up, stuck, in a rut, fearful of the unknown, fearful of Nate’s response to something or my unbridled emotions (both expressions of sin crouching at our door), the dam breaks with the simple act of asking a question.

“When would you like to talk about the article you sent me?”

“What was hard for you today?”

“What did you think about today?”

“When are we going to talk about this decision you made or thing you said?”

Being asked a question can feel violating, but only if we let it. I phrased it that way on purpose because as much as we like to believe we absolutely know the intention behind the question being asked, we cannot know for sure. We can only know what our response to it will be. So if we feel violated by the question, that is more on us than on the asker. This goes for small talk in a church foyer or a conversation between friends or acquaintances, and it also goes for conversations between spouses—where a simple question can release a dam of emotions.

I’m really grateful, at the close of 2016, for all the things I’ve learned this year and the ways in which our marriage has grown and been sanctified. And I’m also really struck by how little we ask questions of one another and how much conflict rose because of the lack. We talk as much as we have time, for sure, and time has not really been a given for us this year. I want to be a good question asker of my husband, at the very least as good as he is to me. I want to do that because it is an act of humility, an act of love, and a communicable characteristic of God.

Asking questions helps us to see a person as a person, a sinner, a human, and a friend, instead of just someone who can meet our needs or expectations.

Asking questions is an act of love, helping us to unmask sin, unearth regrets, and providing an opportunity to minister grace.

Asking questions provides an opportunity to ask for, give, or receive forgiveness.

Asking questions provides clarity to assumptions, unknowns, and areas of fear.

God, in 2017, in every area of our lives, make us good question askers and patient answerers. 

If you’re curious, here is the list of questions I ask myself every New Year’s Day. And here is the list of questions I refer to above. 

A year ago, we armed ourselves with spare change, loose dollar bills, and whatever other monies we could muster up from around our house, and spent an hour or two in the card aisle at Target. And then again this Spring I did the same at the National Gallery of Art’s gift shop. Our aim: buy cards. We bought a birthday card for every member of our extended families and then a stack of “special” cards. We could have just bought a box of generic cards, but wanted the card itself to be as special as the act of sending it felt.

It’s December and as much as I want to complain about the lateness of a package I ordered a month ago that has yet to arrive, I am married to a man who works for the USPS headquarters and whose job it is, in part, to distill data about why packages don’t arrive when they should. So I withhold my frustration this year.

Barely has our postman—whose name is Brendan—stepped up on our stoop before Harper has run to the door, barking, and shoving her still small enough snout through the mail slot in the door. Brendan always chuckles and waits until she pulls it back before shoving the mail through—cards, mailers, packages that fit. And then Harper does what dogs since the genesis of any postal service have done, gathers what she can in her small mouth and trots it back to me as if to say, “See what treasures I have brought you?” when, really, she has done the smallest work of all.

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W. H. Auden, wrote,

And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart.
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

I have been thinking of how easy it is to remember friends these days. If it weren’t for my real life friends scattered all over the globe, I might have done away with any or all of my social media accounts more than once. But I love their babies in real life and am far from them in this life, so double tapping is sometimes the best I can do to say, “I love those chubby thighs and I love your new haircut and I love your kitchen renovation and I love your wedding and I love how your puppy makes you smile and I love your laugh and I love your taste in books and poetry and music and aren’t you glad we’re friends?”

But it is awfully hard to be real life friends when we’re scattered so, and don’t you ever feel forgotten? I do.

It is December though and Christmas cards aplenty come and birthday cards, them too. Packages galore, envelopes stuffed full, smiling families sitting still in a one in a million shot (Come now, do you think any of us believe that was your first try or your fiftieth?), letters, and reminders that we’re not forgotten in real life. (Double taps and “likes” on Facebook don’t count.)

I counted up the weddings I’ve been a part of in my life and there were more than 20 and less than half but more than a quarter of those have gone the way of divorce or have wobbled on the edge of it a time or two. It is easy, I think, to celebrate. But, a friend tells me this week, it is easier for her to mourn with than celebrate, and I think of the slowly ebbing stack of cards in my desk. One sent out each month right before another anniversary of a young friend’s death. I want his mother to know she is remembered because to feel yourself forgotten is a worse thing than most of us can bear. It is easy to celebrate, maybe harder to mourn, but what is important is to remember at all.

It all makes me think of David’s Psalm after he’d been taken by the Philistines at Gath,

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? (Ps. 56:8)

Christmas is a warm and lovely time for many, but it is a hard and fallow time for others. There is no guilt in this, demanding that we invite in those we’d rather not, but sometimes the simple act of remembering someone who may feel forgotten may warm us and them more than we planned or expected. I cannot do much for those in Aleppo today, as much as I ache to, but I can give a meal or ten to families in Aleppo. I cannot hug or laugh until our sides ache with my friends like family all over the world, but I can love my neighbor and somehow my far away friend and drop a note or two in the mail. It’s small, it’s slow, but it’s simple and sincere and perhaps it will keep count of some tears of the good sort.

