We Find Rest Rejoicing

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 5.05.54 PM I can't get a friend's words out of my head: "The enemy can't steal my praise." She says them to us over Eggs Benedict and my first coffee all week. Tears ebbed over the corners her eyes and she says it three times over: He can't steal my praise. I knew then when I've suspected for a while. The enemy has stolen my praise.

I think I knew it months ago when my arms hung limp at my sides during worship at church. Distracted by the Sunday morning to-do list that hangs over the heads of those employed by local churches or by the myriad of other things nipping at my heart for attention, I knew I was refusing to praise right then. The road in front of me split in obvious ways: choose to worship or choose to despair. And I chose despair.

I told Nate months later that every time I've been able to get just my mouth above water this year some other thing dunks me back under. I couldn't praise if I wanted to. This is what I said to him through angry, hot tears as we drove in a UHaul loaded with all our earthly belongings toward some unknown and frightening new direction of life.

My arms still hang limp by my sides.

Choosing to not praise or forgetting how or simply not having the energy or desire to do so—call it what you will, the words of praise are foreign to my lips these days. I should be embarrassed to write it, to say it, to put it out in public places in public ways, but I think desperation knows no shame. I take comfort in the laments of David these days. His soul felt so taken from him sometimes he had to search to find it and command it to worship.

More bad news comes this afternoon and we begin to despair again. Worried. Angry. Frustrated. (God, we can't bear much more of this. Relent, please?)

A lyric I heard on Sunday repeats itself to me: "We find rest rejoicing." I think I've had it backwards. I've been hoping if we find rest it will be followed by rejoicing, but this says it's the other way around: the way to rest is to rejoice.

Today I clean the bathroom of our small AirBnB in Maryland. I clean the kitchen. I take our laundry to the laundromat. I fold every t-shirt with care and precision. I make the bed. I put away the laundry. I stare into our small and sparse refrigerator and plan dinner. I stare at slate blue and mint green walls. I wish I had a book that's been packed away since February 3rd. I talk to our realtor. I cry. I hang up Nate's shirts. I put away the dishes. With every rote motion I say these words to myself: I find rest rejoicing.

I don't know how to rest these days and I've forgotten how to really rejoice. But I do know how to say words with my mouth that my heart doesn't fully believe, and this is where I will start: God, you are Creator of the universe and you know my name and you know, too, that I am only made of dust. Relent, please. I worship you.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:14-17

Big News and Blank Slates

Two weeks ago I sat on the couch in a therapist's office. The couch was the micro-fiber kind where the color changes depending on which way you've run your hand or where you're sitting. From my vantage point it was light grey. I was there because I witnessed the shooting—and nobody comes out of that unscathed. But ten minutes into my verbal dump (She'd called it an "Intake Meeting," which is just an official way of saying, "Tell me all your junk.") the shooting was at the very bottom of a very long list of very hard things this year.

"It sounds like to me," she said, "you're in survival mode and you have a lot of grieving to do."

It was a statement, but there was an inflection at the end making it a question. And my shoulders fell. I ran my hand along the couch, it was dark grey now.

I mentally ticked down the list of things to grieve this year and she was right. Moving away from friends, our church, our community, losing the newness of an unknown baby, Nate losing his job, my job being more complicated than I could have imagined: yes, we are grieving and surviving each day feels like a win if we can do it.

. . .

It seems to me we Christians are very much about the testimony of "have suffered" or the theology of "we all will suffer," but very few of us want to talk about the suffering in the middle of it. We pep-talk our friends by telling them All The Good Things They Have to be Thankful For! We use exclamation points and all caps, because, yes, God is good, this is true. But it is also true that God, in his goodness, does hard things. The big news is good, but the small news is bad, and the small news makes better press.

This year has been arguably the hardest yet. The gift of a wedding came smack in the middle of it, timely and gratefully. But it does not change the bookends of January, February, and March, or the last six months. There are some days I feel like I can't breathe. That's not an excuse, but it is a reason.

