Putting Ourselves in the Way of God

I sobbed the night Rich Mullins died. I wasn't a fanatic fan, I was just a 16 year old girl who'd been jostled from a stupor by his lyrics. I still wouldn't awaken fully for another 14 years, but the jostling was powerful still. 

Rich was the first Christian I knew about whose faith—and the wrestle for it—seemed real and not built of principles and precepts and rules and boundaries and all the suffocating things I thought Christianity was. I dreamed about his kind of Christianity for a lot of years, knowing it must be possible to be as jacked up as he was and still as loved as he seemed to think he was. It would be another decade and a half before I'd begin to really understand the way to know the "reckless raging fury that they call the love of God," and that the way to believing we really are that loved is to first admit we really are that jacked up—and to never separate those two confessions from one another ever. 

I sat at a table with a friend last night and we talked, as we have always talked, for as long as I've known her (a few years after the night I cried wet tears with my best friend while we leaned against my bed and listened to the news of Rich Mullins' death on the radio), about the gospel. She has always been a teacher of sorts to me, the one who used the words gospel and grace and predestined and the cross in a way that drew me instead of confused me. She was canning beets and I was drinking water and it has always been that way for her and for me. She, faithful with the work of her hands in a small sustainable farm in upstate New York, parenting her kids, being a wife, listening and sharing sermons, and every day reminding herself and others that the gospel that saved her is the gospel that sustains her and she needs it, oh how she needs it. She's in her 50s and canning beets and telling me again she can't coast by on anything but the kindness of God who draws her to repentance. I want to be like her. 

The thing I love about Rich Mullins, and the thing you do too if you've given any of his lyrics a good hard listen, is that he never let anyone believe he was too big for his britches, too big for a walloping from God, or too important for anyone. I think that's the reason he was barefoot so often, as if to say it's all holy ground, "every common bush afire with God," and yet we're not yet, not yet afire with God. Not all the way through. He wore the garments of sinner and saint well and I want to be like that too. 

I've grown weary of the goodness again, the pretty perfect people. I've grown weary of hearing myself talk or talking at all. The harder I work to be sanctified, the more I despise the person I become, straight-jacketed, self-important, principled, careful, wise, stupid, or naive. I hear more Pharisee in me than Jesus in me. Not because I'm a hypocrite or a white-washed tomb, but because I forget the gospel that saves is the gospel that sustains. 

I read this from Andrew Peterson this morning, the intro to the concert I was a little bit heartbroken to miss. I'm reminded we're all just folks wanting to put ourselves in the way of God, desperate for the kind of affection and attention we think will fix or save or help or reward us. But the thing I think Rich Mullins knew, and my friend who was canning beets knows, and the thing I want to know more than anything is God has put himself in my way.

As a Father he picked up his robes and ran toward our filthy sin-stained rags and our filthy righteous robes. As the Son he became sin. As the Spirit he comes and fills and overflows and empowers us to live today and the next day and the next day and the next, one step in front of another, ragamuffins, but faithful ragamuffins as best as we can understand it. 

There's a wideness in God's mercy
I cannot find in my own
And He keeps His fire burning
To melt this heart of stone
Keeps me aching with a yearning
Keeps me glad to have been caught
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God

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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. 

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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Fervor, Foolishness, and Faithfulness: Psalm 42 and Growth in Christ

His Bible is open to the Psalms this morning, left on the kitchen table beside a napkin from breakfast, the chair still pulled out, abandoned by its occupant in the still dark morning hours. I make eggs and toast, pour coffee, and sit in his chair, pull his Bible close. Mine is in the other room waiting with my morning motions, but an open Bible is a temptation of the good sort. I flick the pages a few forward until I come to Psalm 42, in which the famed deer pants.

I share the ache of this Psalmist: my tears have been my food, a despairing and disturbed soul. A melancholy ache for the days of old, when I "used to go along with the throng, leading them in the procession to the house of God." I do not camp in the hills of nostalgia often, but occasionally I will take a look behind me at what used to be and what might have been, and grow sorrowful. 

Two conversations with two friends last week: the first, a girl in her mid-twenties who mourns the fervor of her college days when she was poised to change the world with her faithfulness. She was going to be a history maker, a world changer, and now? Now she is a wife. A worker. Someone who clocks in and clocks out and goes home and makes spaghetti for her husband. She wonders, "Have I missed my chance to really be something?" The second conversation, a friend who wants to have more children but married late and is fearful the punishment for foolish twenties will be no more babies in her late thirties. 

