Fervor, Foolishness, and Faithfulness: Psalm 42 and Growth in Christ

His Bible is open to the Psalms this morning, left on the kitchen table beside a napkin from breakfast, the chair still pulled out, abandoned by its occupant in the still dark morning hours. I make eggs and toast, pour coffee, and sit in his chair, pull his Bible close. Mine is in the other room waiting with my morning motions, but an open Bible is a temptation of the good sort. I flick the pages a few forward until I come to Psalm 42, in which the famed deer pants.

I share the ache of this Psalmist: my tears have been my food, a despairing and disturbed soul. A melancholy ache for the days of old, when I "used to go along with the throng, leading them in the procession to the house of God." I do not camp in the hills of nostalgia often, but occasionally I will take a look behind me at what used to be and what might have been, and grow sorrowful. 

Two conversations with two friends last week: the first, a girl in her mid-twenties who mourns the fervor of her college days when she was poised to change the world with her faithfulness. She was going to be a history maker, a world changer, and now? Now she is a wife. A worker. Someone who clocks in and clocks out and goes home and makes spaghetti for her husband. She wonders, "Have I missed my chance to really be something?" The second conversation, a friend who wants to have more children but married late and is fearful the punishment for foolish twenties will be no more babies in her late thirties. 

I want to take their faces in my hands and say two things: the first is that none of us ended up where we thought we'd be, and if we did, I wonder how much of it was due to a controlled plan by us, and not a faithful following of a faithful God. The second is that God isn't punishing us for lost fervor or years of foolishness behind us. 

Sometimes I get lost in there, don't you? Lost in the regret that things aren't turning out like I thought they would, not in the order I thought best or the place I thought best. I ache for the sort of clarity and insight I had in my early twenties, the exacting nature of my mind, the black and whiteness of justice and faith and theology. I was so sure of so many things back then. I was, like the Psalmist, "leading the procession to the house of God, [part of a] multitude keeping festival." I was part of the throng of world changers and earth shakers. And now? Now I'm eating cold eggs and toast at a kitchen table listening to my dog pant at my feet and wondering if I should just mop and vacuum the floor or deep clean the whole house. This is what my life has come to? 

Did I waste my twenties with dreams and certainties and hopes and plans? Has my warm heart turned cold? Did I miss the call of God somewhere? When did I step out of the processional line, stop keeping the festivals with the multitudes? 

I rarely ask those questions anymore, though I have my bouts of them at times, because somewhere along the way I have begun learning to be more like the deer panting for water than the throngs in procession. I am learning what is required of me is faithfulness, not awesomeness; quietness, not greatness; love, not being larger than life. I need the water of life more than I need the approval of the multitudes. I need a refreshed soul more than I need to change the world. I need to know the love of a Father more than I need the love of men. 

Life is long, friends. Twenties? Thirties? God knows your days and has numbered them, but for most of us, these decades are at the beginning of a long life. And most of us will never change the world in wild ways, but may change it out of mere faithfulness to the small things. My pastor has spoken often in recent weeks of being patriarchs and matriarchs, looking behind us as all that has been sown in quiet faithfulness. "A long obedience in the same direction," Nietzsche called it (unknowingly lending a helpful phrase to the Christians he despised). One foot in front of another, one return to the water brook after another, one day of thirst after another. 

God didn't waste your teens or your twenties or your thirties and he's not wasting them right now, as you wake to the same perpetual motions of your every day. He's not stepped around your life, taken his hand off of you, ignored your pleas, or forgotten your desires. We might have forgotten the foolishness or fervency of our youth, but he is far more concerned with our faithfulness today. 

What is in your hand today? I know you were a big deal back then, but what about today? Who are you today and what has he set you to? Do that. Do it with all your heart as unto God, not man. Don't look for the approval of man, not even your own approval. There's not report card in Christianity, no medals to hang above your dresser or trophies to stand on a mantle. There's just you and a long obedience ahead. Be faithful. And then enter into the joy of your Master

Link Love

It's been a long time since I've done a Link Love around here. Mostly because my online reading has plummeted in the past several months, but partially because I want to be very choosey about what I share and to not share links simply because they exist. At last, though! I have gathered a few here and there that you might enjoy—or need—as much as I did. 

My dear friend Danica from back home in Upstate New York has kept a blog for years. I mostly puruse it for glimpses of the growing kids or their sprawl of land, but she wrote this post this week and I knew I wanted to share it. It is so excellent on the subject of Christ at home in us and in our home. 