I've disappointed a lot of people this year, fallen short of their expectations, not been able to enter into their sufferings, rejoicings, or difficulties in ways I wanted to. I've faced my humanity in a way I never have before: my inability to meet with every person, respond to every email or text, think through every situation, or be healthy, happy, and hearty through hard things. I remember a quote from I Capture the Castle, "Wakings are the worst times—almost before my eyes are open a great weight seems to roll on my heart." That great weight rolls on my heart every day without fail.

I'm not asking for sympathy or forgiveness—though I'd love both. But writing all this out is an attempt, small as it is, to ask if you're a praying person, would you pray for our 2016? God isn't limited to New Years and Old Ones, but I suppose he likes a clean slate as much as anyone—seeing as he started with the first one.

. . .

In 2016, I hope:

To write about my marriage. To actually live and write into the depths, goodness, hardness, and beauty of it, without fear for how it will be received. I have struggled to write about marriage because of how my unmarried readers long for it and how my married readers compare theirs to it. The beauty of writing vulnerably is everyone identifies. The mess of writing vulnerably is everyone compares.

To mourn the loss of some really beautiful things the Lord gave and then took away. A solid community, a safe neighborhood, a healthy church, a baby, singleness, time/energy to write, financial independence, Nate's job, confidence about where we'll be living or where Nate will be working in the next year, confidence about anything, really.

To be okay with not being okay. To not submit my fears, frustrations, sadness, limitations, and difficulties to a job description or a perception of what being a good Christian is or what people perceive from reading Sayable. I am not a good Christian, only a broken one.

To prepare more people with the reality that I will disappoint them. I am not the Christ. Nate and I talked this morning about nine relationships in my life in the past three years where I failed to prepare them for my humanity and they each carry the disappointment still. I want to learn to not over-promise and under-deliver—because no matter how hard I try, I will always under-deliver. I never pretended to be perfect, and have tried my best to show that I'm not, but I want to say it more in the same breath that I point to the One Who Is.

To remember God has written our story before the foundation of the earth. He knows it intimately, the losses and the gains, the fears and failures, the joys and pains. We may skip over all those small moments, thinking they are meaningless or there's no time, but He ordains each and every one for His glory and our sanctification and joy.

No matter how blank the slate of 2016 seems to be, He has already filled it and knows the ten-thousand moments within it.

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When We Struggle More Than a Season

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 9.29.49 AM Every spring my social media feed bursts with photos of children sitting in fields of bluebonnets, an annual tradition in Texas. It’s purported to be a crime to pick a bluebonnet, our state flower. (It’s not.) It’s definitely a crime that I’ve lived here for five years without ever coming close enough to a bluebonnet to be tempted to pick one.

In Texas, bluebonnets mean spring. With such little variation between seasons, we get stuck in a cycle of light green to dark green to brownish green to less green and back again. As a native of the Northeast, my soul craves the ebb and flow of nature’s clothing, the predictability of life and death, and the knowledge that within three months change is coming.

Similarly, Christian culture has groomed me to believe that as sure as spring, summer, autumn, and winter, my spiritual life operates in seasons. Elation. Joy. Discouragement. Fear. Worship. Obedience. Death. Life. During extended times of doubt, someone is always ready to tell me, “This is just a season; wait it out!”

But are they right? (Keep reading at Christianity Today...)

My Strange Bedfellow

design (5) For as long as I can remember I have wakened to guilt. It is a pulsating thought with root in no particular sin or crime, just a carried burden that I have done the world, and the Lord, an irreparable wrong. It is not a quiet guilt, but a raging one. It consumes me on some days and on the days when it doesn't, it reminds me it is coming soon for me again. I remember Augustine's, “For what am I to myself without You, but a guide to my own downfall?”

Guilt is my roadmap to repentance—even when I'm not sure what it is I'm repenting for.

. . .

This morning I woke with my aching friend, I stretched my legs and he stretched himself alongside me, making sure to not leave any part of me untouched. My head first, then my heart, down to my burning belly, and my weary knees. He is not a good friend, his only aim to buckle me before I've seen the sun. Some mornings I cannot even fight him, we have grown accustomed to our daily ritual.

