The Dirt Reminds Us

The older I get, the less I feel at home in any institution, group, community, or place. It's not that I want to be defined by what I'm not. It's just that my eyes are crusted with the dirt of living, dim with suffering, blind to any inherent goodness in politics, denominations, ideals, or opinions. As my sight grows dim, though, and I see less, I also see more. 

I think this is how it is for most of us. Either this, or we grow stodgy and arrogant, planted deep in the soil of whatever ideology we feel responsible for making (or breaking). We become old dogs who can't learn new tricks or old preachers who choke out passively worded apologies to protect our institution instead of the women within it. So, the alternative is to let our eyesight instead grow dim to this world and her various institutional pillars. Which is where I find myself more often than not these days. 

I mourn this shift in some ways and invite it in others. I wish there was some thing, some place, in which I could plant a flag and claim mine from now until I die. I mourn the disenchantment with particular theologies and practices, groups and networks. Sin does that and there's no way around it. As long as we are here on this breaking earth, as long as the kingdom is not fully established, as long as eternity is only written on our hearts and not the place in which we dwell, we will find ourselves saddened by the state of things. 

Oh, there is hope in the midst of it all too. Don't miss that. I'm what they call a hopeless romantic or an idealist or an optimist. I can't help but be delighted by trees and sunlight and the buds on my dahlias out back or the poetry my husband read aloud to us on Sabbath. I can't help but be enamored by oceans and mountains and to feel small before them. That smallness, though, is what makes the true optimism grow—and with it, the enchantment of here diminish. 

A couple of years ago I lost my political affiliation and nearly in the same breath, though by a different cause, began to feel less at home in my denominational affiliation. Since then the losses have only mounted. I ask my husband a month ago: is this what a mid-life crisis feels like? This monumental sense of loss of home, of being, of place? Is this why there are boob-jobs and Maseratis and affairs and everything bigger and seemingly better? Because somewhere along the way we lose our place and scamper to fill it as quickly as possible? 

My theology won't let me fill it though. And, if I'm honest with myself, my place in theology was errant if it could be lost in the first place. This isn't a mid-life crisis as much as it is a waking up. Waking up with sleep in our eyes still, yes, the Sand Man my grandfather called it as he took his two strong Scottish thumbs and rubbed it out, but waking up still. The thing is now we know our eyesight is dim, before we thought we saw it all so clearly. This is the beauty of youthfulness, I suppose. 

The closer eternity gets for me, the more I feel myself drawn to the earth. I know I said earlier I feel less at home there, but the fact is I feel the gravitational pull toward it, though less the ideal form of it and more its real form. I want to be more acquainted with dirt and seeds and the grittiness of sin and the blindness of people who don't even know eternity is a thing. I say to Nate I am too comfortable here, by the big box stores, in our house in the suburbs, where I can't meet a neighbor who's not a Christian (serious ones, evidenced by the mutual invitations to one another's churches). I need friction, tension, strong Scottish thumbs against my crusty eyes.

Our garden needs to be weeded before we leave for ten days. Our housemates will care for its watering and perhaps pick its first fruits, but the weeding is all my job. I will move the plants aside, bend deep to the soil, and pull errant roots from it. My mother-in-law says a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. I know there's an allegory there somewhere but the dirt is calling and I must go. 

I need the dirt to remind me this earth is my home, just not yet. 


Walking in the Faith We Have, Not the Control We Don't

I am barely awake before the litany starts. All the shoulds and coulds and wishes and wants come one after another. They're not all bad; they're the list of things to pack for an upcoming trip, they're the things I need to do before we leave, they're the piles of things I wish I could pack in a return suitcase: lilacs, mountains, foggy mornings, fires at dusk, time alone with my husband. 

He and I have been talking about the difference between wanting a thing itself and wanting the approval from others that comes from having the thing. In this case the thing is not a thing at all, but a child. May and June are ripe for conversations like these and I suppose visits to IVF clinics and adoption applications rise after respective Father's and Mother's Days every year. We're all just trying to plod through life, putting our feet in the footprints left behind for us. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.

But, what if first never comes? Or second? Or third? What then? Where do you put your feet then? 

Then is when you have to decide: am I doing this because it is expected of me, because it is the logical "next step," or because I am truly being asked by God or given to by God? Am I trying to force the thing because everyone else around me has the thing and I feel twenty steps behind them if I don't too? Is God actually asking this of me, calling me to this, or am I trying to control my outcome because the alternative feels scary and lonely and very unAmerican? 

