Seeds Become Fruit and Fruit Becomes Seeds

Writing is like speaking a language and writer’s block happens when you’ve gone a while without speaking it. It’s like any other exercise, to be strong, one must practice. I’ve been flexing my writing muscles over in another place on my laptop the past few months, watching chapters take shape, quotes find place, and points be made. I share an illustration in one chapter that a friend told me a few months ago, a story about his grandfather. His grandfather was whittling wood from the pile. “How do you know what it’s going to be,” my friend asked him. “Well, son, this block of wood you see is an eagle. My job is just to take away all the parts that aren’t eagle.”

Writing is a bit like that, taking a big block of wood (or cheese, for you West Wingers among us), kind of knowing what you want it to be and then stripping away the words that don’t belong until you’re left with a halfway presentable piece.

Sanctification is also like this and sometimes we get out of practice there too. I forget who I’m supposed to look like (Christ) and stop submitting myself to the whittling away process of sanctification. I react rather than respond. I succumb rather than submit. I falter rather than have faith. And then one day I wake up and realize my muscles have atrophied and responding in right action feels more difficult than before. The old “two steps back” adage applies here.

I tell a friend last night (incidentally the same friend who told me the story about his grandfather months ago) that most of us are just walking in the faith we have for the day, but sometimes the Spirit makes a thing clear to us, we ignore it, and our path begins diverging from God’s best. We’re not hopelessly lost, of course, grace, grace, upon grace. But we begin to carry that seed of rebellion or disappointment in our pocket, caressing it, secreting it away, and sometimes it becomes so hidden we even forget it’s there. But it’s still clinging to our every day just the same. Bitterness. Resentment. Fear. Doubt. It begins to inform every relationship, decision, and season of our lives. It still seems like a tiny seed hidden away, but it’s actually become a monstrosity in our hearts.

I’ve had some realization about one of these seeds in my life the past few weeks. It startled me with its presence and the clarity with which I first saw it. I felt shocked that such a thing existed and was informing nearly every relationship in my life. Every friendship—even with my husband—was teetering on a question of trust. My trust had been tried in a friendship and I carried that distrust with me everywhere, trying to sense if a person was trustworthy, could handle my true self, and would respond kindly. I’ve had to stop, reflect on what God’s word says about trusting flesh (my own and others), and reorient my heart toward the people I love and the God who will never harm me.

All of life for the Christian is spent hearing, listening, reading, and knowing God’s word and then also doing it. But our culture, even our Christian, culture, doesn’t really make a lot of space for that. We appropriate our culture’s verbiage for everything and then wonder why simple obedience in the face of hard things is so hard. Simple obedience is hard. It causes us to flinch from its pain. “Anyone who says differently,” as Wesley, dear sweet Wesley said, “is selling something.”

Our culture is selling us something, ease, success, cheeriness, perfect abs, airbrushed images. But most of us, if we’re honest, are just a block of wood getting chiseled away at by the Master Maker. There’s an eagle in there somewhere, but not yet, not today. Not until we see Him face to face in glory.

If you have the time today, I encourage you to get a moment of quiet and ask the Lord if there’s a seed you’ve been carrying in your pocked. Maybe it’s from the fruit of a disappointing relationship, maybe it’s what you dream about planting to make a name for yourself, maybe it’s a bitter root forming, or maybe you don’t even know it’s there. Ask him how it’s been informing your day, your actions, your view of him, your view of others. And ask him if he’ll remove it and plant in its place a seed of faith for a different outcome. That’s what I’m praying for in place of the seed of fear I’ve had: Would you plant in me faith for a different outcome? I know he can and so I’m asking him to.

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Not Many of You Should Become Writers, Readers, Publishers, or Editors

I read this quote from Tim Challies this morning and then I had a thought this morning and wanted to share it with you. Here’s the quote:

“It has long been my observation that there are two kinds of books being marketed to Christians. There are some whose foundational message is what you need to do and others whose foundational message is what Christ has already done. The first make a model out of the author, the second make a model out of Jesus. The first place the burden for change on personal power while the second place the burden for change on Christ’s power.”

