Seven Ways: Ruling over Screens Crouching at our Door

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day.

. . . 

We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans.

I would say, of all the pillars we try to build our home upon, this is probably the most difficult and the one that needs constant realignment. Both my husband and I make our living by using screens and we are not immune to the allure of news, social media, and whatever new show Netflix wants us to binge upon (currently season four of Great British Bake Off). One of the reasons in my intro post on this I used the verse from Genesis about sin crouching at our door and the need for us to rule over it, is because I believe Cain tried to convince himself that his offering would be pleasing to God. It seemed like he treated it as a gray area, not a black and white one. That's just conjecture, there's no way I can know for sure, but I've always assumed that was the case. 

Technology can be like this. One side of its coin seems good: connectivity, ease, a medium for enjoyment. But the other side can be not so good: producing laziness or indulgence or jealousy, or a God-complex (the idea of being everywhere for all things). The idea is that it is not necessarily sin, but that it is crouching at my door waiting to become sin. I have to rule over that. 

Nate and I are constantly reevaluating, readjusting, recommitting, re-deleting, and rearranging our priorities around technology. It would be easy to see this as failure, but I actually think, in our current culture, that's a good way to approach this. We are both legalists in our hearts and our nature is to cut a thing off entirely (and in some ways we've done that, i.e. our commitment to not having a television), but we also know it's not sin to watch, for instance, The Great British Bake Off. 

I love how Andy Crouch subtitles his book (my running for best book of 2017), The Tech Wise Family: Everyday steps for putting Technology in its place. The creation mandate is to rule over creation, to take dominion over this garden and we cannot do that if we pretend weeds don't exist. Weeds do exist, and for us, the weeds are not necessarily the screen itself, but the time, content, and emotions the content produces in our hearts. We have to be attentive to being addicted, being anxious, being fearful, fear of missing out, fear of the current political climate, overlooking our community, or overlooking one another. These are the weeds produced in the garden of screen technologies.

So how do we combat these weeds? 

It's not easy. And we fail often. That's not me being modest about our failures. We fail often. We are always circling around this conversation in our home. But: 

We regularly fast from certain things. I use the Freedom App on my phone to block all social media except Instagram all week + Sunday, and on my laptop during work hours. The only day it's not blocked is on Saturdays, which is a work-with-our-hands day anyway.

We have canceled our Netflix subscription no fewer than seven times in two years. Sometimes we just need a break from its temptation.

We do not have a television. (This one seems to get the most response, especially from families who have movie nights or use the television to occupy their kids. I don't have kids so I can't speak to how difficult those seasons are. But I have been a kid and I know from experience that when my parents got rid of our television when we were all little it produced good fruit in me. I know it created more work for my mom, but I'm grateful she was faithful with our young minds—even at the expense of things she probably would have preferred doing.)

We do, however, have a projector and so have occasional movie nights or documentary viewings with friends. We're not against watching content, but we do both find that when we do see a commercial or advertisement, they have a jarring effect on us. As they should. So a projector to watch a movie is a good route for us.

We do not read news on our Sabbath. Our aim is to enjoy creation, each other, and to remind ourselves that God is sovereign over the whole world, our only Creator, our only Redeemer, our only source of true Joy (more on this when I write about our Sabbath).

We do not have our phones at the table at mealtimes. Our aim is to enjoy one another and our food, as the provisions from God they are.

We do not take our phones to bed. 

One of us usually leaves our phone at home during date night and the other uses it minimally (GPS or Yelp).

We have all notifications turned off on our phones. I have always had my phone on silent (except for Nate) and no notifications except text-messages coming through (though still on silent). But this week I finally turned even text-notifications off. There are no red bubbles on my iPhone. I find in myself a sick-slavery to them and that's not what I want to be beholden to. 

These are what the Wilbert family chooses to do. These are not Biblical prescriptives, these are permissives. Doing these things permits us to look up, engage one another, trust God, trust one another, enjoy creation, enjoy our home, enjoy one another, fight the temptation to indulge, fight the temptation to check out.

You have to figure out what things give you permission and space to do those things in your family. Perhaps you have young children and the only way you and your husband are going to enjoy one another is to set the kids in front of PBS for an hour. Perhaps you have a sick family member and turning off text-notifications isn't going to work in this season. Whatever our season of life is, we have to recognize sin is crouching at our doors in the form of screen-technology, how will we rule over it? 

