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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Dead Things Sometimes Lie

lemon verbena A few days ago I passed the lemon verbena bush in our garden, its leaves crinkled and brown, folded over on themselves and, for all appearances, dead. I picked one leaf and crushed it in my fingers, the strong scent of citrus released, fresh as though I'd picked a lemon in season from the tree that gave it life. A good reminder that things that appear dead can be telling only half the story.

"In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.

This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No—but at least we don’t take God’s Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can." II Corinthians 2:14-17 MSG

. . .

One of my favorite aspects of our current neighborhood is how neighborly it is. It's similar to when I lived in New York. There aren't fences separating most yards, unless they're picket fences. How Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships Difficult.

But, as the poet said, good fences make good neighbors.

And, if we do have fences (and we all do, whether literal or figurative), here's a good rubric to use while speaking over them.

And, if you want to take it a step further, make these cheese plates and invite your neighbors over. (A week ago ours came over and we drank port, ate this cake, talked politics, and had a rousing great time. They're our totes favorite.)

When they go home and you have a few minutes to read, though, I recommend reading this four part series on L.M. Montgomery, over on the Rabbit Room. It's been phenomenal all the way through.

Happy weekend friends. I pray you get your heads out of the politics and over the fences and into the nitty gritty things right in front of you. There's beauty and difficulty and faithfulness to be had there too.

Our Divided States

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 8.13.59 AM Endeavoring to be slow to speak means some might say I am too late to speak, but as I emerge from the mosh pits of celebration and solidarity that the District of Columbia has been the past week, all I can think is: Lord, make me slow to speak, even, sometimes, slow to hear. Close my ears to the rhetoric that makes good argument but fails to consider the Creator God. Close my mouth to sides and stances and cheers and chants.

The art of scrolling is one at which I am adept and my fingers were properly exercised this week, one image after another, one short video after another, one article after another, friends, peers, young ones, jubilant in their political position. Even now, days later, when my friends are breathless with pride or heartbroken with fear, I try to hear them, longer, longer, wait for it. But my heart is broken.

It was Sanctity of Life Sunday, carefully scheduled for the Sunday after the inauguration and before the March for Life—a time of maximum emotion, high polarity, and certain bandwagoning—and from the pulpit he spoke of gun control, the death penalty, conception to natural death, poverty, and disability. It was a pro-all-life sermon and these are rare finds these days. I wanted to weep.

One of my first memories is being hoisted onto my father's shoulders, a blue and white sign in my child hands, marching back and forth in the cold outside the local hospital. I remember the way my hot breath made my father's hair wet and then bitterly cold, ice almost, and so I kept doing it: a childish game for a child protesting the death of other children. I knew not what I did.

I wonder, sometimes, if we know not what we do, most of us. All of us. Republicans so intricately concerned with the intricacies of conception, hearts aflutter and personhood, and Democrats so consumed with poverty and quality of life and people. Even the act of writing those words I have grouped all of us into one or the other—even if it isn't the whole truth—because that's what we do. We polarize. We assume. We gotcha.

I mourned the rise of Donald Trump as our president and I mourned the march of women the following day. We know not what we do. I mourn the talking heads and wonder, "Who are these people, really? What saddens them and delights them and what do they fear and why are they yelling?" I mourn the signs and hats and chants and shirts, which I had hoped (really hoped) would say more about equal pay and poverty and violence against all women and immigration, but mostly were about anatomy, birth control, abortion, and death. I wonder what, exactly, any of us are for?

There is no easy way through all of this, but I hope and know there are more of me out there. This election split us, severed us really, and I am grateful for this at least. I have not found a home in Republican politics or Democrat principles since I began searching for one years ago. One seemed to only care about the life of the baby and one only about the life of the mother, and neither, really, about the life of the father at all. If we are humans and not automatons, I hope none of us can find a home in there either.

I think of Peter's letter to the "elect exiles of the dispersion," and I hope I might find myself in there this week, this polarizing, dehumanizing, relegating, shaming week. His, but exiled. His, but not at home. His, but apart from the whole. His, but dispersed. But still his.

I say to Nate of all the years to live in D.C. and have the opportunity to attend so many beautiful expressions of our government, politics, and rights, I am saddened that this is our year. I feel less like a proud American than I ever have. But there, nestled amidst the sadness in my broken heart, there is a quiet and vibrant confidence: I cannot find a home in all of this, any of it, but I have a home in Him and what life in Him stands for: all of life in Him for all of life on earth.

. . .

If you feel like an elect exile this year too, if you feel lonely there, I want to comfort you with words assuring you that you are not alone, but I don't think it will help you. The truth is we are alone in this in some ways. He is with us, and we are with one another, but when you feel that nagging shame of not being able to joy in the new president of our country or march with women wearing "pussy-hats," when you feel in the messy middle of being not either, here is the truth: you are not alone and that uncomfortable place in which you stand is a good one. It will remind you your home is in Heaven with a King who will never be elected out of his office or throne and who cares, more deeply, more intricately, about all the mothers and fathers and babies than we ever could. So keep caring. Keep standing in the messy middle being pro-all-life remembering: Jesus once bled an agonizing, messy death so that all might live.

When We are Fallow and Infertile

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 10.28.47 AM 'Tis the season for all the top ten lists. I thought of doing one but decided against, for various reasons. Writing, for me, has taken a different turn in this season and I've had to mourn the loss with tears, stalwart determination, and sometimes crippled fingers and thoughts. Last week I confessed in tears to Nate that one of the hardest parts of life this year has been how quickly the world turns and how my work has faded from sight, and how forgotten I've felt as time and people progress and we feel stuck. It was a good talk, a humbling one and a needed confession of my own sin. This week I've just tried to remember, remember, remember all that God has done in this fallow season.

