G.K. Chesterton said, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children,” but we don’t much like that do we?

It’s been a weekend where I’ve been laying low for multiple reasons, the principle of which is I miscarried again and the secondary of which is I slipped on black ice and have a swollen scraped knee to prove it. I was meant to be at my brother from another mother’s wedding this weekend in New York, but canceled my flight at the last moment because the church family here had a week for the books. It’s really been seven months for the books—my books at least—but this was the culmination of it, and when your job is to shepherd, you don’t abdicate when the storms howl around the flock.

Nate still can’t find full-time work.

I came home from the member meeting at church yesterday and fell into bed and cried the sort of tears we reserve for death of a loved one or agony of the deepest kind. The sort where you hyperventilate and your husband can’t fix anything so he just lies beside you and rubs small circles into your back. I mostly cried but said words too, words I probably didn’t mean and some words I probably did.

Half our friends say the first year of marriage is the hardest, but we think marriage is a breeze, it’s all the other things that are the hardest.

He read the Chesterton quote aloud to me a few weeks ago and we’ve come around and around to it, in these horrible ordinary days. Both of us have believed the lie that if you work hard things will go well for you, if you honor those around you, you will be honored, if you pursue your passions, you will do your passions. We are unafraid of hard work, honoring those ahead of us, and the pursuit of passions. But what we have found is vanity of vanities, it’s all vanities. These things themselves are not useless pastimes, but they certainly aren’t the guarantee of extraordinary lives. My pastor in Texas said once, “You can’t put God in your debt,” and also we can’t put life in our debt either.

Circumstances are not what we planned, nothing about this year has been what we hoped for or thought we’d gain. Here we have been small and faithful people with secreted hopes for greatness. But that is not the Kingdom is it? The backwards upside down kingdom.

Tonight we lit candles and ate pizza from a box, and joked about how this might be our last meal and when we should put the house on the market. I have emailed a realtor on the east coast and Nate has put in months of 60 hour weeks applying and interviewing. There is nothing glamorous in these ordinary days. They are beautiful because they are life, but they are painful, disastrous even, and not at all what we thought they would be.

Earlier this year in the three month whirlwind, where everything good was happening and as quickly as it possibly could, I remember saying to the Lord, “It is so good to feel your love so tangibly these days, but I hope I remember it when everything good isn’t happening.” I think a lot about Job these days. I have walked through many painful months and years before, but never saw myself as kin to him, but now I do. The difference is I trust God in these pains, and though he slay me, still I will trust him. And it makes all the difference.

For the ordinary people in the painful ordinary days, trusting Him—and not our plan—is the extraordinary difference.

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I have yet another single friend who is convinced if only this one little thing changes about the guy she’s dating, they’d be perfect together. If he just didn’t nag her so much. If she didn’t just shut down emotionally. If they didn’t argue so much. If his family wasn’t so crazy. If she felt like herself around him.

All those “ifs” and so many of my friends persist in the same pursuit. They have “chemistry” or “spark” with this person. They feel on fire around them. They just “know” them better than anyone else has. But settling for the sort of person who, in dating incites you to anger, brings out your passivity, makes you shut down, doesn’t encourage you, and more, is foolishness, friends. Don’t so long for the gift of marriage, or even marriage with a particular person, that you lay all that marriage is intended to be on the bench and pursue the lust of being not-alone.

We have swallowed the idea that marriage is hard because that’s the narrative of the Church, “Marriage is hard. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It shows you your sin. You’ll never know your selfishness until you’re married.” But I don’t think that’s the picture God intends to illustrate the love between Christ and the Church—and I don’t think that’s the narrative we should believe or espouse. There is difficulty in life, yes, challenges, sin, brokenness, but those things exist in marriage and out. As long as you are unmarried, don’t settle for the belief that being married is another thing on the long list of hard things in life.

Don’t believe the lie that marriage is supposed to be hard and you have to choose your battles and just settle for the first girl who makes you feel alive or the first guy who tells you you’re meant to be. If you didn’t think it was “supposed to be like this” than maybe “this” isn’t it. I beg you, singles, with the words of the man who married us, “It isn’t done until you say ‘I do.'”

Here is what the bible actually says about husbands and wives:

The heart of her husband safely trusts in her (Prov. 31:11). Brother, do you trust this girl? Trust her with your weakness? Your basest fears? Sister, are you trustworthy? Do you gain his trust by being one who cares for him?

The husband washes her with the water of the word (Eph. 5:26). Brother, do you respond with words fortified with the word or words fortified by the world? Do you point her to the gospel and the hope in God, or tear her down by comparing her to the world?

