The End, as best as we can see it with earth encrusted eyes

Nate gathered boxes while I was gone last weekend. I taped them together and stacked them in the side room yesterday. Weren't we just doing this a year ago? I finished my day job last weekend and have one month ahead of me here, packing, saying goodbye to DC. I confess, it feels like we're looking at the light at the end of a very long tunnel. We know going back to Texas won't be our saving grace and perfection doesn't await us there. We've lived there, lived some hard years through hard things there. And it wasn't until my last year living there that I came to love it enough to call it home. And not until the past few months Nate could envision living there again. I know. We take a while. 

Less than a year ago we were staring down the barrel of foreclosure, after six months of unemployment and and having to move quickly. We tried to talk about God's faithfulness and the difficulty of the season at the same time, and it often times felt a strangulating sense of surety: I would believe God's goodness if it killed me. If I'm honest, friends, this whole year has felt like that. I stand on the character of God more than ever before because I know my humanity more than ever before. I think sometimes our suffering is severe, not because God is, but because his love and mercy is more severe and somehow we have to clear out the clutter to see our way to the bottom. Doing hard things might make us stronger, but I just feel weaker. Doing hard things, though, makes Him seem stronger to me.

I fly out in the morning to try and find us a home in Texas, near our church family and friends there. We're a lot poorer than we were when we got married, but we're a lot richer in other ways. I think of John's words: "He must increase. I must decrease." How does one decrease? In incremental, sometimes severe ways, always whittling down, until we bear on our bodies the marks of Christ and our only boast is Him. 

I'm grateful—more than I can say—that we're headed back to Texas. I'm grateful God provided work for me this year that will help us buy a house (something we never imagined possible again seven months ago). I'm grateful I know the grocery stores there I like. I'm grateful friends like family await us there. I'm grateful to begin counseling to process these two years with a long-term counselor I trust. I'm grateful my church home is a place where it's okay to not be okay—and that they'll be patient with us on our journey back to okay. I'm grateful for the emails, phone calls, texts, and cards we've gotten from friends who are so excited we're coming back. I'm grateful we won't have to use GPS to learn yet another new city—learning two new ones in less than a year has taken seven years off my life. I'm grateful Nate was able to transfer his job to DFW with hardly a hitch. I'm grateful for all the things that have seemed impossible this year, because I don't know if I would be quite so grateful if they hadn't seemed once impossible.

I listened to an episode of Cultivated on the plane last weekend and then again yesterday. In it (or them, since there's a Part I and Part II), Andy Crouch and Mike Cosper talk about the difference between openness and vulnerability, and the relationship of vulnerability to authority. I was flying away from teaching women for a weekend in Spokane, WA, and what I had said to them—through tears at one point—was along the lines of, "If we cannot be honest about our sin, shame, and struggles to one another, what makes us think we'll be able to be honest about them to God?" We often think vulnerability starts with being so with God, but I argue true vulnerability involves risk, and there is no risk with God—even if it feels desperately like there is. But with other humans? 

It has felt risky to be vulnerable with you during this process of refinement, friends. I know there isn't any real risk in it. We like to give people more power than they actually have. But the truth is, we've been told to sit down and shut up, to stop talking about hard things in the midst of them. But God, in His grace, has assured us again and again and again, that talking about hard things in the midst of them means we can approach his throne of grace with confidence because Jesus didn't come for the well. He came for the sick and every one of us, without exception, belongs in the grave but for Him. So we'll keep walking around in our grave-clothes but ALIVE IN HIM. It's the stench of death that makes life so miraculous at all. 

Kiss the Rock Instead of the Wave

The rottenest thing about having jet lag to the west of wherever it is you live is that you try everything to keep your eyes open until a justifiable bedtime and you still end up waking in the early am thinking about all the things. Random things, such as so and so's birthday (Which you didn't forget, but were on a plane for most of the day and did forget to text her. Is 2am an appropriate time for texting just-belated birthday greetings?), or remembering to deposit that check (or did you already do it?), or your husband's interview in the morning, or, wait, did you remember to rent a car for next week's trip? Were you going to do that or was he? Oh and that reminds you (though you can't figure out how, but certainly try to figure out how): did you give the dog her heart-worm meds before you left? I know you meant to, but did you?

By this time it's 3am (but 6am by your wretched internal clock) and you've thought through so many different kinds of things, you've stretched your mind from the west to the east and back again and there's no use going back to sleep. But one still tries. For hours. 

