Old Houses, Bach, and an Unfinished Marriage

"Crosswicks is a typical New England farmhouse, built sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century, so it is well over two-hundred years old. Its square central section has been added to haphazardly over the years, white clapboard somehow tying it all together, so that the house rambles pleasantly and crookedly. A dropped ball will roll right to the central chimneys, and the bookcases we've build in are masterpieces of non-alignment." Madeleine L'Engle, A Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

Madeleine might as well have been talking about our house. One of the oldest Denver proper houses built here, a farm that shrunk and squished until the the past fifty years, when new bungalows and cottages grew as the new farmland crop. Our bookcases lean slightly awaiting the carpentry that will fit them snugly into the next hundred years, I hope. No floor is level, no window the same. But we, like Madeleine, make a home here, fitting ourselves into a thing never finished.

Marriage, too, is a thing unfinished. Brimming with unresolved beauty, always coming round corners to find pleasant surprises, or more corners, but never finished.

I have never deluded myself into thinking marriage would bring all the resolve I longed for or the culmination of all joy. I have been the product of a broken marriage and understand the fragility of two sinners in close quarters till death them do part. Marriage has always been seen as another long walk hand in hand in the same direction, same as any other holy thing. But it is the constant unfinishedness of marriage that surprises me. The same conversations with small changes. We grow, we mature, we lean in to one another, we learn, but we are not there.

Someone says to cut myself some slack, we're only two months in, but how many months in is it before you feel the creaks and groans of an unsettled house cease? Ten? Twenty five? Seven hundred?

Madeleine writes of practicing piano: "I was working on...the Bach Two-Part Inventions. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions; they are the essential practice needed for the Well-Tempered Clavier." And I understand her a bit better than I did when last I read her memoir. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions, the marriage, the leaning in, and leaning toward. It is beautiful thing, but it is a thing unfinished.

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To Make and Mature

Today is her first day of school. Orientation, really, but I have learned to count the small blessings. She crawled into my bed last night and we talked about everything until I was falling asleep and she was too giddy to sleep. "Thank you for bearing with me," she said. And of course it's okay, I said, it's my joy, but what I was thinking was how long the paths to life are and how very thorny along the way. This morning I woke up to make her breakfast, toast and eggs, runny like she likes them, and I thought of the person who made me go to college orientation a dozen years ago. I was a wounded bird in those years and the thought of a classroom frightened and intimidated me, but at her urging I went. I was out of place, older than all my classmates, wildly unprepared for the liberal atmosphere, and I thrived. I sent her a message this morning: thank you for making me go to school, for sticking with me.

. . .

Some friends and I talked late last night about discipleship and long-sufferingness. The long road is, as I said, thorny along the way and we are too often softened by psychology and words like "healthy boundaries" and "my time." To disciple is to make and to mature, but it often seems a far more glorious thing to make than to mature. We grow lazy and pass people off, as if they were the baton we pass instead of the message we ought to be passing.

This morning I think about how Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and how desperately we all long for that. But he did it at home, in his father's house, sweeping the sawdust, listening to his mother, caring for his siblings, learning to craft furniture and construct buildings, learning Torah. He did it for years and years and years and years and years, in faithful discipleship from those around him. And others did it with him—even those who knew his true nature as Messiah.

Haven't we grown weary though? In doing good? Doesn't our good so often seem to fall on deaf or dumb or fear-filled ears? How long, oh Lord, until we see wisdom and stature from train-wrecked marriages and wayward children and unrepentant friends and, God, my own heart? How long?

Love is long-suffering, though, suffering long. The way is thorny and marked with setbacks plenty. We will administer correction or challenge or wisdom, or walk so long with someone through darkness it feels like the end is never coming.

. . .

I sit with someone yesterday and talk about how a seed can't grow to maturity if we keep digging it up and replanting it. It has to bed itself deep in the dark earth, it needs the musky darkness to break open and grow, and then it needs light and water and time to grow into maturity and we cannot rush that process—no matter how difficult it is to stay, to be long-suffering, to enter in, to do the difficult work of people.

