When Holidays feel less holy and more just like days

This morning I made coffee in the French Press and let the dog out. She slept in bed with me last night (a first) because Nate is gone on a business trip and I heard a noise at 10pm that sounded almost exactly like the wind rustling through the trees but almost certainly could have been a prowler or a burglar or peeping Tom. Harper has nothing of guard dog in her in all the best ways but the presence of her back in the crook of my knees made me sleep better. 

While I waited for the French Press to brew, I thought about today, St. Valentine's Day. I had really grand hopes for holidays before I got married, dreams of cozy birthdays, breakfasts in bed, cards with sweet words all the time for no occasion, stout traditions formed in our more lucid moments, and fanfare. I've said before, though, the man God gave me has done the dishes every night of our marriage and cleans the bathrooms, and holds me when I cry, and is quick to offer money and whatever we have and hold to anyone in need, and is learning that I love holidays more than he does naturally. When I stack up the days of the year I dreamed would be special next to the days of the year he serves me and everyone we know with a quiet, faithful passion, his side tops out every time by miles.

. . .

Two people I love love one another and are getting married in a few months and this morning he wrote some words on Facebook I wanted to share,

"Being in a happy relationship on Valentin's Day is better than being alone. Minimizing loneliness only inflames despair. Hope and its fulfillment are born out of honest desire. Impossible though it is, keep wanting. I did til 27. Young, yes. But a restless 27. People told me a relationship wasn't better than singleness — that circumstances have nothing to do with fullness. For me, that wasn't true."

My friend, Paul, is right when he says this: impossible though it is, keep wanting.

. . . 

There have been some Valentine's Days I spent unmarried that I logged off social media, stayed home, made pancakes, and watched Harry Met Sally and their ilk. I couldn't bear with my aloneness and hoping felt impossible. And it also felt, like Paul said, the repeated words from others, "Circumstances have nothing to do with fullness," just weren't true. Circumstances have everything to do with fullness. That is the point of Christianity. Fullness awaits us in being joined to our groom, and until then, we long. (Don't be surprised, then, when you feel the pangs of longing. They're there to say: "You're right! You're not full yet. You're not finished yet. We're not there yet!")

When I began to realize this, while still single, I began to realize I could celebrate Valentine's Day (and any holiday I wanted) with as much fullness as I had that day (even if it was very little). I hung little heart banners, I made little red desserts, I wore my laciest underpants (an oxymoron if there ever was one...), I invited others over to celebrate the great love that not only He showed to us, but that we could show one another. 

It still didn't make me feel completely full though and it didn't occur to me until this morning that, truly, none of the holidays we've had since we got married have felt completely full. My birthday feels like it will be forever marred by the shooting I witnessed in Denver on it. Our first anniversary was spent at a funeral. Our Christmases have fallen during months where we felt eaten by indecision and mourning. I worked all day last Valentine's Day and he's working this one. 

But he exists as my husband and I exist as his wife, and this occurred to me this morning. Before there was an unfulfilled longing and others said I had to "get content" and minimized my loneliness. Now there is a fulfilled longing (I have the best husband I could imagine God giving), and still, some unfulfilled circumstances. 

I commented on Paul's post that "Circumstances do have something to do with fullness. And of course we don't have complete fullness under the new heavens and new earth, but even that is circumstantial: our joy is centered on the fullness of our face to face with Christ." 

I guess I want to say to you, on this St. Valentine's Day, log off social media, watch Harry Met Sally in your pajamas. Or put on your lacy underpants and make heart-shaped pancakes for all your friends. Or make a steak dinner for your honey or write her a card full of all the reasons you love her. But don't be surprised when you feel full but not completely full. God didn't create us to be automatons, robots who never long for or experience love and it is good and right that you long for it most fully. 

God gave good gifts to us on earth, not to satiate us fully, but so that when the fullness wears off, and disappointment sets in, we're reminded our fullness is dependent on the eternal circumstance of being finally face to face with our King. 

The Nearly Naked Spice Cake I made for Nate on Saturday to celebrate love a bit early. Here's the recipe. 

The Nearly Naked Spice Cake I made for Nate on Saturday to celebrate love a bit early. Here's the recipe. 

The Devil Deals in Gray But Jesus Walks in the Light

I suppose it's awfully clever of the enemy to twist the truth just enough that we believe a lie: "Eat the fruit and be like God." Well, except they were bearing the image of God and so like him already. Other times though, the enemy is less clever and tells a lie straight out: "You shall not surely die." The trick is not necessarily to discern when he's lying and when he's playing with matters of gray nebulosity (because either way, he's still the enemy and wants nothing good for our lives), but to feast on the truth enough that you can spot the lie or the kinda lie when it comes. 

