When Plans Go Awry and Link Love

In the beginning of August the government agency for whom Nate works told him he'd had two weeks of training at the end of the month for which he'd need to be in D.C.. We made hurried plans for a road-trip, some driving routes were discussed so I could go too, a ticket was purchased, I let the folks at home in New York I'd be there for almost two weeks. I rarely get truly excited about anything until the thing itself is a reality right in front of me, but I had the quiet rumblings of joy at the unexpected trip. Then, as suddenly as the trip was planned, Nate came home and quietly told me the plans changed and he'd no longer have to go right then. 

I felt so disappointed and sad. You know the feeling? The kind of sadness you can feel in your throat and maybe your stomach and certainly your heart. I didn't want to be sad because it wasn't Nate's fault and yet he would be the one who would see that sadness up close. But I was still sad. It was a good reminder, for me, that we can make plans but our hope has to be squarely on God. 

A few weeks later Nate came home again with some more news: another training trip was needed and this one would be closer to home (for me), and during peak week. The last days of September and the first days of October make up peak week in upstate New York, where I'm from. The leaves are brilliant in their array of color and the weather is usually crisp and dramatic, dark skies with brilliant glinting sunshine, billowing clouds. Autumn is my favorite season and these weeks of beauty are its capstone. 

In two days he and I will begin our long trek eastward, splitting our time between upstate and D.C.. We have 67 hours of driving, a flight, a passel of books on Audible, plans with friends made, and a few spots booked along the route. We are leaving our sweet pup with friends and our home in the care of our housemate (Did you know we have a housemate this year? We do! He's an intern at our church and we thank God for the gift of him every day.). 

This is nothing more than to say that many times our plans go awry. In fact most times they do. I can't think of a single plan I made when I was 20 that has been actualized, except maybe my English degree. Most of my life has been one fumble after another into surprising circumstances, sometimes painful ones, but usually ones I find myself grateful for in the end. I would not have written the story God had for me and I wonder if there are many of you who are saying, or would say (or will say), the same for you. I think most of us find it to be true. 

Here are some things I've read in the past week or so that I enjoyed and you might too: 

The Body and the Earth, by Wendell Berry

Some Kind of Calling, by Pam Houston

What Does a Healthy Writer, Reader, Publisher Relationship Look Like, by Aaron Earls

Five Benefits to Reading Entire Books of the Bible in One Sitting, Crossway Blog

The Parable of the Lost Pointer, by Karen Swallow Prior

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The Hardest Thing We'll Ever Do is Just Plain Faithfulness

I caused a bit of a kerfuffle over on my Facebook page the other day by attempting to encourage one group of folks and bumbling it a bit. The husband and I hashed over it all while going to pick up a white slipcovered couch we found on Facebook Marketplace, which should tell you two things: Facebook is still good for something and that something will probably lead to more headaches than fewer ones. I promptly spilled coffee on the couch yesterday morning. An object lesson if there ever was one. 

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Few of my still unmarried friends, in all honesty, really, truly, and completely think that marriage will complete them, solve all their problems, and generally make them better folks all around. Though it is all the rage to assume they do think this, I can't think of a single one who does. Most of them, though, hear that message from married folks all the time in some form. 

I know, I know, you're throwing up your hands right now, insisting you've never said that ever. But, actually, most of us have. Every time we say things like, "Marriage is the most sanctifying thing you'll ever do," or "Nothing matures you like marriage," or "He/She just needs to settle down and get married." What message do you think singles are hearing when you say things like that?

They're hearing: If marriage is the most sanctifying thing one can ever do, I must be incomplete until I'm married (therefore, marriage will complete me). Or, if nothing matures one like marriage, I will be immature until I'm married. Or, if I want to be stable and settled, I have to get married. You see what I mean? Married folks complaining that singles all think marriage will complete them while continuing to tout that in some form marriage is the most of anything continues to perpetuate strangulating myths for both married folks and unmarried ones. 

What I tried to say in my Facebook status was that, for some (and for me specifically), singleness was more difficult and more sanctifying that marriage has been. I did not say it would never even out (though I suppose it may take another 35 years for the scales to level), though I did infer that if one presses themselves into obedience, which leads to righteousness, which leads to sanctification (which—surprise—leads to obedience, which...) (Romans 6:15-23) while still unmarried, then they too may have a less difficult marriage as those muscles will be stronger coming into it.

I don't know why this is so difficult for many to hear. As the weekend progressed, though, and I thought, prayed, and talked with Nate about it (and listened to yet another respected teacher say a form of, "Marriage is the most sanctifying thing you'll ever do." ), I realized something: the Bible never says that. 

