Sowing in Tears: Vulnerable Bloggers and the Crushing Whirlwind of Fame

Nate and I first heard Andy Crouch talking about the relationship between authority and vulnerability on Mike Cosper's podcast, Cultivated, several months ago. I ordered Andy's book, Strong and Weak, immediately, Nate finished it a few weeks ago and I finished it this morning. If you've read anything by Andy, you know he's remarkably talented at communication and articulate in a way the church culture today needs. Today's thoughts are born from what I'm learning through Andy. 

In the past decade or so we've seen an uptick of tell-all, self-described Christian bloggers and storytellers, particularly women. There are some common themes in their writing: they're funny, they're sacrilegious in the sense that they'll talk about anything, they seem common, relatable, real. It's something that was missing in the buttoned up culture of Christianity most of us came from. And it's refreshing in a way. It also tastes like sewer water in a way. But it's refreshing until the sewer water aftertaste comes. Most of these tell-all bloggers have gone from Christian-lite to Universalism or embracing new doctrines, and eventually being famously farewelled. 

What is refreshing about it is there is a kind of vulnerability present in the beginning. Sure, it's from behind a keyboard in a house far away, but the writer is tapping out her treatise dressed in last night's pjs and yelling at the dog to stop barking and ran out of coffee yesterday, but plunks on with her piece. There's a vulnerability that's appealing about that: they're real people with real problems and probably have bed head too.

There's also a vulnerability that can be manipulative though. It's the sort that only opens the shades enough so the mess can be seen, but not enough that the writer is actually vulnerable. It costs nothing to tell you I'm writing this in my pjs with the dog barking at the neighbors and drinking chai tea wishing it was coffee. To be a tell-all blogger costs virtually nothing. We can wax eloquent about our reputation and how painful some people's comments can be, but most of us well-adjusted adults can still go to bed and sleep fine because all that cost is out there, not in here. 

To be truly vulnerable, there must be risk involved, and risk comes with the people closest to us, the ones who matter most to us. If we use vulnerability as a tool, or even a shield, the world sees us wield and we get our jollies from it, it's not real vulnerability. It's manipulation—gaining approval, gaining a following, gaining a title by being real, authentic, etc.. 

John says this, "He must increase, I must decrease," and that's an awfully difficult thing for any communicator or faithful worker of any sort in this world to do today. By virtue of our work, we run the risk of increase. How does one decrease—embrace true vulnerability, the sort that involves risk with those closest to us and never becomes a platform on which our ministry is based, because our boast is Christ alone—and yet also be faithful? Especially because one of our callings as Christians is to show the world we are not better than them, that Jesus came for the sick, and that we all are in equal need of Jesus. How do we be weak and in our weakness become strong, without outshining the strongest One of all? 

I don't know the answer to that, not fully. But I think it looks a little like saying "I don't know" when asked questions we really don't have the answers to. It looks like saying less when we might be expected to say more. I think we can expect some growth, perhaps explosive, perhaps incremental, but we should also expect to be able to say "I can't be faithful to love Jesus and people, and have things in my life I refuse to lose." I think it means never getting to hob-nob with the big folks and maybe never getting noticed by anyone but the Master of the house (Who's waiting, with joy, to say "Well done, my servant."). 

If you're reading blogs or books or going to conferences and gushing over how vulnerable the communicators are being, ask yourself what the cost to them truly might be. You probably don't even know, and might not even be able to see until decades later when their kids are grown or their marriages have been through hell or they confess they've become an addict of drugs or alcohol or their ministry falls out from underneath them. 

. . .

There was a period last year when everywhere I looked in my life there was pain and loss and I could barely breathe as I walked through it. Yet I kept writing through it, trying to find redemption quickly. I thought it I could redeem something bad quickly enough, then it would become good. But a wise friend and fellow writer said this to me: 

"I have often marveled at how detachedly you write about all you're going through on your blog. Seriously, though, I wonder if writing about all this for the public while in the middle of it serves to exacerbate the emotional distancing. Writing inherently distances us from our inner life simply through the process of externalizing and reifying it. I wonder if this might contribute to that kind of detachment."

