These Hibernation Days

I hope your Christmas season has been warm and rich, full of reminders that you're loved and there is so much for you to love. Even in my moments of stark disappointment, when I can easily list out all the ways I've felt overlooked by God or others, I remember, "I have so much and so many to love. Even if [fill in the blank], I have been given much by God to be invested in, to love, to hear, to reconcile, and more."

As we move toward the new year, still plodding through the dark days of winter, I am always reminded of God's good design for winter. The old adage, "Bloom where you're planted," is cute, but nothing blooms all year long. Everything appears to die and some things do die. We know seeds must drop to the ground and die before they can be broken open and begin the process of blooming again. Winter is a fallen seed, before it has sprouted again. It is God's gift to us, to teach us of the value of rest, quiet, hiddenness, and death. 

I began the Seven Ways series a few week ago and want to continue today. I said one of the Ways we practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

So much is said about work/life balances, especially in the career world. Stay at home parents or spouses laugh at that though, because work is life and life is work and there is no easy seamless division for what is work and what is just life. In many ways, this is a gift from God though. Life is toil, even the weekends are, and when we make these clear delineation of the two, we can begin to grow frustrated when our "life" time (or me-time) is infringed on by work. So instead, Nate and I try to talk about our weeks, months, and our year in terms of work/rest. 

Work is times of faithfulness, of sometimes going beyond our abilities or preferences to get the job done. To be faithful in small places to provide, prove, refine, care for, and supply. This is most of our week, month, and year. We want to go to bed tired at night, spent from being invested in people, in service, in hospitality, in counsel, in vocation.  

Rest is times of knowing God's faithfulness, of seeing the ways our God is our Creator, Redeemer, and our Joy. It is not about us, although it is a gift from God to us. I've written previously about how we practice Sabbath in our home, but this also applies to things like winter or holidays. These are dim days where we feel our frailty and fragility, and where the light of Christ has come and is coming still. These are the days we intentionally step back from much of the daily grind and, instead, look up. 

I am just as proficient at naval gazing as the best of them. It is so tempting and easy to look down at myself or at the world and try to dissect all the missing parts or broken places. But to rest, for me, means I pick up my eyes, look up to the hills, and know my Helper comes from above. It means intentionally not fixing what Jesus has left unfixed. It means not rushing to be or do or go or see something. It means taking my hands off what I want to control. All of these ought to be regular practices but, for us, it helps to have a regular day where we remember in startling clarity how far we've wandered. Our Father is our all-sufficient hope, Christ is our all-sufficient sacrifice, and the Spirit is our all-sufficient help. We need a period of time to just remember, reflect, and rejoice in these truths. 

We practice our sabbath from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. That might not work for you, but find something that does. We take our cue from the natural seasons, too, and rest more in the winter. We hibernate. No human body is capable of doing all we demand of it all year, we must rest. For many, "rest" waits for vacation days. We've spent all of our vacation this year traveling, driving, seeing family, engaging folks we rarely see, and we come home and need a vacation from our vacation. I don't think God designed rest to be like that.

What would rest look like for you if you simply removed your hands from plowing, planting, sowing, harvesting for a bit this winter? What would it look like for you to rest, not so you can prepare to work again soon, but so you can remember you are the seed and not the farmer? 

Screen Shot 2017-12-26 at 8.40.32 AM.png

When You Cannot Yet See the Great Light

A quiet, pulsing comfort when I'm reminded, in no uncertain terms, that we don't always get what we want, is we haven't been promised most of whatever it is we want. Marriage? More money? Bigger house? Health? More kids? Kids at all? None of them are promised. The years go by with no prospective spouse, the bank account always seems to be dry, every month a painful reminder that no seed has taken root in our womb. The reminders are everywhere, we don't even have to look far. Name anything you want and haven't yet got and there it is, your reminder. 

Today, though, I woke on this fifth day of Advent and the second day of a miscarriage, remembering the child who was promised to me. God promised a child would be born to us, a son, given to us (Isaiah 9). He was not the child I wanted last night as silent tears tracked down my face, but he was given to us the same. 

I know that doesn't seem to be a lot of comfort for all of us who are still waiting, on days we feel the not-yetness more than the alreadyness of the kingdom. But this isn't some grand cosmic Jesus-Juke. It is Jesus, before juking was a thing. And he is actually enough. Even when he doesn't feel like it. 

