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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Living the Whole Life

I am working through two books concurrently (three, if you count fiction, which I do, but not for today's purposes). One is Eugene Peterson's As Kingfishers Catch Fire and the other is Curt Thompson's The Soul of Shame. Both were gifts to me from friends who read them and knew I would need them or love them, or both. 

For many years I thought of myself first as an artist, a spinner of words. I lived in a place full of natural beauty, with never enough words to describe the way the blue heron dipped his head into the quiet riverbed, amidst lily pods and sodden sea grass. Waterfalls and mountains and quiet piney woods and apple orchards were mere minutes away, ripe for inspiration. I drew my cues from poetry and the contemplative. 

Then I moved to the other side of the country and my mind began to be captured by the intellect of theology, ideas, concepts, and I began to think of myself as a thinker, and lost the artist within. I was valued for my mind and ideas, and less valued for art. And I thought myself okay with this because I thought intellect was better than art. 

A friend turned 30 a few weeks ago and felt the things we all feel when we pass a marker in life: fear, anxiety, inadequacy, the question of "Have I wasted my life?" I remember feeling all of those same things on the eve of my 30th and in some ways those feelings have increased, but really it's just that I think myself more aware of their presence and less aware of their power. Turning 30 was hard, but being 30 wasn't. There is hopefully a settling sense of growth, maturity, and the temporality of life that no longer frightens you as much as invigorates you. If being in my 40s or 50s or 60s only brings an increase of that, I await it eagerly. Age brings the disparate pieces back together again, I think, or it should. All the scattered feelings and identities and questions come more into focus with a quiet, settled yes.

So I am reading Peterson and Thompson and both of them wrote about the union of these disparate pieces, namely the body, spirit, heart, and mind. How when we only address one of these, or address it more than the others, we begin to live lopsided lives. I am thinking of a man who skips leg day at the gym, whose body is strong on top and meager on the bottom. Or a comic illustration I saw many years ago of a man who only lifted weights with one arm so it was bulky and disordered from the other which was skinny and limp. We laugh because it's laughable but we also do it more than we like to admit. At least I do. I exercise my mind because it's easier than exercising my body. I engage my spirit because it's easier than engaging my mind. I entreat my body because it's easier than giving my heart. I am lopsided piecemeal. 

The growing awareness of these malnourished pieces came into focus over the past year in the void of anything to feed them (affirmation is such a powerful feast and we are such hungry paupers). We have been trying to begin seeing ourselves as whole creations intended for wholeness, instead of limping along at breakneck speeds without the equal use of our limbs. What does it mean to slow the growth of one part of us, in order to give attention to another? What does it mean to set aside the mind for the flourishing of the spirit, or to prioritize the health of the body when the spirit is strong? Not to neglect the other at its own peril, but to acknowledge that we are more than one appendage and therefore must attend to all of them? 

We are by nature legalists, always adding to the laws of God because we fear he will overlook us otherwise. But what does it mean to trust the Creator made us for wholeness and not half-ness? I cannot answer that for you and most of the time cannot even answer it for me. It takes time and trust and some times are easier than others. But I know I want it. 

I wonder, sometimes, if one of the reasons we're constantly searching for meaning in everything is because we're discontent with our under-exercised limbs. I read this recently and it's funny because it's true: 

"It’s easy to believe that if we look good enough, perhaps it might be true that our lives are meaningful or even blessed. Everywhere we go, we can see evidence of this. Walking along the Seine, one sees dozens of people from all over the world standing with their backs to the view, smiling hopefully up at their iPhones. Millions of selfie sticks are purchased out of hope and fear."

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my car waiting for someone and a girl sat on a park bench alone nearby. For nearly twenty minutes she posed herself with her phone camera, shooting image after image, and deleting, I'm sure, all but one. There were probably wrinkles or glints of light or too much chin or not enough hair or someone in the background or any number of reasons why being a whole person with wrinkles and frizzy hair and among others would not do for her. I don't know her, but I wanted to sit with her, make conversation, distract her from the myth of Narcissist inside her for one moment. Tell her she is not less than a body, but that she is certainly more than one. 

Someone asked me recently how we help young teens not obsess about perfection and I don't know the answer. I think it starts with teaching them they are whole people, whole image bearers, that their hearts, souls, minds, and bodies are all made by God and he called all of creation good. I think that's where we start, by not neglecting what God called good—even if it's frightening to engage. I don't know what you'll find there, when you begin to stop counting calories and running incessantly, when you begin to engage your mind instead of only your body. I don't know what will happen when you set aside the books and papers and themes and dig out the painful occurrences of your childhood, ways your spirit was crushed and hasn't ever recovered. 

Yesterday morning I sat on the couch with my husband and confessed some shame I've been feeling about something that happened when I was nine years old. I had wronged and been wronged and couldn't differentiate the shame I felt from doing wrong and being wronged in the same scenario. All I knew is, years later, confessions later, I still feel the clinging shame of those moments. Most of that is because I've neglected that space, have been afraid to enter into it for fear of what I'll find there. It's easier to engage my mind or my body than it is to open the door to my heart. But I must go there, I know I must, because wholeness cannot happen when only half-ness thrives. 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

When the Words of my Mouth are Pleasing Mostly to Me

I've always been a fast thinker, deducing concepts, abstracts, illustrations, and material quickly—on almost everything except math. Sadly, that quick thinking gave me a smart mouth and I don't mean a studied, intelligent, and wise mouth, I mean the kind that got slapped, taped shut, and soap in it on the reg when I was younger. I could not bridle my tongue. I was a melancholy girl, prone to long spouts of reading and ruminating, and saving up zingers to drop at the moment of maximum potential. One of my parents favorite disciplines was to make me write the book of James by hand in a series of black and white composition books. I wish I'd saved them. To this day I both shudder and cling to the book of James because it holds so much gold for a wily, unbridled tongue like mine. 

