When the Dark Night Seems to Have No End

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.44.59 AMI've been wondering, these past few weeks, when did it become a sin to be sad? We have become little band-aid applicants, carrying them with us everywhere in the form of advice, counsel, scoldings, and, for those unwilling to soil our hands, corridor whispers. We are faster than an ambulance in our rush to clean the scene, sweep away the proof, and move on to bigger and better and happier things. Does anyone think, I think to myself, how silly it is to do such a mediocre job when what is needed is surgery only God can perform? Two verses, but mostly the same, have played on repeat for me in this year of sadness (Is it okay if I say that out loud? I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, and nothing to lose.). They are from the book of Jeremiah (that great Lamenter for whom we seem to have little use in happy, clappy modern Christianity):

From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. (Jer. 6:13-14 & Jer. 8:11)

It is against our nature, I think, to apply pressure to a wound, everything in us wants to be soft with another's and softer with our own, to handle with care or kid gloves or not handle at all. But the greater temptation is to cover a wound lightly and call it healed: out of sight, out of mind.

I don't know when exactly the gauging came, but this morning I read my husband's text in the still dark morning and send my own back. Our prayers are staccato sorts: Help. Pray. Please. Love. Sorry. Forgive. Forgiven. Love. Love. Love. Marriage is beautiful, but sin crouches at our door waiting to pounce and we must rule over it, even with staccato prayers in still dark mornings (Gen.4:6-8). But how did we get here? How did the wound grow from small and tolerable paper cuts to tears on the way home from church and pulsing guilt for the seeming missteps of our year? We both believe in a sovereign God, don't we? Why then would we falter for one second even, in our belief that He directs our every step—even if it feels like we've fallen into a ravine and there is a cliff above us and a rushing river below us—death no matter where we look.

Maybe this isn't you. Maybe you're one of those happy, clappy Christians who has never fallen into a ravine or had to scale a cliff or navigate roaring waters. I don't envy you, although I suppose I should. My pastor used to say, "Suffering is coming for us all. If you haven't experienced it yet, it's coming for you." And I used to believe it had come for me and I had gotten through it okay. I was wrong, and there's probably more ahead. The truth is I don't understand the happy, clappy Christians. I really don't. I don't understand those who would heal a wound lightly (though I've been guilty of it a time or seven), thinking it would be enough to have paid attention for a second and then washed my hands of it, having done my part smartly enough.

There are so many things this year I can't even begin to tell you but they all mount one big awful offense: God cannot be trusted. I'm horrified to say those words at all, and especially horrified that the offense hurts me worse than it hurts Him. It also isn't true, and I know this with every fiber of my being. But the arrows carrying their deceitful message come flying still. Who here hasn't felt the flaming arrows of untruth come battering down on their weary souls? If you say you have not and will not, I beg you to read the accounts of Paul again and then talk to me. What I cannot figure out, though, is how stalwart he stayed through it all.

What I am saying is the same as what Hemingway once said, "This world breaks everyone," and also "And afterward we are strong at the broken places." But to pretend the brokenness and the broken places don't happen or don't hurt or need to be fixed speedily or need some form of happy, clappy Christian healing with immediacy, is to lie, not only to the wounded, but to yourself most of all.

It is no sin to be sad. I have believed that theologically for a long time and it is being tested in the crucible of truth now. Can one be sad and still trust God? Can one mourn and still know God is good? Can one weep and still know morning is coming? Can one grope blindly in the long night without one single doubt that God stands there, somewhere and certain, in the sea of darkness?

I have thought those things might be possible and now I know they are. My sadness is not a sin, but I will not call "Peace, Peace" until the heavy hand of healing is applied all the way through.

. . .

Maybe you are sad today too, maybe the dark night of the soul has lasted far longer and been far darker than you thought, or maybe you know someone for whom that dark night is their reality. Nate and I watched a film this week where the lunacy of the main character was not portrayed as such from his perspective. To him, his friends were not imaginary, they were as real as he was. We remarked, at the stunning conclusion, how it helped us to have empathy for our friends walking through forms of depression, lunacy, and irrationality in a way we might not have had before. Their pain is as real to them as our pain is to us. I do not need to feel their pain precisely to understand its reality. I pray for this for us all.