I want to take their faces in my hands and say two things: the first is that none of us ended up where we thought we'd be, and if we did, I wonder how much of it was due to a controlled plan by us, and not a faithful following of a faithful God. The second is that God isn't punishing us for lost fervor or years of foolishness behind us. 

Sometimes I get lost in there, don't you? Lost in the regret that things aren't turning out like I thought they would, not in the order I thought best or the place I thought best. I ache for the sort of clarity and insight I had in my early twenties, the exacting nature of my mind, the black and whiteness of justice and faith and theology. I was so sure of so many things back then. I was, like the Psalmist, "leading the procession to the house of God, [part of a] multitude keeping festival." I was part of the throng of world changers and earth shakers. And now? Now I'm eating cold eggs and toast at a kitchen table listening to my dog pant at my feet and wondering if I should just mop and vacuum the floor or deep clean the whole house. This is what my life has come to? 

Did I waste my twenties with dreams and certainties and hopes and plans? Has my warm heart turned cold? Did I miss the call of God somewhere? When did I step out of the processional line, stop keeping the festivals with the multitudes? 

I rarely ask those questions anymore, though I have my bouts of them at times, because somewhere along the way I have begun learning to be more like the deer panting for water than the throngs in procession. I am learning what is required of me is faithfulness, not awesomeness; quietness, not greatness; love, not being larger than life. I need the water of life more than I need the approval of the multitudes. I need a refreshed soul more than I need to change the world. I need to know the love of a Father more than I need the love of men. 

Life is long, friends. Twenties? Thirties? God knows your days and has numbered them, but for most of us, these decades are at the beginning of a long life. And most of us will never change the world in wild ways, but may change it out of mere faithfulness to the small things. My pastor has spoken often in recent weeks of being patriarchs and matriarchs, looking behind us as all that has been sown in quiet faithfulness. "A long obedience in the same direction," Nietzsche called it (unknowingly lending a helpful phrase to the Christians he despised). One foot in front of another, one return to the water brook after another, one day of thirst after another. 

God didn't waste your teens or your twenties or your thirties and he's not wasting them right now, as you wake to the same perpetual motions of your every day. He's not stepped around your life, taken his hand off of you, ignored your pleas, or forgotten your desires. We might have forgotten the foolishness or fervency of our youth, but he is far more concerned with our faithfulness today. 

What is in your hand today? I know you were a big deal back then, but what about today? Who are you today and what has he set you to? Do that. Do it with all your heart as unto God, not man. Don't look for the approval of man, not even your own approval. There's not report card in Christianity, no medals to hang above your dresser or trophies to stand on a mantle. There's just you and a long obedience ahead. Be faithful. And then enter into the joy of your Master

Here I Raise my Ebenezer: How this Discipline Buoyed my 2016

The gift of hindsight is a blessed one in the life of faith. A friend told me once that faith isn't faith if you can see where you're going, so the presence of Ebenezers in our lives is a proof God knew we'd need them. "Oh, look!" we can say, pointing at the thing God did back then, "We know He must be aware and present and caring for us now just as He was then." And then we breathe and walk on through the storms and circumstances of today. Hindsight vision, in the Christian faith, is always 20/20. It was with this expectation that I began a discipline in January of this year. When I began, I expected all the life-change we'd experienced in 2015—dating, engagement, marriage, moving, new church, new job, job loss, miscarriage—would begin to settle in 2016. I was wrong. 2016 brought more of the same, and much more difficult internal hardship than the external change of 2015. I look back now and see how God put this simple discipline in my path at exactly the right time and for exactly the right year. Never has there been a year of my life when what I would need most were small, simple, faithful disciplines.

In December of last year Ann Voskamp offered a free print-out of twelve verbs for the new year. Pursue, be, expect, give, and so on. You added the nouns yourself and so I did. I wrote out twelve index cards with twelve challenges on them and when the first of each month came, I prayed for wisdom about which one to choose next.