A wife is not contentious or angry (Prov. 21:19). Sister, do you incite him to anger? Do you nag him and criticize him? Is your natural inclination to defend yourself by tearing him down? To make yourself look better by shaming him?

A husband is not bitter toward her (Col. 3:19). Brother, do you take all those reasons for bitterness to the cross and leave them there? Do you carry your angsts and allegations against her?

A husband cares for his wife’s body as he cares for his own (5:28). Brothers, do you care for her actual body, the flesh and blood body, the heart that beats inside of her, her emotions, her mind, her stress. Or do you only care about how hot she is?

A husband honors his wife (I Peter 3:7). Brother, do you speak well of her in front of others? Are you proud to stand beside her and be hers?

A husband lives joyfully with his wife (Eccl. 9:9). Brother, does being beside this woman bring joy to you? Deep, lasting, comfort and joy? Do you go home and night and beam with joy at the thought of someday being with her forever?

A wife is a companion (Mal. 2:16). Sister, are you a friend? Not a floor-mat and not a fierce competitor, but a friend? A peer? An equal?

A wife brings her husband gain (Prov. 31). Sister, is one of your goals to see him gain, to see him grow, and to see him succeed? Or do you tear him down with your words and actions?

A wife is respectful and pure in her conduct (I Peter 3). Sister, do you respect this man in purity? Do you care more about the way he treats your heart than the way he treats your body? Do you present your body as a peace offering instead of offering your heart?

A husband finding a wife, finds a good thing (Prov. 18:22). Brother, is this a good thing? Ask yourself that hard question before you move any further in this relationship. Does everyone around you, those who know you best: do they agree this match is a good one?

If you can’t see yourself in that list above in the relationship you’re in right now, get out. Seriously. You don’t have to marry him or her. They might be really great people, but they might be really great people for someone else and that’s okay.

I wish someone had told me this in every single dating (and engagement) I had. Or I wish I had listened. Marriage to Nate is the best thing I’ve ever experienced. It is a blessing every single day, without exception. I know there are those who would say our time is coming, but if you knew a half of the hell we’ve walked through in the past six months you’d probably close your mouth. Sin has been crouching at our door since day one and God has put his Holy Spirit inside of us and the gospel in us, and by His grace, we rule over it.

Pray over that list above if you’re in a relationship heading toward marriage. Taking off that ring, making that phone call, asking for the ring back, having that last conversation could be one of the best things you ever do for your future marriage.

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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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III
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Yesterday was my birthday and in a meeting a little after 11am we heard a rapid succession of gunshots outside our office windows. By the time we looked the shooter was reloading and beginning on his second round of gunfire toward a single officer.

We ducked and looked again. The idiom, “Like a train wreck, you can’t look away,” comes to mind. I asked myself later a thousand times—every time the image replays in my head: “Why didn’t you look away, Lore? Why didn’t you close your eyes?” Right now I fear that image will be in my head forever, but I have lived through trauma and I know it all fades eventually.

I ask Nate why this morning, “Why does he think God has let us be so near to the stink of death and the snuffing of life recently? What is He teaching us? For what does this prepare us?” This all just seems senseless and this morning I message a friend back east: “Sometimes I just want to come home to small town living, to cloister myself away in an old farmhouse, to let this season be about the growing light instead of the looming dark.”

Sin is so dark.

I think, in this second week of Advent, of the Christ-child grown. Grown for one purpose: to look on sin and take it for us all. I think of him in the garden: Father, take this cup from me? Begging to not have to look on sin, to not face the grave so we wouldn’t have to.

But He didn’t look away. And through the grave he brought victory.

. . .

Live a quiet life.
I Thessalonians 4:11

He must increase, I must decrease.
John 3:30

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:23

They loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12:11

To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21

The way up is the way down, I know this and yet the sliver of light above is so tempting to fixate upon. The promise of a little life here on earth seems to be more lasting than eternal life with the Father above.

I checked every door twice last night and rushed into my car in the garage this morning, suspicious of every car parked along our street. I looked both ways twice before getting out of my car at work today and had to take a deep breath before leaving. Fear has never been my nemesis. At least not fear of wicked men and hearts. I fear my own heart more than I fear others. But these weeks have made me fearful. I think again, “I shouldn’t have looked. Why did I look?”

This passage from Ephesians plays through my mind this afternoon, full of the knowledge of the someday coming. All the things we see and think we see and shouldn’t have seen and cannot forget we’ve seen: from these we will someday arise and stand, in the full light of Christ and he will look and shine on us.

For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:14

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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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In the middle of the coverage from San Bernardino yesterday I got a text from my husband:

“SWAT just showed up two doors down!”

A few minutes later: “Shots fired!”