The cost to my writing vulnerably was unseen except to those who knew me personally. It might have seemed to you that the cost was in people knowing my junk, but that's never felt like much of a cost to me. The real cost was to my soul. Writing quickly about what was going on was taking a great toll on my emotions, spirit, and mind. I had to take a break. And I did. And it was really helpful to me, and I hope, really helpful to you, the reader. 

If you read and love a blog, a book, an author, or a speaker, and marvel at how much they just get you, they feel kindred to you, ask yourself at what cost is their story coming. You're not responsible for how they wield their gifts, but you are responsible for how you wield your listening and worshipping. The truth is real vulnerability takes time, a lot of it, and there probably won't be a celebration but a crucifixion that follows it.  

One of my new favorite writers is Anne Kennedy, and she said this about these sorts of leaders: "Don’t be fooled. The woman reaps what she sows. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy, but those who sow the wind won’t get anything back but a destructive whirlwind on the last day." 

I want to be one who sows in tears—quiet, real, deep, agonizing, and vulnerable tears. 

 

Sinking Feelings and a Solid Rock

It was my particular wish that we would get one good snowstorm this winter, but we rounded the corner into March with blooms aplenty and only a dusting in mid-January. While the rest of the east coast laments about a March "snowpocolypse" though, Nate and I were taking bets on over/under inch predictions (winner gets cart blanche on Netflix picking for the next two weeks).

OPM gave some federal workers a telecommute day because of the snow and Nate is one of those workers, which is a double treat for me. Snow and the sight of my husband's flannel-shirted back working at our dining room table all day? Win, win. Something about having him home helps me to focus on tasks instead of floating through the day, week, month with nothing but my own schedule to tend to. I read Tim Keller yesterday, "There’s nothing that makes you more miserable, or less interesting, than self-absorption," and I thought, well, that's true. At least in my life. 

We're two weeks out from closing on a house in Texas (which has proven to be as fraught with unknowns as when we sold our house in Denver) and I keep checking myself, my heart, my mind, every time I tape a box closed or set something on the Give Away shelf: will I be sad to leave here? Will I miss Virginia and DC? Will I look back with longing to this season of life? It has been overwhelmingly hard in many ways, and lonely, but there were sweet stretches and I never want to forget them, not ever. 

We brought Harper home here. She's not a child and I don't want to memorialize her as such, but she has been such a gift to me in particular. She gave me something to mind, to train, to care about. She gave me, on many dark days, a reason to get out of bed—even if that reason felt more animalistic and less joy-filled. She was born on the day we moved into this house, though we didn't bring her home until eight weeks later, and we will sign our names on the dotted line for a new home on her birthday this year. Something we thought impossible a year ago.

A year ago we were staring down the barrel of foreclosure and had no idea we were going to lose every penny of our downpayment and our entire savings account, effectively starting over financially in June. Then, in July, a publisher friend of mine reached out with a project she wanted me to work on. Her reasons were simple (and profound, to me). She knew I felt strongly about the flood of books being published, by the pressure to platform and perform, and even though there are probably books inside me somewhere, she knew publishing a book right now wasn't something I was passionate about doing. But this project, editing Christian classics and writing study guide material for them, seemed like it would be perfect. And it was. And it provided a salary for me we never expected and couldn't have foreseen. We were able to build back up our savings enough to buy a house less than a year from when we thought it would never happen again.

Editing those books, and, in particular, writing the study guide material for them, was such a singular blessing to me this year. I learned so much (and will write more on this soon). I said to my publisher friend the other morning: God disciplined me and discipled me through this work. I wept over brokenness, sin, doubt, and fear in my own heart as I wrote response questions to Christian's travels with Hopeful in Pilgrim's Progress. I was convicted and convinced as I worked on George Mueller's Answers to Prayer. I wrestled with theology, truth, and scripture as I worked through Hannah Whiteall Smith's words. I am still working on these projects and they never fail to convict and challenge me, not only because God's word doesn't change, but the nature of man, sin, faith, hope, joy, and life doesn't change much either. The blessing of this buoyed me this year. 