 

It occurred to me today that if you don’t follow me on Instagram or FB, you don’t see my incessant posting of the pup above. She is my best friend sometimes and easily the greatest threat to getting any housework done all the times (you try making a bed, folding laundry, mopping the floor with a pup who thinks it’s all a game.). She’s thirty pounds of cute though. 

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A few months ago a friend who had moved recently and was living in yet another temporary place, with not so beautiful views, posted an image on social media. As I scrolled through, it caught my eye and reminded me of another image, one I love and have looked at often. It was painted by Johannes Vermeer, who, cliche as it may be, is one of my favorite artists. He was called the artist of light for many reasons, not the least of which was his use of the camera obscura. Vermeer’s command of light, shadows, and color was unparalleled in his time.

View of Delft has always been one of my favorites of his, though I don’t know why. I can tell you a hundred things I love about The Milkmaid or The Lacemaker or The Girl with a Pearl Earring, but it’s harder to explain why I love the View of Delft. I think it’s the sky. It always reminds me of a scene from the film adapted from Tracy Chevalier’s fiction work based on The Girl with a Pearl Earring. In it, Vermeer asks Griet what color the clouds are. She at first answers white, but quickly changes her answer to grey, yellow, blue, as she looks at the clouds with the eye of an artist instead of a bystander.

When my friend posted her image from a dorm room in Chicago, recently moved from across the other side of the country, in a new place, a new rhythm, new everything, she was trying to see the beauty in a downtown scape where beauty seemed hard to find. I messaged her and showed her the image from Vermeer, noting their similarity, and the similarity of our lives at present. Change is hard and what locals find beautiful can seem ugly to newcomers. The only antidotes for this are either perpetual optimism or time. Few of us are gifted with perpetual optimism, and so most of us must settle for the latter: time.

. . .

Yesterday Nate and I drove 40 minutes to a church many have recommended to us since we moved here. We could see why, we felt at home there almost immediately. After the service Nate engaged the older couple sitting in front of us and we talked for a few minutes. As we were about to put our coats on to leave, the wife said, “Could I pray for you first?” And she did. And tears pooled in the corners of my eyes. It was the first time since we’ve moved here that someone has prayed for us with us. It held the faint resemblance to something I loved—and missed.

. . .

One of the things I love about Vermeer’s painting is that to us, it is still, a moment captured. But to Vermeer, it was in motion, perpetual motion. The water moving, the people walking, the ships docking, the scents smelling, the noise bustling. It was alive and not at all clean or probably very beautiful to the bystander. It was life being lived, thinking the clouds were white and the water was blue. But they aren’t at all, are they? There are myriads of color here. Nothing is quite what it seems. It takes time and love to make this painting beautiful, just as it takes time and love to make life beautiful.

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I could stare at this painting for hours, but I rarely stare at my life here for hours. I want to get through it, move on, settle down, live in a home, adopt children, start our lives. Yesterday we had a taste of what life might be and what has felt plain white, turned grey, and yellow, and blue for a moment, a taste of what is actually happening in our todays.

My reading is in Luke 2 this morning, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” I have been to those fields in Israel and they do not look like much. It is a rocky region, set low in a valley, covered in scrub. There was little beautiful about the field, and even less, I would guess, at night. But these shepherds faithfully kept watch, not on the field, not on the night, but on their sheep. They did what they were meant to do, undistracted by the field or the night in which they did it. I want to be like this. The shepherds and Vermeer and my friend’s photo reminds me that I can.

God is doing something with today. He is not wasting it. I remind myself of this often, every day, every hour. There is more than meets the eye today, and much more still waiting to meet my eye today if I will look for it.

Writing a note to a stranger, even a stranger you feel like you know, can feel scary sometimes. Will I matter? Will they care? Will they even read it? Will they respond? Will they think I’m silly? or a stalker? Those are the questions that have gone through my head on more than one occasion. I’ve been grateful for the writers I’ve read for years and how they’ve responded when I reached out. One of my great sadnesses is that it takes me so long to reply, especially to emails. I wish I could give every single email you’ve all sent me its due response right away. Sadly, I usually take a week twice a year or so and just try to only respond to those letters, which I know might make some of you feel overlooked or unimportant. I just wanted to say thank you to you today. Not only for your words to me, but for your courage in saying them, and also for your patience in hearing back. That’s all. Just thank you.

Truly, some of my favorite relationships have come through writing. They are all a reminder that we’re called to be is faithful to the Word of God and to the Spirit inside of us, but it is the work of Christ that reconciles and redeems. I’m grateful for the relationships He’s forged with men and women all over the world with me. It’s no small gift.