Expected during that moment if we lived in San Bernardino perhaps, but we live in Denver. In a nice little up and coming neighborhood in the northwest part of the city. If you mention our neighborhood to those who’ve been here all their life, they recall stories of being warned to stay away from The Highland because of its high crime rates. In the past five years, though, crime is at an all-time low, housing prices keep rising, and it’s becoming one of the coveted neighborhoods in Denver.

Police surrounded our block yesterday until late into the night. At the end of it all, there was a dead fugitive and a wounded SWAT officer. When we knew it was safe, hours into the ordeal, my husband brought a mug of coffee and a bottled drink out to the policeman standing in the middle of the street outside our house. He’d been brandishing a rifle while diverting traffic and answering questions for hours. We should have offered him a bathroom break too, but I doubt he would have taken it.

. . .

The first real conversation I ever had with my husband was about pacificsm, a few days later he shared his testimony (a story wrought with theological fervor and marital failure) with a group of our friends, and the next day he and I got coffee and talked more about the pacifist way. He wasn’t my first friend who had walked through these questions, but he was the first person I’d met in Texas who had. It wasn’t love at first sight for either of us, but it was curiosity for sure. You know the rest of the story.

Scattered throughout our home, in pieces so varied and complex I don’t know what we’d do if it ever came to it, are the components to a firearm. I spend most of my time trying to forget it’s in our home and when I remember I remind myself 1. It would take thirty minutes to gather all the pieces. 2. I don’t know how to put them together. 3. I don’t know the first thing about shooting a gun. And 4. I can’t imagine ever pointing a gun at someone.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the gun is present, in our home.

. . .

A few weeks ago my car was vandalized. I thought it was the work of hoodlums in the neighborhood south of us, and maybe it was, but the more we thought about it and asked others about it, it became clear: vandalizing was not their sole purpose, car thievery was. The only conclusion we’ve come to is they saw it was a stick shift or they got caught in the middle. Either way, we’re grateful to still have a car. Locked safely now (or so we think) in our garage.

Does all this matter? And how?

. . .

This morning Nate and I talked about a trip he’s taking in a few weeks and how, in all my life, I’ve never been afraid to be alone before. But here, in these days, in this place, I fear. The other day a salesman knocked on our door and I had to self-talk the entire time that he wasn’t going to push open the cracked door, rape me, and pillage our home. Fear is present, where it never has been before.

Things weren’t like this 25 years ago, I told Nate this morning. He told me studies were done once on soldiers from WWII: something around 50% of soldiers purposely didn’t aim guns at their enemies because the taking of a human life was not something they could do.

. . .

I stayed up late praying last night. I wanted to pray for the soul of the man who was killed but my beliefs tell me it’s too late for that, and a repentant man doesn’t do the atrocities he did. I pray for the SWAT officer instead, not the one who was wounded, but the one who killed the fugitive. What a heavy weight to bear it must be to have taken the life of a man—however worthless you can convince yourself that life was.

. . .

The ink is barely dry on the page of the Colorado Springs shooting a few days ago, the media is alight with San Bernardino, and in a playground in New Orleans a young man shot at 17 individuals last week. The world is too much with us, the poet said, and I think he was speaking of evil, evil, everywhere.

The refrain from O, Holy Night repeats in my head again:

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

For most these days, the law feels ignored and his gospel divides. There is not one of us who can say we feel safe but for the grace of God. And even with the grace of God, hundreds of thousands find themselves fleeing persecution and no one is safe from the bullet of a madman bent on destruction.

Where is the love and peace we were promised?

. . .

I have no end to this piece, no pretty packaged completion.Tomorrow or next week more news of another shooting will rise and we will fight for gun reform or offer our thoughts and prayers, but none of it is enough. None of it is.

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

The law of this land will never bring it and peace rallies will never exhibit it. Soldiers will still miss shots on purpose. Good men will sacrifice their lives in the face of certain danger—but even a hero’s death still stings. Nothing in this world will bring the peace we need. Nothing in this world.

His law is love.

And His gospel is peace.

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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’s a good thing I got my latte only half caff. I’m not sure whether I need to wake up or take a really long nap. The woman at the table beside me is complaining to her coworker about how their manager hasn’t responded to her email. Correction: emails. Six of them as of yet unanswered. Thank God she’s talking about her boss at a vitamin supplement company for whom she works; she could be talking about me.

I’m supposed to be answering emails right now, instead I’m typing this. Actually, I’m supposed to be meeting with someone right now, but they’re late, so instead I’m taking these precious fifteen minutes to answer emails. The queue is long and full—and not with your run of the mill one line response-needed kind either. It’s a bastion of issues, concerns, real life struggles, fears, and a host of other things weighing heavy on hearts.