I have struggled to feast on the truth this year. In the void of hearing truth, though, a myriad of lies and mushy grey matter took up residence in my heart and mind. It's not as though I didn't want the truth, though, hear me: I have never been more thirsty for truth, truth-tellers, and truth-livers than almost any time in my life. I have never felt more alone in my life than I have this year. 

It hurts to say that because I fear you'll begin to pity me or, if you're local, try to figure out what you did wrong, or more likely, what I did wrong. But I want to take that load off all our shoulders: God, in his goodness and sovereignty, brought me out to a desert place, to woo and win some untouched parts of my heart—parts that could not be touched when I had a plethora of friends, ministries, partners, and duties. He brought me to a place of lack to teach me about his plenty. It wasn't your place, or mine, to bring me out or through that. I've learned it more deeply this year than I can say.

Sometimes it's easy to spot the lies of the enemy and the half-truths he weasels into our everydaying. I have always thought those lies and half-truths would find themselves more present in the desert and gone amidst the safety of counselors, accountability, community, and friendship. And I was right in some ways, I've had to do business with those lies and half-truths in ways I never had the time, energy, or vulnerability with my own self to confront them before. But I was wrong in other ways: those lies were always there, even when I was around others constantly, they just didn't have room to bloom and show themselves to be the falsehoods they really were.

We're about to begin a season of Lent in a few weeks and I'm reminded of the 40 days Jesus was in the desert, just him and the enemy. It was awfully quiet out there and the voice of the enemy had his time to shine in that aching void, but Jesus, sweet Jesus, crushed his few minutes of fame with the word of God and good theology. I suppose even in the void of the feast I wanted this year, I have been grateful for the feasts of the past that sustained me through it. 

An understanding of suffering. A willingness to be weak and to be vulnerable with hurt. Rock solid good theology. A love of the Word of God. A love for the local church. The attributes of God. These sustained me. They still sustain me. 

I heard the lies aplenty this year, but my food is to do the will of Christ and that is first, to believe what He says. Every word. There is no gray in the garden and there is no gray in the desert. In both, He is present, faithful, enduring, and near. 

Something Else Altogether

After the Great Migration of 2017 this past weekend, we ran into some snafus regarding various iterations of feed subscriptions. The short story is, when a blog has existed in some form or fashion for long enough, the technology changes and isn't always compatible with the Newer and Better and Shinier. This is technical biz, but if it interests you: there were five different RSS feeds people were subscribed to via Feedly, Blog Lovin', and other aggregates, and we were only able to save two of them. By my estimates there were 2000+ readers who were lost and I felt sick about it last night. 

I tried to explain to Nate it isn't the loss of readership that bothers me—if people want to keep reading, they'll find they need to resubscribe and if they don't, I haven't lost anything and they haven't either. It's the feeling of disappointing people without intending to. I felt a bit like I was taking something away from someone in a sneaky way which they had been merrily ingesting without any interference from me previously. Maybe that doesn't make sense to you, but it does to me. 

After I tried to explain this to Nate in grown-up words with real thought and real logic behind them, I dissolved in tears, the like of which I never engaged in pre-2015 and post-2015 have only become more common. It ended with me blowing my nose on his t-shirt and telling him I'm sorry for being such a disappointing wife. I'm sure he thought he was getting one thing when he said "I do," and I've turned out to be something else entirely different. I don't feel like myself. I don't think like myself. On the off-chance I venture a look in the mirror more than while I brush my teeth, I don't even look like myself. I saw a photo from our wedding the other morning and thought: who is that girl and where did she go? 

Marriage changes us and plenty of people might defend me with those reassuring words, but it's more than marriage. It's the moves. It's the miscarriages. It's the suffocating fear when I hear sirens or gunshots in our neighborhood. It's meeting new people. It's not trusting church leaders like I once did. It's still having to depend on a GPS for almost two whole years. It's the lack of job security or home security or community security. The face in the mirror today is lined with life it never dreamed of two years ago. 

