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. 

Contradictory Belief

I'm always looking for the easy way out. I'm inherently lazy, short-sighted, impatient, passive, or fill in the blank with some other vice. I do not like walking in the tension of anything and if there is a more comfortable option, I will take it with a cherry on top, thank you very much. I fear the unknown—especially when the unknown exists within me, not just around me. 

I was created from dust and bone fragments, so I don't know why I would believe perfection is possible before the return of Christ. I seek it though, friends. I seek it. 

One of my favorite passages of Scripture, one I return to again and again and again is from Mark chapter 9. Jesus had just undergone the transfiguration and had come back down the mountain, running into the father of a demon possessed boy. The father cries to Jesus, "If you can do anything, have compassion and help us!" Sweet Jesus response with incredulity: "If? If I can heal him? All things are possible to him who believes." And this, my favorite line in all of scripture, the father's response: "I believe. Help my unbelief."

I come from a charismatic background, not name it and claim it, health, wealth, and prosperity, but certainly a side that believes words have life or death in them. That if we speak death, we run the risk of experiencing it, and if we speak life, then the odds are higher we'll experience it. I look back now and see the ways I misunderstood and ingested theology without parsing it for myself, eating the words given me instead of the Scripture informing them. But what resulted for me is that I became a bundle of fear, afraid to ever speak what was actually true about myself, my sin, my fears, my anxieties, and only willing to speak what was not true, that I had assurance, joy, peace, faith. I didn't know how to walk in the tension of speaking what was not fully true but which I wanted to be true and speaking what was true but I wanted to be untrue. I could not have said, "Help my unbelief," because to confess unbelief seemed like the pathway to destruction, but I felt like a liar every time I said, "I believe."

All that changed in early 2010, when I could not live the lie of belief anymore. I pounded my fists into the tan carpet of my rental house and cried harder than ever before and said to God, for the first time ever, "I do not believe in you!" I have never heard the audible voice of God, but I will never forget the strong impression of the Father picking up his robes and running toward me saying, "Finally. We can begin with this." 

I think there are two temptations for the Christian who doubts. The first is to only say what is yet untrue (I believe) and the second is to only say what is true (I have unbelief). If you come from a background, like mine, where to utter words of unbelief means you are silenced by well-meaning friends who say you're just going through a hard time and it will wear off, you probably will be bound up in living the lie of belief, and, as Jeremiah 17 says, "You will not see good when it comes." If you come from a background where it's okay to have struggles and wrestle with truth and faith, you might be afraid to say the words, "I believe," because you don't want to lie about having something you don't fully have. 

What is the doubting Christian to do? 

This is why this passage from Mark 9 is so helpful for me. This father shows it is possible to say two conflicting things, neither of which are fully true and both of which are absolutely true at the same time. I believe. Help my unbelief. Both true. Both not all the way true. Both seeming to be in conflict with one another. 

I have met a few Christians who have simple faith. They believe the Bible is true, absolutely. They believe Jesus rose from the grave. They believe they are saved. They never wrestle with Scripture in a way that leads to confusion or tension or questions. They simply believe. I know very few of these. The great majority of Christians I know have complicated faiths. They all have a different history behind them that informs their reading and study of Scripture. They all have varying levels of schooling. They have different personalities, different propensities, different desires. And all of these things are informing their belief in some way—and their unbelief in some ways. 

The Christian who can say, "I believe. Help my unbelief," is the Christian who knows with absolute certainty that full, unfaltering faith is possible, and also that they do not have it, not fully. They know they are in progress, going, as Paul said, "from one degree of glory to another" and "the righteousness of God is being revealed faith to faith." We're not there yet, is what Paul was saying, farther up, further in, more to go until we arrive on eternity's shores. 

If you're someone who struggles to believe all the way through all the things you think Christians believe all the way through, I just wanted to say, hey, I'm with you. I struggle with that. My struggles with faith didn't cease the moment the gospel was unveiled to me. The difference was a difference by degrees: I saw more dimly before, and now less dimly, and will see even less dimly tomorrow. There are so many things about faith and the Bible that seem confusing to me, sometimes even more the more I study and read. I see what seem to be inconsistencies in Scripture, in other Christians, in the world in which we live. I don't understand fully how justification or sanctification or mortification or vivification work. I don't always know what I'm supposed to do and what only God can do. Here's what I know how to do: 

I know how to pray, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." 

I'm praying for you today, that you can pray that prayer, believing he hears and heals and finishes what you cannot with mere words and weak faith. 