Yesterday one of those women gave me a birthday blessing on a Facebook group page we’re a part of. It was from Lewis’s Prince Caspian and I wanted to share its whole context with you today,

“Aslan” said Lucy “you’re bigger”.
“That is because you are older, little one” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

I loved that and was grateful for it. Part of growing older is experiencing more difficult circumstances and hard ground, but part of it is also finding God more sufficient, more gracious, more kind, more holy. I watch many of my peers cave to the pressure of the world to find themselves bigger or their views more important or falter on orthodox truths of the Christian faith, and I am heartbroken because there is a subtle lie being believed there, that their view holds to a more gracious and loving father than mine and He allows what has not been allowed for centuries. But that isn’t the whole story, is it? We cannot let only our view of God’s love grow, but not His holiness. Or our view of God’s grace to grow, but not his righteousness. We have to hold up the whole worth of God, as much as our feeble hands and hearts can do. We find him bigger as we grow. It reminds me of the book by Ed Welch which has been very influential in both Nate’s and my life, When People are Big and God is Small. We have to get that right, friends, and it’s God’s love and grace that allows us to stumble around in our pursuit of getting it right. I love that.

I loved this piece from A. J. Swoboda called A Journey as Old as Humanity Itself. If you feel restless in life, church, faith, or family, I recommend it.

My parents were lovers of history and we all grew up in a part of the country ripe with it. When it comes to American history in particular, I feel very well versed in it. I was grateful for this piece in The New York Times about being liberal and going to book camp.

I did not want divorce to be a part of my story, but I am the child of divorce and married to a man who walked through it (against his will), so I find myself gravitating to narratives about it. I want to grow in empathy, while still valuing the covenant of marriage. Jason Gray’s words encouraged me.

My best and oldest friend arrived late last night and we ate pie in bed together (Nate is gone on a business trip). Today we are going to go thrifting and foraging for nature things. She has no fear, unlike me. We have always been the perfect complement of friends: she, outgoing and vivacious, me, shy and pensive. I love spending time with her because there is no one on earth who knows me as well as she does. For over twenty years we have walked through ten-thousand things together, and there’s a comfort in it that cannot be replicated. One beautiful aspect of it is I remember years and years where I wished to be more like her, and as we have grown up, we have met somewhere in the middle, while still retaining distinctive attributes. We have rubbed off on one another in a rich way and I couldn’t be more grateful to have the influence of her on me.

I hope you enjoy your weekend friends. I know I will.

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Buckwheat pancakes are an indulgence we all could use a little more of. Just saying. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

January

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

February

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

March

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

April

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

May

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

June

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

July

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

August

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

September

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

October

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

November

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

December

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

 

My birthday is this week. I will be 36 years old. When my mother was 36 she had five children. Most of my 36 year old peers have more than one child, some of them have children nearly out of their teens. I feel old and whether I like it or not, I am getting old. I notice it in a myriad of ways and places, aches and awarenesses. I know I am still a spring chicken to many, but this is the first birthday I feel older than I am, instead of younger. I think that’s telling.

Last week Jen Wilkin wrote an article on Ligoner on Mothers in the Church. I highly, highly, highly recommend you read it. As I mulled over it again this morning, I thought to myself: at what point do we daughters ever feel like we stop needing mothers? I sure haven’t gotten to that place. I crave older women in my life constantly, and have a dearth of them locally in this season. This question led to another, more potent one though: at what point am I the older woman other women desire to learn from?

I’m sure there are some women out there who feel like they carry around enough knowledge for all humanity. Wisdom drips off their tongues and experience from their hands. I am not one of those women. I constantly feel a deep insecurity that I do not have what it takes to be a wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter. And I constantly want leadership around me showing me the way, holding my hand, righting me, getting me back on the path, reminding me. I have always felt like a child and as much as this birthday marks how old I am getting, I think I will always feel a bit like the one who never has never grown up.

How many of my sisters feel the same way? I know most of us do if only because the number of women looking for mentors outweighs the amount willing to mentor. We all want teachers but none of us want to be one. Since I was a child in church I have watched mentoring program after mentoring program fail in churches because the numbers are always so lopsided.

The answer to my question this morning, “At what point am I the older woman?” is: today. Today I am the older woman. Even when I was 19 or 25, I was the older woman to a younger one. I have always been, and I will always be an older woman to someone. Aging gracefully means accepting not only the wrinkles and aches and experiences, but also accepting the responsibility of being older than someone else. There’s no shame in that, even if you’re 19 or 25.

I have always said to whoever asks for mentoring from me, “Gladly, willingly, but you must know it will probably look differently than you imagine, and also, you must recognize and accept the responsibility of mentoring others.” The only prerequisite for preaching the gospel is knowing the gospel and even the most infant believers knows the gospel. And, which is more, the telling and retelling and refining of what we believe about the gospel is what gives the gospel feet and hands in our own lives. I know of no better discipline for the growth of the gospel in my life than the actual work of making disciples.

