Full, Not Busy

For a little over a year, I've been making an intentional attempt to call my life full instead of busy. The idol of busyness is one Christians are particularly bent toward worshipping and busyness can also become the shield we use to protect ourselves from adding unwanted appointments to our calendars. For a long time I've tried to curve myself into a person who counts unbusyness as important as busyness, but more and more I'm realizing even that needs some adjustment.

My life is full, but it is not busy. My days are full from the moment I wake until I sleep, but most of the minutes and hours are not appointed to places, people, and things, as much as they simply happen and are kept full, or catch me being attentive to them. I have a lot of margin built into my life on purpose so there is time to pause during something that must be done (for work or home or family) to pay attention to something that might be done (like listening to a friend for a minute or praying with someone or sometimes staring out the back door, like I'm doing right now, at the golden buds of spring and red-tipped Photinias, and listening to the birdsong). If our lives are scheduled to the brim—even with good things—it doesn't give us time to see or appreciate humans as more than an appointment or nature as more than the ground on which we walk from car to coffee shop. My life is full, full and brimming over, but it is not busy. 

Springtime, though, always seems the most full to me. These are the days when I must force myself out of the musts and into the mights more often. Being a freelancer means I can choose my hours, but more work means fewer spare hours from which to choose. I am grateful for the work, though, because I like to work. But I think the discipline of changing my verbiage has helped form this true love of work instead of the begrudging duty it used to feel like. When my life is full, I love my work. When my life is busy, I begin to despise my work. And if my primary work is to be faithful, I want to love faithfulness. It reminds me of Psalm 85:10, 

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.

The beautiful picture of love and faithfulness joining, righteousness and peace kissing is one I want to have threaded through all of my life. I know hardship and trials and pains and disappointments come, but the nearer we come to the coming of our King, the more what is good will begin to join and unite and bring joy. This is good news for the busy people who need to be satiated by their Savior more than their schedules and the full ones who need to see fruitfulness is more about faithfulness than accomplishments. 

Here are some beautiful things I've read in the margins: 

When You Can't Afford to be A Good Mom by Hannah Anderson

Bodies of Truth by Abby Perry

In Defense of Irrelevant Films by Brett McCracken

The Idol of No Pain by Rachel Joy Welcher

And my favorite, Jesus is Coming, Plant a Tree by N.T. Wright

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Living on the Earth We Have

The first two years of marriage, for us, were a whirlwind. Dating was six weeks, engagement another six, moving, moving again, moving again, setting, sort of, into a place we knew we wouldn't stay but what else could we do? We planted a little container garden on the patio of our rental and salvaged the tomatoes the skinny city deer missed and the chile peppers they knew better than to eat. And with the same gusto we had dreamed of staying in Denver we dreamed of leaving DC.

The creeping realization that city life was not for us didn't prevent us from returning to the Dallas area, but the comfort of returning to our church family was all the pull we needed and in two weeks we will have lived in our home for a year. This is the first March in three years I'm not thinking through moving preparations. I pinch myself at the coming wonder of living within the same walls for twelve whole months plus one. And so we have been learning to dream. I would like to say again, but there is no room for dreaming in a world of survival. We have survived three years together and now we begin to dream. 

For months that dream has been routing us toward the hope of someday living on a plot of land, not to own it or to be owned by it, as Wendell Berry says, but to be stewards of it. We know the dream will take years to unfold and we are patient for it. Whiplash will teach you patience is a good friend. But the dream—sometimes—is just good enough. 

Sabbaths are for dreaming, we often say to one another. Mondays and Tuesdays and Thursdays are for doing, for faithfulness, for being instead of going. But on Sabbath we dream. No limitations and no realism. We feed our dreams on Sabbath because God knit those dreams as surely as he knit us—even if they will never be realized. One week we are farmers and another we are church planters and another we are city-dwellers. One week I found an old retreat center for sale in the Adirondacks and we dreamed for a moment of stewarding it and what we might do with all that beauty. If our friends are sharing our space on Sabbath we tell them they can dream too and we'll water it, tend it, see where it might go for a day. We who were perishing for want of a vision, come alive within it. 

On Saturday morning, we measured our back yard space, mostly concrete with slivers of earth on the margins and a lima bean pool in the middle. Then we spent the day weeding and tilling the margins and building 18" cedar wood raised beds. Our muscles ached and my skin was radish red by evening. The beds are still empty, awaiting dirt this evening, plants in a week or so, and roots in a few more weeks. But we stood back and admired our work, remarked to one another how much we enjoy hard work, and have felt the strange inklings of rootedness begin to take. 

