The Crushing Illusion of Control

I've never known my own weakness like I have this year, never felt more overwhelmed with my frailty. It's nothing someone has to fix or mend or preach to me about—I know the answer is to see the cross in its fullness and my place before it, but it doesn't change the feeling. Theologically I have a spot for the place of weakness and need in regard to the gospel, but (I suspect like most of us) the actual feeling of weakness and need isn't quite as beautiful as good theology makes it seem. It's an ugly spot. There's not much attractive about limping, saying "I can't," or not having any control over how the spiritual/emotional/psychological affects the physical. It's a place where arrogance can grow—a refusal to hear counsel, an intentional ignorance toward truth, and a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps exit from whatever disappoints. It's also a place where humility can grow. I'm not sure which direction is harder, but I know neither of them feel good in the moment. 

During an errand run last week I felt the now familiar panic rising from somewhere in my chest. It stems from a specific event I witnessed nearly a year and a half ago, but it was exacerbated by thirty other events happening in my life around the same time. It is an overwhelming feeling of a lack of control. Nothing I could do in that season of life could change the circumstances of our lives: I couldn't get pregnant and stay pregnant, I couldn't give my husband a job, I couldn't fix what was broken in my work-place and church, I couldn't sell our house, I couldn't make enough money to support us on my own, I couldn't fix my husband's fears, I couldn't stop the gun violence around our house, I couldn't stop the cop from being shot, I couldn't stop someone from breaking into my car—I couldn't do anything. I felt absolutely powerless to change any circumstance in my life. And it crushed me. 

We love to quote II Corinthians 4:8 & 9, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed," but we rarely begin with verse 7:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

The surpassing power belongs to God and not to us—and the moment we get that wrong (and we will, friends), we panic, we fear, we are anxious, we search for some sort of fix to give us back the illusion of control: exercise, diets, essential oils, medication, massages. None of those things is wrong in and of themselves, but they can all numb the thing we need most: to remember God is the one with surpassing power and not us. And more than numbing us, they can crush us. 

This past year I could not numb the fear. I could not fix the panic. I could not stuff down the tears or fears or emotions or dreams. I could not fix myself. The only thing I could do was go to the cross again and again and again and again and again and again. Take my crushed jar of clay, once full of life and vitality and knowledge and success, and say, "I cannot fix this and I cannot even make you fix it when it bring it to you. I can only trust that someday you will." 

Maybe that's you today, friend. I don't know. Maybe it's not. Maybe you're on top of your game, drinking your supplements and rubbing whichever oil you fancy on your feet. Maybe your bank account is comfortable and your job is certain. Maybe you can get pregnant if your husband merely looks at you. Maybe your church is nearly perfect. But maybe none of that is true for you and you're not sure where next month's rent is coming from and your knee injury is keeping you from exercising and you've stopped buying pregnancy tests because it's just a waste of money now and maybe your church is really hurting right now, limping along. Maybe you have panic attacks on the way to the dry-cleaners too. Maybe God is healing you, but it's taking longer than you wanted. 

I don't have wild words of wisdom for you today, but I read this from Scott Sauls and Russ Ramsey this morning and saw myself in it. I need to know it's okay to limp and I need to know the leaders I respect and follow limp too. It reminds me I'm an alien, but there are other aliens here too—and there's a God who is on his throne and one cross for us all and the ground before it is level and only for those who limp.

Friendship is Messy Beautiful

The other night we had some friends over and the topic of conversation turned to how well our current theological culture seems to major on theology, polity, and male/female relationships, but what a terrible job we do at understanding Biblical friendship. We might have a few good friendships, but talking about them, navigating them, being truly God-honoring (instead of self-honoring) in them, seems to be not of great concern. We major more on what not to do and how not to be a friend to certain people, different genders, other season of lifers, than we do on what to do. 

Last summer Christine Hoover, author of The Church Planting Wife and From Good to Grace, sent me her upcoming manuscript, Messy, Beautiful Friendship, and I loved it. It's a book I want women everywhere to read. To know a woman is to know someone who struggles in friendship (it may be the same for men, but I know it is true for women). How much is too much? How little? Am I enough? Is she enough? Is God enough? Did I say too much? Too little? Who is trustworthy? Who can I confide in? Who can I be vulnerable with? Who can I cry alongside? Those are tough questions and Christine does a beautiful job of unpacking them in a way driven by the truths of the gospel, while being vulnerable about her own struggles, sins, and story. 

Messy, Beautiful Friendship releases into the world today and if this is an area in which you struggle, I hope you will consider reading it. I was deeply encouraged by it and I pray you will be too. 

Below is a post Christine wrote for Sayable to give you a taste of what's in her new book. Enjoy!