There were months this year, are still months this year, when breathing itself felt hard. Panic took ahold of my heart and mind, rendering me powerless against fear, insecurity, failure, stress, and sadness. I am no stranger to this panic and it was a close enemy of mine for years, but it has been far from me for the past six. In 2016 it came back with a vengeance and left nothing untouched. Normal, everyday acts become fearful. Faithful commitments have become difficult. Simple relationships have been terrifying. Much of that had to do with the instability of our lives the past year and a half. I have been afraid to move my feet in any direction, even planting them deeper, for fear. There's a lot people don't know and many have made assumptions about our direction, church search, the reasons we want to be planted in one home for at least two years, our desire to be out of D.C., and more. It has often felt like even voicing my fears brought more judgement and so it was just better to be quiet. These small disciplines again and again and again reminded me of the One Thing I could do today by the Spirit's help.

I don't know where you are or what kind of year you've had or want to have. I don't know how unmoored and unanchored you feel. I don't know what you're afraid of or excited about. But if you're struggling to pick up your feet, your head, your eyes, or your heart, this might be a small discipline you can do with the Spirit's help. He helped me this year. I tacked these index cards above three different sinks in three different places we lived this year and every day when everything around me was shifting and turning, I would remember and breathe and do what the card said.

If you're looking for a small, simple, easy way of pursuing stability in an uneasy world, here's Ann's post with the free printout from last year. Below are each of my cards, and how the Lord worked in my heart with the discipline on them. Feel free to read on, or stop now. I record them here mostly for my own benefit and remembrance, but also because I hope you are encouraged by my Ebenezer.

January

J A N U A R Y  :  Live with Less We were nearing the end of our savings account after four months of Nate's unemployment and no job on the horizon. Pinching pennies everywhere. I have always been frugal, but I had never had a mortgage or a husband to be so affected by our financial situation. Learning to live with less in every way pressed into me not simply with a budget, but learning to ask the question: do we actually need this? or have we just grown used to having it? Things like good coffee, craft beer, grass-fed meat—these were luxuries we just couldn't have. And we were okay. God was our provision, we would say to one another often in January. Not my paycheck. Not Nate's. Not our savings account. God alone.

February

F E B R U A R Y  :  Let go of expectations In early February, although we tried hard, the only job offer was in D.C. We bought our house in Denver planning to stay there forever. As we began to pack boxes and explain our early departure, I was mourning deeply in my heart, not only my own expectations, but others. It was during this month Nate and I began to say to one another almost daily to this day, "We can only be faithful to the Word of God, not to an outcome." We had many expectations during the month of February and I think it's safe to say not one of them happened in the way we wanted it to, but God.

March

M A R C H  :  Embrace Limitations March came in like a lion and went out like one too. We spent five weeks living above a stranger's garage on the edge of D.C. Everything was new and foreign and frightening for me. Nate was gone from dusk until dawn. We knew no one. Everything took longer because traffic was nuts. I was trying to learn the metro system. I was afraid of being home alone and was home alone all the time. We heard gunshots and sirens at all hours of the day and night. All of our stuff was in a storage unit in a dangerous part of town so, once again, we were living out of suitcases (less than eight months earlier, we lived out suitcases in an AirBnB for six weeks in Denver too). I felt my limitations in a way I've never felt them before and just had to learn to embrace them. God was teaching me to drop my expectations of what our life would look like, and put my hope in Him.

April

A P R I L  :  Believe God's faithfulness By the end of April, we had five different buyers sign a contract on our house in Denver and all five backed out with little to no reason. We were hemorrhaging money at this point and were looking down the road at foreclosure. Everywhere we looked it felt like we were being taken from, stolen from, and lied to. I look back now and know with absolute confidence no one had malicious intent, but have you ever just been in a place where you felt like that? That's what April felt like. The poet said, "April is the cruelest month," and for us it seemed true. I had to remind myself daily that God was faithful, and all that was required of me was to believe His faithfulness, even if I didn't feel it.

May

M A Y  :  Learn to garden I have not always liked to garden and have not learned to do it well, but a wise man once said, "If you work with your head, sabbath with your hands. If you work with your hands, sabbath with your head." So much of 2016 was me alone with my head and I knew I needed to just do something with my hands. We were still bleeding finances though, and even buying a small packet of seeds felt like an indulgence I couldn't justify. We did our best to clear out some overgrown gardens in the front yard and plant some little bits. I also went home to New York and brought back a plethora of raspberry plants, lilac shoots, and other things from home to put in our yard. We didn't know how long we'd be in this house, but I wanted to do my best to do the physical act of planting in hopes that it would grow some roots of another kind in my heart.