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The Dark Grows Bright: Advent reading suggestions

Next week is Thanksgiving and then we're a month out from Christmas. The Christmas season and I have had a strained relationship for a long time. I love what we're celebrating, but I've struggled for years to enjoy the season. Decembers, for me, tend to be dark months. In my wrestle with depression over the years, it usually has spiked in December. I dislike clutter and busyness, and sometimes the whole season can feel busy and cluttered. When most families were gathering, it seemed for years like mine was splintering. Singleness felt prolonged, while all my friends were celebrating first, second, third, and tenth Christmases with their spouses and babies. 

After years of these persistent wrestles, I began to realize the way through, for me, was to slow the season down, to declutter it, to simplifying it, to use restraint instead of excess. Celebration doesn't have to be about excess or indulging. It can be simply about narrowing our focus in on One Thing: the Christ-child and his birth into a fractured world. Advent is very literally about the dawning of light. It is meant to be dark and yet getting lighter. When I began to understand, and practice Advent, instead of just Christmas, I felt my hope grow, the light grow brighter. 

Narrowing my focus over the past five or six years has been really helpful to me in this time of great angst. Staying home more, going to bed earlier, saying no more, simplifying gift-giving. And also about adding in some things that help me on the slow plod through December. 

Lighting Advent candles. Keeping our gift list to a minimum (Want, Need, Wear, Read), giving more attention to hand-written cards and less to fancy wrapping paper. A smaller, unimpressive tree and more quiet evenings beside it. More reading of advent books around the dinner table and fewer parties out. These are things I did not wait for marriage for, either, and things we're not waiting for children for. These rhythms begin now. If God gives us children, they might change some, but I'd venture not. Just as when God gave me marriage, they changed some, but not much. 

This week is the time to nail your Advent Reading down in time for the first Sunday of Advent. Here are the four I've used in the last four years, and a discount code for one for this year. 

I read Behold the Lamb of God, by Russ Ramsey, in 2013, and I think this will always be a favorite of mine. This is appropriate for reading aloud if you've got young children and nearly every entry is reaming with the light of Christ to come. Russ works through all of Scripture to the birth of Christ, showing Christ in all of Scripture. It's beautiful. 

I read The Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp, in 2014, and what I loved about this were the opportunities to reflect on each entry with the provided questions. This worked well for me as an unmarried person because I was doing it by myself. The questions are thought-provoking and, for the season in which I found myself, helpful in preparation for a lonely Christmas. 

For Nate's and my first Christmas, in 2015, we read The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, by John Piper. That December was one of the hardest I can remember, bookended by heart-break, sadness, and suffering. Reading this book about indestructible joy was so helpful. I remember many nights, sitting at the table, reading this aloud and struggling to believe that kind of joy would ever be possible. It was such a helpful book in a season of suffering. 

Last Christmas, 2016, we read Watch for the Light, essays from Dillard, Bonhoeffer, Donne, L'Engle, and more. I love collections of essays, but sometimes you've got to chew the meat and spit out the bones. I'd say that was the case with this one. This might be a good read if you have older children or no children. There is food for discussion, and last Christmas we had nothing if not plenty of time for discussion. I do remember we skipped over a few. But overall, I think it's helpful to read outside our camp.

We will select our Advent Reading this week and here are a few contenders: 

Come, Let us Adore Him, by Paul David Tripp

Celebrating Abundance, by Walter Bruggemann

Light Upon Light, by Sarah Arthur

She/He/Kids Read Truth also has an Advent Bible Reading Book here and if you order any of their Advent materials, I have a code for you to get 10% off! I got their She Reads Truth Advent book in the mail yesterday and, as usual, it's stunning in its production. I love how attentive they are to details, imaging the creator nature of God in all they do. 

Use the code LOREADVENT to get 10% off your order. 

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I hope whatever Advent traditions you have or begin this year will be rich, warm, simple, and full of the indestructible joy of life in Christ. Jesus is the reason for all this, not just this season, but every season, the good, bad, hard, easy, simple, excessive, empty, and full. And he is making all things new right now. 

Seven Ways We Fail and Get Back Up Again

The first time the word sin is mentioned in Scripture is not at the moment when sin entered the world, but the moment before the fracturing of two brothers, Cain and Abel. After Cain brought his offering to the Lord (which, for whatever reason known to them and not clearly to us, displeased the Lord), the Lord said, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4).

That phrase, "Its desire is contrary for you," has always stuck to me like an autumn burr on a wool sweater.