I am in beautiful Washington state to speak at a women's conference in Spokane. We knew it would fall in February, knowing there was a great chance we would be in the middle of more transition. What seemed simple in September, though, seems overwhelming in Spokane today. Nate was out of town at the beginning of the week, I am gone now, we have a friend in town next week, and then I leave for Texas to find us a place to live (pray we do), then we begin the process of moving all over again. There are forty-seven thoughts and things to keep track of and they all seem so compartmentalized and if I forget to give 100% to one, it will crumble I'm sure (I'm not actually sure, but anxiety doesn't deal in sureties does it?). 

It has been occurring to me recently the thing about anxiety (and jet lag) is, like life, you can't control it. Sometimes it comes over you in waves, sometimes it pools at your feet, sometimes it throws you against the Rock of Ages.

Spurgeon has often been quoted to have said, "I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the rock of ages," but it's not an accurate quote. What he really said was, "The wave of temptation may even wash you higher up upon the Rock of ages, so that you cling to it with a firmer grip than you have ever done before, and so again where sin abounds, grace will much more abound," and I like this version better. I think it is good and right to "kiss the wave," but how much better to kiss the Rock? 

Distractions are aplenty and never fail to seem ever surmounting, and sometimes they come all at once, trying to keep us from the biggest small thing we'll ever do, which is to just be faithful with today. I don't know what you're facing today, what's keeping you awake at night, what's on your plate and taking up space in your head, but I do know you're not God and neither am I. In days (and nights) when there seems to be so much to do and never enough time, I want to let those waves wash me higher up onto the Rock of ages and trust Him to never move. 

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy. (Ps. 61:1-3)

When Holidays feel less holy and more just like days

This morning I made coffee in the French Press and let the dog out. She slept in bed with me last night (a first) because Nate is gone on a business trip and I heard a noise at 10pm that sounded almost exactly like the wind rustling through the trees but almost certainly could have been a prowler or a burglar or peeping Tom. Harper has nothing of guard dog in her in all the best ways but the presence of her back in the crook of my knees made me sleep better. 

While I waited for the French Press to brew, I thought about today, St. Valentine's Day. I had really grand hopes for holidays before I got married, dreams of cozy birthdays, breakfasts in bed, cards with sweet words all the time for no occasion, stout traditions formed in our more lucid moments, and fanfare. I've said before, though, the man God gave me has done the dishes every night of our marriage and cleans the bathrooms, and holds me when I cry, and is quick to offer money and whatever we have and hold to anyone in need, and is learning that I love holidays more than he does naturally. When I stack up the days of the year I dreamed would be special next to the days of the year he serves me and everyone we know with a quiet, faithful passion, his side tops out every time by miles.

. . .

Two people I love love one another and are getting married in a few months and this morning he wrote some words on Facebook I wanted to share,

"Being in a happy relationship on Valentin's Day is better than being alone. Minimizing loneliness only inflames despair. Hope and its fulfillment are born out of honest desire. Impossible though it is, keep wanting. I did til 27. Young, yes. But a restless 27. People told me a relationship wasn't better than singleness — that circumstances have nothing to do with fullness. For me, that wasn't true."

My friend, Paul, is right when he says this: impossible though it is, keep wanting.

. . . 

There have been some Valentine's Days I spent unmarried that I logged off social media, stayed home, made pancakes, and watched Harry Met Sally and their ilk. I couldn't bear with my aloneness and hoping felt impossible. And it also felt, like Paul said, the repeated words from others, "Circumstances have nothing to do with fullness," just weren't true. Circumstances have everything to do with fullness. That is the point of Christianity. Fullness awaits us in being joined to our groom, and until then, we long. (Don't be surprised, then, when you feel the pangs of longing. They're there to say: "You're right! You're not full yet. You're not finished yet. We're not there yet!")

When I began to realize this, while still single, I began to realize I could celebrate Valentine's Day (and any holiday I wanted) with as much fullness as I had that day (even if it was very little). I hung little heart banners, I made little red desserts, I wore my laciest underpants (an oxymoron if there ever was one...), I invited others over to celebrate the great love that not only He showed to us, but that we could show one another. 

It still didn't make me feel completely full though and it didn't occur to me until this morning that, truly, none of the holidays we've had since we got married have felt completely full. My birthday feels like it will be forever marred by the shooting I witnessed in Denver on it. Our first anniversary was spent at a funeral. Our Christmases have fallen during months where we felt eaten by indecision and mourning. I worked all day last Valentine's Day and he's working this one. 