The other night in our Advent reading we read about the Annunciation, the incredulous news that Mary would bear the Son of God, even as a child-virgin herself, and how she responded, “Let it be in me according to your word.” I was struck in that moment of her willingness, her submission to doing something wildly more difficult than her young body, mind, and spirit, could imagine.

I want to encourage us, sisters, with that today. Today, we are mothers, if we will submit to the age we are, and not the age we want to be. Let it be in us.

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(This is Nancy Hull and she has been my Mama-Nan since I was 23. She is the best example I know of a woman who throws age to the wind and mothers whoever comes across her path, regardless of their age or hers. I love her for it.)

If you’re in high-school, find a girl in middle school and show her what it means to grow into a godly woman, going against the grains of societal norms, give her gospel language for issues like sin, peer pressure, body shaming, etc.

If you’re in college, find a high-schooler who has no idea what she will encounter in the wild world of college, and how she can stand firm in it. Teach her how the gospel enables us to walk in freedom.

If you’re a young mom, set a regular place for a college student at your table. That’s it. She will become part of your family, hold babies, fold laundry, etc. She just will, trust me. Teach her how the gospel is hospitable, but also bids a man to come and die.

If you’re single longer than you planned or hoped, find some girls in their early twenties who are sure their life is over if they’re not married by 23. Show them how full the life of gospel-centered singleness can be.

If you’re a mom of middles, go on over and rock babies at a young mom’s house, just for a few hours. Let her take a shower. Embody the gospel by being hands and feet.

If you’re married without children, consider also, some young moms who might need a friend, another adult voice in her day. Show her that the gospel is elementary and takes the faith of a child, but also grows into more than milk someday.

If your children have flown the coop, that mom of middles needs some reminders that her foul mouthed 13 year old isn’t going to be that way forever (Raising hand. Sorry, mom.). Remind her again and again that the reality of the gospel is that it changes people, takes them from dark to light.

These are just a few ideas, there are a thousand more. Feel free to comment with ideas or how you make it work in your season, or how someone made it work for you. Lives are changed through the act of mothering, sisters. Go, and mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflict is good

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

Con means against, but also with

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

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

I think of John Piper’s words,

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

 

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When we were going through our pre-marital counseling, one of the questions we asked one another was, “Are you an early riser or a late one?” I typically rose around 7, so my answer was quick: “Oh, I’m an early riser. I love mornings!” It was true, I would walk up to a usually quiet house—some of the girls might be at work already, some might still be asleep—make my coffee, and sit down in the Ikat armchair and read the Bible and write. Mornings felt sacred. Nate also answered, “Early riser.” Perfect. A match made in heaven. Certain bliss would be our good fortune. Heart eye emoji.

What I came to learn in marriage, though, is that “Early” to him is “Middle of the Night” to humanity everywhere. He needs about six hours of sleep and usually gets up somewhere between the four o’clock and five o’clock hour. Some mornings he is breakfasted, coffeed, showered, dressed, bibled, podcasted, and sometimes run before I get out of bed at 6:30 am. We are also both very light sleepers and wake one another up several times a night. We also have a puppy who for the past eight months has kept us up several times a night. When Nate wakes up, he is up, at ‘em, ready to talk, listen, commentate, and go. He chooses to go to work two hours before most of his co-workers because he is crazy. I, on the other hand, would just like a little peace and quiet, a cup of coffee, and no one to talk to me for like twenty minutes after rising. Our puppy, unfortunately, is more like Nate than me, and wants to play fetch while it is still dark outside.

What I’m saying is: when I was single I had a schedule that worked well for me. I liked my schedule. I liked my quiet, slow mornings. I liked sleeping eight hours. I liked waking up without an alarm, without a husband rolling out of bed, very literally squeaking across the floorboards, and fumbling around in the dark. Without a puppy breathing in my face at 5am. I also liked staying up late, writing in the still darkness of a house, to the light of a candle. I liked processing the day late into the night. But we made a decision to go to bed at the same time, and I think it was a good decision, even if Nate falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow and I’m awake for an hour or more, laying in the dark.

I’m not the only one making sacrifices though. Nate ran Division 1 track and field for the University of Texas. He is fast. He says, like Eric Liddell, when he runs he feels God’s glory. Since we got married, though, and especially now that he is gone so many hours a day, he doesn’t have time to run like he used to and would like to. By the time he gets home after 12 hours away, his wife is anxious to see him, and there’s only a few hours before his head will hit the pillow like a rock. Marriage had to change our priorities. Sleep for me, running for him.