Moving so much has given me deep desire to declutter, and also great pleasure in it. I'm not a minimalist—we live in this world, and like the poet said, "Love calls us to the things of this world." But this article from the Boston Globe talks about the mastery of stuff so many live under. 

This advice from Lewis to a schoolgirl on writing stands true today. All of it. 

Scott Sauls is pastor in Nashville, but he's also got a pastoral gift that stands out among men in my theological circles. He never fails to shepherd his readers into the corral of what Psalm 16 calls the "pleasant boundaries" of God's best. This piece on shame is an excellent example. 

One of my favorite musicians is putting together a commemorative show on one of my heroes of faith: Rich Mullins. Nate and I can't go (and are not a little heart-broken about it), but if you can still get tickets, you should go! If you can't travel to Nashville for this, though, make a plan to attend Andrew's Behold the Lamb show in December. It will probably be in a city near you and is one of my favorite Advent traditions.

This is it for now, friends. I hope one or all of these pieces bless, encourage, challenge, or strengthen you in some way today. If you find you need some not-so-bad-for-you Chocolate Cake to help you along, I made this last night and it was okay. Not great, but okay. The recipe called for honey and that's what I used, but I think I might add a bit more next time. My philosophy, that I just now am making up, is: if you're going to make a chocolate cake, it might as well taste good. Click here for the recipe if that's your thing. 

Enough Beauty to Go Around

I used to dream of an old house on a quiet county road with a front porch and a clothesline strung taut. Perhaps a swing or two, each from one of the ancient trees in the front yard, and a child or five taking turns on them. I held on to that dream for years and years and years and I still do, if I'm honest with myself. It sits in the back recesses of my heart, in the dusty corners where I rarely go, waiting to be fulfilled. Somewhere along the way, though, I sold my gathered Newberry Award winners off for .25 a piece, gave the small calico smocks I'd been keeping for someday away, and packed the dream away, determined to find beauty in today, wherever it might be found. 

And, surprisingly, I found it. 

I found it in so many small things, previously unnoticed or undervalued by me. I found it in the appreciating of people, not things, in the love of Jesus and not man, and in the business of making do instead of fantasy.

I am, like many women I know, prone to imagining the best, the cleanest, the most organized, the tastiest, and peace itself is somewhere soon if I can just wrangle all the parts and pieces of my life quickly enough to get there. But it's not true, is it? The ever elusive someday never comes, and even if if looks to all the world that it has come for you, you know the gross truth, don't you? You go to sleep every night with the girl who still has so much she wants to do and accomplish and be and go and have, and you wake up, still lacking. 

Part of this is just the reality that we live in a world fractured by sin, but it's also the truth that we who live in this fractured world have eternity written on our hearts: we are longing to be home and are digging the tent pegs of our lives in as deep as we can get them until we arrive on eternity's shores. This is good, regardless of what the naysayers say. All through Scripture the heart cry of God's people is "Home! Home! Home!" Every year the Jewish people, even today, say to one another, "Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in the Holy Land." We are born homesick, every one of us. 

How does one, then, live on this earth and keep that longing for heaven fresh and fervent? I think it is by instead of living as though we are paupers waiting to be clothed with the stuff of heaven, to walk under the cloak of the Most High today. And the Most High is a generous giver, a maker of beauty, and an endless supply of good today. He is not waiting for some far off day to bless his children, to bless you. He's doing it today. Where is he doing it? Well, I don't know in your life because I'm not living yours, I'm living mine. Here are some ways I remind myself of the great clash of heaven and earth we grow closer to every day: 

We surround ourselves with nature, the raiment of heaven, even just a bouquet of flowers or some houseplants, instead of surrounding ourselves with the noise of earth. We have this Lavender in a few rooms of our home.

We make meals intentional by how we gather it (in season and local—living within the constraints of God's seasons and helping to serve and prosper our community), how we cook it (slow and whole), how we serve it (every meal is special, there is no fine china or paper napkins in our home, we use what is beautiful every day), and how we eat it (slowly, conversing, sharing, and serving one another). Here is a book that helped shape our intentions. 

We light candles in the dark months. We eat outside (weather permitting) in the warm months. 

We embrace silence, turning off music, television, the radio, and even talking for periods of time. Letting ourselves alone with our thoughts—sometimes a scary place, but always a rewarding one because the Spirit lives inside of us, teaching us all things. 