I thought last night, while my snot pooled on Nate's shirt and he prayed for me: there are a lot of things in life that surprise and confound us, things we didn't expect or things we expected and then turned out completely different than we thought. I'm no stranger to the unexpected and life has never been one smooth Sunday sail for me. But I used to be able to close my bedroom door to it at the end of a day and secret my struggles away. I thought it be would romantic to someday share those struggles with someone, but trust me: romance is a luxury our marriage has not had time to surface for yet. Someday, maybe, we will whisper sweet nothings and write love notes and give sneaking surprises, but more than likely we will continue to gulp air where we can find it and give the gift of whatever we can manage to give today. It's not romantic, it's not even sweet. But, like I told Nate last night, I know it's working in us something good, even if we can't see it today. 

There's a strange comfort in the midst of that, a Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken called it. God is tending to us with a scalpel these days and someday, maybe, there will come a time when He soothes us with balm or a healing compress. But today it's all scalpel. For our good. For His glory. But still not what we thought we were signing up for when we said, "For better or worse." 

Speaking of signing up, there's no way for me to tell those of you who were lost in the migration that you were lost, so if you're subscribed to Sayable via anything except email, you might want to check your feedreader and update the RSS. 

. . . 

Rachel Joy Watson sent me her small book of poetry a few weeks ago and I've been meaning to tell you about it. If you like poetry, I think you'll enjoy it. But if you love people and narratives and arcs and Jesus and how He heals, I think you will love it. I read straight through it in one afternoon, laughed, cried, and was grateful God made us humans with the full spectrum of emotions.

Stand back, look ahead, and consider where you are going. Allow yourself to be drawn up into the mind and perspective of God. Try to see things as he sees them. Relax!

If you’re anything like most well-adjusted and healthy American people, there are periods in your life where your existence will be repugnant and seemingly impossible. During those, the most courageous thing you’ll ever do is to get out of bed anyway. And eat. And work. And read to your kids. And lie near to your loved one, though you may not recall what that means.

I don't know if God is being silent, or if I have misheard Him, or if He spoke through tears of grief at a rainy inauguration ceremony. Maybe those raindrops were a particular Divine blessing like Franklin Graham indicated. I think it's also possible that rain fell on our new President because of a weather front that had nothing to do with a change in national leadership. God's kindness falls on the just and the unjust alike.

Someday I’ll be told, gently, just as if I were to put my arm around Persimmony at the end of her story and say to her, “In the beginning, before you were born on paper, when I dreamed you into being and set your feet upon a journey, I named you Joy. And now, finally, you know why.”

Ever since I saw this kitchen, I've been dreaming of a tiny house. It's not a true tiny house, but it's still pretty small and I love the pared down, simple wall, no frills kitchen. Click the photo for more images from this home. 

Ever since I saw this kitchen, I've been dreaming of a tiny house. It's not a true tiny house, but it's still pretty small and I love the pared down, simple wall, no frills kitchen. Click the photo for more images from this home. 

Test Post and Thank You (hopefully it works this time)

If you read Sayable through email, my hope is that you'll be able to read this with no problem. If you read through an RSS reader like feedly or bloglovin', there might be a few glitches, but overall your experience will be the same (please let me know if it's not—I can't fix it if I don't know about it). If you come directly to Sayable, mostly it will just look a little cleaner, although it might take a bit of time for your device to update.

Overall, the most different thing about Sayable today is that the backend is more manageable for me. I've been on Wordpress since 2011 and it worked great for a while, but I really wanted something with fewer backend issues and less prone to malicious attacks. Squarespace seems to have the corner on the market in that arena. 

As I began the export process from my Wordpress platform the other morning, I realized there were sixteen years of archives. Sixteen YEARS. That doesn't even include all the years I wrote on LiveJournal way back in the beginning (anyone remember those days?). I didn't import all those years over to the new site because it was just too much, but it made me realize two things: 

The first is how much I've grown as a writer in sixteen years (faithfully plodding, jotting, and noticing life day by day by day by day) and how incremental changes come.

The second is how grateful I am for you, the reader. Some of you are newish, some of you have been reading since nearly the beginning, and I'm grateful for you all in a deep and overwhelming way. You have contributed to my growth, not only by watching it, but by encouraging it with your letters, gifts, just by showing up, and also by reminding me that Sayable is nothing if it's only about me (which sometimes it feels like it's an awful lot only about me). I write for you. I have such a deep desire to write vulnerably, faithfully, and with an eye toward the gospel, and that you stick with me when there are so many Get Rich Quick, and Beautiful People and Homes and Lives, and Gospel Lite blogs out there, means so much. Thank you. 