Fallow is an agricultural term meaning, simply, to let a field alone for a period of time in order to restore its fertility. As I look over 2016, and the lingering parts of 2015, it's very easy for me to see all the death and none of the fertility. What have we borne? Nothing, even if you look closely, which I have been trying to do. And there is something inside of me—and probably inside of you—that wants to rush to cover over that sad statement with so many reminders of "All The Good Things!" But, just as those fields need times of fallow, of non-productiveness, of not bearing, and seeming to all the world and the field too, of having lost their ability to bear, God is still doing something in that neglected dirt. The platitudes we want to console or coddle with actually make what isn't happening less beautiful. If I look closely enough I can see God's beautiful sovereign hand in all of the seeming nothing. This may not make sense to you, it barely does to me in my cognitive moments, but in my poetic moments, those mysterious ah-has creep into my heart unawares and surprise me with comfort, joy, hope, and peace.

I take great comfort right now in not being able to know the mind of God, even if I try. For all my attempts to garner an explanation for what He has done and is doing with our lives, or to wrangle a glimpse of next year, or bribe my way into what I want or less of what I don't want, I'm humbled that the only show of hands is His promise of Love. He gives the presence of Jesus, as a baby, in a humble birth, and permission to pray "Our Father" even when He is off in Heaven and we are still here on dirt-encrusted earth, and the gift of His Spirit, comforting, helping, teaching, always quietly and sometimes imperceptibly.

God is doing something in the fallow field, so small, so magnificent, so intricate, and so miraculous, that it would astound me to know the details and so, instead, it just seems to me a dark, hardened, untended, infertile, and frozen acre of dirt. Planting will come, and someday, again, fruit, and then harvesting, but fallowing is just as important for the process as seed sowing and sun shining, it simply isn't as pretty in the meantime.

Thank you, Father, for leaving us fallow sometimes, but never leaving us, ever, any of the time. 

The Oldest Lie and the Master Surgeon

Someone asked me yesterday if our house had sold and it occurred to me I didn't give an update. We closed on May 23rd. I've already written about some of the things we've learned through the process, but I think one of the things we've learned the most is what I tweeted the day of the closing: "Papers signed. We are 100k poorer, but rich in faith & belief. God always gives exactly what we need. If we don't have it, we don't need it. I knew someday I would look back at this year and see His sovereignty at work, but I'm grateful that day is today and not years from now."

A few months ago, looking ahead at the monetary loss before us, I could only imagine the disappointment in my heart growing into a root of bitterness toward the Lord. I knew it would take a long, long time to pull out, its strings going in endless directions, stealing my faith in their journey outward. I am no stranger to disappointments, to unmet expectations, and to losing what I hoped to gain. I have been down this path before and I know the way out.

I drove to New York on Tuesday for a quick respite in the hills and valleys of home and used the driving time to catch up with numerous friends on the phone. We all have had hopes dashed and disappointments furrowed deep within us and it reminded me nobody gets through unscathed. We are all the recipients of Adam's sin, all billions and billions of us. To believe we alone are the only ones who get it, who have experienced this kind of acute pain, who feel alone in a world full of people who get everything they want is the enemy's oldest lie. He told himself it first and then fell, and has been telling everyone else it since. "If you can't beat 'em, make 'em join you," is his mantra. If you have ever felt alone—if you feel alone today—then you have been on the listening end of the enemy's bullhorn.

To arrive at the day of closing, not a penny richer and many hundreds of thousands of pennies poorer, with a deeper trust in our Father and a greater hope of glory was not at all what I expected, and yet it was what He gave. He didn't have to and yet He did. And this is what I have learned more deeply than ever: He gives us what we need, only what we need, and if we don't have it, we don't need it. And, if we do have it, we need it.

This is a difficult thing to believe, and more complex than a few hundred words can tackle (What about world hunger? Poverty? Health? Aren't there so many unmet needs in the world?). We can logic our way through anything, but at the end of it all, if all it does is steal our praise from the God of the universe, I question our definition of the word need.

A pastor from my church in Texas always said, "Expectations are resentments waiting to happen," and it stuck to me like a burr—annoying and unrelenting. I knew it was true and had seen its evidence in my life a thousand times over, but I didn't like it. The world is all about creating expectations and heightening them, after all. Making lists, goals, setting our sights on something, having vision for your life, and all that.

But what happens when nothing goes your way?

I know the concept of God wounding us so He can heal us is a controversial one, but it is one I take much comfort in. I tore my meniscus many years ago and my knee pains me still. It swells up at inopportune times and I keep meaning to get it fixed, but hate the thought of physical therapy. Here is what I know though, someday a doctor will slice open my skin and dig his scalpel in. He will do what seems contrary to all evolutionary logic and he will wound so my knee can heal properly. God does this too.

He does it with our dashed expectations, felt rejections, deep disappointments. He wounds so He can reveal the source of the pain, the brokenness, and the infection. And then He heals.

Zack Eswine, in his book Sensing Jesus (now The Imperfect Pastor), says, "We cannot expect to fix what Jesus has left unfixed." We cannot expect to heal what Jesus has left unhealed. And we cannot expect anything on our timeline. He is the master surgeon, the master healer, not us.

It was a gift to sign those papers last week. I don't know if I've ever felt such relief signing my name seventy times over. But the greater gift is one God is still slicing me open and digging inside me to find. It's the gift of His painful healing, the slow, deliberate, agonizing work of taking my eyes off what the world offers and putting them onto Him alone. The gift of showing me He is all I need.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

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