There are so many things in our lives pressing us back, crouching at our doors, slinking in unforeseen gaps and spaces, taking up room, both invited and uninvited. Sin is not a passive agent, but if we are passive, it can rule over us. There are so many areas in my life where I am the passive agent regarding sin. I say something smartly but intended to get my point across: sin. I leave something unfinished in hopes someone else will notice and do it: sin. I cite needs and desires as my primary motivator: sin. I avoid dealing with my emotions, letting them build and bubble over: sin. Wherever I look, sin is crouching at my door. 

A pastor at our church once said, "We don't get over our sin by constantly looking at our sin, we get over it by looking at the work of Jesus on the cross." This sounds really good, but if we don't make the cross both deeply personal and deeply practical, it can be difficult to see the ramifications of the work of Jesus in all the small places where sin reigns supreme in our lives. We can apply the gospel to the Big Sins, but overlook its power over the "little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (SoS 2:15).

Nate and I have been talking about some work God did in us as singles and now as a married couple, ways we have recognized the power of sin to creep in and the ways it has ruled us (and still does in so many ways), and exercises we do to press back and bounce our eyes to the cross. These are not grand theological gestures, they are small things designed to teach us restraint, remind us to submit, to fear God, of the bounty of God, and of the joy found completely in him. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day. We fail often and regularly at all of these, but: 

1. We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans. 

2. We practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

3. We eat whole foods, in-season, and locally if possible, in order to care for our bodies and the earth well. 

4. We practice hospitality not as an event or social engagement, but as a way to sacrifice ourselves, our time, and our energy, for the flourishing of others.

5. We choose the way of peace instead of violence and listening over making ourselves heard, as a way to remind ourselves we are not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. 

6.  We eat meals together in order to press back against the culture of busy, quick, fast, and convenient. 

7. We endeavor to live using restraint in our finances, not so we can build bigger savings accounts or retirement funds, but so we can serve others more freely today.

I often get questions about the way we practice Sabbath as New Testament Christians or why we choose to have a young man living with us or what made us decide to not have a television, and more, and my hope is that in writing more on these specific intents, I will be able to answer those questions more fully. None of these things are without theological purpose and very real—sometimes painful—sacrifice. That's on purpose. Not because we're masochists, but because we're Christians living in a hostile-to-the-way-of-Jesus-environment. It's never been easier, more convenient to not carry the cross and follow Him. So how, in 2017, in the suburbs, without children, with paying jobs, with every gadget available to us, do we say, "No, sin, you will not rule over us. We're already the children of a King." 

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The series will be tagged: Seven Ways so if you're looking for the whole thing at some point, just click on that tag at the bottom of the page. 

You Have One Wing, I Have Another

When I first started keeping a blog, it was the year 2000 and blog was still called weblog and only .01% of the population knew what that was. My page was white and green (some things never change), and was called Like One Angel from a song by Burlap to Cashmere. A song I still love (even though the music is cheesy as heck now...). It's about being in the mess of life together, and my life was nothing if not a mess at that point. It's ironic looking back because there has never been a time I felt more alone in my life. That page was a bit like a message in a bottle for me, sending words out into the world, not knowing if they'd ever be read or ever come back to me or if they'd sink to the depths and I would too. 

The lyrics went like this: 

You have one wing, I have another
Seeking shelter like sister and brother
Through the winter and through the summer
Like one angel we'll fly far away

Hold my hand and we'll make it all right
From this hell that we live in
Cross the road until the light
Comes inside and lives within

It's a long and lonesome ride
When your friends have all gone home
But the roses in your eyes
They pull me in so I don't feel alone

You have one wing, I have another
Seeking shelter like sister and brother
Through the winter and through the summer
Like one angel we'll fly far away

Goodness, it makes me get weepy now, reading the words again, seventeen years later, seeing what God has done in me, ways he's grown me, surrounded me with his Church, and also what a gift you have been to me, my brothers and sisters. God has become my shelter, but in many ways so has writing and so has being read. 

I've been walking with a young writer recently, meeting weekly to challenge, encourage, love, and disciple her in some ways (It's a two way street, though, she's been helping the behind-the-scenes of Sayable run!). I told her yesterday that Sayable has been, in many ways, the working out of my salvation in public view. Nothing here is ever finished or perfect or fully sanctified. It's just I with one wing, you with another, and all of us seeking shelter under the Most High through every season. That's it. This is a partnership, and I hope you know how important you are to making this partnership work. Sayable would not be what it is today without you. 