"The act of putting these here and the planting to come," he says, "makes me feel more rooted here, regardless of what God does with our future. We're trying to be faithful, to establish wholeness from this concrete yard in Flower Mound, Texas. We're trying to take part in its redemption now." It reminds me of what the poet Gary Snyder said, "Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” 

One of the most insidious lies to ever enter the Christian faith is that what we do on earth has no place in the new earth. That "It's all gonna burn," as a friend once joked while we walked the coast of Maine on a brisk November day.

All creation is groaning and we are too, that's more the truth, and these groanings are too strong to ignore. The groaning leads some to the city and some to the country, some to shepherding and some to sheep-herding, some to gardening and some to cooking, and sometimes it leads us to do the best we can with what we have today. And then to dream on Sundays of the earth to come. 

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Learning to Want at the Beginning of March

I made it a few skims into the NYT Book Review yesterday before slinging the paper away and declaring I was so weary of progressivism and their better-ness peppered through every article. Every chance to bash the Other and slip in names having nothing to do with the subject at hand, but everything to do with making selves feel better about themselves. I did not vote for this current administration, am not a Republican, and have about as little tolerance for populism as for its counterpart, elitism. 

All that to say I made my way through one article, not ironically a piece on how progressives are optimistic (and conservatives are fear-mongers) which I suppose depends on your point of view any which way you look at it. (I know some pretty heady conservatives who are wildly more optimistic and less screechy than some rattled progressives who always seem to be wringing their hands about something.) My point is, when you're so far left that anything to the right looks terrifying or so far to the right that anything to the left looks horrifying, of course you're going to disagree on whether you're the optimist or the pessimist. Somewhere in the middle is harder to be and see and stay. From that vantage point it's harder to tell who is the real -ist about anything because they all just look like regular people trying to figure out living and life and religion and family and finances and food and jobs and dreams and doing their best with what they have today. 

But it all has me thinking about optimism and in particular, my own. 

March, they say, comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and, I say, takes a certain type of constitution. Up north March is bipolar, a foot of snow followed by a spate of 60 degree days followed by another foot of snow. It is muddy and chilly and breezy and its scent is dirt and earth and a distinct one which you cannot describe but which everyone knows to be Spring. It has always been one of my least favorite months because I suppose I am probably a pessimist at heart. But March for the past three years has brought some sweet gifts (Our first date in 2015. Harper's birth in 2016. Moving back to Texas in 2017.) and I don't want to get into the habit of hoping for a bumper crop of goodness every March.

I, like most middling sorts, waver between ever getting too optimistic or too pessimistic about anything. I don't want to be the sort who begins to expect good things around every corner (disappointment is a brutal beast), but neither do I want to be the sort who braces for bad things just because. An old pastor of mine used to say, "Expectations are resentments waiting to happen," and I've found that goes either way. If it's not good enough or if it's worse than I thought, resentment can surface. Better to hold it all loosely, mustering the belief that I have all I need anyway. And I do. But also, we are human, made to want. 

My friend Jen Pollock Michel in her book Teach Us to Want says, 

"The fluency of holy desire can be learned: it can even be learned by praying the Lord's Prayer again and again—although, to what may be our surprise, the Lord's Prayer does not levitate us into some dimension where earthly concerns cease to matter. The Lord's Prayer is a prayer for us, here and now. It teaches us to reenter our lives with greater allegiance to Christ and his kingdom while allowing us to pray for everyday, earthly desires."

It seems to me the main problem in progressivism and conservatism and elitism and populism is not that we want too much or too little, expect too much or too little, but that our lives are too little arranged around the "other world for which we were made," to paraphrase a quote from Lewis (136), and too much arranged around this one. 

But also, this "greater allegiance to Christ and his kingdom" lets us "pray for our everyday, earthly desires." Instead of our earthly desires dictating the terms of the kingdom, the kingdom of God makes space for those earthly—but good—desires to root, surface, grow, and bear fruit. 

I have a lot of earthly desires, and many for our country right now, many for my church, my family, my home, my own body—the earthly temple in which the Spirit dwells. But all those desires terminate on themselves or turn themselves into some convoluted confused upside-down kingdom (like the Academy Awards last night—simultaneously decrying an inappropriate sexual culture while showering awards on films with beastiality and a sexual relationship between a 24 and 17 year old) when they are not within the generous bounds of a created order—which, by its nature, means we do not make the rules. 

