Blessed are the Homesick

It is midwinter, or nearly so, and we got a small dusting of snow last week as if God was saying, "It is winter and I'll prove it to you." The windows have been open the last two days though and the air has that damp, mossy scent of midwinter or, in the colder climate of my home, early spring when all the snow has melted. It has been hard to be content here this year and yesterday the day began folding in on itself before it had really begun. It was still dark outside and I was late for an appointment, my keys locked in the car and my husband nearly to work with his set. He met me last night with profuse apologies for locking them in there and I'd forgiven him before it happened. It wasn't him I was so mad at, it was all of the other things that are out of my control and how helpless I feel to change any of it. I read a checklist of sorts the other day, questions to ask when you feel, as the article termed it, dead inside. I don't feel dead inside, not in the least, but I do feel numb and cold and sad and really, really tired in a way I've never felt before. One of the questions was, "How much new are you facing?" I said to Nate later that night, reading that question felt the same as when I queried on social media about good mattresses to buy because we have struggled to sleep deeply this year, and my mother-in-law quipped, "It could have something to do with the fact that in the space of one year, you've had to learn to sleep in three different time zones." It was a moment of clarity for me, and the empathy I've longed for from someone else. "Oh. Three different time zones. I am tired, and it's not a tired a good night sleep will fix."

This isn't meant to be an excuse, though I know it sounds of one. It's more just a reminder to me that I don't receive the grace God gives in the form of common things like sleep or good coffee or a good cry on the back porch or a long bath. I don't receive them without their sniggling sidekick shame.

Last night after Nate's apologies about the keys and after I told him, again, it was an honest mistake (And by honest, I don't just mean not intentional, I mean, they were locked in there because he had tried to serve me by starting the car early with one set on that one snowy day and locking the front door with the other set.), we had a fight. We don't do shouting matches and stomped feet and slamming doors, but last night was the first time in our marriage I wanted to. I felt so misunderstood and unheard and unable to explain how deeply sad and tired I am about some things—things I'd beg you to not assume, because either they're not that complex and the joke's on me, or they are, and the joke's on you. The base of our fight rested on the premise of every fight known to man since those two feuding brothers in Genesis four: unmet expectations.

It is hard to learn the difference between good hopes and bad ones, godly ones and ungodly ones, righteous longings and selfish ones. Even the most righteous hope can be tinged with self-gain and even the nastiest longing finds its roots in the hope for something good and right. We love, Saint Augustine said, in a disordered way. We either want the right thing in a wrong way or the wrong thing in the right way and we press the longing for God farther and further down, until someone asks what we want, and we can't even answer straight because we're so confused.

Nate asked me last night what would happen if I didn't get what I want (in this case, a good and right God-ordained desire) and I couldn't answer. And when I finally did, I sputtered out words about knowing the theological answer but not being able to shake the unshakeable longing in my heart for what I know is right.

I woke this morning with the words from Psalm 68:6 in my head, "He sets the lonely in families," and then I read this from Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), author of Out of Africa, or, if you prefer—as I do—Babette's Feast and more.

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.

I know there is a home out there, a place where we will eventually settle and be settled, and as much as I long for it to be somewhere on earth, it may not come until the earth is new and the kingdom of God is established on it. This morning, though, I am comforted by Blixen's blessing, "Blessed are the homesick," because there is a promise of God following it: one day, we shall go home.

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Good Shepherds and the Good Shepherd

This past spring my pastor said to me, “The sheep never stop needing a shepherd.” In context he was saying, “I kept waiting for a time when the sheep wouldn’t need me so badly, for a time when they’d grow up and mature, but the truth is as long as God has me here, I’m their shepherd and am called to them.” This morning we read Psalm 23 and John 10 and last night in a meeting we talked about what faithful and good shepherding looks like and how we fail at it so often. A good sermon does not a good shepherd make. A good spreadsheet does not a good shepherd make. And a good event planner does not a good shepherd make.

To know what makes a good shepherd, we look to the Good Shepherd, Christ.

A good shepherd leaves the flock to find the one (John 10:16) Good shepherding means at times the majority of the flock may feel left alone, but if they know their shepherd, they trust he will return. They know the business of their shepherd, which is to care for each sheep—even the wayward ones. The good shepherd always returns and teaches his flock to rejoice at the homecoming of the lost.

A good shepherd uses his rod and staff (Ps 23:3) Good shepherding means faithful disciplining, but it also means knowing discipline is ultimately a comfort. The ultimate aim of discipline is not alienation, but cultivation for the sake of health. The good shepherd corrals his sheep toward the flock because it is the safest place for them.

A good shepherd lays down his life (John 10:11) A good shepherd does not count his life as something to be grasped or held or protected. He does not protect his personality, his comforts, his time, or his energy. He lays himself across the threshold of the gate and lays down his life.

A good shepherd knows his Father and his Father knows him (John 10:14) A good shepherd is like Enoch, walking with God. His food is to do the will of the Father. He knows the father more than he knows good theologians or good literature. He is known by the Father, laying bare his life and heart before the one who shepherds the shepherd.

A good shepherd has authority (John 10:18) A good shepherd does not demand authority or grasp for it. He simply has it because it has been given to him. He does not cajole or fear when authority seems far from him, he knows who his Father is and the task he has been given.

A good shepherd knows where the still waters and green pastures are and leads his sheep there (Ps 23:1) A good shepherd has adventured out to faraway lands to seek out still waters and green pastures. He has looked under rocks, in dark places, climbed hills, and been sunk in valleys. He seeks and find the stillest waters and greenest pastures for the good of his flock. He does not lead his sheep to mediocre places.

I look through this list and see the myriad of ways I fail at shepherding anyone, even my own heart, and I remember Isaiah’s words in chapter 30:

In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.