There is no magic bullet for your faith to be bolstered. I'll share a few things have grown and strengthened mine, but it might be something entirely different for you and that's okay. This photo is of the books on our shelves that have helped me realize I am not alone in this wrestle. I'll also link to a few below.

Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones

Help My Unbelief from Barnabas Piper

Sensing Jesus (now called The Imperfect Pastor) from Zack Eswine

Spurgeon's Sorrows by Zack Eswine

This sermon from Matt Chandler from before he was my pastor (I listened to it sixteen times in the spring of 2010).

High Noon and Our Hiding Places

I have always known the woman at the well came there at high noon when the fewest other women would be there. This is the first clue. Next is she is a woman at all and to do most anything by ourselves takes courage most often borne in fear somewhere down there. This is the second clue. The third is the way she stands by the well when Jesus reads her life before her, like a judge reading the charges. Her head high and drooping at the same time, the way pride and shame go hand in hand: the paradox of being both not enough and too much that plagues almost every woman I know. 

Perhaps it is that Jesus speaks to a Samaritan that should surprise us, or that she was a woman at all, or even that he knows her life as if he lived it beside her. But what catches my breath in recent weeks is that he met her at high noon in her loneliness, shame, and pride. He entered into the uncomfortable. 

It is often that I fear Jesus doesn't want to see or encounter my sin, that it is too much or I am not enough. I slink around the corners of confession, repentance, fellowship with him, thinking if I don't show up, he won't read the charges. 

I love Jesus in this passage because he is there, at high noon too. He is in the uncomfortable place  to meet the uncomfortable person. Not to read her charges, either, but to read her life and give her water that satisfies. I love that he doesn't demand her repentance, but offers it to her as if the gift of her repentance is one he gives. Another paradox of faith in him. 

I suppose we all have high noons in our lives, places we're hanging out alone or people we avoid or environments where we feel our shame the least and the most at the same time. And I also suppose Jesus is hanging out there too. It's strange, isn't it? She thought she was hiding and really she was standing out, being what she actually was: alone, ashamed, fearful, prideful, and empty. She came to the well in the heat of the day with all she ever did cloaked around and within her, sticking to her like her sweat and the day's dust and the scorching of the sun's heat in the red of her face. Unable to hide where she thought she was hiding. 

“He told me all that I ever did,” she said to her fellow townsmen.

And Jesus met her there. 

I love this. 

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How to Forgive a Year

  Everyone, it seems, had a hard 2016 and it reminds me of the first months of 2015, how I stood in a small circle talking with my close friend and the man who would be my husband (although I didn't know then). My friend and I had said good riddance to 2014 and had our arms flung wide open to what God might do in 2015 and we said so. But the man who become my husband in only a few months said, "You know, 2014 was a hard year. The first half I just tried to bear it. But the second half was actually good and sweet. The Lord taught me so much about His character and my sin."

I didn't fall in love with him just then, but I think there was a stirring inside of me in that moment that pointed to the goodness ahead. I cannot say for sure, but I think so. There was—and is—a tenderness in him that draws me to him again and again. The tenderness is not to others only, but to God. He has a self-awareness resulting in a God-awareness that I have seen rarely, especially in men.

Being able to forgive a year for it's badness because of God's goodness is something I am working to do right now. The other morning, the man who became my husband and I stood, face to face in the kitchen. His sadness overwhelmed me, as I'm sure my sadness has overwhelmed him this year. I wanted to fix what was wrong and I couldn't. Nothing I could say could nudge the sadness away from him. All I could say was not that God was good in what he did (and didn't do), but that he is good. Today. Right now. In this moment, he is working something deep into our sadness and bringing light to the darkness.

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 9.09.34 AMI have been reading the book of Job this month and I am encouraged by it in a way unlike ever before. I've struggled with Job in the past, either I didn't want my joy tinged with his suffering or I didn't want my suffering spiraling down more. But God, in his goodness, has me reading the whole book this month and every morning I am struck more and more by the deep wells of truth in it. His friends did some things right and said some things wrong. Job did some things right and said some things wrong. It is not a prescriptive book, it is descriptive of Job's life and walk with the Lord, but it can be a comfort to us in its descriptiveness.

One verse in particular keeps coming around again and again in my heart. The first part is familiar, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him," but the second is less so, "yet I will argue my ways to his face." That word "yet" catches me every time. It is the equivalent of our word, "but." As in, "Yes, mom, I'll clean up my room, but first let me tell you this story." Job says, "I trust, but also..." It reminds me of the father of the demoniac in Mark 9, "I believe. [But] help my unbelief." I added the "but" in there, but it's implied: a statement of truth and another statement of truth. It is possible to have those conflicting truths smashed right up against one another, fighting one another for breath.