The Bible says in this world we will all have trouble (John 16:33). It says marriage will bring us concern for our spouse, yet singleness has concern for the Lord—so both have concerns aplenty (I Corinthians 7). It says husbands must love and wives must submit (Ephesians 5), but it also says all Christians will be known by their love (I John 3) and all of us must submit to one another (Ephesians 5). In fact, there isn't one thing a married person has or does that an unmarried person will not participate in fully, functionally, and more eternally than an earthly married person does. So who's the more mature one here? Who's the one who has it harder? Who's getting more sanctified? The answer is neither.

Life is difficult and trials have come for all of us in one form or another. But, as our dear Lewis said, it isn't that we expect too much, but that we expect too little. From God and from one another. The Scriptures do not promise marriage will be hard, but they do promise life will be. For some, that difficulty will come in marriage, and for some in cancer, and for some in financial ruin, and for some in singleness, and for some in infertility, and for some in lifelong celibacy, and for some in ministry, and for some in wealth, and for some in parenthood, and so on. 

When we perpetuate the narrative that our experience of marriage is hard and therefore assign it will or should be hard for everyone, it puts limitations on singles for the possibility of sanctification.

When we perpetuate the myth that there is no relationship we will be more challenged by, in, or within than marriage, we place limitations on relationships for singles—are we surprised when our unmarried brothers and sisters struggle to commit to one another, to truly love, to risk hurt? We've as much as told them they're incapable of deep, lasting, covenantal relationship unless they're married!  

When we perpetuate the myth that marriage is the "most" or "hardest" of anything, we elevate marriage as pinnacle. Why are we then surprised when our unmarried friends perhaps think marriage will complete them? 

We are guaranteed two things in life: the first is we will suffer and the second is we will spend eternity with our Groom. We are not guaranteed a hard marriage or an easy one, a difficult singleness or an easy one. To each has been given a measure of faith for the life we've been given to live. Nothing we do is the most or worst or best or easiest or hardest or whatever other superlative we want to throw in there. What we're called to today—where sufficient for every person's day is its troubles—is faithfulness. 

If your marriage is hard, and Lord knows, many of them are and the hardest thing some folks have ever done, here's my encouragement to you: obey the Scriptures, bear the fruit of righteousness, press yourself into sanctification, beg the Spirit to fill you with himself more and more, and to bear his fruit in all things. 

If your singleness is hard, and friends, I know it sometimes feels like the most difficult thing you will ever do, here's my encouragement to you: obey the Scriptures, bear the fruit of righteousness, press yourself into sanctification, beg the Spirit to fill you with himself more and more, and to bear his fruit in all things. 

If your marriage or singleness is easy, and goodness gracious, let's rejoice when ours is or others are, here's my encouragement to you: obey the Scriptures, bear the fruit of righteousness, press yourself into sanctification, beg the Spirit to fill you with himself more and more, and to bear his fruit in all things. 

I am praying for all of us today to that end. Faithfulness in easy marriages and hard ones. Faithfulness in child-rearing and child-absence. Faithfulness in singleness and widowhood. Faithfulness in empty-nesting and baby-birthing. Just faithfulness. 

Films, Books, & Music for your Autumn

One of the beautiful parts of this writing life is the friendships and fellow artists I've gotten to know over the years. I'm physically unable to read and recommend everything I get sent or am asked to recommend, but there have been a few projects recently I am so excited to share with you. Some by dear friends, some by acquaintances, and all by people being faithful with their gifts. 

Several years ago the folks behind The Heart of Man reached out for help in getting their Kickstarter out. I was all too happy to spread the word then, and haven't heard much about the project since then. Recently the trailer was released and I saw why: because they were busy doing everything with excellence. I cannot encourage you enough to gather a group of people together to view this film. 

Here's a film about the life of one of my personal heroes, Wendell Berry. It also has a limited release, but maybe it's playing near you somewhere. Our plan is to purchase the film, fill our living room to the brim, and project it on the wall. Maybe you could do something like this. I know it will provide food for thought. 

You might remember a few years ago Stephen McCaskell directed a documentary on the life of Spurgeon. It was spectacular. He has recently completed another documentary, this time on the life of Luther. I haven't gotten a chance to view it yet, but it looks fabulous and would be a great way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Gather a group together to view this one too. It's available here on Amazon streaming

A few months ago my friend Jared Wilson released his book The Imperfect Disciple. The night I got it in the mail a friend came over and was interested in reading it. Since I had a stack of other books I was trying to get through, I lent it to him. I just got it back a week ago and have devoured it during my morning reading time. Not since Zack Eswine's Sensing Jesus (now The Imperfect Pastor) have I encountered a book so freeing for imperfect Christians. If that's you (and that is you), I recommend it. 