If you feel less like a shepherd and more like a lost sheep these days, leading other sheep in wandering ways, return. Rest. Quiet. Trust. Christ is the Good Shepherd and in His goodness He is leading you to good places.

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Barren Fields and Fruitful Vines

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 4.30.41 PM At the risk of sounding like I'm not looking forward to transplanting to beautiful Denver at the beginning of June and starting a job I can't wait to do, I have formulated a canned response to: "Are you so excited!?" I am so excited and I am also so, so sad.

The Lord does give and does take away, but he doesn't always do it in that order. Sometimes he takes away and then he gives, and oh how he has given in the past season.

He has given so well and so plentifully that I cannot help but mourn what I will lose by stepping into other good things. As I navigated making this decision, walking through it with several pastors, elders, and friends from my church, it seemed the more Denver was looking like a probability, the more I longed for what I had already here. The morning I got on the plane to Colorado with one of my best friends for a scouting trip, I was certain I would leave my time there deciding to stay in Texas.

But when we got on the plane after our trip, it was clear to both of us: Denver would become my home sometime soon.

It felt like both a generous gift and a strange gift. The timing felt (and still feels) awkward and uncomfortable. The community of people I have around me currently is the richest I've experienced yet at my church; the home in which I live is not without its struggles, but I love it deeply; a man who captures more of my affections every day in every way snuck quietly and surprisingly into my life; nothing about this timing makes it feel good to exit this place.

And yet there is more surety in me about what the Holy Spirit is doing and where he is taking me than I can remember.

. . .

This is just a testimony of sorts, it's not a formula. I'm not saying, "Let go and let God," or "Stop trying to control life and everything you ever desired will happen for you." Those are unhelpful statements at best and terrible theology at worst. What I am saying, though, is I came into 2015 with my palms up and a blank slate. I thought I made a wreck of some things in the previous year, but God knew those things weren't wreckage, they were seeds, and their time hadn't yet come.

James 5:7-8 says, "See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand."

I thought I was wasting away last year. Dormant. Standing there, waiting, and for what? I didn't even know what I was waiting for. But just as I prepare my heart in this day, surrounded by rich bounty, God has been preparing my heart for the past two years, in a fallow field I thought was wasting away. The ground produces best when it is allowed to rest, to sit unused, empty, tilled, waiting for the right time.

Is now the right time? I don't know. I can't possibly know, and I have learned that all the certainty in the world doesn't mean we always get what we want. But I have also learned to trust that barrenness doesn't mean uselessness.

A Home That Serves Us

high chapel house Our living room is dark. I have already done the nightly ritual of light-switches and locks. The blankets are folded in their corner basket and the kitchen is cleaned.

Every night we put our home to sleep and I pray over it. The kitchen that nourishes our bodies, the dining room that nourishes our souls, the front room that nourishes our friends, the living room that nourishes our minds, and our bedrooms that nourish our rest. We know the role of a home is not for us to serve, mastered by it and its demands for bigger and better, but a home is to serve us and the ministry before us.

These days the ministry before us is one another and we are not always faithful, but we love one another, love well and hard.

. . .

"Do you ever cry," one of our honorary High Chapel House girls asks me yesterday. I think hard because the truth is she saw the tears in my eyes only moments before, where they rise every day without fail as she and the other girls come home one by one. "I cry," I say. "But not for very long or very hard. I ask God that he would give me tears though. Sometimes I could use a good cry."

This afternoon I pulled in our driveway, walked into our empty house, and I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. "Is this it?" I asked God. "All this time and you're going to make me cry over a silly, impersonal exchange I had today? Something no one else thought anything of?"

But something about home stopped those tears and planted peace there instead.

. . .

There is nothing magical about our home and we are plenty flawed, trust me, each one. Yet in this home there is no onslaught toward us, we are for one another and for the hope the gospel offers today and the sanctification the gospel offers tomorrow. I am reckless in how much time I give to the girls in that way and some judge me for it. But I have seen nothing but good fruit in it, the steady, faithful work of the gospel taking root in all of our lives day by day, degree by degree.

There are no fast tracks to discipleship here, just a present peace and a palpable purpose, and today that peace and purpose disciplined me. Reminded me of who Christ is and how He saves and sanctifies and redeems within the hospitality of a home. And how the essence of the gospel is hospitality, and therefore home.

Tonight as I pray for our home and the bedded bodies in it, I pray that we would use our home to serve others and one another, but that our Father would use our home to serve us, his beloved children.

Ambition and the Quiet Christian

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 8.12.14 AM We're an ambitious lot, you and me. Armed with our five and ten year plans, our budgets, our ideas, our visions. We stockpile shortcuts and wisdom and switchbacks, the fastest and easiest routes to success. We set high goals and adhere to rigorous demands and diets and designs in the pursuit of domination over some thing in our lives. We determine to win.

Yesterday a friend and I talked for a few minutes about the plague of ambition in Christianity. He talked in military analogies and I think I disagreed until we came to an agreement. We agreed, at least, that some of us need to learn to slow down and some of us need to move forward.

In the translation of I Thessalonians 4:11 I have memorized, Paul says to make it our "ambition to live a quiet life and attend to our own business and to work with our hands," and I love that. Yet it is one of the few times the word ambition is used in the Bible. And every other time it's used, the word is tied to negative adjective: selfish.

The ambition to the faithful act of quietness, the faithful plot of my own business, the faithful work of my hands—this is an ambition we are less than hopeful about putting on our faith-resumes.

Let's be ambitiously quiet today. Ambitiously faithful to our plot. Ambitiously working with our hands. Let's see what God does with the opposite inclination of our society and culture.

Let's still.