Beginning in my late teens and into my twenties I began to realize the way to gain friends and influence people was to not speak words of death to or about them. I have always been interested in outcomes and results, especially when they seem to benefit me. I learned to unbridle my tongue with good ideas, principles, formulas, and carnal wisdom. If there was a question, I wanted to have the answer. If there was a weakness, I wanted to be the healer. If there was a puzzle, I wanted to figure it out. I wanted to be the go-to girl—if you need wisdom, gentleness, friendship, pity, a listening ear? Go to Lore. 

I didn't realize how pervasively this pride had grown in my life and heart, though, filling all my joints and marrow with the belief that I had enough of the answers or the right amount of gentleness or the perfect principles for someone's problems. I was okay if people saw me as the solution, even as I pointed to Christ as the ultimate solution. I was the conduit, but he was the water. Surely folks could see that? 

The problem is, folks don't see that, not unless you hit them over the head with it and I wasn't about to do that and lose their respect. I wanted to tickle their ears, not box them.

One of the things that drew me to Nate, before I even met him, was his Bible. I walked past him often enough in our coffee shop, he always sat there with his open Bible counseling men. His Bible was so underlined and scribbled in I thought, "Well, here's a guy who loves the Word." One of our first conversations was about a heated and polarizing issue, and he sat across from me with his Bible gently responding to all of my questions and points with scripture. He just never wandered far from what the Word said about anything

As I began to know him and move toward marriage with him, I saw this come out in the way he led our relationship, the ways he interacted with others, the ways he spoke and didn't speak, the ways he shared his sin and the brokenness of his former marriage, the ways he ministered to men, the ways he walked in discipline situations, the ways he submitted to our pastors and elders, and so much more. He was a man who for many years simply read the Word or about the Word, but in the past few years he had become a man who was empowered with, immersed in, captured by, and full of the Word of God. 

None of this changed in our marriage, in fact, I've seen even more up close and personal how he doesn't offer counsel, wisdom, good ideas about anything unless they're drenched in the Word of God. He has learned the way to truly bridle his tongue is to put on the reins and bit of the Word—to let the words of God direct, lead, and guide him in the direction he goes. 

I am so challenged by this. I want to be more like this. I know at the end of every day when he asks me about my day, the folks I saw, the people I prayed with, the counsel I gave, the counsel I received, we're going to have a conversation about whether and how Scripture influenced the words spoken. 

I have spent decades trying to figure out how to bridle my tongue, going from one extreme to the other, from utter silence to rampant zingers. This discipline of letting the Word of God be my bit and reins for a bridled tongue is the only thing that's changing me really, from the inside out. 

Practically speaking, if this is a struggle for you, what does that look like? 

Read the Proverbs. I've been sitting in the Book of Proverbs for weeks now, originally because I'd encouraged a friend to get in it, but now because I'm just so convicted about my tongue in my own life. You can't read five verses without stumbling across one dealing with the mouth, wisdom, the tongue, speaking, or being foolish. I've been getting wrecked in my own heart about my tongue and the pride in me.

Read the book of James. Write the book of James. Get the book of James inside you. Eat the book of James. 

Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you immediately when your words are coarse, unkind, gossipy, idle, unforgiving, or rooted in pride. And then, this is important, repent for your actions in the moment. This is really hard for me. I feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit seventy times a day and can't even count on one finger how many times that actually drives me to repent in the moment. 

Trust the Holy Spirit to do the work, not you. It's not your job to share the tidbit you think will make all the difference especially if your desire is simply to be heard. Zack Eswine said, "It's not our job to finish what Jesus has left unfinished," in regard to our desire to sweep up, clean up, tie up loose ends. Leave room for the Holy Spirit. 

Before giving counsel, ask a lot of questions. Ask what in Scripture is comforting, convicting, teaching, leading, guiding the person with whom you're speaking. Ask how the Holy Spirit is comforting them. Often times your questions will lead them to remembering the power of Scripture and the ministry of the Holy Spirit—the sources to which and whom they can always go. 

If you're someone who is quiet and only thinks the zingers, find some Scripture that is life-giving and speak it in the situation. Sometimes opening your mouth is the way your tongue is bridled. Ask the Lord to increase your empathy and love for people, to help you be patient, even in your listening. Sometimes your courage to speak Scripture in a situation will be the thing that changes you and the person with whom you're speaking.

If you're someone who is not quiet and says the zingers, maybe a fast from speaking is in order. A time of intentionally crafted silence, full of reading the Word, studying the Word, repentance, asking the Holy Spirit to convict you, change you, and help you to see your words are not the answer to everything. 

Friends, I'm convicted as I write this even more. I want the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to be pleasing to God. I want to see my words and heart meditations as they are, being heard by the God of the universe, the Father who loves me, the Son who died for me, and the Spirit who is saying things too deep for words on my behalf. My zingers and smart-mouth and good ideas are like filthy rags to this God. I want to please my Father and the best way to do that is to fill my mouth with the words he's given me in his Word. I'm praying for you and me and all our friends today in this. 

 

 

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. 

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