I know I am dancing on the fringes of some sacred cows and these thoughts of mine very well might make some nervous who have been given a different calling. Please know I am not judgmental of anyone's decision, but I am mighty suspect of my own motives for my own life. What do you do when God has not given or made clear a path for the thing everyone thinks you're supposed to move heaven and earth to have? 

I have no earthly idea. 

When I was single with no prospects for marriage, occasionally someone or a group of someones would be talking and the topic of online dating would come up. I have a good amount of friends who met their mates online and so I cannot argue with its success rate. But I knew, deep in my soul, it would not be walking in faith for me. I knew God was asking me to trust him with the outcome completely. To not even look, search, move, or say "Pick me." And I also knew this was an unpopular and really, really, really difficult thing to do. I knew it looked foolish to others. But I felt deeply confident in my spirit if God had marriage for me, God would orchestrate the events necessary to give it to me (even if someday one of the tools was online dating, I knew it wasn't today). And then today turned into tomorrow and then into the next month and next year and then one day, there he was, standing in front of me in the foyer of our church. We had a two minute conversation of which he remembers most and I remember little. But God did that, not me. I was walking out and heard my name behind me and then a friend introduced us and it was good. 

The only way I can describe how I feel about a controlled effort to have children for us is that same feeling of certainty: if God has this gift for us, I have to trust he will give it to us. It doesn't remove the need for acts of faith, in fact, it increases it (again, for me). It is an act of faith to rejoice with my pregnant sisters. It is an act of faith to bundle a box of baby gifts off to Portland when my best friend births her second. It is an act of faith to look up from the couple in front of me at church cooing over their new one. It is an act of faith to absorb the comments parents make about how rested we look and how easy they assume our lives must be. It is an act of faith to look at the lack and see a gift

God is not wasting this time. And he isn't absent in it. And his goodness isn't far off and his gifts are plenty, if I'm looking in the right place. Mother's Day is a reminder of what I do not have, but every other day is a reminder of what I do. I have an attentive Father and a present Savior and a tender Spirit, who knows my heart far more intricately than I do. He knows if I was wringing my hands and fretting about how to bring a child into our home, I would not be looking at him. He knows how "fear and anxiety leads to control and manipulation" and how these wreck relationships in spades. He knows what is best for me is to trust, look at him, let him absorb the comments, let him absorb the stabs of fear and the hits of pain. He knows he's working in the waiting (and not the waiting for a child, but the waiting for the culmination of all things). 

One of the great tragedies of the modern church mingling with social media and the American dream is we all think everyone should be doing what we're doing, or doing it the way we're doing it. Our problem isn't always that we lack faith for ourselves, but we lack faith for others. We think if it doesn't look like the choices we've made, then the choices are wrong. But when I read Scripture, I see a great many ways in which God makes his kingdom grow. There is one door, one way, and one path, yes, but it requires many different measures of faith to get everyone on it.

I wonder how many of us are waking in the morning with the litany too. All the shoulds and coulds and wants and wishes. The list of everything we're supposed to do crushing us before we've even opened our eyes. The kids should be in three activities a week. I should work out more. He should take out the garbage without me asking. She should be nicer and she'd get married. He should ask out more girls. They should discipline their kids more. I should discipline my kids more. My boss should promote me. I should shop at this grocery store instead of the other one. I don't know what your litany is, but you do, you know it better than anyone. What would it mean for you and your faith and your joy today, if instead you looked to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith, and asked just one question: What do you want of me today? 

And then took one step forward. 


Answering Your Question

About six years ago I closed comments on Sayable and have only regretted it once or twice. I closed them for a few reasons, the primary of which was I wanted Sayable to be a place that encouraged contemplation more than discussion. So much of the online world centers on discussion and I didn't want to be hosting one more place for it. I wanted discussion to be happening in my home, my community, and my church, but I didn't want to be responsible for moderating it online. For me, that was a good choice. At the same time, though, I didn't want to be irresponsible as a writer and not provide a place for readers to be heard if they felt led. I opened a contact page and haven't looked back. Alas, it has created a beast in the form of email for me, a beast I have not mastered or even tamed slightly.