This morning I'm listening to Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and the words from the third stanza comfort: 

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Through this life, where hope is guiding, listen: what peaceful music rings. Where we all trust Jesus and drink from eternal and living water. 

Everyone I've talked to this December has been weighed down by the busy, the rush, the flurry of activity, the demands of family. I am laying in bed for the second day in a row, though, captive to my broken body, forced to face my sadness, our emptiness, the not-yetness. But this morning, I find myself weeping while reading Isaiah 9 because everything God has promised me is true. He is a God who keeps his promises. 

Jesus: the joy of all my desires. The one in whom I find all the yeses and amens of the Father. The perfect gift. The promised and delivered gift. 

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 8.57.53 AM.png

Even Dying Can Be Beautiful

If you follow me on Instagram you're probably fed up with my exclamations of joy over the weather in Texas this year. If you know me in person you are definitely fed up with it. I made people physically get up from their chairs last night to go look at the sunset. I dragged my husband into the nearby golden woodsy area for family photos. I keep going on the same route for my walk every day because the trees are changing so slowly and dramatically and I don't want to miss a single moment of it. 

To understand this delight you must understand that fall in Texas is usually just fell. The trees turn from greenish brown to brown and then all drop in the span of a week. The weather moves from hot as blazes to bone-chilly in about the same time and the whole thing lasts about a month and then it's practically summer again. But not 2017. For all the other rotten state of things in our world, country, and, this week, our state, 2017 went gangbusters on the weather. So, thank you, 2017. We needed this. Humanity needed this. We needed to remember nothing lasts forever and everything beautiful dies in its time, and someday life will come again. 

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the dark mornings and dark evenings. I love the damp smell of leaves. I love the wind. I love the grey days. But I also love the things we do more frequently in autumn. I love dinner by candlelight and wool socks. I love heavier covers on our beds and warmer sheets. Fall bouquets and stews and soups. Give it all to me and I am happy. And, in the spirit of good-will, here are some ways you can enjoy your fall too. 

This habit. When the evening begins to dim by dinnertime, we light candles every night at our table. I prefer beeswax candles because they're better for you + they smell delish. These hand-rolled ones are great, but don't burn nearly as long as these. We have both though. 

This soup. This is a fall staple in our house. It is perfect on day one and day two and even day three if it lasts that long. I could eat soup every day happily, but especially this one. 

This moisturizer. If you're anything like me, once fall hits all the dry skin shows itself. I use a version of this and I love it. The place I get it from has discontinued theirs (plight of many small businesses...), but this one has the same three ingredients. I tried my hand at making body butter last week and so I'm going to attempt making my own version of this soon. I use it every single day on my face, neck, and hands. 

This bread. I make a loaf of this bread at the beginning of the week and it sustains our house-hold of three (two grown men and me) the whole week. You might need to make a double batch if you've got kids. The recipe is in the comments on this link.

This wreath. We haven't got a serious garden this year (aiming for it in 2018), but this little herb wreath is a perfect way to preserve those herbs you grew and you can just pinch off a bit through the winter for your meals. 

This stew. There is nothing better than a good stew on a crisp day. This is one of my favorite recipes, although I substitute Bragg liquid aminos for the soy sauce. 

This pie. I made this pie a few weeks ago and it was gone in less than 12 hours. I'll do a few things differently when I make it next, namely simmer those cranberries down a bit before popping them in with the apples, but otherwise this pie was the perfect fall desert, tart and crisp and buttery goodness. The recipe called for 3/4 cup of sugar, but we like things more tart than sweet, so I halved that. It was perfect for us. 

This bouquet. As much as I love flowers, I love their autumn iterations even more. When I walk I gather bits and pieces of brown and golden and purple and berries and have them in vases throughout our house. They'll last all through the fall since they don't have to be kept in water and they just continue to dry out. Here's some more inspiration. 

Screen Shot 2017-11-07 at 11.24.47 AM.png

We Were Going to Move to Chattanooga

A year ago today Nate and I were standing on the pinnacle of a familiar mountain, a place I called home for years and a place that still holds a piece of my heart. We were quietly dreaming, after a year of crushing disappointments, heart-ache, trauma, and loss. We were asking the questions "What if?" and "Where might?" It was the first time I felt hope in over a year. We made the beginning of a plan that weekend: to move to Chattanooga and settle there. 

