When You're Walked Over, Pushed Aside, Overlooked: Outdo

I'm one of those quiet controllers. I don't have the loudest opinion about where we go to dinner or what to have for dinner or which curtains look best. Opinions I have, but voicing them amongst those with stronger (or louder) ones than I have isn't really my thing. I'm a cheap date, I tell my husband often, mostly because I'd rather peruse a used bookstore and come out empty-handed than a fancy rooftop dinner with micro-greens and chickens who had names. I like things simple and peaceful and quiet and easy. I want to slip in and slip out, mostly unnoticed, and hold myself to a pre-determined number of what I call "good conversations" with folks at most social events (Usually two is my goal, but if I get four I feel pretty okay about that.). This is how an introvert socials so hard. 

I quietly control, though, by the seething Wish I'd Saids and growing Piles of Regrets I let build up in my heart. I allow myself to be pushed over, walked on, shifted around, and then, one day, I'm surprised at the resounding No gurgling up from the mire inside. "No more." The Wishing I'd Said and Piling of Regrets has spoken and Lore reached her limit. 

I don't believe in limits, mostly. I believe in going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving my shirt and my cloak. And I believe most preferences and opinions are the modern day cheeks and cloaks and miles, especially for the modern day American who has all the shirts she needs and probably more than she needs. What else is there to give? Oh. My preferences

Preferences are everywhere and the thing about them is they're not wrong to have. There's a God who knit us together, crafting each of us with specificity and precision. He knows our inclinations and proclivities, and also knows we are dust. He knows dust hasn't got much to say for itself and probably wants to say as much for itself as it can. This comes out as preferences. And whether we have loud opinions or silent ones, we all have a preference or two or fifty or seven hundred. 

Romans 12:10 says, "Outdo one another in honor," and this means, literally, give preference to one another. Give my preference—the unique sometimes God-given desire I have, and even my preference for having a preference—away, deferring to the preference of another. Outdo my preference with theirs. 

This is convicting to me this morning because all this week I've felt shoved about by the preferences of others. My ideas and my plans and my hopes were pushed aside by the preferences of someone else, but instead of giving those preferences to them, I felt taken from in them. I felt as though my desires were stolen and someone else's given the star place. I'm convicted this morning because, well, that's no way to live. 

What does it mean to not need to control the outcome of a situation, but also not need the tally marks of self-righteousness for keeping silent as your preferences are overlooked? What does it mean to go about outdoing one another in honor? 

I think it means holding loosely to what we think is best, even if we really, really, really think it's best. I think it means posturing ourselves as servants more than masters. I think it means letting go of what we envision and giving instead to the vision of Christ: which is to serve more than we're served. I don't know fully how to do this because I'm an American and we like our opinions with a side of opinions, but I also know the Holy Spirit lives inside of me, bearing fruit I cannot bear on my own. And he bears the fruit of self-control—not me. The Spirit within me bears the fruit of a controlled self, freeing me to not control others and outcomes and opinions aplenty. He frees me to outdo my sisters and brothers in honor, truly making it my preference to overlook my preference and give extravagantly to them.  

This is a tough word for me today because I don't want to give up or give over. I'm weary of feeling like a floor-mat, of being expected to capitulate to the expectations of others, and not speaking up for my own—however unimportant—opinion. But I also know the Spirit inside of me who compels me toward self-control, also comforts me when I feel crushed. 

I'm praying for you and me today, as our preferences and proclivities get shuffled around and overlooked. I'm praying instead of feeling stolen from, we can embrace the words of Romans 12:10 and work to give that honor away before it can even think of being stolen. I'm praying that we become obedient, as Christ was, to the painful work of the Father in regard to our sin. And I'm praying that the Spirit comforts us when we're weak. I need that prayer today for my own heart, so I'm going to share it with you in case you do too. 

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. 

The World Spins Madly On, but Find Joy

It has been nearly nine months since I pressed mute on the clamoring crowd and invited in the poets and home-makers and song-singers and the unknown pastors. I made it my aim to listen to the folks who were just going about their days, practicing quiet faithfulness in a world gone rogue. Here's what I've found there: joy. 

I unfollowed the instagram feeds showing me their perfect salads day after day because when you're in the middle of moving for the third time in two years who has time to make a salad with every color of the rainbow? I unfollowed all the obvious Republicans and Democrats on Facebook—if I could tell their political leaning by their status, I unfollowed. I muted all the pithy pastors and wanna-be-published-ers racking up their followers on Twitter. I mostly stopped mindless scrolling and but mainly stopped mindless clicking. I stopped reading anything on the Big Christian Article/Blog Sites unless I knew the author personally. I wanted to be as woke as the next person, but I could not sacrifice my soul on the altar of information, and my soul was wilting. 

Instead I started reading fiction again (I'm super into mysteries right now, like this and this.). I started making salads when I could, but also was just a-okay with eating a PB&J for the seventh day in a row because everything was packed. I started reading non-fiction that didn't beat me over the head with All The Things Wrong With This World and instead stuff that was interesting to me as a person and a human (Like this, and this, and this. Oh, and this.). I opened my bible before I opened Twitter most mornings. I found myself genuinely sad when tragedy hit, but not really sad or surprised when the next political brouhaha happened. I gained a gross distaste in my mouth for quick Christian articles that are a dime a dozen. I read blogs about making homes and preserving tomatoes and folk music and the process of illustrating children's fiction and rural pastoring—the slow, faithful work of being. All these people, doing what they were made to do, and finding such joy in it. 

I expected to find monotony and boredom, wondered what people were writing about when they weren't trying to get hits or likes or link-backs or their fifteen seconds of fame. I expected to find simplicity, deep thoughts, and intentionality, but I didn't expect to find joy. 

It's pretty brilliant what you find when you're not waiting for applause or note or double taps. You begin to find joy in the way the sun coming through the curtain hits the wall not just one day, but every day thereafter. You're amazed by it day after day. You pay attention to the ombre of an overwatered leaf and to the cadence of a sentence and not just the content—and in these, you begin to find joy. 

My friend Steve said this yesterday, "The day you stop trying to do the thing God gave to others and instead do the thing God gave to you is the day your contentment blossoms." It's an awful lot like what dear old Beuchner said, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." Or what the master said to the faithful servant in Matthew 25: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master."

Don't you want to enter into the joy of your master? I do. I really do. But I can't do it if I'm following naysayers around at a rate that would make our ancestors go mad. There are probably a lot more of me, maybe even you, out there right now, and I just wanted to check in and say, nine months in, it was good decision for me. If you're considering it. If you've grow battle-worn and are walking around limping with your arms and legs so battered they're numb, check out and check off. Shut it down. Close it. Unfollow (Even Sayable. Seriously. If this place is just noise for you, click that unsubscribe button. I admire you for it.). 

Some books that are helping and have helped me in this little journey (And seriously, the best way to start this journey of unplugging from the mass of media, is to engage in media that fills that gap and points you in the right direction):

The Tech-wise Family (short, solid, very practical)

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (mid-length, readable, and practical)

The Big Disconnect (long, full, very informative)

Abundant Simplicity (mid-length, solid, and convictional)

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.