My desires must be for something higher, God himself and his kingdom. 

This is why I glad to not be a registered anything or pledge allegiance to anything on this earth. My allegiance is to God, to his order of things, and my optimism is rooted in the coming kingdom, not in the fruition of all my "disordered loves." The world is in disarray: children slaughtered in schools by people with guns made for slaughtering, mental gymnastics abound by barely clad women talking about objectification, wars and rumors of wars, and everyone thinks they're the real optimist, the ones with the real solutions. But God's kingdom gives us permission to grieve at what is while hoping for what is to come at the same time—to be true eternal optimists. 

It might be on the picket lines that our points are made, but it's at the tables where progress is made. It's there where we can be honest about what is terribly, terribly wrong, but also true about what is beautifully, achingly good. 

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Feeling Our Way Toward a Light So Lovely

Throughout 2018 so far I have been reading through the Psalms slowly, feeling my way through them chapter by chapter, verse by verse. This past weekend Nate and I were a part of an Art and Prayer retreat at Laity Lodge (one of my favorite places on earth) and to our delight, it was on the book of Psalms. Nate is also working his way through the Psalms so it was a real blessing to both of us to soak in the entire book for four days. 

During Lent I added the book of Acts to my daily reading. The book of Acts and I have a squirrely relationship. So many of my formative years were spent in it—mostly intended by church leaders to push parishioners toward a Spirit soaked life, but becoming mostly a millstone around my neck. Part of that is I never really read the book for myself so I believed wrongly about many things and did not know what to believe at all about other things. Five years ago that changed when a pastor from my church took a group of us through the entire book, line by line by line. It was, without doubt, one of the most Spirit-filled experiences of my life and profoundly healing. 

This morning I read Paul's words in Acts 17

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
'In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

That phrase "perhaps feel their way toward him and find him" feels like such a generosity from God this morning. I am so much a part of a thinking tradition now and live among a people who think more than feel much of the time, and find often the feeling parts of our faith are thrust to the margins or outskirts or what we call "mountain top experiences," the sort no one wants to deny but everyone agrees shouldn't be normative. It seems as though in my previous church tradition I felt pressure to have a feeling moment at every service, in every prayer, at every retreat, in every song. The pendulum swings as it is wont, though, and I cannot remember the last time I wept or felt my way toward anything resembling God and found him there. 

This weekend, though, as we covered the gamut of psalms, praises and laments, questions and doubts, assurances and ascriptions, I felt an inkling of something akin to feeling anything. Permission perhaps? 

In many of the "Spirit-filled" churches the felt emotion of preference is mostly joy, as in if you don't feel joy there must be some secret sin lurking about in your closets. In many of the "Word full" churches the emotion of preference is surety, as in a ready defense and constant apologetic and never, never, never sadness or brokenness for long because, goodness gracious, we know the Gospel and the hope therein. But these are the same broken mechanisms at work in both, namely: we're uncomfortable with uncertain emotions. Or the motions of uncertainty. 

You know who isn't uncomfortable with uncertain emotions? Poets. Artists. Psalmists. Musicians. Mostly. This is why I love that immediately after Paul uses the words "feel their way toward God and find him," he quotes some of their poets. Paul is saying there is something about a poem or verse or piece of art or music that stirs something inside us sometimes—and it's not always sola scriptura. Paul says some who feel their way toward God won't even find him in temples made by men, and that the boundaries of our dwelling places are determined by God and not men. Psalm 16 says our "boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places, indeed we have a beautiful inheritance." 

This seems to me wildly permissive of God and not the God I understand him to be most of the time.

We are drawn to him (and not just once but again and again and again) by his beauty and not always in the dwelling places and temples made by human hands (A cathedral made by pine trees perhaps? Or the bluff of a canyon? Or a flat rock on the summit of a mountain? Or a poem?). Not always in rigid, unbending theology formed more by the other Christians with whom we spend most of our time and less by thousands of years of church history or by the sound of water falling down a rock cut. Not always in the lyrics of modern worship music but sometimes there, and sometimes in the ancient poets too. Not always in being right and going to bed satisfied you won every argument or know every technical theological term, but sometimes in simply listening to what is beautiful even if its truth is a more difficult wrestle. 

Madeleine L'Engle writes in Walking on Water, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

A light so lovely they want with all their hearts to know the source of it and to "perhaps feel their way toward God and find him."