I lamented to a friend this week about how sometimes I miss my singleness. I love my marriage and I love my husband. Nate is God's best gift to me in this season of life and I don't want to make that a small thing. But I have struggled with the lack of purpose I often feel in marriage. I felt so purposeful and driven with my singleness, knowing I could waste it or use it, and determined to do the latter. It gave me such drive and passion to do it well, to find others who were doing it well, and to encourage my brothers and sisters in the dry land it can sometimes be. But within marriage, I've struggled to find that same purpose, drive, and passion. It occurred to me recently, though, that when we pack up the truck and head down south, I will be leaving behind a solid year of singularity: my primary, sometimes only, calling this year was to my home and husband. I don't know if I'll ever have such a season of undistraction again. I learned to be my husband's cheerleader and friend. To be a wife and homemaker. To care about what my husband cares about, to learn to hear him, know him, listen to him, trust him, and submit to him. In other seasons of life I have thrived on my ability to juggle many things, carry many loads, do many things well. In this season of life, I couldn't run away from the One Thing in front of me and it has been so good for me. 

More than any of that, though, I have learned in a deeper way and in a way I don't know if I could have learned any other way, both how important a church family is, and also how challenging it is for many people to find a home in one. I have never been flippant about my love for the local church, but I have been flippant about the hurt others experienced in them or the struggles others faced in finding a home in one. I was matter of fact, direct, pointed, without empathy for the hurt they might have experienced or their reticent to go, become members of, submit to, and invest in. It seemed to be born out of selfishness, and maybe some of it is, but after this year and our hurt and struggle, God's good gift to me was the ability to see that it is not as easy as three steps or just making up your mind. Maybe we make it more difficult than it is, but maybe we don't. We are grateful for the many pastors and church members who reached out to us, invited us, and made us feel welcome here, but the inward struggle, the hurt, the fear, and the hopes were never fully settled and that takes time.

I learned this year that time doesn't heal all wounds, but also God is never in a rush to finish healing if there's something still to learn in the hurting. I'm grateful to go back to my church family, but I go back with much, much more awareness of the struggles many Christians face in the simple act of going to church, not to mention being a part of  one. I'm grateful for that wounding, although there were many Sundays this year I could barely breathe through it.

These are only a few of the blessings of this year—which in many ways, didn't feel like blessings in the midst of them. I knew one day I would look back at this year and see God's purpose in the midst of the hard things, but more than anything I'm grateful that I was able to see God's goodness in the midst of them. It's one thing to derive meaning from something. It's another to find no meaning but that on Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. 

All other ground is sinking sand. His character, his attributes, his nature—these never, ever, ever, ever change, and this carried me this year. I never faltered in my believe in his character because he never changed who he was and is. So while meaning might still feel a long way off in some ways, assurance of God's goodness, faithfulness, lovingkindness, generosity, justice, mercy, grace, patience, and more are never far off. He draws near and on him I stand. 

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. 

When We are Fallow and Infertile

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 10.28.47 AM 'Tis the season for all the top ten lists. I thought of doing one but decided against, for various reasons. Writing, for me, has taken a different turn in this season and I've had to mourn the loss with tears, stalwart determination, and sometimes crippled fingers and thoughts. Last week I confessed in tears to Nate that one of the hardest parts of life this year has been how quickly the world turns and how my work has faded from sight, and how forgotten I've felt as time and people progress and we feel stuck. It was a good talk, a humbling one and a needed confession of my own sin. This week I've just tried to remember, remember, remember all that God has done in this fallow season.

Fallow is an agricultural term meaning, simply, to let a field alone for a period of time in order to restore its fertility. As I look over 2016, and the lingering parts of 2015, it's very easy for me to see all the death and none of the fertility. What have we borne? Nothing, even if you look closely, which I have been trying to do. And there is something inside of me—and probably inside of you—that wants to rush to cover over that sad statement with so many reminders of "All The Good Things!" But, just as those fields need times of fallow, of non-productiveness, of not bearing, and seeming to all the world and the field too, of having lost their ability to bear, God is still doing something in that neglected dirt. The platitudes we want to console or coddle with actually make what isn't happening less beautiful. If I look closely enough I can see God's beautiful sovereign hand in all of the seeming nothing. This may not make sense to you, it barely does to me in my cognitive moments, but in my poetic moments, those mysterious ah-has creep into my heart unawares and surprise me with comfort, joy, hope, and peace.