These are small examples, and the truth is, they’re kind of petty examples. There are much larger things happening in the melding of two people schedules, primarily the discipline of not growing weary in well-doing. There is a kind of selflessness at play when our schedule preferences meet with one another and clash, a constant and minute opportunity to resent instead of serve. And those opportunities mount day by day by day, particularly if you think you will never get the thing you want. I have had to remind myself of two truths regularly in our new marriage:

1. My schedule is to serve his schedule

The bible says the wife is to be concerned with how she may please her husband, and I take that to mean, very seriously, my primary occupation is to make sure he can go about his day feeling loved, fed, nourished, rested, and released to lead our family. That means my schedule submits to his schedule. My schedule bends to his schedule. We eat when he comes home. We go to sleep when he is tired. We wake when he wakes. I stop my paying work when he comes home on the train, and begin my at home work. And sometimes my paying work plays second fiddle to my at home work. I had to turn down a great contract recently because I knew I couldn’t serve my husband and this contract in this season. I knew if I took the contract, my flesh would want to please the contract more than it pleased my husband. My schedule is to lay my life down for him.

2. His schedule is to serve my schedule

Before your feminism gets its panties in a twist, his schedule is to serve mine too. He is working to provide for our family, to keep a roof over our heads, food on our table, and to pay for that pesky puppy who wakes me up every morning. He has submitted his life to leading and caring for our family, instead of out running, reading theology all day, and traveling the world. He washes the dishes every single night after I cook. He tiptoes across the squeaking floorboards, doing his best to miss the really loud ones. He showers in our guest bathroom so it’s not as loud. If I’m up when he leaves, he makes sure there’s coffee in the French Press. He always gets up with the puppy in the middle of the night. Always. When he has a day off, he always asks me what I would like to do with the day, instead of putting his preferences ahead of mine. His schedule is to lay his life down for mine.

. . .

There’s an interdependence in marriage that I didn’t have when I was single—as much as I tried to craft my life in such a way that there were daily opportunities to lay it down. In marriage you go to sleep with that person every night, and the worst thing you can do is go to sleep with a running list of all the ways you sacrificed for him and all the ways he didn’t for you. I want to take every opportunity to cheer my husband on, encourage him when he is down, make space for things he loves, and please him—not in order that he might do the same, but because God has said a wife is a good thing, and I want to be a good thing for my husband.

If you’re newly married and this clash of wills rears its ugly head primarily around your schedules, first, maybe you need some sleep, but second, what would it look like for you to lay your life down this week for his? To craft your life around what the cares of your household are? To prefer his needs above yours? I am praying for us, newly married sisters, that we would be wives who say, “I’m not my own flesh anymore,” knowing it is God who gets the glory of a relinquished will and schedule.

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The next challenge for the newly married is one I think affects those who have been married a lot longer too, but the newly married face it in a fresh and shocking way. It is the challenge of finding and agreeing on a local church.

When I was unmarried I chose the church I wanted to go to, even moving to the opposite side of the United States to become part of The Village Church. I had immense flexibility in the choice, theology, worship style, size, and amount of involvement I wanted in a church. I considered each those things heavily, but the choice was mine. When I met Nate, I met him through my church community, in the foyer of my church building, and we were married surrounded by our church family. Even though we were about to move to Denver for my job at a new church, our local church, the local church, was very much a factor and part of our relationship.

Imagine my shock, then, when we moved across the country again, and it was taking us seemingly forever to settle on a church. I was blindsided by how difficult all of this would be. I think it’s partially because both Nate and I take God’s word very seriously and soberly in regard to membership, worship, community, discipline, eldership, etc., and we don’t treat any decision having to do with those components lightly, but what I didn’t expect, and was most surprised by, was how much we actually clashed in these areas. There was an illusion that because we met and married in the same church, we agreed on everything therein and would forevermore. But we didn’t.

One day, in the car on the way home from yet another church we were visiting in August, I wept bitterly and my sweet husband bore the brunt of my outburst. My case was this: If I was still single, even if it wasn’t ideal, and even if I had to drive 45 minutes, I would have settled on a church six months earlier. I would have just gone to the good-enough one instead of searching for the one one or both of us had in mind. I wouldn’t have squandered my time, I wouldn’t have grown stagnate in faith or community, and I would have just sacrificed whatever it took, just to hear the word among the same brothers and sisters every week. This conversation led to some more painful conversations about why I hadn’t said anything earlier. Which led to more conversations about why we both struggled to speak up on our own behalf about very much at all (which I’ll write about another day this week). What this conversation revealed was there were  assumptions being made on both of our parts about what would be best for our family in regard to a local church, based on partial information from one or the other.

I wish I could say we’ve found victory in this area, but I think this will be an ongoing conversation for the rest of our marriage. Committing to one local church won’t lift the issue at hand, which is a communication one, but it also won’t solve each of our individual desires and beliefs when it comes to a local church. We both need to make sacrifices, sacrifices I in particular have never made before in regard to a church, and sacrifices he in particular will need to revise in our marriage, because they weren’t present in his previous one. In the meantime, here are some things we are learning:

1. Church baggage is real

We have each gone to many different churches, which means double the history. We have had great experiences and bad ones, good ones and hard ones. If you name a denomination, though, we have a bit of experience with it, and this informs our future direction. He might have had a great experience with one denominations or theology, and I might have had a terrible one, and we have to talk about that, without assuming the other understands or empathizes with it. I know this can sound very consumeristic in a sense and I don’t want in any way to communicate we are consumers of the local church, but there is a very real choice in the church we go to, and we all have very real reasons for those choices. My reasons are not the same as Nate’s and instead of assuming they are, I ought to assume they are not.

