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

Enough Beauty to Go Around

I used to dream of an old house on a quiet county road with a front porch and a clothesline strung taut. Perhaps a swing or two, each from one of the ancient trees in the front yard, and a child or five taking turns on them. I held on to that dream for years and years and years and I still do, if I'm honest with myself. It sits in the back recesses of my heart, in the dusty corners where I rarely go, waiting to be fulfilled. Somewhere along the way, though, I sold my gathered Newberry Award winners off for .25 a piece, gave the small calico smocks I'd been keeping for someday away, and packed the dream away, determined to find beauty in today, wherever it might be found. 

And, surprisingly, I found it. 

I found it in so many small things, previously unnoticed or undervalued by me. I found it in the appreciating of people, not things, in the love of Jesus and not man, and in the business of making do instead of fantasy.

I am, like many women I know, prone to imagining the best, the cleanest, the most organized, the tastiest, and peace itself is somewhere soon if I can just wrangle all the parts and pieces of my life quickly enough to get there. But it's not true, is it? The ever elusive someday never comes, and even if if looks to all the world that it has come for you, you know the gross truth, don't you? You go to sleep every night with the girl who still has so much she wants to do and accomplish and be and go and have, and you wake up, still lacking. 

Part of this is just the reality that we live in a world fractured by sin, but it's also the truth that we who live in this fractured world have eternity written on our hearts: we are longing to be home and are digging the tent pegs of our lives in as deep as we can get them until we arrive on eternity's shores. This is good, regardless of what the naysayers say. All through Scripture the heart cry of God's people is "Home! Home! Home!" Every year the Jewish people, even today, say to one another, "Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in the Holy Land." We are born homesick, every one of us. 

How does one, then, live on this earth and keep that longing for heaven fresh and fervent? I think it is by instead of living as though we are paupers waiting to be clothed with the stuff of heaven, to walk under the cloak of the Most High today. And the Most High is a generous giver, a maker of beauty, and an endless supply of good today. He is not waiting for some far off day to bless his children, to bless you. He's doing it today. Where is he doing it? Well, I don't know in your life because I'm not living yours, I'm living mine. Here are some ways I remind myself of the great clash of heaven and earth we grow closer to every day: 

We surround ourselves with nature, the raiment of heaven, even just a bouquet of flowers or some houseplants, instead of surrounding ourselves with the noise of earth. We have this Lavender in a few rooms of our home.

We make meals intentional by how we gather it (in season and local—living within the constraints of God's seasons and helping to serve and prosper our community), how we cook it (slow and whole), how we serve it (every meal is special, there is no fine china or paper napkins in our home, we use what is beautiful every day), and how we eat it (slowly, conversing, sharing, and serving one another). Here is a book that helped shape our intentions. 

We light candles in the dark months. We eat outside (weather permitting) in the warm months. 

We embrace silence, turning off music, television, the radio, and even talking for periods of time. Letting ourselves alone with our thoughts—sometimes a scary place, but always a rewarding one because the Spirit lives inside of us, teaching us all things. 

We open our home. It is rare we have an evening without friends at our home and so we have to intentionally schedule a night, once a week (currently Tuesdays), where we lock our front door and enjoy one another. But other than that, our home is a circulating flow of people, conversations, prayers, and friendship. This sounds sweet and romantic but this is not an easy thing. This takes sacrifice of time, finances, and food, but we think it is a slice of how the New Earth will be and is how New Testament Christians are to live until then (Acts 4:32-37).

This is how the Wilbert home celebrates the forward momentum of eternity's arrival every day. Much of this both of us did in our respective seasons of singleness (the very first time I knew about Nate, I heard he had an open door to men in his home every Tuesday night for spaghetti dinner and deep conversation), and some of it we've arrived at together. The point is to do it, today, without excuse. 

