Living Water at a Broken Well

I have a post over at my church's resource page today. Here's the beginning, click through at the bottom for the entirety. 

A week before my birthday my husband prayed it would not be like the last two. In 2015, I witnessed the violent shooting of a police officer. In 2016, my husband was gone on a trip that didn’t go as planned—a terrible disappointment—and I celebrated by making myself banana pancakes and sharing them with my dog. It was a sad, rainy and lonely day. In 2017, I was supposed to be camping with a few close friends, but instead I spent the day moving from my bed to the bathroom, losing yet another little life inside me, our third miscarriage in three years.

A birthday is simply a marker, an anniversary of sorts, a stake in the ground: I have been alive for 37 years and am now in my 38th year. But when that marker is marked doubly by sadness, tragedy or pain on an ongoing basis, it creates inward stasis. Moving forward seems impossible, so staying in place seems the way of safety. There comes a paralyzing fear of feeling anything in regard to pain; instead, it seems better to become stoic and indifferent to it. We know life holds suffering and God is sovereign over it, but when the suffering comes in waves and leaves no corner of our hearts and lives untouched, it can be tempting to find the deepest corner and bed ourselves there permanently, praying we can bear it. The Bible is not silent on this stasis, though, nor does it offer demands too insurmountable for the broken. The Word of God and the gospel offer living water even to those waiting by broken wells.

On the morning after my birthday this year, my husband read John 5:2-9 to me, the narrative of another person in his 38th year, another man who was waiting for wholeness too, while he watched others receive what he desired:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Over the past month, I have been asking the Lord to show me the way out of my insufficient corner and into the way of trusting God with all my emotions, frailty, paralyzation and sorrow. He has been using this passage as a roadmap of sorts, and I am grateful for it. This passage is descriptive and not prescriptive—meaning it tells us what happened then, but not necessarily how it should always happen. But it does show us a common malady in the hearts of men and the posture of our Savior.

Read the rest of this post at The Village Church Resources

A Case for Marrying Later

I have read and heard and read some more of the case for marrying young, but the more I think about it, and the more I see faithful singles in their late twenties into their thirties and forties and beyond, the more I actually do believe with Paul that it is good to remain unmarried, if not forever, at least then longer. 

What I am not saying is prolonged, aimless, meandering singleness serves anyone (including, if God wills, your future marriage). What I am saying is the purposeful, intentional, poured out life of an unmarried person for the good of the church, the community, and the earth, is a very great gift and should not be squandered or squelched by the growing concerns of married people about late marriages. 

I think the reason many—in the church especially—are concerned about this trend of later marriages is because for so long the main medium and message has centered around the family instead of around faithfulness. Procreation of children, family morals, concerns about marriage issues—these have formed a boundary line of sorts around the sort of things Christians care about. This is why singles have felt alienated, marginalized, and overlooked within the church for so long: unless they both want marriage and are actively involved in the getting of it, there isn't a box for them. Which is unfortunate. No, it's something more than unfortunate. 

I know I don't know much about marriage yet, but I do know a thing or two about being single far longer than I originally hoped. What I found in the prolonging of my singleness was not less fruitfulness, but more as time went on. I found a curious and surprising freedom of flexibility. I found I was able to love the Lord and others with fewer distractions. I found I was able to give of my finances quickly without question. I could travel easily, serve easily, and spend long periods of time in thinking, processing, and praying. What I am not saying is the often quoted line that "singles have more time and finances than married people." What I am saying is I had the same 24 hours in my day then as I do now and the same tight budget then as I do now, but I was able to spend those hours undistracted by the things marriage has called me to now. 

Some of the most faithful Christians I know today are unmarried. They are using their gifts to show a different side of what faithfulness might look like when one doesn't have children, a spouse, a mortgage, or some other constraints. They are making a case for late marriages not simply because of the kind of marriage they might have by delaying it (hopefully more mature, grounded, wise, and sanctified than if they'd come into marriage at 20 or 22), but by being extraordinarily faithful in their singleness.

To all my readers who are unmarried, thank you for being faithful and I pray you grow only more so. The Church needs to see your example of faithfulness. The Church needs to learn marriage isn't the most sanctifying agent, but age, maturity, and submission to God are, and no one is exempt from those three things. The Church needs your hands, your minds, your insights, your passion, your longing, your gifts, not because we are needy and greedy, but because for too long we have not valued what you bring to the Christian life. 

You stand in the company of Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Amy Carmichael, Joni Eareckson Tada, Mother Theresa, William Wilberforce, Florence Young, Gladys Aylward, Lottie Moon, Corrie Ten Boom, my sweet friend Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus—men and women who married late or never married at all, and of whom the world is not worthy in many ways. Faithful men and women who gave their most fruitful years not to bearing children or pleasing wives, but to the bettering of the Church and world. These are giants in my mind and they make the case for marrying late all on their own.