I take great comfort right now in not being able to know the mind of God, even if I try. For all my attempts to garner an explanation for what He has done and is doing with our lives, or to wrangle a glimpse of next year, or bribe my way into what I want or less of what I don't want, I'm humbled that the only show of hands is His promise of Love. He gives the presence of Jesus, as a baby, in a humble birth, and permission to pray "Our Father" even when He is off in Heaven and we are still here on dirt-encrusted earth, and the gift of His Spirit, comforting, helping, teaching, always quietly and sometimes imperceptibly.

God is doing something in the fallow field, so small, so magnificent, so intricate, and so miraculous, that it would astound me to know the details and so, instead, it just seems to me a dark, hardened, untended, infertile, and frozen acre of dirt. Planting will come, and someday, again, fruit, and then harvesting, but fallowing is just as important for the process as seed sowing and sun shining, it simply isn't as pretty in the meantime.

Thank you, Father, for leaving us fallow sometimes, but never leaving us, ever, any of the time. 

Losing Hope and Giving Birth

"You look tired," he says when he walks in the door. I feel a pang of guilt, and then tell him the truth: "I was just crying on the phone." He asks me was it my friend? Or was it me? "It was me," I say. And then it's another hour before we're sitting at the dinner table with time to say more. A friend once told me I was a graceful crier, silent tears, choked voice—she compared it to her own wracking sobs, snot-filled, red-faced. Sometimes I wish I could cry like that, it would feel more serious. My personal challenge for the month of June is to engage my emotions. I am well-versed in knowing my emotions, the full spectrum of them, talking about them, exploring them, but it is a rare day when I actually engage them. My counselor in Colorado would ask me how I felt about something and I would tell her what I thought instead. We rammed against this wall regularly. I only know how to approach an emotion by thinking through it.

A few days ago we're sitting in a doctor's office waiting room. He rushed home from work, his dress shirt feeling uncomfortably tight. I'm wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts, the uniform of a stay at home wife whose days run dangerously mindlessly into one another. He catches himself about to say something critical (he's had a long day; we're certain we're going to get more bad news; it's hot outside; they didn't check us in properly) and I say something along the lines of the danger in being two internal processors married to one another is we're more likely to bury all the bad things than slough our way through them. I don't say it well, though, and I think we misunderstand one another. Another danger of internal processors: we say less than what's helpful instead of more.

We sit at the dinner table talking through my tears, his day, our year. We circle the same bushes we've been circling since we left our home and community in Texas. The same burning bushes friends have pointed out whenever they come visit for five days or ten. Beside those visits, though, no one has pointed to our marriage or our lives in a year with an eye toward hope. We left our home on June 25 and walked into triage. We watched my body bleed and a policeman bleed and our finances bleed and our new church bleed and our hope bleed and there was no stopping any of it. We bled ourselves out and now we're shells of the people we were a year ago.

Neither of us feel at home here, we feel adrift, at sea, without anchor. He reminds me last night of the words in Jeremiah: "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

He reminds me we're called to be faithful here, for however long the Lord has us in this home, in this city, in this state. Even if we feel like exiles, even if we feel bled out. Nine long months stretch ahead of us in this lease and I am no stranger to moving often. It take nine months to grow a child and that child can change the world, surely we can gestate our hopes and longings and fears and birth something beautiful in that time too?

Every morning he sends me a verse or prayer or a quote he reads on his train ride into the city. I wake on the couch every day, having moved there in the still dark morning hours after he kisses me goodbye. I wake to the verse or prayer or quote and think about it all day. This morning he sends me this:

“It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when GOD returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—“GOD was wonderful to them!” GOD was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, GOD, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives so those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest. So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.” Psalm 126:1-6 MSG

I cry, snot-filled and red-faced. I cry.

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