I know many of you have young children and cannot have folks over for dinner every night or lighting candles at your dinner tables sounds like a recipe for a house fire. Or maybe eating locally isn't in your budget (eating seasonally probably is though—in-season food is always cheaper than January's tomatoes or November's strawberries). Or maybe you live with roommates who like to have the television on at all times. I don't know your circumstances exactly, but I do know if you're a child of God, you're homesick for heaven. I also know the Spirit of God lives inside of you, leading and teaching and helping and comforting you as you do the work of building the kingdom of God on earth. Begin in your home, however it looks like. Begin today. With one thing. Maybe sort through clutter or organize a drawer or pull out that tablecloth you only use on "special occasions," or light that dollar store candle while you wash the dishes. Don't wait for special somedays, begin today to see how the Maker of all beauty has made enough beauty to go around to remind you heaven is coming soon. 

The World Spins Madly On, but Find Joy

It has been nearly nine months since I pressed mute on the clamoring crowd and invited in the poets and home-makers and song-singers and the unknown pastors. I made it my aim to listen to the folks who were just going about their days, practicing quiet faithfulness in a world gone rogue. Here's what I've found there: joy. 

I unfollowed the instagram feeds showing me their perfect salads day after day because when you're in the middle of moving for the third time in two years who has time to make a salad with every color of the rainbow? I unfollowed all the obvious Republicans and Democrats on Facebook—if I could tell their political leaning by their status, I unfollowed. I muted all the pithy pastors and wanna-be-published-ers racking up their followers on Twitter. I mostly stopped mindless scrolling and but mainly stopped mindless clicking. I stopped reading anything on the Big Christian Article/Blog Sites unless I knew the author personally. I wanted to be as woke as the next person, but I could not sacrifice my soul on the altar of information, and my soul was wilting. 

Instead I started reading fiction again (I'm super into mysteries right now, like this and this.). I started making salads when I could, but also was just a-okay with eating a PB&J for the seventh day in a row because everything was packed. I started reading non-fiction that didn't beat me over the head with All The Things Wrong With This World and instead stuff that was interesting to me as a person and a human (Like this, and this, and this. Oh, and this.). I opened my bible before I opened Twitter most mornings. I found myself genuinely sad when tragedy hit, but not really sad or surprised when the next political brouhaha happened. I gained a gross distaste in my mouth for quick Christian articles that are a dime a dozen. I read blogs about making homes and preserving tomatoes and folk music and the process of illustrating children's fiction and rural pastoring—the slow, faithful work of being. All these people, doing what they were made to do, and finding such joy in it. 

I expected to find monotony and boredom, wondered what people were writing about when they weren't trying to get hits or likes or link-backs or their fifteen seconds of fame. I expected to find simplicity, deep thoughts, and intentionality, but I didn't expect to find joy. 

It's pretty brilliant what you find when you're not waiting for applause or note or double taps. You begin to find joy in the way the sun coming through the curtain hits the wall not just one day, but every day thereafter. You're amazed by it day after day. You pay attention to the ombre of an overwatered leaf and to the cadence of a sentence and not just the content—and in these, you begin to find joy. 

My friend Steve said this yesterday, "The day you stop trying to do the thing God gave to others and instead do the thing God gave to you is the day your contentment blossoms." It's an awful lot like what dear old Beuchner said, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." Or what the master said to the faithful servant in Matthew 25: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master."

Don't you want to enter into the joy of your master? I do. I really do. But I can't do it if I'm following naysayers around at a rate that would make our ancestors go mad. There are probably a lot more of me, maybe even you, out there right now, and I just wanted to check in and say, nine months in, it was good decision for me. If you're considering it. If you've grow battle-worn and are walking around limping with your arms and legs so battered they're numb, check out and check off. Shut it down. Close it. Unfollow (Even Sayable. Seriously. If this place is just noise for you, click that unsubscribe button. I admire you for it.). 