Marriage is a gift and it is not wrong or sinful to long for it—it is a gift I wouldn't trade today for anything, but those years of singleness were a gift too, not just to me, but to others I hope. If you have not married young, there will be sacrifices and it is good and right to mourn over those unmet desires, but then, friends, stand up in the company of those men and women above. Your undistracted, unhindered, anxiety-free faithfulness can be a gift without compare. You have not been wasted and God has not wasted you.

Marry late or not at all—God will not waste you. 

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When You Cannot Yet See the Great Light

A quiet, pulsing comfort when I'm reminded, in no uncertain terms, that we don't always get what we want, is we haven't been promised most of whatever it is we want. Marriage? More money? Bigger house? Health? More kids? Kids at all? None of them are promised. The years go by with no prospective spouse, the bank account always seems to be dry, every month a painful reminder that no seed has taken root in our womb. The reminders are everywhere, we don't even have to look far. Name anything you want and haven't yet got and there it is, your reminder. 

Today, though, I woke on this fifth day of Advent and the second day of a miscarriage, remembering the child who was promised to me. God promised a child would be born to us, a son, given to us (Isaiah 9). He was not the child I wanted last night as silent tears tracked down my face, but he was given to us the same. 

I know that doesn't seem to be a lot of comfort for all of us who are still waiting, on days we feel the not-yetness more than the alreadyness of the kingdom. But this isn't some grand cosmic Jesus-Juke. It is Jesus, before juking was a thing. And he is actually enough. Even when he doesn't feel like it. 

This morning I'm listening to Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and the words from the third stanza comfort: 

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Through this life, where hope is guiding, listen: what peaceful music rings. Where we all trust Jesus and drink from eternal and living water. 

Everyone I've talked to this December has been weighed down by the busy, the rush, the flurry of activity, the demands of family. I am laying in bed for the second day in a row, though, captive to my broken body, forced to face my sadness, our emptiness, the not-yetness. But this morning, I find myself weeping while reading Isaiah 9 because everything God has promised me is true. He is a God who keeps his promises. 

Jesus: the joy of all my desires. The one in whom I find all the yeses and amens of the Father. The perfect gift. The promised and delivered gift. 

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Throwing Stones at The Glass Castle

I think I can say with nearly 100% accuracy that I have never written about a movie on Sayable. I'm not sure why I'll venture to today except that I watched The Glass Castle last week and haven't stopped thinking about it. 

I first read The Glass Castle six years ago and loved it. Jeannette Walls is a talented writer and storyteller, and as with most good memoirists, takes unremarkable life and makes it profound. I won't give too much of the story away, but the basic plot is the story of a dysfunctional family. There is no beginning, middle, or end to their story, and if it sounds hopeless it's not because it is, but because we are so predisposed to sore beginnings and happy endings. Eternity is written on our hearts, the Bible says, and the way that plays out for most of us is we want the feast, the Father, and an eternity of joy. (Spoiler alert: Children of God get all three.)

The critics did not like the new film version of The Glass Castle and so while I was looking forward to my viewing, I also was setting my sights low. When is the movie ever really better than the book? The main complaint, it seemed, was not on the acting, the setting, the scenery, or even the story, but on the ending. After a lifetime of dysfunction, years of neglect, abuse, alcoholic rages, and spots of joy so tangible you could taste them, the children in the film, now grown, seemed to forgive their parents, even laugh about their childhood. The book didn't portray their joy quite so tangibly, so if the critics complaints centered mainly around the disparity there, I could understand. But they didn't. They critiqued the neat ending, the tied-up ribbon, the tears and laughter around the Thanksgiving table, remembering their father. How could these children seemingly forgive the monstrosity of their parentage? 

I am not a movie critic, but I do think about life quite a bit, and what I can't shake is that the strings of unforgiveness are so woven into the fabric of our lives and culture that we can cannot fathom life as a mixture of pain and joy, highs and lows, brokenness and forgiveness any longer. People become the sum of their actions instead of humans first and broken second. This is everywhere around us, in the news, in our living rooms, in our marriages, in our friendships, in political sides, in theology, in lifestyle. And as we spit nails at the injustices of others, we become what we behold: unjust justice police. 

Life isn't so neat and orderly as the critics of The Glass Castle want it to be. Forgiveness doesn't mean there isn't still a bittersweet taste in your mouth when you think of your father. Laughter doesn't mean there is no trace of regret. And coming around a Thanksgiving table with the brokenness of seven lives and worlds and histories behind you doesn't mean none of it ever happened. It did happen and it shapes things and changes them and shifts them. It doesn't mean they don't tell the truth about the kind of man their father was. And it doesn't have to mean they can't take the hand of that dying—and broken—man and smile at him through their tears. 

The beauty of The Glass Castle is not that it ends too neatly, but that it ends messily and complicated, just as life is. We want clear delineations and boundaries and decisive clarity on whether folks are in or out, but life is not like that.