A few weeks ago my friend Ruth released her art in the form of painting and words in her book Gracelaced. It is truly a masterpiece. Ruth is one of my favorite people to follow on social media for her vulnerability, faithfulness, and always present love of the word of God. I hope you'll check out this book (and its accompanying journal). 

Years ago Shawn and his wife Maile came over for dinner on their way through Texas and told me about the book that would eventually become my favorite. They named their son after the title character so I knew then they must be serious lit-nerds. Shawn's appreciation of good writing is the foundations for his book The Day the Angels Fell, which is great literature! Nate picked it up and read it in one afternoon, citing its similarity to Peace Like a River, Chaim Potok, and Ray Bradbury (three of his favorites), so I knew it would be good. And it is. It's a young adult novel, and would make a great read-aloud for discussion as a family. 

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Caroline Cobb's new album is releasing today, A Home and a Hunger. I first learned about Caroline years ago when I heard her song Passover Song. I was mesmerized. I told everyone I knew about her album, The Blood and the Breath, then. Now, I cannot wait for you to listen to her new work about the kingdom and our longing for the new heaven and hew earth. Get it today. 

 

 

We Were Going to Move to Chattanooga

A year ago today Nate and I were standing on the pinnacle of a familiar mountain, a place I called home for years and a place that still holds a piece of my heart. We were quietly dreaming, after a year of crushing disappointments, heart-ache, trauma, and loss. We were asking the questions "What if?" and "Where might?" It was the first time I felt hope in over a year. We made the beginning of a plan that weekend: to move to Chattanooga and settle there. 

There's a lot that happened between Labor Day 2016 and Labor Day 2017, but the shortest way to say it is that we're back in Texas, in the place we met and married, but not the place we fell in love.

The place we fell in love is everywhere and everything. 

It was honeymooning in the Aspen trees and buying a house on July 4th and learning things weren't as they seemed at my new job and losing a baby we didn't know was beginning and losing his job we thought was certain and coming home to a police-taped home near Thanksgiving and cutting down our first tree together in the Rocky Mountains and witnessing the shooting of a cop on my birthday and and losing the beginning of another life we were sure of and navigating a church conflict we felt blindsided by and being disappointed again and again and again by hopeful job interviews and no call backs and packing all of our stuff again and moving again to another side of our country and losing more money than I'd ever dreamed of even having and living in our second 1800s home with creaky floors and uneven doors and charm and still feeling so alone every single moment. It was bringing home Harper and struggling to find a church home and learning the Chattanooga job market was another Denver job market and our dreams of moving there would not be realized. It was packing again, and moving again, back to the south. It was unpacking in a home we knew wasn't guaranteed or our "forever home" or secure or would be full of children or dreams coming true. 

What I'm trying to say is we can make a lot of plans, but our hope is in the Lord and he carries us through—and grows our capacity for life and love within it all. 

I get a lot of emails from you, dear readers, asking about love and marriage and singleness and how do you know and what is settling and all that. I guess I just wanted to say to you today: you can make a lot of plans and have a lot of dreams and just envision how your life should be and think it is all somewhat certain. Because you have a certain "call" or a certain "desire" or feel you were made by God for a certain "purpose," it can become so easy to believe life will turn out that way, all you have to do is make the people in it and the jobs you take and the decisions you make fit within that call or dream or purpose. 

I want to say to you, friends, that this is a lie. It's a sneaky one because it sounds good to have purpose and to aim for it straight. But the lie is that we think we're somehow owed the life we desire, even if God has not yet granted it and might never do so. 

You may feel called to be a mother or a husband or a pastor or a teacher or a writer or a wife or a single or a speaker or a counselor, but a sense of calling does not mean God will fulfill things in your order or way. The way to be a successful wife is not to have the perfect husband, the way to be a successful pastor is not to have a pastor's wife, the way to be a successful writer is not to have a successful book, and the way to be a successful single is not to be undistracted by the opposite gender. No. The way to be successful is simply to be faithful with today. 

And tomorrow.

And the next day.

And the day after.

Someday, when you are very old, or maybe not very old, and just in the middle of your life, you will look behind you at a series of crushing disappointments, plans that went awry, ways you felt stolen from and lied to, and you will see the faithfulness of God pressing you into the way of a faithful servant. This is the mark of a successful child of God. 