A few years ago when Nate and I were still living in DC, we were really struggling to find a church home. Most of that is on my and Nate’s shoulders. We came to DC feeling bruised and a bit jaded with the practices and structures at play within the theological camp we aligned. A few years out from then, we still have pretty firm objections and strong opinions on how some of the power structures play out in the circles in which we run. But within our year in DC we were not members of a local church. We attended a church for a few weeks where there was some pressure to become members quickly, but I objected because membership—to me—is a very serious thing. It’s not just signing my name on a paper. I believe it’s a sacred act. We finally landed at The Falls Church Anglican about nine months into our time there, but at that point we were sure we wouldn’t be in DC long, and didn’t entertain an attempt at membership.

During my year in DC, a publication I had written regularly for for years reached out to me with a few pitches. I said no a few times, and then finally, I thought, I need to give them a more clear reason. I communicated my hesitation in writing for them was due primarily to the fact that I was not a member of a local church currently. I was still very connected to our church family in Texas, I had good community, albeit far away, and I was earnestly in search of church home—but as a couple, we were not covenanted with a local body of believers.

Here’s why I want to share this with you today:

In the digital world we’ve fashioned for ourselves, it is very, very easy to have all the right answers and look the part you want to play. Much has been written on the ease of self-promotion and the lack of realness (In fact, Catherine Parks releases her new book Real today. I endorsed it for the publisher and I endorse it here for you, too. Buy it here.) , so I don’t want to overstate anything. However, my concern is for you, dear readers.

Last week my friend Lisa Whittle talked about “inspiration addiction” that many have. We hop from one inspiring blog to an inspiring post to an inspiring podcast to an inspiring image to an inspiring quip to an inspiring book . . . you get my point. We can be addicted to the beauty around us so much that we forget these are real people creating real content with real stories in their lives. And because much of the promotion is done by self, there’s no check or balance. Unless we trust people to self-check themselves, we have no idea if the words we’re hearing or reading are reflective of a faithful life or a sham.

When my editor reached out to me with a pitch, she assumed that because I’d been a faithful church member and church staff in the past, that I had continued in that vein. It was my heart to continue in that vein, but the truth was another matter. I wasn’t a faithful church member, I was currently a wounded, wandering Christian without a church home. I feel no shame about that season of wandering, it was necessary for my good and God’s glory. But I also knew I didn’t want to pretend to be something I wasn’t. And I wanted my editors to care about the fidelity of the writers they publish. And I wanted readers to trust this publication wouldn’t publish writers whose lives weren’t faithful representatives of what they wrote online.

This isn’t a war anyone will win on their own. It is up to writers to be honest about their lives, publishers to be unwilling to publish people who say one thing and act another, editors to ask and not assume when pitching pieces, and readers to be truly discerning readers. This is a job for all of us. If we want integrity and fidelity in Christian publishing, it’s on everyone’s shoulders to get there.

I know you’re a reader because you’re reading this. And I think I can safely assume this isn’t the only thing you’re reading. My encouragement to you today is to be a discerning reader. That’s going to play out differently for each of you, so I can’t say how exactly, but I want to encourage you to expect more from writers. These days it is so easy to submit work to an online source and get published, and once you've tasted the (lackluster) glory of being published, it doesn’t take long to build yourself a platform and taste more success. Anyone can do it. And that’s exactly why everyone shouldn’t.

Every single time I press “save and publish” on Sayable, I think of James chapter 3. I encourage you to go now and read the whole passage:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Discerning Readers

God's No is a Yes

When I was single I acutely remember sitting behind a couple in church. His arm around her, her shoulder leaning into him, and I physically ached. I felt so unfelt in my singleness, untouched, and unloved. Of course I knew I was loved, by God and by others, but touch, for me, was where I felt my lack the most. I wasn't alone in this feeling and it led me to write this piece for Christianity Today years ago and has formed in me a desire to think through touch in a more comprehensive way—the basis of the book project I'm working on. Details here

I am conscious of that painful ache often in church once again as it's impossible to avoid the plethora of blessings in the form of babies on Sunday mornings. Fathers standing off to the side with babies in the crook of their arms swaying right to left. Mothers intuitively knowing what their babies need, and yet still so much they're learning. All the folks behind them with smiles that reach their eyes, knowing the common and collective joy of a newborn. I catch Nate's eye every once in a while and know he's thinking it too. The ache. We feel it most when we're captive in a row with our church family: I have to be here. I have to see this. And I still can't have it. 