We need stayers in the kingdom, those who will do the difficult work of discipleship, who walk with the weak as they grow in wisdom and stature, in spiritual things and physical things, in intangible ways and tangible ways. Long-suffering makers and maturers.

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The Show Must Go On

I've been in Israel for the past ten days with hardly even a moment to jot down notes about my time there. In the meantime, all sorts of people were publishing words and phrases I put together anyway. The show runs fine without me. What a relief, right? Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 1.25.49 PM

If you're a Christianity Today subscriber, you can read my short piece from the magazine online:

For most of us today, the endgame is simply to survive. Survive the family dynamics, the financial constraints, the season, and then sweep up the wads of wrapping paper, tear down the tree, and sit down with a glass of wine and declare Christmas “Finished!”

I was interviewed by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on singleness in the church:

It isn’t that he’s given the gift of marriage to others, and I’m the giftless kid in the corner. Today my gift is singleness. There’s a rhetoric in Church culture that assumes every single is waiting to be married, which may be true in some respects, but it doesn’t help us to treasure these days as the gift they are. In order for us to know these days are a gift, though, we have to see singles being utilized as they are, not waiting for a future version of them to materialize through marriage.

The Gospel Coalition reprinted this on ways to encourage your pastors (and families):

Not only will you never hear me say anything bad about one of my pastors (a single honor), I labor to speak well of them and to them every chance I get (a double honor). I want them to know I appreciate their investment in me, our church, the Word, and gospel initiatives.

. . .

Hope something from one of them encourages you. After this week I plan to land at home for the foreseeable future (this fall has had me gone more than I've been home), and hopefully that means I'll be writing with more regularity (or at least better quality...).

 

Why Singles Belong in Church Leadership

hunger If the life of a single, as Paul admonished, is to be undistracted by the world, concerned with the things of the Lord, then unmarried ministers have a unique calling indeed. And it is one the church ought not ignore—or usurp.

Where I live, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, young marriages are common. Younger than the national average at least. Yet few single men and women are involved in ministry. My pastor leads a large church-planting network and I asked him recently, "How many single guys are planting in the network?" He named a mere few. The dearth of undistracted men and women in ministry is sad, but more so, it is alarming.

I am in no way discouraging marriage (I want to be married, after all), but I believe the church can do better in this area. If the trend of delayed marriage continues, we must have men and women who have walked the narrow path of godly singleness teaching those who come after them. The church’s tendency to primarily hire married men and women, for whatever reason—stability, plantedness, longevity—should be reconsidered for multiple reasons.

Read the whole article over at Christianity Today.

 

Trench Livers

Tim Challies wrote a post this week that reminded me of something I've wanted to write about for a while: the most important person in your church. Several months ago a new person showed up at my church. Visitors are commonplace, but this person was different. He sat in the first row, eyes glued to the front. When the team of musicians led us in song, he jumped right up, every time, and made his way over to stand in right in front of them, shifting feet with no sense of timing whatsoever, a perpetual grin on his face.

His name is Chase, he is mentally handicapped, and I love watching him. It brings me joy to watch someone love with abandon. He is unabashed in his joy, unhindered by social constructs, and unafraid of the judgement of others.

But there are some other people in Chase's life I love watching too.

Every service, without fail, Chase leaves for a bathroom break. And every service, without fail, one young man from a group of about five, takes him. They leave the front row, where they sit with him, and walk down the aisle, slowly and patiently, letting Chase lead the way. I know these men and know them to be servants, leaders, and worshippers. I also know them to be some of the most important people in my church.

Watching this weekly ritual humbles me every time because I begin to think of all the people in our churches who do the thankless work. There are hurting people, sinning people, marriages on fire and discipline to be done—but for every bit of the brokenness, there are people in the trenches beside them, silently serving, quietly giving, patiently listening. They do not seek a prize for their work, and I do not mean to give them one here.

If you are a silent server, a quiet giver, a patient listener, I want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. There are some who will always capture the eye of the public, but you, hand, foot, shoulder, and arm of the Church, your reward is great and it will not be lost.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. Matthew 10:42