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

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. 

How Do I Know if I'm Settling in My Search for Spouse?

For a lot of years I thought I was going to have to settle for a husband. I was never the girl getting asked out dozens of times and having to perfect my "I think Jesus is calling me to be single...for now" refusals. I dated occasionally, lots of first dates, usually with men I knew fairly well already, but nothing ever really seemed to fit. I began to think maybe my expectations were wild, maybe my requirements were too extreme, maybe I was waiting for some guy who didn't exist. 

I don't know when it happened, somewhere in my 33rd year, but I began to believe being single was actually better than all the mid-life marriages I was surrounded by. Many of my friends were getting divorced or on the brink of divorce or just sort of "meh" about their spouses. I heard more about how hard marriage was than about how good it was. I watched couple after couple face circumstances they didn't expect and end up in the arms of another or just passively facing life together as roommates. I knew that wasn't what I wanted, but I also knew I was getting older and the pickin's seemed slim. The question, for me, became not "Should I settle?" but "What is settling?" That's a hard question to answer for any unmarried person because it doesn't really have a solid answer. You have nothing to compare what not settling looks like because, well, for obvious reasons, that person isn't on your radar. There were plenty of guys I admired for their work and theology ethic, and for their love for the local church and their families. But either they were married to someone else or they hadn't noticed me in any fashion. It was easier to answer the first question (Should I settle?) than to answer the second: What is settling?

It turned out that I didn't need to ask the question or find the answer, because at the proper time and not one minute sooner, Nate and I began to have conversations.

Friends, there was no spark. There was no voice from heaven saying, "This is the one." There was no giddy butterfly in my stomach fluttering up into my heart. There was no chorus of angels announcing my wait had come to an end. There was none of that. There was not one bit of assurance that this guy would be anything other than a guy with whom I had a series of cool conversations about pacifism. The question of settling didn't come into the equation, it didn't have a chance to, because in the space we'd embarked on, I began to think of him as my friend.

Without doubts, without questions, without "What ifs?" Nate was simply my friend. I won't deny there was the hope of something more, but there wasn't space for it to breathe, not much. Not really at all. He was so completely clear with me from the very beginning that it was friendship, and not until he picked up his phone and called me to ask me on a date, could I assume it was anything more. And once it was something more, he continued to use his voice to ask me on more dates, ask me how I felt about continuing to date, and then ask me to marry him. And since then, there have been thousands of more asks from him to me. 

He was not the first to ask me on a date, but he was the first for whom there was a complete absence of doubt for me. People ask: "When did you know he was the one?" I never knew he was the one (I don't even know if there is a such thing as one.). What I knew was day to day to day to day, I was going to walk forward as long as I had faith as it led me to the altar. And then, only then, would he become my one, the question of doubts and fears and what ifs and expectations always taking a backseat to the vows we said standing in front of our friends, family, pastors, and elders. 

We have a really beautiful marriage. It's not perfect. It's not without disagreements or failures or misunderstandings. But it's a really beautiful marriage built on a singular point: faith. Not faith in one another to never fail us, but faith in God that we came together without doubts, with the confidence of our church family and elders, with the joy of our families, with the cheers of our friends. There was faith that we weren't settling. 

God, in his goodness, gave me a husband beyond any of my wildest hopes and dreams, with specificity and precision, with attentiveness to my needs and my wants. God crafted a husband for me as specifically as he crafted me himself. I have not one single doubt that my beloved is mine and I am his, and I never have had one doubt. 

I wanted to say this because since we've been married, I've encountered so many couples for whom doubt was a big part of their dating and engagement. A feeling they couldn't flee from, an uncertainty they couldn't get past, a sense they couldn't shake, a feeling of settling. Or there were doubts of others: concerns of immaturity, fears of unequal yoking, desires to protect from what seemed not good. And yet, they got married just the same, and every day since then their marriage has suffered for it.