But he exists as my husband and I exist as his wife, and this occurred to me this morning. Before there was an unfulfilled longing and others said I had to "get content" and minimized my loneliness. Now there is a fulfilled longing (I have the best husband I could imagine God giving), and still, some unfulfilled circumstances. 

I commented on Paul's post that "Circumstances do have something to do with fullness. And of course we don't have complete fullness under the new heavens and new earth, but even that is circumstantial: our joy is centered on the fullness of our face to face with Christ." 

I guess I want to say to you, on this St. Valentine's Day, log off social media, watch Harry Met Sally in your pajamas. Or put on your lacy underpants and make heart-shaped pancakes for all your friends. Or make a steak dinner for your honey or write her a card full of all the reasons you love her. But don't be surprised when you feel full but not completely full. God didn't create us to be automatons, robots who never long for or experience love and it is good and right that you long for it most fully. 

God gave good gifts to us on earth, not to satiate us fully, but so that when the fullness wears off, and disappointment sets in, we're reminded our fullness is dependent on the eternal circumstance of being finally face to face with our King. 

The Nearly Naked Spice Cake I made for Nate on Saturday to celebrate love a bit early. Here's the recipe. 

The Nearly Naked Spice Cake I made for Nate on Saturday to celebrate love a bit early. Here's the recipe. 

The Devil Deals in Gray But Jesus Walks in the Light

I suppose it's awfully clever of the enemy to twist the truth just enough that we believe a lie: "Eat the fruit and be like God." Well, except they were bearing the image of God and so like him already. Other times though, the enemy is less clever and tells a lie straight out: "You shall not surely die." The trick is not necessarily to discern when he's lying and when he's playing with matters of gray nebulosity (because either way, he's still the enemy and wants nothing good for our lives), but to feast on the truth enough that you can spot the lie or the kinda lie when it comes. 

I have struggled to feast on the truth this year. In the void of hearing truth, though, a myriad of lies and mushy grey matter took up residence in my heart and mind. It's not as though I didn't want the truth, though, hear me: I have never been more thirsty for truth, truth-tellers, and truth-livers than almost any time in my life. I have never felt more alone in my life than I have this year. 

It hurts to say that because I fear you'll begin to pity me or, if you're local, try to figure out what you did wrong, or more likely, what I did wrong. But I want to take that load off all our shoulders: God, in his goodness and sovereignty, brought me out to a desert place, to woo and win some untouched parts of my heart—parts that could not be touched when I had a plethora of friends, ministries, partners, and duties. He brought me to a place of lack to teach me about his plenty. It wasn't your place, or mine, to bring me out or through that. I've learned it more deeply this year than I can say.

Sometimes it's easy to spot the lies of the enemy and the half-truths he weasels into our everydaying. I have always thought those lies and half-truths would find themselves more present in the desert and gone amidst the safety of counselors, accountability, community, and friendship. And I was right in some ways, I've had to do business with those lies and half-truths in ways I never had the time, energy, or vulnerability with my own self to confront them before. But I was wrong in other ways: those lies were always there, even when I was around others constantly, they just didn't have room to bloom and show themselves to be the falsehoods they really were.

We're about to begin a season of Lent in a few weeks and I'm reminded of the 40 days Jesus was in the desert, just him and the enemy. It was awfully quiet out there and the voice of the enemy had his time to shine in that aching void, but Jesus, sweet Jesus, crushed his few minutes of fame with the word of God and good theology. I suppose even in the void of the feast I wanted this year, I have been grateful for the feasts of the past that sustained me through it. 

An understanding of suffering. A willingness to be weak and to be vulnerable with hurt. Rock solid good theology. A love of the Word of God. A love for the local church. The attributes of God. These sustained me. They still sustain me. 

I heard the lies aplenty this year, but my food is to do the will of Christ and that is first, to believe what He says. Every word. There is no gray in the garden and there is no gray in the desert. In both, He is present, faithful, enduring, and near. 

Something Else Altogether

After the Great Migration of 2017 this past weekend, we ran into some snafus regarding various iterations of feed subscriptions. The short story is, when a blog has existed in some form or fashion for long enough, the technology changes and isn't always compatible with the Newer and Better and Shinier. This is technical biz, but if it interests you: there were five different RSS feeds people were subscribed to via Feedly, Blog Lovin', and other aggregates, and we were only able to save two of them. By my estimates there were 2000+ readers who were lost and I felt sick about it last night. 

