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. 

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.

Stuck, Settled, and Still Uprooted

field Debate the legitimacy of picking one word for your year at its beginning or end, it's okay. Words are beautiful and vast and also complicated and what you think you might be asking for at the start may turn out to be something altogether different at the end. God is sovereign enough to create many words and also sovereign enough to sum all of creation into one: good.

As for me, at the beginning of 2016, I asked for "settled." Upon reflection on the first day of 2017, though, I felt the year turned out to be more "stuck." And upon further reflection, I'm coming to realize they are not such different words after all.

Years have a way of doing this to us, don't they. Flipping our expectations around and giving us nothing of what we asked and everything of what we needed. I felt stuck all of 2016. Stuck moving to D.C. Stuck at the mercy of my husband's employment. Stuck at home. Stuck in premature commitments we made. Stuck without a church. Stuck without our community. Stuck in the mid-Atlantic region. Stuck in work. Stuck in life. Nothing in our lives seemed to move forward, everything felt like it moved backward or not at all. It was the longest year of my life, and at the end, looking back, all I could see was an untouched field, ignored, unkempt, and overlooked.

As I said last week, God is doing something in that fallow field though, but it doesn't seem to be happening. It doesn't move the field forward. It doesn't use the field. It doesn't catch the eye of bystanders or passersby. The fallow field is settling into itself, dirt into dirt into dirt into dirt. At the end of the fallow year what started as a tilled and sifted soil, has turned hard, solid, packed into itself, stuck and settled.

I asked for settledness in 2016 and, from my perspective, got nothing but more uprootedness, less surety, more change and less certainty. We literally have no idea where we'll be living in a few months. I feel stuck here and stuck for all of life today. But God, in his goodness, makes what seems stuck settled. Not that we are meant to stay here for all of time, or will never leave, or in two months won't be packing up the moving truck for the third time in less than 20 months, just that, what God did in 2016 was settling. He sifted the field of our hearts in ways we never desired and wouldn't have asked for if pressed. He packed truths so deep down in our hearts we could stand on them as firm as stone. He did not plant or water or bother too much with anything else, He just let what seemed stuck settle.

As Nate and I talked though the coming year—with no idea where we'll be living, working, communing—I felt the Lord reminding me that we can make plans, but it's in Him we ultimately hope. And the words, "Hidden Roots" kept coming to mind. Oh no, I fussed, I've had enough with the hiding. I want to flourish! grow! bear fruit! do something! But again and again, as we worked through heart-revealing questions and answers, those words came to mind. Before we see the sprouts, before we see the fruit, before we see the harvest, we know the roots are growing, being nourished, flourishing, unseen, unnoticed, overlooked still. A freshly planted field looks the same as a fallow one to everyone but the farmer.

I have no idea what at the end of 2017 will be revealed to be God's best for our lives, but at the onset, I know he is asking for more of the same: hiding in him alone, our refuge, our strength, our vinedresser, our farmer, our keeper.

If you feel stuck today and have for a while, consider, too, that perhaps God is settling some truths down deep in you. Ask yourself what they might be. What have you learned this year that you could have not learned in a year of much forward motion? What have you learned about God in the stillness of your year? What have you learned about yourself when social engagements, ministry, being in the public eye, might not have given you a chance to learn? What have you learned about your home? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your church? Your habits? All of this "stuckness" is teaching something if we'll look closely enough.

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. 

Prepositions, Autumn, and Waiting

Red Leaves The tree across the street has started changing to red and it stands like a small flame against the darkening green of summer's maturation. It is strange, isn't it, how a tree proves its life by its death? We could learn one or two things from the trees.

The waiting grows heavy inside me. Today I talked with a friend who for many years prayed over the distance, spiritual, emotional, geographical, etc., of her family and today we rejoiced because all the immediate ones live within just a few blocks of her. Last week I talked with a friend who waited a long, long time for the baby who came not of her womb, but who came just the same. This morning a friend tells me the job she's been wanting is happening soon.