2. Understanding of Theology and Practice change and grow

With joy and confidence I can say what I believe now about God has changed from what I believed about him fifteen years ago, ten years ago, two years ago, and so on. God has not changed, but my understanding of him has. It has been informed by my circumstances, by deeper study of his word, by teaching from others, and by experiences. This is a beautiful thing, but it can be a difficult thing in marriage if one of you has changed and the other feels blindsided by it. We left Denver feeling very disillusioned with some things and those things in particular informed Nate’s desire to attend a very different kind of church when we moved, whereas I felt very afraid of any additional change at all. Until we talked about that, though, we were both operating with two different values and it caused me to feel terrified of any church and him to feel very powerless in leading our family. We had to hash through our fears and our sin, and mistrust of God’s sovereignty, for us to come at finding a church with open hands. Our understanding of theology hasn’t changed much in a year and a half, but our understanding of practice has, and this is what we’ve been blindsided by.

3. What we think we need and what we need are two different things

I was standing in the kitchen this week chopping garlic and a song came on from my playlist that threw me back to a moment of worship at my church in Texas. I knew exactly where I was standing, who was beside me, and what the Lord was teaching me in that moment of unhindered worship. It was a painful time in life for me and I felt so humbled by the Holy Spirit that He would gift me with an experience like that, just when I needed it. The last time I felt that was when I went back to Texas a year ago this month and wept through the entire service. It was profound in a way I cannot explain to others and happens rarely enough that I remember it when it does. I love my church family there, and I love my church there. I have felt the lack of her more deeply this year than I’ve felt the lack of anything else in my life. I am constantly tempted to believe that I need to be with her again to ever feel whole in church again.

If I’m not careful, I can begin to believe I need certain aspects of a local church, preferring my self and my own needs, over my husband’s, or over the local church herself. I need a particular kind of worship. I need a pastor of a certain age. I need a homegroup with a certain type of person. I need a church of a certain size. I need. I need. I need. But what if God doesn’t give?

If I believe that God gives us exactly what we need when we need it, and no more or less, then I can trust that what we have today is exactly what we need. God isn’t skimpy with his gifts. What I also have to realize, though, is within marriage, Nate and I have different needs, but God is meeting them in the same way. This can be a real challenge in marriage when it feels like in every scenario someone is the clear winner and someone the loser (I’ll talk more about that another day this week), but when I stop thinking of my needs needing to trump his needs, I’m able to see how God might be meeting both of our needs, or the needs of others—even in a local church that didn’t check any of the boxes we both desired when we moved here.

I promise you it doesn’t feel as glorious as that moment several years ago in the sanctuary of my church, tears streaming down my face, the rushing desire in me to give all to Him, but it is the result of that moment. Worship says, “I place all my needs at Your feet, because you’re better than all the things I think I need,” and then it gets up and actually does it.

. . . .

Finding a new local church as a newly married couple can be fuel for some very real fires, especially since you’re probably doing it without the safety of a church community around you. I used to be able to recommend ways of doing it, but think if there’s anything this year has taught me, it’s that there’s no prescription for this. It’s hard. And that hardness can actually lead to really good things in your marriage if you’ll let it. Communicate. Repent. Confess. Attempt.

And, be like my husband, who several times this year saw how the weekly searching for a church was actually hurting me more than helping me, and encouraged us to be at peace staying home for a day. It is not a good ongoing pattern, but I think Jesus was okay with hiding sometimes, with running away from the crowds. I think he’s okay with it and understands it, and it might be his good gift to a marriage that needs to remember that he alone is the source.


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This is part of a series I’m doing this week on challenges for the newly married

Before I got married, I’d get questions from my single sisters often that went something like this, “My friend recently got married and now it seems like she has no time for me! What do I do?” My answer was always along the lines of, “If you value the friendship, and I hope you do, recognize the massive life change she is undergoing, and be patient. There will come a time, sooner than she thinks, that she realizes this wonderful, amazing man she’s knit herself to for life, doesn’t fill every need when it comes to relationships. She needs female friendship, and she will want it again soon, and hopefully if your friendship before marriage was the sort that there was an equal give and take, she will want it with you soon.” I know it feels a bit like rainy-day friendship, but true friendship will weather that torrential storm. I hope my friends have the same grace for me.