You readers seem to be more willing to get raw and real and vulnerable in an email, I suppose, than in a comment. You ask more questions. You ask for prayer. You ask for advice. You rant. You rave. You ramble. It's glorious. I wouldn't have it any other way. Generally, though, keeping my personal/work inbox at a minimal level is enough work for me. Delving into the emails coming in from Sayable and giving them each the response I wish I could would be a full time job in itself. It would probably be two full time jobs. I cannot, in good faith, give that much time to responding. My position has been (mostly) to not respond. If you've gotten a personal response from me (as in, not an auto-response or a response from someone assisting me), you're among the precious few.

A few months ago a friend helped me sort messages into those that were just saying general thank yous and those who wanted a response directly, and there they've still stayed, unanswered. Nagging in the back of my mind constantly. On principle, I'm quite okay with their unanswered state. I am a wife, a friend, a housemate, a home-maker, a home-group leader, and I have full-time work on my plate. I have to give those things my primary attention. On my less principled days, though, I feel the presence of those emails stalking me around. 

I spent about an hour this morning reading through a hundred or so emails, and thought to myself, "There is so much overlap here, what if I just answered these questions in blog format?" Many of your questions I've already answered (and I'd encourage you to avail yourself to the search bar or tags below—which is the best way to finagle your way through 17 years of archives), but some I might have a new or different perspective than I did before, or just want to revisit for your sake. My aim will just be to occasionally answer some questions, maybe weekly, maybe less often. I still cannot respond to all the emails, but if you asked a question and I tried to answer it, I will try to send you a link. I will not quote any question directly, because there really is a lot of overlap and it would be better to present the question as an amalgam of them all. 

I jotted down a few of the questions here, so if you see yours, just keep an eye out for it later: 

Why do you have a male housemate? (You'll be delighted or dismayed to find that now we have a male AND a female housemate!)

What advice do you have for someone who is engaged or married to someone with a mental illness?

How do I make new friends? 

How do I live an intentional life? 

Do you endorse everything someone (Jen Hatmaker, Jack Deere, Brene Brown, Madeleine L'Engle, etc.) has said just because you reviewed or recommended their book?

How do I trust God when I've had nothing but loss in my life? 

Why should I listen to anything you've written when you're married to a divorced man? 

Do you recommend writing under a pseudonym? 

What would you recommend to someone who thinks they're called to write? 

What do you do when you can't make yourself not doubt God?

Should I date/marry: an unbeliever, divorced person, someone with mental illness, or someone I don't feel peace about? 

Thanks, as always, for reading, friends. Some writers write because they can't not. Some write because they want bigger platforms or publicity. Some write because they have something to say and want to be heard. Some write because they say it's like breathing for them. That's not me. I don't need to write. I write for you. As long as you keep reading, I'll keep writing. So thank you.

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Passions and Singleness

I feel like I've been throwing you all sorts of links to writing I'm doing elsewhere, but I had an emergency root canal yesterday and producing any sort of coherent thoughts today feels near impossible. So here's some writing I did while not under the influence of pain medication.

First is a piece  I wrote for my church on how marriage isn't the only status that illustrates the gospel, singleness does too. Here's an excerpt, and here's the full piece

My marriage didn’t make the gospel more true to me. In fact, marriage in some ways tempered my ache for the coming King. All my years of being single had taught me to long more, hunger more and treat chastity as a sort of fast not waiting for a husband, but waiting for the ultimate Groom, Christ. But in marriage I’ve often felt the itch of my longings more satisfied by my husband than by God. When I’m lonely, he’s there. When I’m lacking, he tries to provide. When I’m fearful, he tries to comfort. When I should be looking to the Savior as my ultimate companion, to the Father as the ultimate provider and the Spirit as my ultimate comfort, I settle for merely looking to my husband.

In many ways I understood a more intrinsic truth of the gospel in my singleness than in my marriage: We are all still waiting, regardless of our marital status, for the return of our Groom, for the marriage feast and for an eternal life together. My prolonged singleness was preaching a more inclusive truth of the gospel than my marriage—which is merely a picture of the covenantal love between Christ and His bride. (Continue reading...)

And here is a piece that was published in the Winter print issue of Light Magazine (a publication of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) on how to view your work if it's not your passion. Here's an excerpt, and here's the full piece now available online

We can begin to believe simply because we’re passionate about something or feel a certain inclination toward it, God means it for us now or in the future, but God’s Word never promises this. Over and over God tells his children to be faithful, work hard, trust him, and empty ourselves. We’re reminded in Scripture of men and women who worked a very long time and never saw what actually was promised to them (Heb. 11).