Some books that are helping and have helped me in this little journey (And seriously, the best way to start this journey of unplugging from the mass of media, is to engage in media that fills that gap and points you in the right direction):

The Tech-wise Family (short, solid, very practical)

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (mid-length, readable, and practical)

The Big Disconnect (long, full, very informative)

Abundant Simplicity (mid-length, solid, and convictional)

Guiding Principles for Making a Home

They say to be a good blogger, one must have a focus, a platform, a drum to beat. But I have always supposed to be a good writer, one must know one's audience. And if you must know, I write for you and as long as you keep reading while I write about Springs and Winters and marriage and singleness and theology and sadness and joy and home and tithing and homemaking and women in the church, well, I suppose I'll keep writing about all of it. One of the questions so many of you ask (especially those of you who follow me on Instagram), is "Tell me about your home, its decor, your intentions, how-tos, and such." Well, blow me over, I never planned on having any advice about that ever. I just surround myself with what I love and try not to love it too much and paint my walls white. That's mostly it. But as I tried to articulate an answer to a reader the other day about why our American flag is hung backwards, I realized, no, actually there is a lot more to why we do what we do.

All of us are trying to make our little plots of life home, and for some it means copying what we see in an Ikea or Pottery Barn, or doing what our mothers or fathers did, or keeping every scrap of everything that's ever meant anything, or throwing it all away and keeping our belongings to a countable number. I suppose I don't care much for movements (minimalism or whatever Pantone calls the Color of the Year), but I do care about the folks who come into my home and I care about the ones who live in it. And that sets the stage for what you might call decorating and I call living.

I don't have a canned response for all this, but I have a few guiding principles and they've helped me in every home in which I've lived for the past seven years. In my brain it works itself out like a little family tree diagram and so I've sketched it out for you here and I'll unpack it below:

First, love Jesus and People more than things. This is my overarching goal in all that comes into our home. This means I cannot be upset when my favorite drinking glasses get broken or that little ceramic bird gets crushed or a child gets enamored with a little plaything they found in our home and it would bring them (or their parent) joy to have it. It's meant loss more than gain in terms of things, but it's also meant relationships are forged because I'll be sad when that drinking glass gets broken, but that sad won't turn to mad. It's also meant that I try not to have emotional attachment to things. There are some heirlooms in our home, gifts from family or friends that are precious to me for various reasons, but the people and the God who gave me our relationship is more important than the thing. I love everything in our home in the sense that it's a gift for today, but there's no guarantee of it tomorrow.

Right underneath that is a quote from William Morris, "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." I split this up in a couple of ways.

Under useful, I consider things in two ways. The first is, "Is this useful for hospitality?" The second is, "Is this useful because I use it?"

Under beautiful, I think about it in two ways. The first is, "Is this pleasing to my eye?" Second, "Does this fit both aesthetically and spatially in our home?"

Is this useful for hospitality? This can be as pragmatic as a pair of guest room sheets or a guest room at all. But I think about it more in terms of does it make guests feel welcome and at home in our house? I consider that a useful aspect of decor. I want visitors to feel comfortable as soon as they walk in the door, like this home is theirs. They can put their feet on my coffee table, they can scrounge through our fridge, their kid can break a glass and no one freaks out. I'll get to the atheistic of what is welcoming below, but this is a guiding principle for our home: do visitors feel welcome here? The word on the street is they do, and so we're going to keep doing what we do because it seems to be working. The idea that home is our own palace is a flawed one and not a Christian one, we think. Our homes are our primary places of ministry (whether to our immediate family, roommates, or those who come in), so we want to shape them in a way that says, "Welcome home."

Is this useful because I use it? We really try to keep only what we use. A friend of mine has a rule that whenever a box from Amazon comes into the house, she fills it up with things going out and drops it off at the thrift store. I like that idea. I also like just weighing the need/wants etc. before they come into our home. This is tough especially if you're someone who receives a lot of gifts. What do you do, for instance, with the seventy-fifth Rifle Paper journal you've been gifted when your preference is skinny brown Moleskines and who gives those as gifts? Regifting is our friend. Give away things you do not use. Find a way to be grateful for what you receive and clear your conscience because no human has a use for everything single thing that we stuff in our homes. Set goals for yourself in this: Get rid of ten things a week. Keep seasonal decor to one big rubbermaid bin. Get rid of extra pots and pans stuck in the back of your pantry. Don't buy what you don't actually need.