Last night we met with a couple with whom we're doing premarital counseling and one of the questions we talked through was, "What dreams do you think you'll need to give up in marriage." This morning I'm thinking through all the noes we've gotten from God since we said yes to one another. They are plenty. They sometimes feel never-ending. They all feel unexpected. And they all hurt. 

Life for the Christian who is captive to this earth, and captive to the Church, is going to be a series of noes again and again. This is why the prosperity gospel is so damaging to our souls, lives, and minds. We are ultimately yes people, but our primary yes is to Christ, and that means we live caught in a yes-world to sin for a season while we look like fools for saying no. I could have had touch and plenty of it in my singleness, but saying yes to Jesus meant saying no to my flesh. The problem with saying so many noes to so much in life, is that we can begin to project those noes onto God. We can begin to believe he is a God of noes instead of a generous, always abounding, abundant, and faithful Father. Because we feel the death of our dreams, we can begin to believe he is indifferent to our desires. 

The thing is, though, when I look behind me at the slew of noes God has given me in life, I see how each one led precisely to a better yes. I'm not sugar-coating this either. I'm looking at deep, difficult disappointments like death, divorce, financial strain I didn't think I could survive, depression, sickness, prolonged singleness, doubt, and more—each of these led me to dark places where the light, when it finally came, shone brighter than I could have hoped. 

II Corinthians 1 shows Paul explaining why something he said would happen didn't happen in the order he or the Corinthians expected. He's saying in the face of disappointment: God is not a God of no. He always keeps his promises

One of the great tragedies of mediocre faith and biblical illiteracy is that we can confuse our dreams with God's promises. We can begin to believe that simply because we have a strong desire for something, or a deep longing, or we can't imagine ourselves without it, that God intends it for us. And we can get caught in a loop of perpetual disappointment—not in the failure of a dream to materialize, but in the failure of what we think God has promised to be delivered. 

Paul is saying in this passage that all God's promises have their Yes in himself. But the promise is not the house we want, the spouse we want, the baby we want, the job we want, or the health we want. God is the promise. The seal of the Spirit is the promise. The coming of the Messiah is the promise. The Father's love is the promise. And the answer is always yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. 

Wherever we find ourselves captive—in our job, our home, our marriage, our singleness, the row at church behind the couple who finds comfort in touch or the parents passing their baby-blessing back and forth, we may feel the no of God. He may be saying no to our dreams, but he is not saying no to his promise. He is saying, "Hang on. I'm coming for you. And it won't be long now." 

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How Can I Be More Like You?

I'll never forget the year of my life when I lived with my pastor's family in New York. My whole life was in the throes of some trauma around then and my little attic bedroom at their home was safe and warm. There were predictable rhythms in their home: dinner every night, devotions in the morning, guests constantly, really special holidays (and every excuse to celebrate something or someone), and always, always thoughtful questions. 

My pastor was the first person I heard use the phrase "Be a 'There you are!' person instead of a 'Here I am,'" and the concept, for me, was life-changing. He modeled in his words and actions, and particularly by his questions, what this meant. He has always been about the other. His intention is to disarm, put at peace, draw out, and care for the person in front of him. And one of the ways he does this is by asking thoughtful questions. 

I was painfully shy when I came to live with them, was deeply caught cycles of fear and shame, and struggled to look many adults in the eye, and yet, night after night, we'd be called on to both answer thoughtful questions and ask them. Particularly of our guests. The prompt was, "Lore, do you have anything to ask our guest?" And I'd go into a mad mental scramble trying to think of a question that didn't make me look dumb, when all along, the exercise was mostly to make our guest feel welcomed. Sometimes our questions were rudimentary: Do you like your job? Sometimes they were deep: How did you choose the work you do? Sometimes they ebbed into personal: How do you feel about the work you do? But there were always questions. 

I left that home changed in many ways, but the primary of which—and the value I hold most dearly still today, is a desire practice my "There you are-ness" by asking questions. It's one of the questions I get most often from you, dear readers: How do I become a good question-asker?

It's hard to teach this in writing and is best done around folks who are good question-askers. So the first thing you should do is find someone in your community who seems to always ask questions. They're also probably someone who isn't the life of the party or who shines when the spotlight is on them. They might be a bit of a wall-flower, so you're going to have to chase them down and ask your first question: How can I be more like you in this way?

(Actually, that's a great question to ask everyone. "How can I be more like you in this way?" says to the person to whom you're speaking: I see you and I admire this quality in you. That's a good start.)