The answer to the questions we're all asking can be summed up with another question: What is the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of you—within the confirmation of Scripture—telling you to be faithful in today? 

That's it. That's our answer. 

Your life will take many twists and turns and near fails and falters and wins and losses, but if you're pent up inside trying to situate yourself in such a way for success as you determine it, you will feel lost on the way. No matter how strategically you play the pieces of your life, you are not guaranteed the win you envision. You are only guaranteed the win you have been promised in Scripture. The sooner we can all learn things won't turn out like we planned because life is not some choose your own adventure book like we all think it ought to be, the sooner we can rest in the comforting presence of the Spirit, the true promises of Scripture, and the beckoning care of the Father. 

Whatever decision it is that's tying you up in knots today? What does it look like to open your hands around it, obey the Spirit (as hard as it might be), and let the trajectory of your life take an unexpected and—perhaps—painful turn? I promise you, no, Scripture promises you! There is the joy of your Master at the end of the story of your life—a story you can't even imagine today he would write for you.  

That time we made a plan to move to Chattanooga and didn't. 

That time we made a plan to move to Chattanooga and didn't. 

Empty Tables: Singleness and Barrenness

There are moments in our lives when we have startling clarity about a painful memory or circumstance in which we find ourselves. It is at times only a moment, and other times it shakes us so deeply we know we'll remember it from then on. There was a moment like this for me in 2012. 

I, like most of my friends, assumed I'd be married sometime in my twenties, like most of my friends. One by one, two by two, I watched almost all of them marry, and I crossed over the threshold of thirty wondering what horrific thing must be wrong with me. Each year that passed then, the growing feeling of being defective grew. I found more purpose in my singleness, exponentially so, but simultaneously there was a growing feeling of having been overlooked. There was a public purposefulness existing alongside an interior confusion. 

In 2012 I met a few friends who struggled with infertility, and this was my startling moment of clarity. As obvious as it might seem now, until that point I had not considered the similarities of the struggles we shared. And now, having experienced infertility, I find myself grateful for the strange gift of lack. If anything, experiencing these two similar seasons has made me more aware of the people all around me who are waiting for something they have not been promised, and how quickly we can run to the seeming safety of that identity to excuse our sins, fears, failures, and life choices. 

The lessons I learned in my singleness translate to this infertility in a few ways: 

1. I had to learn that marriage was not promised to me, as much as I wanted it and believed I was made for it. It has made it infinitely easier to remember children are not promised to me, as much as I might want them and believe I am made for them. If I believe that a simple desire for a thing means a guarantee I will get the thing, I have made that thing an idol, something that takes the place for God. It cannot be the thing, or the desire for the thing, that commands my worship. 

2. I had to learn my purpose could not be put on hold until I was married. In the same way, I have to learn I am not less than, being withheld from, incomplete, or unable to learn what God has for me to learn in barrenness. God will teach me patience, hope, his sufficiency, faithfulness just as thoroughly as he will teach moms of young children and has taught empty nesters. He withholds nothing good from me, not marriage, not children, and not lessons I think are limited to those who have them.

3. I had to learn in my singleness that I would always feel a little incomplete and this was not a bad thing. So too in barrenness. The gift is the lack. The feeling of incompleteness is a great gift to the Christian because it reminds us we're not home yet, we're not face to face with Jesus. Pray that the areas where you feel the ache of emptiness, you would long more for the day of Jesus

4. I had to learn that my family was not a husband or children, but the local church. Our world and church culture is so built around and acquiesced to the nuclear family, this was a difficult one to learn. In my singleness I had to be very purposeful to find sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and children within the local church. In barrenness it is the same. My family is not limited to blood and DNA, but it is the body of Christ

5. I had to learn my hope was not in a single person to be my best friend, my closest confidant, and the object of my affection. In barrenness I have to learn that I may never have children to dress, to teach, to feed, to nourish, to love, to discipline, and to release. It teaches me to look up from me, and see the many

I am convinced, every single day, that my years of singleness were preparing me for these years of infertility. I do not know when or how or if we will have children. But I do know I do not feel wasted, overlooked, afraid, ignored, or short-changed by God. And I know for certain it was because I entered into the suffering of my barren friends during my singleness and learned to see we're all waiting for something, every one of us. 

If your table is empty because you are unmarried or because God has withheld children from you or because your children are grown and away, what might he want to fill those chairs with? What is he teaching you about his character? What various sorts of trials is he asking you to enter into with your brothers and sisters, even if they're not the same as yours? How has he prepared you in the past for the struggle you now face?  

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