We open our home. It is rare we have an evening without friends at our home and so we have to intentionally schedule a night, once a week (currently Tuesdays), where we lock our front door and enjoy one another. But other than that, our home is a circulating flow of people, conversations, prayers, and friendship. This sounds sweet and romantic but this is not an easy thing. This takes sacrifice of time, finances, and food, but we think it is a slice of how the New Earth will be and is how New Testament Christians are to live until then (Acts 4:32-37).

This is how the Wilbert home celebrates the forward momentum of eternity's arrival every day. Much of this both of us did in our respective seasons of singleness (the very first time I knew about Nate, I heard he had an open door to men in his home every Tuesday night for spaghetti dinner and deep conversation), and some of it we've arrived at together. The point is to do it, today, without excuse. 

I know many of you have young children and cannot have folks over for dinner every night or lighting candles at your dinner tables sounds like a recipe for a house fire. Or maybe eating locally isn't in your budget (eating seasonally probably is though—in-season food is always cheaper than January's tomatoes or November's strawberries). Or maybe you live with roommates who like to have the television on at all times. I don't know your circumstances exactly, but I do know if you're a child of God, you're homesick for heaven. I also know the Spirit of God lives inside of you, leading and teaching and helping and comforting you as you do the work of building the kingdom of God on earth. Begin in your home, however it looks like. Begin today. With one thing. Maybe sort through clutter or organize a drawer or pull out that tablecloth you only use on "special occasions," or light that dollar store candle while you wash the dishes. Don't wait for special somedays, begin today to see how the Maker of all beauty has made enough beauty to go around to remind you heaven is coming soon. 

The Gift of Lack: Infertility, Miscarriage, Singleness, and the Long Wait

We have braved our way through Mothers and Fathers Days now, each with our own measure of sadness and grief, and surprising joy. "Is this day hard for you?" I ask my husband yesterday. We know the little lives we've lost made us parents for a week, two, three, but neither of us stood with the others on our respective days in church when the mothers are honored and the fathers applauded. "Is it hard for you?" I ask him. And he says no, not now, because we have been given the gift of lack, this is what we've been calling it recently: the gift of emptiness. 

I remember, with startling clarity, the moment I decided to never put my name on an Internet dating site, to not whittle my time down crafting the perfect profile, hoping some man would take a fancy and pick me. I decided, instead, to look at the gift of emptiness God had given me in my singleness, and do my best to be faithful with it in my local church. I knew this was an unpopular opinion. I knew the odds weren't in my favor. I knew it would take a miracle for me to find marriage. But then, one day, there he was, standing in the foyer, meeting me. A non-event in both of our minds, no idea that four months later we'd meet again, become friends, and three months after that we'd pledge our lives to one another. He was just serving our church. I was just trying to be faithful. Living quiet lives. Working with what was in our hands—even if it seemed to the world to be emptiness. 

Being unable to have children is a bit like this. Well-meaning strangers ask when we plan to start a family. Well-intentioned folks probe for a diagnosis. Well-loving friends mostly fear asking, because, well, it's hard to scratch a surface not knowing what's beneath it.

Lack is strange in the world in which we live. We are all trying so desperately to fill, fill, fill, and when we can't fill it with the thing we want, we try to get another thing to stave off the pain. Boyfriends, babies, big-screen tvs, better phones—none of us are immune from the fill. Emptiness points to insufficiency and none of us can bear that for long. Even the ones who love most don't want to broach the subject of what emptiness might mean. 

Nate had a conversation with a mutual friend of ours recently and when he recounted it to me, I remembered their situation, similar to ours in many ways: married later, no children for years, faithfully serving the church and the nations, and then, one day, the gift of a baby, given to them by an acquaintance, adopted, and now raised as their very own. It reminded me of my choice to, as long as I remained single, be faithful with that time, and if God brought a husband, it would be through my church family. This comforting reminder has buoyed our childlessness in recent weeks and months. We feel a growing excitement in the gift of this lack—because we know God doesn't give empty gifts, even if the box seems empty to the rest of the world. 

God is doing something in this lack. He's showing us something of himself. He's refining and proving and conforming and comforting. He has not withheld from us anything he has promised to give us. The desire to have children and be a parent is no more a promise that it will happen, than the desire to be married means God will provide a spouse. God has promises galore in his Word and not one of them will return void, but if we begin to live as though the things we desire have been promised to us when they have not, we will begin to live within a constant funeral of our idol. No one wants to say marriage or children can become idols, or even the desire for them can be, but if the getting of something God has not promised to us in Scripture begins to steal our joy and diffuse our hope in him, it is an idol. 