There's a lot that happened between Labor Day 2016 and Labor Day 2017, but the shortest way to say it is that we're back in Texas, in the place we met and married, but not the place we fell in love.

The place we fell in love is everywhere and everything. 

It was honeymooning in the Aspen trees and buying a house on July 4th and learning things weren't as they seemed at my new job and losing a baby we didn't know was beginning and losing his job we thought was certain and coming home to a police-taped home near Thanksgiving and cutting down our first tree together in the Rocky Mountains and witnessing the shooting of a cop on my birthday and and losing the beginning of another life we were sure of and navigating a church conflict we felt blindsided by and being disappointed again and again and again by hopeful job interviews and no call backs and packing all of our stuff again and moving again to another side of our country and losing more money than I'd ever dreamed of even having and living in our second 1800s home with creaky floors and uneven doors and charm and still feeling so alone every single moment. It was bringing home Harper and struggling to find a church home and learning the Chattanooga job market was another Denver job market and our dreams of moving there would not be realized. It was packing again, and moving again, back to the south. It was unpacking in a home we knew wasn't guaranteed or our "forever home" or secure or would be full of children or dreams coming true. 

What I'm trying to say is we can make a lot of plans, but our hope is in the Lord and he carries us through—and grows our capacity for life and love within it all. 

I get a lot of emails from you, dear readers, asking about love and marriage and singleness and how do you know and what is settling and all that. I guess I just wanted to say to you today: you can make a lot of plans and have a lot of dreams and just envision how your life should be and think it is all somewhat certain. Because you have a certain "call" or a certain "desire" or feel you were made by God for a certain "purpose," it can become so easy to believe life will turn out that way, all you have to do is make the people in it and the jobs you take and the decisions you make fit within that call or dream or purpose. 

I want to say to you, friends, that this is a lie. It's a sneaky one because it sounds good to have purpose and to aim for it straight. But the lie is that we think we're somehow owed the life we desire, even if God has not yet granted it and might never do so. 

You may feel called to be a mother or a husband or a pastor or a teacher or a writer or a wife or a single or a speaker or a counselor, but a sense of calling does not mean God will fulfill things in your order or way. The way to be a successful wife is not to have the perfect husband, the way to be a successful pastor is not to have a pastor's wife, the way to be a successful writer is not to have a successful book, and the way to be a successful single is not to be undistracted by the opposite gender. No. The way to be successful is simply to be faithful with today. 

And tomorrow.

And the next day.

And the day after.

Someday, when you are very old, or maybe not very old, and just in the middle of your life, you will look behind you at a series of crushing disappointments, plans that went awry, ways you felt stolen from and lied to, and you will see the faithfulness of God pressing you into the way of a faithful servant. This is the mark of a successful child of God. 

The answer to the questions we're all asking can be summed up with another question: What is the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of you—within the confirmation of Scripture—telling you to be faithful in today? 

That's it. That's our answer. 

Your life will take many twists and turns and near fails and falters and wins and losses, but if you're pent up inside trying to situate yourself in such a way for success as you determine it, you will feel lost on the way. No matter how strategically you play the pieces of your life, you are not guaranteed the win you envision. You are only guaranteed the win you have been promised in Scripture. The sooner we can all learn things won't turn out like we planned because life is not some choose your own adventure book like we all think it ought to be, the sooner we can rest in the comforting presence of the Spirit, the true promises of Scripture, and the beckoning care of the Father. 

Whatever decision it is that's tying you up in knots today? What does it look like to open your hands around it, obey the Spirit (as hard as it might be), and let the trajectory of your life take an unexpected and—perhaps—painful turn? I promise you, no, Scripture promises you! There is the joy of your Master at the end of the story of your life—a story you can't even imagine today he would write for you.  

 That time we made a plan to move to Chattanooga and didn't. 

That time we made a plan to move to Chattanooga and didn't. 