Nate and I have decided that some time within the next year we will put Sayable and most of my internet footprint on a year long hiatus. We have a lot of reasons for this and I'll share some of them with you when the time comes, but I hope until then (and during then if you're the sort who likes reading archives (I am)), you'll be blessed by an easier to read and access site. 

Love you all. Thanks for all you are and are becoming through Him. 

The Art of Repairing Broken Things

We were married less than three months when I broke his favorite mug. It was bound to happen. My favorite mug had broken on the move to Denver from Dallas, which was why, I suppose, it was his I carried that day. Coffee from the morning pooled in the bottom, my hands full of books and papers and another cup, which is why, I suppose, I dropped his mug as I opened the door. It lay there in seventy shards and I on my knees trying to find every one of them, crying and apologies and it's okays. I think he went inside frustrated. I think I stayed outside thinking if only I could keep everything together it might never have happened.

The shards moved with us, inside a grocery bag, and stuffed in the back of our pantry all this year. The bag also holds a ceramic bowl my mother gave me which sliced neatly in two with not a single other piece to be found. This afternoon I took them both out, as well as a teal peacock whose head had broken off in the move from Denver to D.C. I gathered them all on our wooden table and laid their remains around them and began the work of piecing broken things back together again.

The Japanese have a word for this, kintsugi, only they use precious metals like gold or silver to bind brokenness back together again. They think of it as an art: the history of a thing is part of a thing. I think it's beautiful to think so, but that was before all of the moves and the breaking and storing and sealing and healing that has been a part the history of our thing. It is romantic to call to memory the history of breaking and healing, but it is not romantic to feel in pieces at the front door or stored away in a plastic bag in the back of the pantry or to even sit alongside your other broken comrades while you are pieced together with strong glue. I wonder if the mug or bowl will be useable again. I know the peacock will be because what does one do with a peacock anyway except look at it?

There have been times this year when I wonder if we have been broken beyond repair. I know the Christian-lite will hurry to allay and calm the picture this brings to mind, but I wonder if the Bible tells a different story. Wasn't it Jacob who walked with a limp all his life—proof of his wrestle with God, but still, a limp? Wasn't it a whole chapter in the letter to the Hebrews that tells of their forefathers and mothers: those who did not see what was promised. It is a temptation, to be sure, to believe wholeness is for tomorrow or next year, but what if wholeness is not until eternity? Or what if healing means beautiful, but not useful in the former way? These are the things I have thought about this year and the things I thought of today, while piecing pottery together again.

What if our intended use is different than the Father's intended use for us? What if he pieces us together again with precious metals, but puts us on a shelf, never to be filled again? There are many rebuttals that come to mind when I think of the possibilities, but none of them are promises. God does not promise to heal the old hearts, but to give us new ones entirely. Why then, are we so bent on bandaids and also trying our best to hide our collective bandages?

I love the idea of kintsugi because it is the story of the thing I love most about any thing. It is beautiful to think of the work and love that went into the making of our table, but I know the history of it, not just ours, but the makers of it, and that story wasn't and isn't always beautiful to others—but still, that enhances the beauty of the table to me. I know the hands that made it and I love them. And I know the conversations that have been had around it and I love those voices. And I know the man who it was first given to and I love that man. It isn't the table I love, it is the story it tells.

The mug and the bowl and the useless peacock are sitting on the table drying. I hope we will fill the cup with coffee tomorrow or the next day and it will hold it so well the coffee pools and overflows. I hope the bowl will hold, at least, small tangerines or applesauce for our dinner soon. I know the peacock will strut in place on our mantle or bookshelf as though it has never left. If you came to our home you might never know you were drinking from a mug I broke three months into our marriage, it will be useful to you even without the story. But I'm not promised any of that, I know, and on this I meditate today.

We are trying to move back to Texas. I wasn't sure whether I was going to say that on here until after we'd moved because what if, like so many of our other plans, it didn't happen? I confess, since the day we made the decision (a decision I've been asking God and my husband for to varying degrees and with various levels of passion and passivity nearly since we left it the night of our wedding), I have been scared it won't happen. Yet another thing we tried for and failed. Yet another broken plan. Broken endeavor. Broken heart. I know God heals, but what if not on earth at all?

A friend told me that if we do come back, to be okay with being different, a different bowl or mug or peacock. Pieced together, but barely, and not with gold or silver or fine metal but with the faith and hope and love of God that has carried us thus far. We may not be beautiful or useable in the former way, but our marriage has a history now and it is threaded in the finest cracks and crevices of our lives, barely seen, but there.