I did not want my pursuit of marriage to become like a carrot in front of me, shifting my life and career and home and hopes constantly with marriage as the goal. I made that mistake more times than I know, but I did not want the whole of my singleness to be marked by the goal of marriage. And now, in childlessness, I do not want the whole of my life to be centered around the getting of that which has not been promised. Children are a blessing, so is marriage, but they are not better than faithfulness and they are not better than the King of glory. 

I know many of you are unmarried and many of you are unable to have children, and there is the two-fold hurt of being unmarried, with the barrenness that comes along with it, but I want to stand beside you in that hurt, that lack, and say with you: this is not empty, though it feels as if it is. God is doing something in this lack. He's doing something with this void. He's showing himself to be better than a spouse, better than children, better than security, and better than what our culture perceives as normal. He is the gift within the gift of lack. 

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:16-17

Reading Suggestions and Fidelity Poster Link

I'm going to tell you something I'm not proud of: in the past two years I have watched more television than my cumulative life. 

I don't want to make excuses, but the reasons are real: we dated, got engaged, planned a wedding and a move, and got married in three months flat. We moved into an AirBnB for five weeks. We moved into a house. I started a new job, my husband lost his. We put our house on the market. We moved to DC, to another AirBnb in Maryland for five weeks. We moved again to Virginia to a house for a year and then moved again to Texas. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying there were a lot of transitions and most evenings we were too tired to read or talk or do other things newly married couples do, so we opened Netflix or Amazon Prime on the laptop, and scrolled mindlessly. We finished West Wing and started it againWe watched some great foreign films and series. We watched The Night Manager and An Honorable Woman. We loved River and we really liked Bleak House. Endeavor is great too. We also watched a ton of other shows I wouldn't recommend or have mostly forgotten. We had spurts of not watching shows every night, but mostly we watched. About a month ago we put the kibosh on mindless watching—after all, isn't this why we don't own a television? Instead we've been reading every night and I feel like, for the first time in two years and three months, the fog of my mind is beginning to clear. I know that's not only due to reading instead of watching, but I think the reading is helping me along a bit. 

Folks are always asking for recommendations, and I thought since it's the beginning of summer, maybe now would be a great time to recommend a few we've loved. 

Nate read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead last month and I finished it last night. It was one of the most engrossing stories I've read on one of the grossest injustices of our country. 

We were reading a few of Andy Crouch's books in tandem, Strong and Weak, and The Tech Wise Family (both of which I've mentioned recently here on Sayable). They're short, easy reads. 

I really love a good mystery and Tana French delivers. Her spectacular use of the first person narrative, embodying very different first persons in each novel, makes each one unique. If you don't like one, try another. I loved The Likeness and In the Woods the best. 

Nate is reading through Chaim Potok's works now. I've loved him since high school and am so glad my love is getting into his work and loving it. Start with The Chosen and The Promise

I'm also getting into Louise Penny's mysteries. Hers are a slow burn, proper and well-written. 

Nate is reading Disciplines of a Godly Man for a book study he's doing with a group of men from our church, and so far it's provided good conversation. 

I started paging through some old favorites: The Supper of the Lamb and Tender at the Bone

On the recommendation of a few trusted friends I began The Gift of Being Yourself, which makes me wildly uncomfortable, but which is also deeply convicting. 

Nate started reading Coming Apart by Charles Murray last fall and has still been working his way through it as we try to educate ourselves apart from quick news and media hits. 

I have been slowly, slowly working through Jen Pollock Michel's newest book Keeping Place, and as I've come to expect with all of Jen's work, it must be chewed slowly and thought about deeply.  

I know for lots of you the opportunity to read even one of these books sounds like a pipe dream, you're grabbing 15 minutes once a day to gather what remains of your sanity. It's a season and I hope and pray the Lord will sustain you through it, and you get to read again. Maybe others of you have been in a similar season to ours above: just trying to get through and subsisting on Netflix shows in the meantime. Maybe today's a day when you can unsubscribe, though, and grab a book from the library (we love our local library!) or a used bookstore, and spend the summer reading. Enjoy! 

P.S. A bunch of you have asked for a download of the poster pictured above. "Fidelity to the Word of God and not to an outcome," is a saying we've had in our marriage almost since the beginning, so I made it into a poster for Nate's 40th birthday. Reminding one another of this has protected us from so many unwise things, even if the outcome looks crazy to the rest of the world! Here's the download.