My husband and I still feel it is right and good to continue on as we have been doing, with me seeking and being offered various writing jobs, and a few speaking engagements a year. As well as continuing to have the freedom of meeting with various women throughout the week, speaking with pastors and leaders around the country about how to serve their women and singles, and caring for the needs of our busy home. Last night, when we had fifteen minutes alone, I mentioned how exhausted I was of the constant activity and he said, as he always does, "This is us being faithful with the gift of the lack. We are called to lay down our lives to be with and serve others in the absence of children of our own. So, if we're tired, it's a good tired." It was such a good reminder to me. I have been asked by God to do this work today. 

I have never asked for anything from my readers in seventeen years of writing, but beginning today I wanted to ask, from you, my partners in this flight, if you read Sayable regularly, are encouraged by anything I've said, or simply want to support the continuation of this work and these thoughts, would you consider becoming a patron of Sayable and her overflow? It's easy, quick, and would bless the socks off the Wilbert family as this—and all it entails—is my full-time work.

Thank you for reading, period. Thank you doubly for giving, but thank you period for reading. It means the world to me. I am who I am because God, in his grace, has used you. I read Romans 1:8-12 this morning and thought of all of you: 

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.

I love that. You have encouraged me and I hope I have encouraged you. 

Become a patron by clicking on the button below. 

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Even Dying Can Be Beautiful

If you follow me on Instagram you're probably fed up with my exclamations of joy over the weather in Texas this year. If you know me in person you are definitely fed up with it. I made people physically get up from their chairs last night to go look at the sunset. I dragged my husband into the nearby golden woodsy area for family photos. I keep going on the same route for my walk every day because the trees are changing so slowly and dramatically and I don't want to miss a single moment of it. 

To understand this delight you must understand that fall in Texas is usually just fell. The trees turn from greenish brown to brown and then all drop in the span of a week. The weather moves from hot as blazes to bone-chilly in about the same time and the whole thing lasts about a month and then it's practically summer again. But not 2017. For all the other rotten state of things in our world, country, and, this week, our state, 2017 went gangbusters on the weather. So, thank you, 2017. We needed this. Humanity needed this. We needed to remember nothing lasts forever and everything beautiful dies in its time, and someday life will come again. 

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the dark mornings and dark evenings. I love the damp smell of leaves. I love the wind. I love the grey days. But I also love the things we do more frequently in autumn. I love dinner by candlelight and wool socks. I love heavier covers on our beds and warmer sheets. Fall bouquets and stews and soups. Give it all to me and I am happy. And, in the spirit of good-will, here are some ways you can enjoy your fall too. 

This habit. When the evening begins to dim by dinnertime, we light candles every night at our table. I prefer beeswax candles because they're better for you + they smell delish. These hand-rolled ones are great, but don't burn nearly as long as these. We have both though. 

This soup. This is a fall staple in our house. It is perfect on day one and day two and even day three if it lasts that long. I could eat soup every day happily, but especially this one. 

This moisturizer. If you're anything like me, once fall hits all the dry skin shows itself. I use a version of this and I love it. The place I get it from has discontinued theirs (plight of many small businesses...), but this one has the same three ingredients. I tried my hand at making body butter last week and so I'm going to attempt making my own version of this soon. I use it every single day on my face, neck, and hands. 

This bread. I make a loaf of this bread at the beginning of the week and it sustains our house-hold of three (two grown men and me) the whole week. You might need to make a double batch if you've got kids. The recipe is in the comments on this link.

This wreath. We haven't got a serious garden this year (aiming for it in 2018), but this little herb wreath is a perfect way to preserve those herbs you grew and you can just pinch off a bit through the winter for your meals. 

This stew. There is nothing better than a good stew on a crisp day. This is one of my favorite recipes, although I substitute Bragg liquid aminos for the soy sauce. 

This pie. I made this pie a few weeks ago and it was gone in less than 12 hours. I'll do a few things differently when I make it next, namely simmer those cranberries down a bit before popping them in with the apples, but otherwise this pie was the perfect fall desert, tart and crisp and buttery goodness. The recipe called for 3/4 cup of sugar, but we like things more tart than sweet, so I halved that. It was perfect for us. 

This bouquet. As much as I love flowers, I love their autumn iterations even more. When I walk I gather bits and pieces of brown and golden and purple and berries and have them in vases throughout our house. They'll last all through the fall since they don't have to be kept in water and they just continue to dry out. Here's some more inspiration. 

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