One of the things technology has done for humanity is press us closer to one another in a smaller world—Facebook makes me feel so close to you, right next to you even. Twitter makes me think I have the whole story. Email makes longform conversation seemingly simple. Texting demands instant responses. Voicemail. Voxer. Voice-texting. Facebook messaging. Chatting. We have more communication tools at our disposal than ever before—and nobody leaves unscathed. For the one whose initiation goes unanswered—or delayed—they’re crushed by their expectations. For the one whose pile of communication keeps building—they’re crushed by the expectations of others.

The answer isn’t to stop communicating, but the bible does have some things to say to the communicator that might be helpful for us:

There is no god, but God:

No matter how much we want a pastor, minister, or friend to solve our problems or the problems we see in others, they cannot. When we jot off a digital initiation to someone whose vocation is people, we tempt them to play God for us—and we are tempted to believe they can and should. Paul says, “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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Don’t believe the lie that technology makes someone always available to you. Press into their absence and work out your salvation.

It is the glory of God to conceal things:

There is actually much glory in keeping things quiet and bringing them only to God. The bible speaks so much of what happens in the heart, but we seem to be much more concerned with what happens with our hands and heads. The beauty of journaling is one more of us ought to take up. Within those pages we can pour out our hearts to God so much so that pouring them out to man seems less of a holy thing. Don’t make digital correspondence your mechanism for holy war. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to seek them out.

Secret the concerns of your heart, bring them first and mainly to God instead of an email message. Seek God’s glory, not a foolish king’s crown.

Take responsibility instead of passing it on to someone else even if it’s their job:

So often we dash off an email to someone because it’s their job to handle the matter. But—especially for those in ministerial positions—we cannot handle the whole matter. People are a constant waterfall of goodness and difficulty. The beautiful thing here though is that people are God’s gift to His people. Pastors are a gift, shepherds are a gift, but they are not the only gifts. You, reader, are a gift to the Church! Ephesians 4:11 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” If we are tempted to pass off the work of the ministry to a pastor, teacher, or shepherd, let’s remember it’s we who are being equipped by them so we can do the work of the ministry.

Don’t jot off an easy message to someone saying, “We need this ministry!” or “Reach out to this person!” or “This person needs to be discipled.” Saint, do the work of the ministry.

. . .

When people bang up against the humanity of people they think are superhuman, it is actually a gift to everyone. We will fail and we will be failed. We will feel everything is either too much or not enough. Our instinct is to use quick tools to solve problems, but friends, our digital messages pile up under the weight of a thousand more pressing issues. We set ourselves up for disappointment.

How much better to start with the God of the universe, the caretaker of your soul, your heart, your circumstances, and your life. Today you will be tempted to dash off an email, a text, a message, or a tweet that will beg for response. Fight the inclination and find your shelter in the shadow of the Most High. He cares for you.

Here’s an exercise: let’s keep an account of the words coming out of our mouths and filling up our hearts today. How many of them are informed by the word of God and how many of them are informed by Christian culture and how many of them are informed by the world’s culture?

Here’s an example: “Marriage is the most sanctifying agent in a person’s life.”

Word of God?
Christian Culture?
World’s Culture?

I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the first.

More and more I hear married people touting that line, and more and more I wish people would add a two small words to it: “…for me.”

What is communicated by saying marriage is the most sanctifying agent in life is that anyone who isn’t married can’t be as sanctified as a married person. Marriage is not always God’s best sanctifying agent. All of life is sanctification, and He may use one agent in one person’s life and another in another person’s life. At the ripe old age of 34, singleness has been the most sanctifying agent in my life. Perhaps at the age of 70 I will be able to say marriage has trumped it for me, but I think it will not have been marriage but life itself that did it.

God’s children are sanctified through whatever means God ordains to work in them His pleasure, His discipline, and His glory. Marriage, for the one who married young, may be the agent doing it for one. Singleness, divorce, widowhood, parenthood, or handicap might be the agent doing it for someone else.

Marriage is full of distractions. Singleness is full of longing and loneliness. And both are full of the other. We will be sanctified in each season to its fullness just as God designed.

Singles, stop believing true sanctification is around the corner, holding out on you, taunting you with the illusion you’re incomplete as a Christian unless married. You are incomplete—sanctification is progressive and no one has arrived. Embrace today’s sanctification.

Married people, stop saying marriage is more sanctifying than long and difficult seasons full of other gifts from God. We rob from others the beauty of this: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

If you’re God’s child a work was begun in you before the foundation of the earth and will be completed in God’s best way for you in preparation for eternity with Jesus Christ. Marriage—union with Christ—is the signifier of the completion of our sanctification!

Single and married friends, today is God’s best sanctifying agent in your life.

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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