We're all waiting for something, aren't we? Funny how we order the waits, though. Certain what we're waiting for is holier or healthier or wholer or harder than what another is waiting for. He's waiting for his church to grow. She's waiting for her community to deepen. He's waiting for a plan to surface. She's waiting for a husband. He's waiting for his marriage to heal. She's waiting for home. He is too. We all are actually.

This year I have grown weary with the hierarchies and echelons of growth in the gospel. I have tired of the corner markets and church-speak. I have wished there were more places where Christians could be tired and weary and wait or even just be okay—knowing that their time there might be longer or harder or deeper than they knew. And that we didn't all rush to cheer them up, make them look on the bright side, try to rescue them from the depths of what God might be leading them into, keeping them in the shallowness of faith. An unchecked faith is not the faith I want to have.

I am not the girl I was a year and a half ago. I described depression to a friend of mine who lives with a sufferer of it: it was like feeling like a shell of yourself, knowing the inside must exist somewhere, but lacking the arms and hands to feel around for it. I talk in the past tense to her, but the present tense to myself. I remind myself that Christ in me is my hope of glory. Even if I never find myself again, Christ is in me, this I do know.

Maybe "myself" was never all she was cracked up to be.

. . .

I have hurried through my day, trying to order it by tasks which must be done and tasks which might be done and tasks which mustn't be done no matter how tempting they might be. Writing this is of the latter sort, but self-control is not my strong point.

Plans thwarted by a geographical mishap (I made an appointment for the wrong location) I am driving home and I see the red tree, redder than she was this morning. Or maybe it's the angle of the sun. It doesn't matter. She is dying. Beautifully. But still dying. It's more complicated, I know, but part of her is dying. A useful part of her, a beautiful part of her, and a necessary part of her—the yellow comes, then soon orange, now red, and then brown, and then, like the leaf I found in our back yard yesterday: dead. Autumn is a slow and brilliant death here on the east coast but only if you pay attention.

It is a necessary death but not an eternal one. It is a scheduled death and not an immature one. It is the mark of growth, of maturity, of another year come and gone. It is death, but it is not the end.

The leaves which will come next year (and they will come, mark my words) will be the same and so very different. Of their former selves, but not their former selves. It is like that with us: one day, eternally, but also right now: being renewed. Being built into. Being transformed. Being saved. Being.

. . .

I have grown heavy with waiting and most days I can't even articulate what I'm waiting for—this is the fog we have been walking through, arms outstretched, trying to feel around for something that feels familiar. So many wonderful strangers have put things in our arms—resources, people, pastors, contacts—but none of those things mean as much as the simple companionship of being known and loved just as you are without what you can bring or be brought.

This weekend we visited some deep and dear friends and one asked me about a traumatic event from last year, to describe it in detail. I shook, but I told it all. The next day, his wife asked me about two more traumatic events from last year, and I told her all of too. It was cathartic in a way I had forgotten, the way true friendship just asks for the story and not for the success.

It has been so long since I felt the freedom to just be sad and hurt and confused and a little bit dead inside—and not feel the need to produce something of it. I know the time to produce will come again, but right now is not that time.

And that's okay. It's okay.

Christ in me is the hope of glory and hope cannot disappoint.

Spring cannot help herself, she will come again.

. . .

I don't know where you are today friend, maybe you're farther north than me and autumn's death dance is further along in your life. Maybe you're in the dead of winter and the stark cowlicks of seemingly dead branches are poking you in every which way. I don't know. I want to encourage you with these lyrics, though, a song I have had on my mind much, Sovereign Over Us performed here by Aaron Keyes. Pay attention to the prepositions, though, that's where God is most at work.

There is strength within the sorrow There is beauty in our tears

And You meet us in our mourning With a love that casts out fear

You are working in our waiting You're sanctifying us

When beyond our understanding You're teaching us to trust