I read this morning in II Corinthians chapter one, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

Hurt people hurt people, and Paul says those who are hurting from any affliction can be comforted with the comfort we've been given by God. That's messy, friends. There's no way that's not messy. To enter into brokenness, where years of hurt has induced hurt, and to say, I'm going to offer the comfort of a smile through my tears, laughter through my pain, and the hand of peace to the hand of neglect. That is messy, but that is also grace. 

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Distracted Devotion: The Divided Attentions of Marriage

A month ago I messaged our pastor after his first sermon in a series of three on marriage and said, "Really great sermon. Will there be one on the value and need of singleness?" He replied quickly it was in the line-up and yesterday it was delivered. It was the sermon I had wished to hear in my years of singleness at The Village and it was a sermon I was grateful my counterparts were hearing (both married and un-married). Matt read me the draft before he preached it, deferring to the challenges I gave him, and I know from several others he did the same with them. One of the reasons I love being back here is because we have a pastor who listens to his people and doesn't need to be the final arbiter on anything. The result, for this sermon and any other, really, was it was staunchly Biblical, full of encouragement, and humble in delivery. 

I wanted to walk away full of renewed hope for my unmarried sisters and brothers, and hope for my married friends too, that we would all walk forward energized, excited, and truly commissioned for work together. But only a few minutes into the sermon, Matt read from I Corinthians 7:32-35, and I felt sick inside. I know this Scripture. I know it backwards and forwards. I committed my life to knowing it and living it and embodying it in my singleness. I was anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please him in body and spirit. I was determined to be undistracted by the things of this world. Determined to serve the Church and my church fully. Determined to be wholly committed to this gift of singleness. I had good days and bad ones, but I can honestly say as I faced my groom on our wedding day, I had tried to be obedient and faithful and had no regrets. 

But since marriage? Friend. It has been two years of piling regrets, piling shame, and piling guilt. I have not known how to receive this gift of marriage as a gift. I have not known how to draw my eyes in from my previous breadth of ministry to the current depth of it. To "care for the concerns of my home," seems to be the antithesis of all I spent my life on before. To "be anxious about the things of this world," seems to be the opposite of the call I tried to fill. To "please a husband," seems to shout of everything I tried not to do in my singleness—craft myself into a man-pleasing woman. 

I have known this tearing of my ontological self to be happening, but I have tried and tried to somehow make both true. I have tried to make the aim to be anxious about the Lord and the world, how to please the Lord and please my husband, and the tearing feels so incomplete still.

I have said before that marriage is not the most sanctifying thing and that for some singleness may be their most sanctifying thing. I have also said the sanctification that happens in marriage is different than the kind that happens in singleness, and this verse in I Corinthians, so often my aim in my singleness, describes the different better than I could. I used to judge married folks for being so worldly minded, more concerned about their homes and husbands and kid's schedules than the Wide World Out There. But yesterday in church, I felt the pit of conviction grow large in my innards. It isn't disobedience to be concerned with the things of this world. It's different, but not disobedience. 

Maybe some of you long married folks are shaking your heads at me, rolling your eyes, and maybe you unmarried folks are desperate for the trade, but as for me, I'm wondering how long oh Lord? How long, I asked Nate in the car on the way home yesterday, will this process be painful for me? It has truly felt like I'm being ripped apart inside as I learn to turn my gaze inward, focus on pleasing my husband and working in our home, seeking to honor the Lord in a different context.

How long will it hurt? How long will it feel like a loss? I asked Nate. 

I don't think he answered, not directly at least, he rarely does. My husband is a question asker to my questions, leading me to the water of life and washing me in it. It will hurt as long as we live in this world and call ourselves Jesus-followers, I think. Since creation we've been turning our gaze from what is best and setting it on the things of this world. It's not all wrong, though, and I saw that yesterday in I Corinthians 7. 

My favorite poem, one I've quoted here so often I hope you all know it as well as I do now, is called Love Calls Us to the Things of this World, and it is about laundry, billowing, blowing, and clear dances done in the sight of heaven. I weep every time I read it because it reminds me of how much work it is to love, truly love. The real substance of love is not only the being, but the doing. The being loved is dependent on the other, but the doing of love is on me, with the Spirit's help. And right now, as long as I am married, God, who is love, has called me to the things of this world, how I may please my husband. It is a different call, and one I am not quite comfortable in, and may never be, but it is my call. And it is good. 

I think perhaps we all have grass is greener moments. I know there were plenty of times in my singleness when I wanted the breadth of my life to be shrinked to a singular depth—to a man, and thought it would be better than what I had. And I know there are some who wish to be free of the constraints of marriage and children (and laundry if we're honest). And maybe there are some of you who are so comfortably settled in this day and gift in which you live that you never dream of the other. I don't know where you are today, but I do know it is the gift you've been given for today. As our dear old Elisabeth said, "God still holds tomorrow."