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Application for Writing Mentorship

When I was 15, a friend a decade ahead of me took an interest in my writing, encouraging me along and not letting me get away with sloppy self-editing. Then when I was in my early twenties, I had an older mentor who did the same. In college I was surrounded by professors who simply would not accept anything less from me than my most excellent work. All of these helped make me who I am today. I am not the world’s best writer, but I am willing to be edited, willing to slay my darlings, and wanting to say things as well as I am able to say them.

I am not yet old (I don't think!) but I am recognizing more and more the need to pass the baton and to take part in encouraging those with a clear gift for writing to hone their craft. I made it my aim after I began using Patreon, that when I reached 200 supporters, I would begin a small mentoring group for writing. I first opened it to Patreon supporters, but I still have three openings and I would like to extend an invitation to those spaces to all Sayable readers now.

I am really excited to begin this group on March 1st. Before I issue the invitation to be a part of this group, though, I wanted to say a few things.

If your aim is to be published, this is not the group for you. Most of the advice out there for folks who want to get published is all about making connections, networking, building a platform, getting an audience, etc. I don't want to disparage those efforts, but I think the thing our world is really thirsting for is not more writers, but better writers. Becoming better writers takes time, feedback, brutal honesty, humility, a willingness to edit and be edited, patience, the ability to hear the word no, and not see a no as a deterrent but instead as a tool to shape and hone writing.

I will not be helping you get published quick because I think quick publishing is one of the worst things that's ever happened to good writing. I will also not be connecting you with any publishing platforms or sharing your social links or blogs during these 12 weeks. My job in this mentorship will be to help you become a better thinker, writer, and submitter of your own work on its own merits—not the merits of your story or who you know or wherever you think your work belongs.

There will be one week when I encourage you to submit your work on your own, without a personal connection, to an online or print publication where you know your piece would work. So much of the writing world these days is about who you know, but it's almost become like Tinder for dating. It removes the need for awkwardness and humility and messing up and learning along the way. I want to hold your hand in this process, but I will not do it for you.

Now that we’ve talked about what this mentorship won’t be, what will it be?

It will be a place where you will exercise the muscles of non-fiction first person narrative writing (much like the sort you find on Sayable). We will not be doing fiction writing of any sort. These will be short and long essays. Let your personal ideas, thoughts, and perspectives flow. The best writers know what they think about all kinds of things, instead of simply regurgitating whatever research or popular opinion is floating about. What piques your interest? Gets you excited? Makes you sad? What do you fear? What are you willing to confess? What do you know about God? What do you not know about Him? This is the stuff we’ll talk about and work through. There are plenty of deeply theological writers out there whose lives are woefully uninspected, who find themselves caught off-guard in all kinds of pride and arrogance and fear and doubt and more because while they knew much about God, they overlooked inspecting their own hearts. Calvin said, “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

You will be annoyingly aggressive with your own writing. You will let others be annoyingly aggressive with your writing. You will edit, embellish, omit, and extend. You will “kill your darlings” and you will cradle them rarely. You will not force your words using cheap tricks like alliteration or cliche.

You should expect to commit about 15-45 minutes a day to writing, depending on how quickly you write and how much you procrastinate. There is also one book you’ll need to read, plus one article and podcast each week. Plan on spending about 2-3 hours a week on this.

You will need to purchase one of these books: On Writing, Walking on Water, Bird by Bird, or The Writing Life. It doesn’t matter which one, just pick one that looks most interesting to you. You will need to have it read by the beginning of week two, so buy it soon and get started.

You will need to find two people in your life who know you, flesh and blood, in real life (no online buddies), who will commit to reading a few of your pieces before you hand them in (as assigned). You will need to commit to listen to their advice. These should not be your mom or your aunt, unless your mom or aunt are handier with a red pen than they are with effusive praise.

You will need access to and familiarity with Google Docs as it will be our main tool. I will not be mentoring on how to use it. If you have questions, google them. I will explain more in the syllabus, but familiarity is a must.

The cost for this 12 week mentorship is $120. You will need to paypal the entire amount before March 1, 2018, to have access to the group. Once you’ve applied and been accepted, I will send you the paypal information.

If you can do all this and want to commit, then by golly, I want you apply! Apply here by February 25th. I will let you know the final decision by February 26th. The group will begin on March 1, 2018 and conclude on May 17th. 

EDIT: I know I said I was going to keep the writing mentorship applications open until Sunday, but I have a few hundred and I cannot keep getting so many a day for the next few days. I'm going to close applications Wednesday by 4CST. Sorry for the inconvenience. And THANK YOU for your overwhelming response! What a gift to know so many of you care about writing well. 

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