Everyone you meet today is carrying some hidden weight, and the temptation to make your own greater in comparison, or to overlook theirs for laziness or fear, will be great. I beg you today: Do not heal a wound lightly, your own or someone else's. Do not cry, "Peace! Peace!" simply because you want their sunny disposition returned. Sit across from them and ask what hurts and don't offer counsel or advice or bandaids, ask only for the Savior to be near, because His word says He is and He is the only One who can heal all the way through to the other side.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted     and saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)

The Attributes of God

There are eighteen attributes of God posted on the walls of the Kids Village rooms at The Village Church. Learning those attributes, committing them to memory, and pulling them out whenever I have doubted the character of God throughout the past six years has been one of the most life-changing disciplines of my life. After I posted this photo, several people asked for the full list or a link to the posters. A few of the guys in the Comm department told me they'll think about getting something up in the next year, but until then, I asked for permission to reprint the complete list. It was written by Anne Lincoln Holibaugh, the director of Kids Village for years and one who worked hard to create a well-oiled machine in that area. She's brilliant. If you know her, tell her (and all the Kids Village/Little Village people) thank you today.

Here are the attributes in list form. Below, if you click on the image, there's a high resolution image I put together that you can print out and put on your fridge or frame or wherever it would be helpful for you to visualize the bigness of God on a regular basis. I really mean it when I say committing these characteristics of God to memory has been one of the most life-changing disciplines for me. They're easy to remember, they remind me I am not God, and they speak to nearly every lie I am tempted to believe about Him.

God is:

Wise: He knows what is best Generous: He gives what is best Loving: He does what is best Good: He is what is best Unchanging: He never changes Creator: He made everything Provider: He meets the needs of His children Holy: He is completely perfect Just: He is right to punish sin Glorious: He shows his glory and greatness Sovereign: He has the right, will, and power to do as He pleases Compassionate: He sees, cares, and acts when His children are in need Merciful: He does not give what His children deserve Attentive: He hears and responds to His children Worthy: He deserves all glory Deliverer: He saves His children from wrath Refuge: He provides places of safety for His children Almighty: Nothing is too hard for God

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About a Table and a Man and a God Who Doesn't Sleep

This is a story for everyone, but it's mostly a story about hope and faithfulness and a kitchen table. I'm supposed to speak about singleness in a few weeks but I can't help feeling like I've given up my card, as though I'll be the one all the singles sit and roll their eyes at, "Easy for you to say, you're married." And it's true, in some ways some thoughts I have about singleness will sound trite and less than tried and true, but here is a truth: I was single for 34 years and now I am married. That means I am a statistic in two ways: people are staying single longer now than ever, and most people do in fact some day get married. I am not the exception, I am the rule. And I pray for those of you who are part of the first statistic, you will someday be part of the second.

But now here's my story.

A few years ago a girl came to live with me. I'd known her since she was 14 and knew the cards she'd been dealt set her up for some disappointment in life, and I knew I'd be helping to carry that baggage for a season. What I didn't know is that I'd often feel like a single parent with her. In the midst of walking through that season, a friend of mine pitched an idea to me. He said, "I think it would be good for her to work on a project and I have a project I'd like to do with her." It seemed he had a friend, a man recently divorced who helped lead the marriage reconciliation group at our church, who had opened his home up for men to live in throughout the past two years, and who invited more men into his home every week for dinner, conversation, and friendship. One problem: this friend did not have a kitchen table.

So my friend, and my little girl, they embarked on a project: Project Farm Table. It was to be a surprise for the friend and so it was. When they gave the table to the friend, he nearly wept and said it was the best gift he'd ever been given.

Six months later I sat at that table for the first time and listened to the recipient of the gift share some of his testimony. I didn't know it then, but at the intersection of my friend, my little girl, this table, and that man, I would meet my husband.

This is a story about a table, but it's actually the story of so much more.

For years I wondered what was wrong with me, why no one wanted to marry me, why God was holding out on me. What I didn't realize was that my future husband was walking through the discipline of God and the failure of his marriage. For 13 years while I whined about my singleness to God, God was shaping my future husband in the crucible of marriage to someone else. God wasn't holding out on me, he was working in both of us an eternal weight of glory.

For years I felt convinced that online dating or other mechanisms to meet a husband was not the best, not for me or for anyone. I felt firmly convicted that service to the local church and to God was the mechanism through which God would bring marriage if that was His plan for me. I wrestled, complained, struggled to do this well, but I trusted Him in it. I put my hand to the plow and served, trusting that if God had a husband for me in the local church, then I would know because he would be a man who was faithfully serving, leading, showing hospitality, walking in grace, humbly accepting the discipline of God and other men I knew and trusted. Nate was a man well known by my friends, my elders and pastors, and others. Trusting Nate, following his lead, loving him came swiftly and easily because he had faithfully given himself to the local church in every way. No stone was left unturned in his life—he was fully submitted. And at the proper time we came face to face with one another.