Is this pleasing to my eye? Art is really important to me. There isn't one piece of furniture or art in our home that doesn't have a specific story to it and its purpose in our home and this is very intentional. I love beauty. I love simple white walls that draw attention to the art on them. I love plants. I love pottery and baskets and wooden bowls. These things are useful in the everyday sense, but they are useful in the sense that they bring me joy and that is useful to me. I still keep these things to a minimum (there's no count in my head, I just think, "Goodness, that cupboard looks cluttered. How can I fix that?"). I lean toward minimalism mostly out of the habit of moving so much, but most of what we own is actually visible to anyone who comes over (we don't have closets cluttered with things stored away or rarely used equipment). And so I want it to be pleasing to my eye when I look at it.

Does this fit both aesthetically and spatially in our home? One of the problems you can run into when so many things are pleasing to your eye is clutter just grows and grows and grows, taking over space and time and your life. We really try to keep only what fits in our home, in the living areas of our home, in hues, tones, and materials that are pleasing in our home. Nate and I both love wooden things, handmade things, and pottery, and so there is a plethora of that around our house. We don't love plastic or aluminum or granite, and so there just isn't going to be a lot of that found in our home. We want what is useful and beautiful to fit both spatially and aesthetically.

So these are our guiding principles for decorating. It's really very simple, although it takes checking our hearts, our hands, and our heads often. It is much less about furniture placement or mantle decor, and much more about the position of our hearts and the clutter in our minds. When it comes to specific pieces and art, there are stories to why we have what we have and why we do what we do with it. Those are important to us and we love sharing them with others when they ask. I guess I want to have a defense for our home, if that makes sense, to not simply gather things and substance just to have them, but to have intentionality behind it all.

I hope this was helpful to those of you who've asked and for the rest of you who are already thinking about these things. It's always helpful for me to think and rethink through these principles. Also, here are a few books I highly recommend if this is stuff you like to think about:

The Hidden Art of Homemaking

You Are What You Love

Kinfolk Table

Kinfolk Home

The Life-giving Home

Missional Motherhood

How to Fall Out of Love

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 11.35.33 AM Someone asked me how to fall out of love with her ex-boyfriend. "You don't," I said. "The problem is not that you love him too much, it's that you love everything else too little."

What sets marriage apart from every other relationship is not the love between a man and a woman (although that love is a mystery, who can comprehend it?), it is merely covenant. Love waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows, and there are some days when we barely love ourselves let alone love others. Covenant binds the man and woman together when love seems an impossible venture.

So how do you fall out of love? What if your heart has been broken, your boyfriend didn't love you back, your girlfriend couldn't make her ardor match yours? What if you're the one standing there, empty hearted while they make off with both theirs and yours? In the absence of covenant, how do you fall out of love then?

You don't.

Oh, there will be some sorting that needs to happen, some grasping and understanding. You will need to be able to discern what about your relationship was idolatrous or lustful and what was good and holy and right and true. You will need to be able to repent for loving the wrong things too much and the right things too little. But you will also need to be able to understand the nature of real love, biblical love, means you cannot stop loving another person, not ever.

The problem is not that we love them too much, but that we love others too little. We do not extend to them the same grace or walk with the same long-suffering. We are perhaps guilty of objectifying or only loving the way someone made us feel—and this is not love, but a cheap counterfeit, flimsy and fleeting, and we ought to fall out of that.

Falling out of love is an anti-Christian idea. Christians must love all the more—even and especially the ones who deserve it the least.

If you are standing somewhere, nursing a broken and bleeding heart, know this: God is willing and working His goodness in that brokenness. But also know this, the way through this is to love others with the same fervor and intensity and selflessness that you brought to your relationship. Nurture them, encourage them, delight in them, enjoy them. As your capacity to love grows, you will find that former flame no longer burning higher than all the others, but a mere light along the path that brought you into the most full and robust love there is. The love of God.

"I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little….No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much—i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserve." C.S. Lewis