Distracted Devotion: The Divided Attentions of Marriage

A month ago I messaged our pastor after his first sermon in a series of three on marriage and said, "Really great sermon. Will there be one on the value and need of singleness?" He replied quickly it was in the line-up and yesterday it was delivered. It was the sermon I had wished to hear in my years of singleness at The Village and it was a sermon I was grateful my counterparts were hearing (both married and un-married). Matt read me the draft before he preached it, deferring to the challenges I gave him, and I know from several others he did the same with them. One of the reasons I love being back here is because we have a pastor who listens to his people and doesn't need to be the final arbiter on anything. The result, for this sermon and any other, really, was it was staunchly Biblical, full of encouragement, and humble in delivery. 

I wanted to walk away full of renewed hope for my unmarried sisters and brothers, and hope for my married friends too, that we would all walk forward energized, excited, and truly commissioned for work together. But only a few minutes into the sermon, Matt read from I Corinthians 7:32-35, and I felt sick inside. I know this Scripture. I know it backwards and forwards. I committed my life to knowing it and living it and embodying it in my singleness. I was anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please him in body and spirit. I was determined to be undistracted by the things of this world. Determined to serve the Church and my church fully. Determined to be wholly committed to this gift of singleness. I had good days and bad ones, but I can honestly say as I faced my groom on our wedding day, I had tried to be obedient and faithful and had no regrets. 

But since marriage? Friend. It has been two years of piling regrets, piling shame, and piling guilt. I have not known how to receive this gift of marriage as a gift. I have not known how to draw my eyes in from my previous breadth of ministry to the current depth of it. To "care for the concerns of my home," seems to be the antithesis of all I spent my life on before. To "be anxious about the things of this world," seems to be the opposite of the call I tried to fill. To "please a husband," seems to shout of everything I tried not to do in my singleness—craft myself into a man-pleasing woman. 

I have known this tearing of my ontological self to be happening, but I have tried and tried to somehow make both true. I have tried to make the aim to be anxious about the Lord and the world, how to please the Lord and please my husband, and the tearing feels so incomplete still.

I have said before that marriage is not the most sanctifying thing and that for some singleness may be their most sanctifying thing. I have also said the sanctification that happens in marriage is different than the kind that happens in singleness, and this verse in I Corinthians, so often my aim in my singleness, describes the different better than I could. I used to judge married folks for being so worldly minded, more concerned about their homes and husbands and kid's schedules than the Wide World Out There. But yesterday in church, I felt the pit of conviction grow large in my innards. It isn't disobedience to be concerned with the things of this world. It's different, but not disobedience. 

Maybe some of you long married folks are shaking your heads at me, rolling your eyes, and maybe you unmarried folks are desperate for the trade, but as for me, I'm wondering how long oh Lord? How long, I asked Nate in the car on the way home yesterday, will this process be painful for me? It has truly felt like I'm being ripped apart inside as I learn to turn my gaze inward, focus on pleasing my husband and working in our home, seeking to honor the Lord in a different context.

How long will it hurt? How long will it feel like a loss? I asked Nate. 

I don't think he answered, not directly at least, he rarely does. My husband is a question asker to my questions, leading me to the water of life and washing me in it. It will hurt as long as we live in this world and call ourselves Jesus-followers, I think. Since creation we've been turning our gaze from what is best and setting it on the things of this world. It's not all wrong, though, and I saw that yesterday in I Corinthians 7. 

My favorite poem, one I've quoted here so often I hope you all know it as well as I do now, is called Love Calls Us to the Things of this World, and it is about laundry, billowing, blowing, and clear dances done in the sight of heaven. I weep every time I read it because it reminds me of how much work it is to love, truly love. The real substance of love is not only the being, but the doing. The being loved is dependent on the other, but the doing of love is on me, with the Spirit's help. And right now, as long as I am married, God, who is love, has called me to the things of this world, how I may please my husband. It is a different call, and one I am not quite comfortable in, and may never be, but it is my call. And it is good. 

I think perhaps we all have grass is greener moments. I know there were plenty of times in my singleness when I wanted the breadth of my life to be shrinked to a singular depth—to a man, and thought it would be better than what I had. And I know there are some who wish to be free of the constraints of marriage and children (and laundry if we're honest). And maybe there are some of you who are so comfortably settled in this day and gift in which you live that you never dream of the other. I don't know where you are today, but I do know it is the gift you've been given for today. As our dear old Elisabeth said, "God still holds tomorrow."