Seeds of Encouragement, by Christine Hoover  

My brother-in-law Travis, a farmer, daily dips his hands in the fertile south Texas soil that is his family’s very provision. In the current season, the realized hope of summer harvest has past, the remnants of harvested crops have been destroyed, and now the soil he sifts in his hands has once again taken center stage. Alongside his farmer-father and his farmer-uncles, he has already turned, tilled, leveled, and molded the soil into neat rows and borders, preparing ready receptacles for seeds. These spring days are for fertilizing--acres and acres must be covered, and then acres and acres must be implanted with various species of seeds: sorghum, sugar cane, cotton, sesame, or cabbage.

Their work--the daily wrestling with the soil--is circadian and perennial yet has only ever just begun. After planting, they will scrupulously monitor the soil, coaxing it with aeration, searching it for even the smallest of weeds, scrutinizing it for signs of pests or worms. And then they will wait, giving time and space for the sun and the rain and the mysterious and miraculous work of seeds becoming sprouts becoming stalks.

This is hard work, and the hardest part is the waiting.

A farmer, perhaps more than most, knows something about faith. He knows he must work with the unseen end in mind. He knows he must value steady work more than fruitfulness. He knows how diligently he must watch over his growing crop, quick to rid the stalks of pests and weeds. But most of all, he knows of his need for others and their need for him, because the work is long and often uncertain.

As Travis speaks about farming, it strikes me how often he mentions his surrounding farming community. He speaks of relying on his dad and uncles, who have more experience; he speaks of relying on common farming knowledge that’s been passed down through generations; and he speaks of relying on the larger farming community: “When you don’t know what to do, if you ask around, someone is going to help you out.”

When he was first learning how to combat weeds, he says, he went row-by-row and hacked them off at the stem. His dad came behind him and pointed out his mistake: “That weed will be just as tall in a week if you don’t chop it out at the root.” A lesson regarding sin, certainly, but even more a lesson of how invaluable the help and exhortation is traded between those working by faith.  

As I consider the faithful life in comparison to the farming life, a little jolt of recognition goes through me: “Let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). The faith-filled life, like the farming life, is fueled by community. Paul tells us what specifically this fuel looks like: “Let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).

I imagine in his first planting season, Travis felt uncertain and inadequate. I imagine he felt this way because it’s so often how I feel as I sow the seeds of my own ministry to my children, to my husband, in my writing and teaching, and in the church we planted. No matter how much experience I have standing at the plow, I’m still prone to uncertainty, discouragement, and weariness. There is nothing that helps me more than a friend coming behind me and giving me eyes to see and remember the crops God has given in the past, or a friend pointing ahead with assurance of the crops to come.

Many times, however, my uncertainty and weariness gives way to self-pity. I look around for friends, and they are not always there. Some of that is because I avoid “asking around” at all costs. I might rather drown in self-sufficiency than admit I need help at the plow or that I don’t know what to do about the weeds choking me. It’s important, I’ve discovered, to go to others with my weariness and ask for them to pray for my drooping hands and weak knees.

But Paul doesn’t say, “Look around for who is encouraging you.” His is an imperative: Let us be the ones to act. His command is a purposeful pursuit of others, an intentional plotting: “Let us consider.” In other words, he is much more concerned with whom we are encouraging than with where our own encouragement is coming from.

One thing I know: we’re all prone to second-guessing ourselves and exhaustion and thoughts of giving up. We’re all wondering if the work we do in the name of the Lord is having an impact and bringing him glory. Everyone is thirsty for encouragement. Other women around us are among those wondering and waffling and even despairing. They are feeling unsure of their calling, their giftedness, and their work. They may be growing weary at the plow. Let us consider how we might come beside them with encouragement:

  • If a seed has been sown in you by another woman, and if it’s grown up and borne something in you, tell her about it.
  • If someone willingly entered your mess and helped you till hard ground, tell her what it meant to you.
  • If you see the fruits of love or joy or peace or patience flourishing in another woman, point them out to her.
  • If you see another woman standing at the plow, doing hard labor for the Lord, exhort her to continue on and tell her why it matters.
  • If someone has taught you how to plant and to harvest the Word for yourself, express thankfulness to her.

Friendship is built upon encouragement and exhortation, because encouragement directed toward others is a fruit-bearing seed that, once sown, grows up and offers us delightful sustenance in return. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:25). Although encouraging other women is not a guarantee of friendship, it is an invitation for friendship and a certain assurance of joy. When we encourage others, we water and are watered in the process.