For years I was certain I would have to compromise in a thousand ways if I ever found myself faced with marriage (and did compromise over the years multiple times in multiple ways), but with Nate I found we were both running so hard and so fast toward the kingdom that we were only helped by the presence of one another. He helped loosen chains of fear binding me back and I spurred him on toward confident leadership. My fears that I'd marry someone who didn't challenge me spiritually and intellectually were baseless. My fears that I'd marry someone who was lazy or indulgent were silenced. My fears that I'd have to marry someone who I wasn't attracted to or didn't enjoy were proven wrong. Nate is my better in every way. I don't say that with an ounce of false humility, I truly mean it. I do not know a finer person, a more humble and gentle man, a harder worker, a more faithful friend, a kinder neighbor, a more generous accountant, or a better servant of God.

Nate was all of those things before meeting me—after submitting himself to the discipline of God in his failed marriage, in his desire to understand and grasp the full counsel of God instead of cherry picking pet theologies, and in his faithfulness to the call of God to minister with the grace he'd been given. He was inviting men into his home, ministering to broken marriages, addicts, serving them around his table, showing hospitality, parking cars at our church's lot, leading arrogant and broken men in reconciliation to God and to their wives as much as it depended on them. He was doing all this when my friend and my little girl made him a farm table.

I'm sitting at that farm table now, in our kitchen, in our new house in Denver. And I'm marveling at God. God who never sleeps, nor slumbers, but keeps. He kept both of us while we were making foolish decisions and good ones. He kept both of us while we were holding tenaciously to beliefs we had and our confidence in them and in Christ. He kept both of us in the midst of difficulty, trial, faithfulness, and sadness. He kept.

I wanted to tell you this story for a few reasons:

One, if you are single, remember: God is not sleeping. Two, if you are in a difficult marriage, remember: God is not sleeping. Three, if you are serving your local church tirelessly, remember: God is not sleeping. Four, whoever you are, in whatever circumstance you're in, remember: God is not sleeping.

He's keeping.

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The Long Way Home: thoughts on getting married and making a new home

"What are you most looking forward to about moving to Colorado," I ask him. We are driving toward the city in a rental car, downtown Denver dwarfed by the snow-capped peaks behind it. "Making a home," he says, and reaches for my hand. I feel a bit of a sob catch in my throat and I'm trying to not be melodramatic, but the sob is real and the emotion is too.

I have numbered the dreams that have slipped from my palms over the years and a home was the one that died the slowest death, particularly the dream of a husband in a home. To paint the walls, to settle in, to build something as permanent as anything on earth can be: this is the work of a home.

He grew up all over the world, moving every two to four years, and my adulthood has brought 18 moves in 14 years—neither of us really know what it means to be home anywhere. We have learned to make people our home and Christ our haven, and this sustains us, brings us joy unspeakable. Who needs painted walls and front porches when you have relationships forged in time and depth?

Home, I am finding, beside this man who every day surprises me more with God's providence, can be in the common grace and goodness of unity. As we move toward one another—and move toward Denver—I am moved by God's faithfulness to His plan, not ours. If it was up to us I'd have been married in my early twenties and he wouldn't have gone through a heartbreaking divorce. We wouldn't have suffered the humbling consequences of our own sins through the years, leading us straight to one another in the proper time and proper way. We would have spared ourselves the meantimes and meanwhiles and built our own kingdoms of mud and sand.

But God.

Home is not a place or a house, it is not painted walls or deep roots or knowing your neighbors or longevity. Home is Christ and Christ is the giver of good and perfect gifts, even the ones that take the longest to arrive.

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Note to my readers: 

In the next six weeks we have to sell a house, buy a house, pack up two houses, get married, honeymoon, leave Texas well, move to Colorado, transition his job, and start my job at Park Church—I know that might sound like a cakewalk to some of you, but to me it sounds like a lot. Because of that, I'll be putting Sayable on hiatus until just the thought of writing doesn't give me hives. I love you, my sweet readers, thank you for rejoicing with us in our engagement. Nothing about the timeline of our lives right now makes a lot of sense, but we are so deeply loved by our community here, and so full of peace about one another and the next season, we cannot help but worship God for His gifts to us today. We are overwhelmed by His goodness. 

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.