When we believe a desire for a vocation means we will get to do it all our life, we’ve made the passion for the thing our idol. How much better to trust the work of our hands to the Creator of all, knowing he takes what is a formless void and makes it all beautiful in his time? Our work is good because, when all was still a formless void, God was preparing us for good works (Eph. 2:10). (Continue reading...)

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The Little Anger that Grew

I got a little angry last week and then I got a little more angry this week and that's okay, I guess, if you live by yourself and never have to communicate with real people whom you love or you don't love Jesus. But I don't live by myself and I do love Jesus and my little anger has been spilling over. And, as anger is wont to do, when it spills over you realize it's not so little as you first pretended it to be. In fact, it's a monstrosity. 

The particulars don't matter much and also they're so varied and vast that it's not really the particular of the moment that I'm actually angry about, but all the other things so when the particular very little moment happens, it turns into a very big thing. The thing is: I am not an angry person (this is what all angry persons say, I think, probably). I extend grace like it's next year's credit. I overlook like it never happened. I bite my tongue and choose my words very, very, very carefully. And, at the bottom of all that seeming goodness: I'm angry. 

Mostly I'm angry at my body. If there is an infectious malady I did not catch within the past three weeks, I'm unaware of it. Plus I cracked my tooth on a wheat berry and tweaked my lower back painfully and had the blessed curse on all women on top of it all. It was like merrily all the way until suddenly 37 said, "And now, for our next trick, your body is going to remind you it's fallible from head to toe!" I pride myself (literally) on rolling with the punches, but there are some punches from which you cannot get up.* 

And so, as anger does when there is no shred of pride left to keep it from bubbling over, I've been angry. I can count on more hands than I have the number of times my dear husband has said to me in the past few weeks, "I think you're overreacting/being harsh/feeling tired/need to give them more grace/need to give yourself more grace/misunderstanding/being unkind." So, literal insult to literal injury, my body is falling apart and my soul is falling apart. 

This morning I woke up all prepared with what I was going to say (since not saying, not saying, not saying until I can't not say anymore is a real sin struggle of mine) about a certain thing to a certain someone. I sat down to start work, armed with a lit candle, a Mason jar of water, coffee (which in recent weeks tastes like dishwater to me but which I keep drinking), and my Bible. I wish I could say there were stunning words of life and now I'm all repentant and changed and free of anger, but the truth is I'm not. I'm still angry. Again, the particulars don't matter and they're 26 bullet points long and probably matter a lot less than I'm giving them credit for. But what I realized this morning is really, there's only one bullet point that matters: I'm angry at God. 

It's not because he isn't giving me something I want. And it isn't because he's giving it to someone else. It's not because he isn't good and isn't doing good all over the world. It isn't because he isn't kind or just or generous or merciful. He is all those things and I know it with my whole heart. I'm angry at him because I feel far from him and I've felt it for a while. 

It shows up like I feel far from my dear husband or I feel lonely like my best friends live on opposite sides of the country or I feel far from the dream of ever living in the northeast on two acres in a farmhouse with a row of peonies and a couple kids or I feel far from being the person I want to be in body, in spirit, in soul, and in mind. I feel very far off from all this, yes, but mostly I feel far from God. 

I've been listening to the Psalms this morning and reminding myself that God is unchangeable and omnipresent and never far off. That even if I feel far off or see myself as far off, he cannot be far off. Just as true as all the other truths about God I know, his presence is true. Who he is, is true. But also where he is, is true. And his nearness is my good (Ps. 73:28). 

This doesn't sort out my anger. It doesn't resolve it. And it doesn't quell it. But it does point to the true source of it and that, I think, is probably a helpful place to start. It makes me wonder how much of the shouting in the world today (wars, rumors of wars, blog rebuttals and careless tweets, sarcasm and misunderstandings) is really just because we're angry at God. We feel overlooked by him. We feel unheard by him. We wonder, "How long, O Lord?" We keep thinking other people can solve or abate or resolve or even handle the anger we feel, but all along, the only one who can truly handle it is the only one who can truly resolve it. 

I don't know where your anger (even if you're not an "angry person") is directed today. Maybe it's toward your family or your husband or politics or your kid or systemic problems in the world or the Church or your finances or your singleness or maybe you already know it's toward God and you're way ahead of me. I don't know. I'm praying for both of us this morning, though. That's all.

*Every time I talk about anything to do with health, I get 27,000 messages telling me what to do or not to do or what worked for you. Thank you. But please don't. Okay? 

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