There are, I think, two main challenges for the newly married when it comes to friendships:

1. Keeping your own friends

This has been a real challenge for us. Partially affected by our two moves, but also because our individual friends were our own. We each have long histories with them. Now, in marriage, there are twice the amount of relationships to maintain and only one unit of us. We simply cannot maintain the double relational energy it takes to maintain all the friendships there are between the two of us—particularly because both of us have lived all over world and we met one another in our mid-late-thirties—that’s a lot of friendships all over the place to try to maintain well. It’s impossible for mere humans, and so we have had to step back from some friendships. It feels horrible to be the person on the other side of that equation, and I have been there dozens of times myself. It isn’t meant to be mean, it is simply the limitations of our human-ness pressing up against the expectations of others. I cannot have long and rambling phone calls or text messages at 11pm anymore. I don’t book tickets to a wedding halfway across the country anymore. I don’t spend weeks away from home on road-trips anymore. Disappointing others will happen because I am saying “Yes” to my husband and home and “No” to many other things and people, and Nate is doing the same.

There are a few friends where our friendship has changed, but our friendship is maintained. The number is simply smaller than it ever has been before, and in some ways, some of those friendships have grown or diminished even since marriage. Things change. People change. Friendships change. It doesn’t change the value of what was had before though, and if you’re still single or newly married, I’d encourage you to not grow bitter or feel ashamed of this reality. Sometimes some friendships are only for a season.

2. Making new friends together

Before marriage I had this idea that married friendship looked a lot like two guy best friends and two girl best friends hanging out for all hours of the night. They had all sorts of inside jokes and there was a comfortable familiarity among all of them together that was the glue holding their friendship together. The truth is more like this: two or three of the four have great chemistry, and the other(s) is left feeling on the outside of something that seems very much like they should be inside it.

We all learn early on in life that not everyone has to be friends with everyone. There is a natural sort of chemistry to friendship, an attractiveness not based on physicality, but on camaraderie. Similar ways of joking or similar interests, alike histories or worldviews. These sort of things are present in every close friendship, and I’ve experienced them with both men and women alike. These are the sort of friendships where you can not see one another for a year and pick right back up where you left off. But when you have four people in the equation now, it becomes more complicated. Now you have four personalities at play, and all four are non-negotiable parts of this new relationship. It becomes very, very difficult to retain friendships in which your friend and your spouse, or you and their spouse, don’t have that chemistry. It becomes a chore to spend time with them instead of a joy—and that is very difficult on a marriage. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any one person here, or wrong with any one friendship, it is just not as natural as it once was, or not as natural as you’d like it to be in new friendships.

We have not learned this well together in our marriage, our closest friends are still the ones we had before marriage, and we have struggled to make new friends together. Part of that is, again, the two moves, but I think it’s common in marriage and has only been exacerbated by the moves. I simply keep reminding myself that right now I am learning deep friendship with my husband—an opportunity we didn’t have before marriage. But someday, we will have to learn to make friends together with other couples, and unless God blesses us with perfect chemistry with all parties, it will involve sacrifice on someone’s part.

. . .

I thought it would be good to share a personal story of how someone is wrestling through this in the present. Below is a story from a friend of mine, Liana Hull, who got married a year ago. She is in her early twenties and I got the chance to sit across from her and hear more of her heart and story last month.

When my husband and I started dating, a friend of mine became bitter and jealous, ruining much of dating and being engaged for us. I let that jealousy and bitterness steal my joy and the situation became a constant source of worry on my part. After a few months of marriage and recovering from an emotionally tumultuous engagement season, I came to realize that I needed to just let her go. And it broke my heart. Losing such a close friend because of jealousy that I could not appease really, really broke me. A deep sadness took over my heart and mind and I struggled. For a few months, every day was hard. Choosing to feel joy in this season of life has been really difficult. Becoming verbal about my happiness has been surprisingly difficult in marriage as well, because I don’t want to alienate further.

I would also add that having every relationship in my life change post-marriage (which is good and right), plus a deep insecurity that everything I do would cause someone to be jealous is lethal combination. It paralyzed me emotionally and I become very isolated. One of my pastors encouraged me to just pray “Lord, work in my life and work in [my friend’s]” every time I thought of her and it helped me get my mind/heart beyond my own fears and paranoias about relationships in my life. Simple, genuine, regular prayers (I probably prayed that 15+ times in a day for a month or two) really changed the way I thought about our friendship, and all relationships in my life.

. . .

The challenge for the newly married of making new friends and keeping the old ones is a real one. Don’t feel guilty for being unable to maintain all your old friendships or for struggling in making new friendships together. The other day I was close to tears with Nate saying how much I miss our friends and how I’m afraid we’ll never be settled enough to have close community like that again, and he comforted me with the truth that we are being faithful and having open hands, and it can look different than it looked before and not be any less good. God actually doesn’t promise any of us friendship in this world, but He does promise to put the lonely in families.

My prayer for us newly married sisters, is that instead of growing hard to the possibility, we would be made soft in the probability, that we would have hope like an anchor in the reality that Christ calls us His friends, even if no one else does.