June

J U N E   :  Engage emotions I think I can safely say this was one of the most challenging challenges of my year. For all the writing about emotions and the soul and such that I do, I'm actually pretty terrible at engaging my own emotions. I fear being too emotional, or driven by my emotions, and so it seems easier to just ignore them altogether. Nate and I began seeing a counselor in June, though, because our first year of marriage had been so emotionally fraught with pain. In our first meeting, our counselor said after hearing us talk for a bit, "You guys are both clearly very intelligent, very smart people, but I wonder, do you feel anything?" It was like the floodgates opened in me then, and the entire month of June I cried. I'm not exaggerating. I cried every day. It didn't feel productive. It felt wrong. And yet it also helped me to feel period. I was able to start mourning some of the Really Hard Things from the year. I reminded myself daily that God wasn't surprised or ashamed of my emotions, that he made me and loved me.

July

J U L Y  :  Daily Repent After the emotional dam broke in June, I found July to be a month of repentance. Mostly to God, but also to Nate. It felt like every day there was another conversation about how I failed to communicate, serve, be honest, etc. He is endlessly patient with me, and always forgiving before I need to ask, but July felt like a mac truck hit me and I took him down with me. I think July was a month when I learned what a godly and faithful man God had given me. I thought I knew it before, but July it really sunk in. I was a miserable wreck.

August

A U G U S T  :  Give what I can with His help In August we were finally back in the black financially. We still weren't bringing in anything extra, we had sold the house, losing nearly 100k, but were able to pay off the debt we'd incurred to the penny. I knew we were able to breathe a bit financially, but I'd grown so used to not buying anything that the thought of giving anything away felt scary. God had to unclench my fingers around our resources again and teach me to give out of the grace we'd been given. He also taught me to pay attention to how our giving affects others. I think in western Christianity, we like to give anonymously, and I don't think that's always wrong, but there's blessing too in being able to rejoice with others when their need is met. This was a good lesson for me in August.

September

S E P T E M B E R   :  Do things outside September weather in Virginia was hot and humid, and I'd hoped to be able to do more outside in September, but with a puppy who can't abide temps over 70 degrees, my options were limited. I tried to sit on our back porch and work as much as possible, and walk Harper (drag Harper) a couple times a day. I love being outside and so this month didn't feel too different than other months. It was a good reminder to be intentional about it though.

October

O C T O B E R  :  Break bread with others At this point in our year, we knew that staying in D.C. wasn't going to be a long term plan for our family. Nate's commute is at minimum three hours a day, at least once a week it gets up to four hours. This seems to work for some families, but that, combined with the cost of living here and a few other reasons, made it clear to us that we couldn't stay here. We have tried to be faithful to open our home to new friends and make a place at our table for anyone. We've found it harder here than we expected, and I think a lot of that is because we and others know we're not here long term. This was a challenging card for me because I think it was the first card I really didn't want to do. I was exhausted from trying to build relationships in Denver and then leaving them, and now knowing we'd be leaving again, I felt like it just didn't matter. God used the presence of one family in particular here, though, to soften my heart. We don't see them as often as we saw friends in Dallas or Denver, but knowing they're here, and we love them, has been enough sometimes. What did happen a lot in October, though, is we had a revolving door of out of town friends and family. I changed the guest room sheets no less than eight times during October and that itself was a blessing. God knew this challenge wouldn't look like what I hoped, but it would still be a good challenge for October.

November

N O V E M B E R  :  Be unbusy After the busyness of October and the looming deadline of a big project for me, we called a moratorium on visitors for November. I didn't let email, phone, writing, people, or chores master me. I had two objectives, to finish my deadline and to love my husband well. I didn't listen to podcasts, read articles, read the news, read Twitter or Facebook. I didn't talk politics with anyone. I just kept my head down and worked. And at the end of the month, the world still turned just as faithfully as it has since creation. Who knew?

December

D E C E M B E R   :  Grow in peace We are still in December, obviously, but already I have been learning about the steadfast love of the Lord never changing. Our year has been full of transition and it has not been easy. I want nothing more right now than to be rooted, anchored, moored, and planted. My wildest dream in the world right now is to live in the same house for two years. Partially because we want to start the adoption process, but partially because I just want to be still, have community, build relationships, invest in and be invested in. But God has not unveiled His plan to us yet, and so all I can do is say, "God, You still hold tomorrow. Give me the gift of peace today." And it is enough, it really is.