I tried to explain to Nate it isn't the loss of readership that bothers me—if people want to keep reading, they'll find they need to resubscribe and if they don't, I haven't lost anything and they haven't either. It's the feeling of disappointing people without intending to. I felt a bit like I was taking something away from someone in a sneaky way which they had been merrily ingesting without any interference from me previously. Maybe that doesn't make sense to you, but it does to me. 

After I tried to explain this to Nate in grown-up words with real thought and real logic behind them, I dissolved in tears, the like of which I never engaged in pre-2015 and post-2015 have only become more common. It ended with me blowing my nose on his t-shirt and telling him I'm sorry for being such a disappointing wife. I'm sure he thought he was getting one thing when he said "I do," and I've turned out to be something else entirely different. I don't feel like myself. I don't think like myself. On the off-chance I venture a look in the mirror more than while I brush my teeth, I don't even look like myself. I saw a photo from our wedding the other morning and thought: who is that girl and where did she go? 

Marriage changes us and plenty of people might defend me with those reassuring words, but it's more than marriage. It's the moves. It's the miscarriages. It's the suffocating fear when I hear sirens or gunshots in our neighborhood. It's meeting new people. It's not trusting church leaders like I once did. It's still having to depend on a GPS for almost two whole years. It's the lack of job security or home security or community security. The face in the mirror today is lined with life it never dreamed of two years ago. 

I thought last night, while my snot pooled on Nate's shirt and he prayed for me: there are a lot of things in life that surprise and confound us, things we didn't expect or things we expected and then turned out completely different than we thought. I'm no stranger to the unexpected and life has never been one smooth Sunday sail for me. But I used to be able to close my bedroom door to it at the end of a day and secret my struggles away. I thought it be would romantic to someday share those struggles with someone, but trust me: romance is a luxury our marriage has not had time to surface for yet. Someday, maybe, we will whisper sweet nothings and write love notes and give sneaking surprises, but more than likely we will continue to gulp air where we can find it and give the gift of whatever we can manage to give today. It's not romantic, it's not even sweet. But, like I told Nate last night, I know it's working in us something good, even if we can't see it today. 

There's a strange comfort in the midst of that, a Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken called it. God is tending to us with a scalpel these days and someday, maybe, there will come a time when He soothes us with balm or a healing compress. But today it's all scalpel. For our good. For His glory. But still not what we thought we were signing up for when we said, "For better or worse." 

Speaking of signing up, there's no way for me to tell those of you who were lost in the migration that you were lost, so if you're subscribed to Sayable via anything except email, you might want to check your feedreader and update the RSS. 

. . . 

Rachel Joy Watson sent me her small book of poetry a few weeks ago and I've been meaning to tell you about it. If you like poetry, I think you'll enjoy it. But if you love people and narratives and arcs and Jesus and how He heals, I think you will love it. I read straight through it in one afternoon, laughed, cried, and was grateful God made us humans with the full spectrum of emotions.

Stand back, look ahead, and consider where you are going. Allow yourself to be drawn up into the mind and perspective of God. Try to see things as he sees them. Relax!

If you’re anything like most well-adjusted and healthy American people, there are periods in your life where your existence will be repugnant and seemingly impossible. During those, the most courageous thing you’ll ever do is to get out of bed anyway. And eat. And work. And read to your kids. And lie near to your loved one, though you may not recall what that means.

I don't know if God is being silent, or if I have misheard Him, or if He spoke through tears of grief at a rainy inauguration ceremony. Maybe those raindrops were a particular Divine blessing like Franklin Graham indicated. I think it's also possible that rain fell on our new President because of a weather front that had nothing to do with a change in national leadership. God's kindness falls on the just and the unjust alike.

Someday I’ll be told, gently, just as if I were to put my arm around Persimmony at the end of her story and say to her, “In the beginning, before you were born on paper, when I dreamed you into being and set your feet upon a journey, I named you Joy. And now, finally, you know why.”

Ever since I saw this kitchen, I've been dreaming of a tiny house. It's not a true tiny house, but it's still pretty small and I love the pared down, simple wall, no frills kitchen. Click the photo for more images from this home. 

Ever since I saw this kitchen, I've been dreaming of a tiny house. It's not a true tiny house, but it's still pretty small and I love the pared down, simple wall, no frills kitchen. Click the photo for more images from this home.