The first thing to understand about asking good questions is that answerers can see straight through your genuineness. If you're asking questions because you simply want information, it becomes clear almost immediately. If you're asking questions because you simply want to turn a conversation in the direction you want it to go, that also becomes clear. Both are disingenuous. So the first rule of question asking is that it's not about you. It's about them. It's about their heart, their story, their cares, their joys, and their sorrows. The second rule of question asking is: they direct both the information and the direction of the conversation. Think of it like a stream you step into. You don't know if it's going to widen to a river, an ocean, or amble along forever, you're just going to walk in it as long as it continues.  

The third rule of question asking, especially if you're a follower of Christ, is our questions should be aimed at the heart of the person to whom we're asking. Most people in most contexts are uncomfortable both asking and answering about the heart. We don't like to intrude and we like less to be intruded upon. But for the Christian, "the matters of the heart are the heart of the matter." As I said, you can't control whether they widen the stream or turn the conversation in another direction, but you can control the question you ask when you first get in. 

"How's your heart doing?" is, I think, the easiest way to state your intention (I'm after your heart) and ask a question. People are always taken aback by that question. We're used to being asked about our day or our plans, but our hearts? Ick. Back off. It's a humbling question to ask because the risk of rejection is high for the asker. But the risk of an unchecked heart is greater—and worse—for the one being asked. So risk rejection and ask. 

Here are some other great questions to have in your pocket: 

How did that situation make you feel? 

What did your response to this thing tell you about yourself? God? The other person?

Who told you the lie that XYZ? 

What's your story? 

Are you where you thought you'd be at this point in life? What would you change? Why?

What's hard for you today? What's a joy for you today? 

How can I pray for you? 

There's a prevalent belief out there that we always have to have the answers to the questions we're asking. For example, I'm only asking how your heart is because I already know it's a wicked, dark hole that hardly sees the light of the gospel and I'm going to preach at you until the crack of light gets in. But that's not really helpful, not in the long run. How much better to care for the person in front of you by showing interest in their life, heart, fears, and more, and seeing where the conversation goes. The thing you set out to prove might be the final result, but the journey there will be deeper, better, and more like Jesus along the way. 

Here's another post I did on why and how Jesus asked questions

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How to Sleep In the Middle of a Storm

It occurred to me this morning that there's another side of the "at leasts" among us. There's also the "at mosts." You know the sort: again, you're sharing grief, pain, sorrow, anger, or some other struggle through which you currently walk, and they're there waiting to interject a "But God!" or "Well, at least it's not worse!" They're the eternal optimists or, more likely, the ones who are uncomfortable simply letting someone experience pain, suffering, or the depths of what God wants to bring them into. 

Just as I was guilty this past weekend of casting judgement on a fellow family member at my church, I can be guilty of "But Goding" myself all the time. A friend confessed a few years ago that he was learning how to walk into the depths of what God was doing in his life, instead of just in the shallows. He'd learned to bounce, rebound, robotically respond with the greatness of God, without letting the person across from him, or even himself, feel, process, or experience the deepest parts of their pain.

If we truly believe God isn't wasteful, if we truly believe he is sovereign, then we have to learn to comfort others and ourselves without distilling complex experiences down to a platitude—even if the platitude is true. If our response is quick and automated it says more about us than it does about the pain of the other, or their faith in the God who holds them. It says we're unwilling to really wrestle with our brother or sister and instead just want to get the hard stuff over. It says we're unwilling to really listen to them and just want to get a word in edgewise. It says we think our wisdom is better than God's wisdom in allowing this season to unfold for them. It also betrays our lack of trust in God to hold them, even though there may be darker days ahead. 

When we offer up a mere platitude in the face of someone's suffering or confession of weakness, it says more about our lack of faith than it does about theirs. 

True faith acts on the truth of God's word and sometimes Jesus simply wept, sometimes he asked questions, drawing out the mourner or the one in need of healing, sometimes he just fed them, sometimes he fell asleep in the middle of the storm, sometimes he removed himself from the crowds. It is true that he was proclaiming the good news everywhere he went, but good news does not always come in the form of words. Sometimes it comes in the form of weeping with those who weep, the provision of food on the table, and the sight of one who can rest in stillness, without talking, even in the midst of the storm. 

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