I believe. Help my unbelief. I hope in you. I will still argue my ways to your face.

If your 2016 was like mine, and like almost everyone I know, you probably need a "yet" in your life today. God was in there, working goodness in a profoundly difficult political season, in a devastatingly violent year, in a year polarizing like I have never seen in my life. God was in there when we miscarried and when we had to move suddenly and when we lost so much money on our house and when a hundred thousand small things pressed themselves against me and you and everyone we know. God was there. But also God is here, and he can handle our unbelief and our ways argued straight to his face. He isn't surprised by the sadness we can't shake and the anger we're surprised by and the fear we go to bed with and the unknowns we wake to. He is the God who is here.

This month I am working to forgive a year, which means I am working for forgive God (not because he did wrong, but because I have perceived his goodness to be badness and been angry at him for it) and to forgive myself and to forgive others and to forgive people I don't even know. I am working to say, "That happened and was hard and there is no guarantee it gets easier (in fact, it probably just gets harder), but though he slays me, my hope is in him. Not the future him. The today him. The God who is."

. . .

Meditating on these is helping me. Maybe it will help you too. 

Shame on Me: Embracing Accusation

homemade soupI like to think of myself as flexible, in spirit and person. I am naturally judgmental of myself and not of others, and prone to dissecting my inadequacies with a double edged sword, painfully and precisely. Some call this naval gazing or introspection. I am learning it can be a tool of the enemy to split the Gospel into sections, applying some to me, all to others, and none to the parts I stumble over naming. Last night we ate soup and homemade bread and in the middle of dinner pulled up a Shane and Shane song on YouTube. We don't usually keep electronics at the dinner table and by usually I mean we never do, but we were talking about shame and the enemy's ploy. I had sent this quote from Pilgrim's Progress to Nate earlier in the day and we were talking about some shame I have been carrying around like a child carries worthless treasures in his pocket: sticks, stones, names that really do hurt you.

“Shame tells me what men are, but it tells me nothing of what God or the Word of God is," said Faithful. 

It seems to me we're all carrying shame in some fashion. (Shame is different from guilt, although we often confuse the two—guilt is a true reminder of what you have done, shame is a cloudy reminder of what others or you perceive you have done—but neither are too far gone from the expansive cloak of the gospel.) Few of us will take the time to tell the difference between shame and guilt, and even fewer will raise our hands and say, "That's me. I am stumbling under the crippling weight of shame." It is so shameful, see, to confess shame. For the guilty it is easy to point to a specific instance in which the sin was committed, to say, indeed, I have done the thing. But shame? Shame slinks and crowds and cordons and points and laughs and we all feel like blind men groping in the pitch for something to feel guilty about because the shame is too much to bear without a certain wrongdoing to make right.

We can repent for what we did wrong, but it seems impossible to repent for the compulsory constant feeling that we've done something wrong. This is shame. Guilt sends you to prison. Shame keeps you out of it but makes the whole world a prison. You cannot go anywhere or see anything without a pulsing reminder that something isn't right. This is shame.

Years ago my pastor said when the enemy comes and tells him he's a failure, he's wrong, he's terrible, he's a loser, he tells the enemy back that he is right. He is all those things, and more. This is why the gospel is such beautiful news, he said, because all the things the enemy says about him are true—even worse (lust is as adultery, hatred is as murder!), but Jesus. Sweet Jesus.

Somewhere along this year I've had my head down so far I could only see the strewn failures behind me, there is nothing I can do to make any of this year make sense or be made right. I feel shame about marriage, my body, my fear of violence, our loss of financial security, our home, church, all of it. There is not anything in life unscathed from shame these days. If you note something beautiful about any of it, the thing quickest to my lips and heart is how I have failed at all of it. And this won't make sense to almost anyone, but it makes sense to the enemy and he has taken every foothold he can in the process. And you have places just like that in your life today too.

Last night, that quote from Pilgrim's Progress, the song from Shane and Shane, my best friend reminding me that whatever accusations come my way are true, but not as true as the gospel which covers them all—these things are raising my head, slowly, surely, reminding me of truth. If this weighty shame is not telling me something about God or the Word of God, then it is not of Him, it cannot be.

This morning I read in Colossians and circle all the times the word "all" appears and it is many. The first chapter is full of them, they're everywhere. I am reminded that there is no part of my heart or soul that is not covered completely by the gospel of Christ, whether a true failure or a percieved one, His grace is enough. It is all and enough.