Someone said blogging is dead, but what I hope they meant is the rat race of push button publishing and flurry response to response to response to response blogging is dead. No one can survive on that sort of writing, nor thrive, not the writer or the reader. I hope that kind of blogging is dead. But back in the early hours of the 2000s, when blogging still felt like a secret from the rest of the world, it felt so alive and made me feel so alive and I’ve been hoping to find that spark again.

I emptied out my subscription/feed reader and started fresh, slashed my Instagram follows by more than half, stepped back from Facebook and Twitter (Forever? For a time? Who knows?), and in an orchestrated attempt to listen to the sounds I love most, I cloistered myself with the living bloggers. And by living bloggers, I mean the ones who are still writing about real life, waking to the perpetual morning, who could write a whole chapter about the way to slice an onion or the leaf they found while walking.

I used to think a writer was just one who writes, but I have become less generous, I think, and believe now that a writer is one who withholds words from the public until they have gotten them right in the private. Having something to say doesn’t mean it ought to be said, but saying it, like the poet said, makes it real. The sad predicament of all the saying happening is things which oughtn’t have become real have become so and we have ushered ourselves right into a tragedy, just by the words we write and say and publish. We may disagree and I find I am okay with that too. Opinions are in plenty but listening is rare.

I met a woman a few months ago who wanted to be a real writer, to publish on the sites that circulate among the brand of evangelicals within which we both find ourselves. Those in the know would tell her to write for more, grow her platform, but I told her to be faithful with her small space, her blog. It has become a dirty word in many ways, coupled with churlish comments about “mommy” or “niche,” while I think the problem is that blog became a word at all. I prefer to think of it as an invitation, read or don’t. Your choice. But I want out of blasted pressure to perform tricks and jump through SEO shaped hoops. I told her in ten years those sites she wanted to write for would be forgotten, but the exercise of daily writing on her blog would yield fruit ten-thousand times—not just the book writing sort either, but the working out of her salvation sort. Be faithful, friend. I called her friend, even though I didn’t know her because I knew the churning in her soul as near as I knew my own.

When I looked at the “blogs” I felt I had to be reading, I found a common thing among them: they were all instructive in some ways. Instructing me how to think, how to pray, how to be a church member, how not to be, how to think about the election, how not to think, how to be a friend, how not to be a friend, how to train kids, how to think about everything in the whole world that can ever be thought of. I was suffocating in the hows of life and forgetting to simply love, enjoy, and cherish the life right in front of me. Not to hedonistically drown myself in the throes of whatever today brought, but to stop and think, not of what everyone else thought I should be doing or thinking or saying, but what did God want to teach me in this single, solitary life?

This whole year feels like a waste when I cut and paste it next to the How Tos of most articles and blogs I was reading. I was a failure from start to finish. I did not think right, treat right, walk right, hear right, or see right. I measured my success by how much shame I felt when I went to bed at night and this is no way to live, and yet this was the way I saw many of my sisters living. Surrounding themselves with Pinterest and Blogs and Articles and Books and People and Photos and Friends and Ideas, but never stopping to think: within my home, within my family, is this helpful? Does this work?

Last winter a friend of mine told me if I ever wasn’t sure what my calling was, or if I lost sight what I was supposed to be doing as a wife (since this has been the besetting struggle of my year: how do I do this?), to stop, look at my home, my husband, and say: what does it mean to look well to the ways of my household right now? And then to do that. It might mean caring for my husband actually means believing him when he says he loves me or says I’m beautiful. Or it could mean reading the Word rather than doing the laundry. Or it could mean making him healthy dinners every night and packing his lunch every day. Or it could mean weeping when I am hurt and laughing when I am happy. This concept has recalibrated me every day this year, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways.

All of this I suppose is just a way to say to you that if what’s in your eyesight when you look up is what everyone else is doing or thinks you ought to be doing, clear the way, friend. Clear the paths around you, unmuddle the simplicity of the gospel. It is Christ who cares for you and cares for your provision, far more than you can ever care for it. So let the dead things drop, find out what they are and let them drop. Maybe Sayable is one of those dead things for you. Go ahead, unsubscribe. I won’t be offended, I promise.

I’m slowly, slowly coming back to a way of writing that I used to love. Sharing links to beautiful writing. Sharing books I love. Writing quietly in the still dark morning hours. Caring for the needs of my household means writing and reading what stirs my soul and mind, not draining it. Maybe blogging is dead. Or maybe it’s just the frenzied way it’s done that’s dying.
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Here are some places I’ve subscribed to recently:

Food Loves Writing: Just some everyday things, words, photos, recipes.
Thistle and Toad: Beautiful writing on really hard things in life and culture. 
The Beautiful Due: Poetry and Letters to Winn. 
The Rabbit Room: A smattering of music, poetry, fiction, and non. 
Cloistered Away: Homeschooling mama with simple suggestions for life. 
Deeply Rooted:  Words on faith, life, and family.