These marriages began on what they could see and feel (looks, money, chemistry, security, appearance of godliness), and not on what they could not (faith from God and in God, hope from God and in God, love from God and in God). They made a pragmatic decision to marry for whatever reasons, and now their marriages have suffered for it. It might have seemed to them and others that they were not settling as they said their vows to one another based on appearances, but deep in their hearts they were settling for less than "perfect peace" (Isa. 26:3). 

Listen to me: if you are married or will be married, there will come hard times when money will be scarce, looks will falter, houses will be lost, jobs will be gone, churches will be difficult, and children will be a source of ache: what sustains you in those times is that strong and certain faith in the God who drew you to one another. If you married your spouse, or they married you, without a certain faith and an absence of doubt, ask God today to give you the gift of faith that this is your beloved and ask him to give your spouse the same gift of faith. God wants to give you that gift! He's longing to give it to you. 

If you are unmarried, trust God. You will know you are not settling because there will be not only an absence of doubt in you, but an absence of doubt in them, and an absence of doubt in your community.  If you do not have community, then do not get married. I mean this. Wait. To get married without a strong, loving community who will speak truth to you even if it's painful, is to invite trauma into your marriage before you've even started. If you feel the presence of doubt, the question of whether you're settling, might that be the Holy Spirit, protecting you from future angst and trauma? Marriage is so full and so fun and so wonderful. I want that for you, but you have to want it for you and you have to believe it can exist for you. God wants to give good gifts to his children! Believe that he wants to give you bread and fish instead of a stone and serpent. 

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-11

The enemy is crouching at your door, waiting to devour you. He's waiting to devour your singleness, your future marriage, or your present marriage. Do not give him a foothold by moving forward without faith. Trust the Lord: it would be better to remain single than to be in a marriage headed for divorce as soon as the vows have been said. 

*I also recognize that there may be some couples who thought they had this absence of doubt in themselves and their community and moved forward, only to find themselves in a train wreck of a relationship today. I ache for you and pray God would show himself to be enough for you in the wake of disappointment, failure, and sin. He is enough. Put your faith in HIM and not in a fixed, healed, or whole marriage as you would see it. I'm praying for your marriages today. 

 

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.

Guiding Principles for Making a Home

They say to be a good blogger, one must have a focus, a platform, a drum to beat. But I have always supposed to be a good writer, one must know one's audience. And if you must know, I write for you and as long as you keep reading while I write about Springs and Winters and marriage and singleness and theology and sadness and joy and home and tithing and homemaking and women in the church, well, I suppose I'll keep writing about all of it. One of the questions so many of you ask (especially those of you who follow me on Instagram), is "Tell me about your home, its decor, your intentions, how-tos, and such." Well, blow me over, I never planned on having any advice about that ever. I just surround myself with what I love and try not to love it too much and paint my walls white. That's mostly it. But as I tried to articulate an answer to a reader the other day about why our American flag is hung backwards, I realized, no, actually there is a lot more to why we do what we do.

All of us are trying to make our little plots of life home, and for some it means copying what we see in an Ikea or Pottery Barn, or doing what our mothers or fathers did, or keeping every scrap of everything that's ever meant anything, or throwing it all away and keeping our belongings to a countable number. I suppose I don't care much for movements (minimalism or whatever Pantone calls the Color of the Year), but I do care about the folks who come into my home and I care about the ones who live in it. And that sets the stage for what you might call decorating and I call living.

I don't have a canned response for all this, but I have a few guiding principles and they've helped me in every home in which I've lived for the past seven years. In my brain it works itself out like a little family tree diagram and so I've sketched it out for you here and I'll unpack it below:

First, love Jesus and People more than things. This is my overarching goal in all that comes into our home. This means I cannot be upset when my favorite drinking glasses get broken or that little ceramic bird gets crushed or a child gets enamored with a little plaything they found in our home and it would bring them (or their parent) joy to have it. It's meant loss more than gain in terms of things, but it's also meant relationships are forged because I'll be sad when that drinking glass gets broken, but that sad won't turn to mad. It's also meant that I try not to have emotional attachment to things. There are some heirlooms in our home, gifts from family or friends that are precious to me for various reasons, but the people and the God who gave me our relationship is more important than the thing. I love everything in our home in the sense that it's a gift for today, but there's no guarantee of it tomorrow.