That I will disappoint the people in my life often and daily is no surprise to me, I find apologies falling from my mouth more than any other words. But that I have disappointed a God who makes unrecognizable demands—this is what frightens me the most. What is you want? I beg. I'm holding my life to him in trembling hands, leaving no part untouched, no part unsubmitted—and he is disinterested in all my small offerings.

"I want you."

. . .

The guilt I carry stems from the inability to tell the difference between being wanted for what I can do and being wanted just as I am.

I know what I am just as I am and there is nothing good or desirable or holy or clean enough to stand before a Holy God.

I know what I can do, though; it is a list a mile long and growing—always in an attempt to be found desirable and wanted.

The besetting sins of perfectionism and comparison are, I am learning, the roots of this bedfellow of mine. But it is not just simply perfectionism and comparison in regard to men and women—though it works itself out to be that—it is the deepest, rawest, most fearful part of me that cannot stack itself up to my Father. I fail, miserably, every time.

This morning I am reading Romans 5 and tears spill over on verse six:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

I stay there for a while. Thinking of the timeline of my salvation, the present help in time of trouble, the future hope of glory—but thinking, mostly, of the before the foundations of the world. When I was at my weakest—my near non-existence, that I was chosen. Not when I was at my strongest, my most helpful and helped, my shining moments, crowned with achievement and success. He stooped, condescended, reached down, and plucked me from the mire that is my mind and my will and my emotions: including my persistent guilt. He loved me like that.

I may go to bed with guilt and wake with him for the rest of my days, and in my less than optimistic days, I am certain I will. Perhaps it is my thorn, but perhaps it is my mercy. My severe mercy, like Vanauken wrote: "A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love." Perhaps it is God, who is love, loving me by showing me the weakness of me reveals the strength of Him?

The Forgotten Remnant of Repentance

We sat last night in our living room, under blankets, eating warm applesauce and baked sweet potatoes—fall's bounty. The candles are lit and we are talking sin. Not as some ethereal theological concept, but the sin that darkens the chambers of our hearts and the crevices of our minds. The idolatry that crumbles us and rebuilds itself over and over again. We are the sin eaters. Yesterday our church mourned the loss of a brother. He has not died, but he has turned his face from the ever drawing kindness of Grace's throne. We collectively ache, lay hands on his family, pray God would buckle his knees beneath the weight of what he was never meant to bear and that he would turn his gaze to the one who bore it for him.

The world tells us it is arrogant to call this or that "sin," to give a heinous name to following our hearts or heads or flesh. But Paul calls us arrogant if we do not.

. . .

Five words in chapter five of I Corinthians have been stuck to my gut all year: "Ought you not rather mourn?"

Can you see Paul's agony in the asking? Not the disappointing look of a domineering father, but a painful plea for his children that they would ache over their sin—and the sin of their brother?

We moderns are no good at mourning. We give people seven stages of grief and wonder, sometimes out loud, when they'll get over it. Death or taxes, it matters not. We want the cut to be quick, painless, without reflection. Life calls and mourning is in the way. Our ancestors wore black for an entire year, a social state of sorts: "In mourning." Earlier ones wore sackcloth and ashes, wailing for weeks and months on end. Physically emptying themselves of tears, questions, and aches.

Sin, though, when it comes sneaking in our hearts and midst, we ignore, we bargain, we bribe, sometimes we give in, sometimes we repent, confess, anything to get the horrid beast off our backs.

But mourn?

. . .

Christ is our savior, this we know and in this we rejoice. We look quickly to the cross in the repentance process, boldly approach the throne of grace, confidently break the bread and drink the wine—entering into the promises of God for his children. But have we forgotten to mourn?

A friend of mine has had a hard few months. She keeps apologizing for the length of time it is taking to walk through this season. I want to take her face in my hands, let her tears fall instead of wiping them away, I want to let her mourn. To feel the fullness of what it takes to let the Lord gut her of her and fill her with Him. He is in no rush and neither should we be. If we are sealed before the foundation of the world, what is six months or a year or three years of the valley that brings us to vision?

Ought we not rather mourn?

Edit: this is a video I saw today that resonates so much with this idea of mourning. From Brene Brown.