Living Faithfully Instead of Fancifully in an HGTV World

Someone asked, "Why do you mostly post photos of your house on Instagram?" I'm sure they meant it as a slight, a subtle jab that there's nothing more important to me than the corners of my home. As opposed to, say, selfies in cars and in elevators and chumming with celebrities and new shoes and what we ate for breakfast and whatever hot, exotic place we happen to be now. I'm not opposed to any of those things—the pursuit of joy is good but can come dangerously close to hedonism and not the Christian kind. But that's not why I post photos of my home. 

It's easy to get suckered into HGTV and Pinterest and DIY blogs these days and the temptation is everywhere. And there's something appealing about it all, working hard, changing something from old to new, or old to refinished. I think we humans were made to remake and it's all we've been doing since nearly the beginning of time. I believe in being makers, but it's a perilous close line between being a maker and being a copier, or worse, only ever a daydreamer. I'm not against dreaming, but at some point we have to put our hand to the plow, regardless of how little we have to work with or how little experience we've garnered for ourselves, and we have to make with what we have. 

We don't have to be materialists, or its just as sneaky sister, minimalists. We don't have to have the perfect subway tile or shiplap or whatever design feature is today's thing. We don't need to redecorate with the seasons and fashions. But if we're Christians, we are intended for good work (Eph. 2:10), we are intended for faithfulness (Gal. 5:22), for quiet lives (I Tim. 2:2) and working with our hands (I Thes. 4:11), and we are intended to flourish as we tend and work and keep what God has planted us in (Gen. 2:15). 

Nate counted on his fingers last night. We have lived in five houses since we got married less than two years ago, a grand average of five months in each. Before that, for all my adult years of singleness, I lived in 22 different homes. Some as long as two years, some as short as eight weeks. But I've tried, with all my human skill, to be a homemaker right where God had me with what he gave me in that time. Sometimes it's been plenty. Sometimes it's been lack. Our call is to faithfulness, not fanciness. I have loved all my homes in their own way and that's part of what Instagram is for me, a tool to love what's in front of me and to hopefully teach others to love what's in front of them too. To see the corners. To watch the way the light hits a wall or a floor or a plant. To revel in the beauty of an earthly home knowing it will never completely satisfy because there's a heavenly one ahead, but that it will still satisfy the call on my life to be faithful with little. 

I don't know what that place is for you. Maybe it's not your home, maybe it's your workplace, maybe your co-workers, maybe your children, or maybe their childish mess, maybe your garden, maybe your closet, maybe, even, your breakfast. I say go ahead and delight in it. Prepare the feast of your delight as if the King of glory was coming to share it with you. And then share it with others. They can read or watch or look or judge or not, it's up to them. Just be faithful with your today.

It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money. After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’ The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’ The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’ The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

Matthew 25:14-30 MSG

The Unoffendable Heart

One of the unforeseen blessings of spending a year in near isolation was the ability to grow more proficient at naval gazing than I've ever been before. It was glorious if you like that sort of thing. There were few people to discourage, dissuade, distract me, nothing to hold me back, and with those circumstances you'd think I'd excel in every area of my personality and proclivities. But you'd be wrong. 

This morning I pulled a load of laundry out of the dryer and turned on a sermon a few friends have recommended to me over the past few months. It wasn't a sermon I felt a particular need for (after all, I've spend a year being unoffended by everyone except myself), but when more than four people you trust say, "Listen to this sermon," you obey. And so I listened as I folded laundry. 

There is no great exegesis in this hour long talk, no wow moments of Scripture's depths, and at times it sounded more like a youth pastor exhorting a youth group than a treatise on offense and forgiveness, but, friends, it is good. 

In my year of aloneness and in the absence of people and opportunities and ministry, ministry, ministry, God unearthed some things in me I'm still reckoning with. Bitterness I never knew I carried, fears uncovered, shame and offense, all of these ugly sins I'd smashed far enough down for long enough that they seemed nonexistent, but when it's just you and mirror for long enough, you can't help but see them. God has been faithfully tending to each of those areas, slower than I'd like, but with care and discipline. 

It is so easy to take up an offense about nearly anything. Feeling misunderstood, feeling a lack of empathy, missing out on something, being overlooked, not being considered as worthwhile or the best for an opportunity. Matt Nelson, in the Unoffendable Heart, says this, "The enemy is glad to serve up offendable situations all day long." I'm offended that she didn't text me back, or that he didn't reach out when he said he would, or that she didn't try to understand my heart and barely understood my words, that he wasn't as attentive as I wish he'd been, or that she doesn't see past appearances. All day long there are missed connections, missed opportunities, times when stress gets the better of us, or we've felt far from the Lord and divided with others—and each of these moments is a sliver the enemy can slide into. 