Right underneath that is a quote from William Morris, "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." I split this up in a couple of ways.

Under useful, I consider things in two ways. The first is, "Is this useful for hospitality?" The second is, "Is this useful because I use it?"

Under beautiful, I think about it in two ways. The first is, "Is this pleasing to my eye?" Second, "Does this fit both aesthetically and spatially in our home?"

Is this useful for hospitality? This can be as pragmatic as a pair of guest room sheets or a guest room at all. But I think about it more in terms of does it make guests feel welcome and at home in our house? I consider that a useful aspect of decor. I want visitors to feel comfortable as soon as they walk in the door, like this home is theirs. They can put their feet on my coffee table, they can scrounge through our fridge, their kid can break a glass and no one freaks out. I'll get to the atheistic of what is welcoming below, but this is a guiding principle for our home: do visitors feel welcome here? The word on the street is they do, and so we're going to keep doing what we do because it seems to be working. The idea that home is our own palace is a flawed one and not a Christian one, we think. Our homes are our primary places of ministry (whether to our immediate family, roommates, or those who come in), so we want to shape them in a way that says, "Welcome home."

Is this useful because I use it? We really try to keep only what we use. A friend of mine has a rule that whenever a box from Amazon comes into the house, she fills it up with things going out and drops it off at the thrift store. I like that idea. I also like just weighing the need/wants etc. before they come into our home. This is tough especially if you're someone who receives a lot of gifts. What do you do, for instance, with the seventy-fifth Rifle Paper journal you've been gifted when your preference is skinny brown Moleskines and who gives those as gifts? Regifting is our friend. Give away things you do not use. Find a way to be grateful for what you receive and clear your conscience because no human has a use for everything single thing that we stuff in our homes. Set goals for yourself in this: Get rid of ten things a week. Keep seasonal decor to one big rubbermaid bin. Get rid of extra pots and pans stuck in the back of your pantry. Don't buy what you don't actually need.

Is this pleasing to my eye? Art is really important to me. There isn't one piece of furniture or art in our home that doesn't have a specific story to it and its purpose in our home and this is very intentional. I love beauty. I love simple white walls that draw attention to the art on them. I love plants. I love pottery and baskets and wooden bowls. These things are useful in the everyday sense, but they are useful in the sense that they bring me joy and that is useful to me. I still keep these things to a minimum (there's no count in my head, I just think, "Goodness, that cupboard looks cluttered. How can I fix that?"). I lean toward minimalism mostly out of the habit of moving so much, but most of what we own is actually visible to anyone who comes over (we don't have closets cluttered with things stored away or rarely used equipment). And so I want it to be pleasing to my eye when I look at it.

Does this fit both aesthetically and spatially in our home? One of the problems you can run into when so many things are pleasing to your eye is clutter just grows and grows and grows, taking over space and time and your life. We really try to keep only what fits in our home, in the living areas of our home, in hues, tones, and materials that are pleasing in our home. Nate and I both love wooden things, handmade things, and pottery, and so there is a plethora of that around our house. We don't love plastic or aluminum or granite, and so there just isn't going to be a lot of that found in our home. We want what is useful and beautiful to fit both spatially and aesthetically.

So these are our guiding principles for decorating. It's really very simple, although it takes checking our hearts, our hands, and our heads often. It is much less about furniture placement or mantle decor, and much more about the position of our hearts and the clutter in our minds. When it comes to specific pieces and art, there are stories to why we have what we have and why we do what we do with it. Those are important to us and we love sharing them with others when they ask. I guess I want to have a defense for our home, if that makes sense, to not simply gather things and substance just to have them, but to have intentionality behind it all.

I hope this was helpful to those of you who've asked and for the rest of you who are already thinking about these things. It's always helpful for me to think and rethink through these principles. Also, here are a few books I highly recommend if this is stuff you like to think about:

The Hidden Art of Homemaking

You Are What You Love

Kinfolk Table

Kinfolk Home

The Life-giving Home

Missional Motherhood