After the sermon was over and I was putting laundry away, I began to think of all the ways my seeming offenses at others are ultimately rooted in feeling offended by God. Theologically I know God is perfect, without flaw, without menace, and always good in all He does. But literally? In my life? Sometimes he feels everything but. If he intended good, why didn't he stop this? If he understands me perfectly, then why can't he make this person live with me in an understanding way? If he is without menace, then why does he let all these fiery darts come at me a thousand times a day? 

I don't really know the answer to that, though I could venture a guess for my own life: because he longs for my heart to be humble, to truly mourn over my own sin as it affects others and grieves him, and to trust him more than I trust the opinions of others. 

Mark 12:14 says, "And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God..." I read this earlier in the week and I thought about it again today while listening to the sermon: most of my offenses are because I do care about everyone's opinions (particularly my own) and I am swayed by appearances, and I am more true to myself or my own preferences than I am to the word of God. To be easily offended, or offended at all, is to not be like Jesus.

And I want to be like Jesus. 

If you've found yourself keeping a record (no matter how small: annoyances, unforgiveness, grudges, withholding love or affection as payback), I'd recommend listening to this today. 

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God is not Ashamed of Our Search for Home

I have always known this world was not my home. None of us need nursery rhymes or hymns to tell us this. It is threaded through the the fabric of our covering since the first animal skins covered the first people: banishment.

We are uncomfortable, even, in our own skin, something more than ashamed and less than free. We've been trying to convince ourselves since then that we could stake our tent pegs somewhere, build a tower tall enough to reach heaven, land in a Promised Land. But that promised land has always been a place of feuding, the tower topples because we can't understand one another, and these tent pegs have grown worn and fragile in their transplanting. Can't you feel the pulse of this world is not my home? 

We are a week out from closing the door on this house and driving away with all our earthly belongings, again, in the back of a UHaul. I stand at the kitchen sink this morning, sipping coffee, eating peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread that isn't even toasted because the toaster is packed and the plates are about to be, and cannot relax my shoulders. I roll them. I tip my head from side to side. I lean back. I push forward. My body hurts. Every part of it hurts. I woke this morning thinking: I do not want pity from people, but I do want patience, if that isn't too much to ask. To say with the poet, "I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved..."

I know this world is not my home. I know it keenly in a way I think many others may think they know it, but they have never moved out of their home-state. Or they at least know where their home-state is. Someone asks where I'm from and I stumble over the words in an incoherent, rambling way. I do not have a home. I am not from or of anywhere and I suppose this is a good thing. I wish I had an identifiable accent or a sports team allegiance or hometown pride, but I have nothing except a dizzying whiplash and a jumble of addresses I try to make sense of. I carry a driver's license from one state, a bank account from another, soon a mortgage in another, a birthplace in another. This world is not my home. 

I stopped looking for home somewhere along the way. I thought it a possible dream, a plausible one. Now I begin to believe homes are for people who have numbed their otherworldliness with new kitchens and better cars and better bodies and bigger mortgages. I do not begrudge them this, though, not right now, when I want nothing more than stability and stillness and the same address for more than ten months. I have perhaps stopped looking for a forever home but I have not stopped wanting it. 

We have spiritualized the Israelite's journey to the Promised Land because we have the hindsight advantage of knowing it is a picture of the age to come. But for those weary travelers it was just a land, a plot, a place, a stillness and stability for a people who had been wandering a very long time. It was a home. 

It is good to think of the land which is to come, but it is also good, I think, to desire a land right here on earth. A place to put down roots, to stay, to commit to, to dig the tent peg in a little deeper. God wasn't ashamed to call the people who wanted that, searched for it, and found it, his own. God wasn't ashamed to call the people who just wanted home, his own. I cannot believe he is ashamed to call me his own either. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Three cross-country moves in less than two years is nothing compared to forty years of wandering with no address, no home, and sometimes the feeling of no hope, and I cannot compare it as such. But it has been my wandering, my desert, my days of manna, and nights of crying out. It has been the tool God has used to say "Desiring a better place, a heavenly one," is good, but so is desiring a place, a land, a plot to tend, care for, and cultivate. It was no mistake that this was the first mandate to man.

Many struggle to unstick their feet from a place, but my struggle has always been the opposite, to stay somewhere long. As we pack that UHaul, drive for twenty hours, and sign our names on a dotted line, take possession of the land God has given to us, an earthly plot, it is my prayer that God uses the discipline of staying somewhere, of calling it home, of committing to it and its people for the long haul, as a means of grace and goodness to me, my family, and to those we love. 

"It is likely that conventional Christianity has wanted always to talk about Yahweh and neglect land. And conversely, secular humanism wants always to talk only of land and never of Yahweh. And most of us live in both worlds and settle for an uneasy schizophrenia, schizophrenia because we don't know what else to do, uneasy because we know better." Water Bruggemann, The Land