We Were Going to Move to Chattanooga

A year ago today Nate and I were standing on the pinnacle of a familiar mountain, a place I called home for years and a place that still holds a piece of my heart. We were quietly dreaming, after a year of crushing disappointments, heart-ache, trauma, and loss. We were asking the questions "What if?" and "Where might?" It was the first time I felt hope in over a year. We made the beginning of a plan that weekend: to move to Chattanooga and settle there. 

There's a lot that happened between Labor Day 2016 and Labor Day 2017, but the shortest way to say it is that we're back in Texas, in the place we met and married, but not the place we fell in love.

The place we fell in love is everywhere and everything. 

It was honeymooning in the Aspen trees and buying a house on July 4th and learning things weren't as they seemed at my new job and losing a baby we didn't know was beginning and losing his job we thought was certain and coming home to a police-taped home near Thanksgiving and cutting down our first tree together in the Rocky Mountains and witnessing the shooting of a cop on my birthday and and losing the beginning of another life we were sure of and navigating a church conflict we felt blindsided by and being disappointed again and again and again by hopeful job interviews and no call backs and packing all of our stuff again and moving again to another side of our country and losing more money than I'd ever dreamed of even having and living in our second 1800s home with creaky floors and uneven doors and charm and still feeling so alone every single moment. It was bringing home Harper and struggling to find a church home and learning the Chattanooga job market was another Denver job market and our dreams of moving there would not be realized. It was packing again, and moving again, back to the south. It was unpacking in a home we knew wasn't guaranteed or our "forever home" or secure or would be full of children or dreams coming true. 

What I'm trying to say is we can make a lot of plans, but our hope is in the Lord and he carries us through—and grows our capacity for life and love within it all. 

I get a lot of emails from you, dear readers, asking about love and marriage and singleness and how do you know and what is settling and all that. I guess I just wanted to say to you today: you can make a lot of plans and have a lot of dreams and just envision how your life should be and think it is all somewhat certain. Because you have a certain "call" or a certain "desire" or feel you were made by God for a certain "purpose," it can become so easy to believe life will turn out that way, all you have to do is make the people in it and the jobs you take and the decisions you make fit within that call or dream or purpose. 

I want to say to you, friends, that this is a lie. It's a sneaky one because it sounds good to have purpose and to aim for it straight. But the lie is that we think we're somehow owed the life we desire, even if God has not yet granted it and might never do so. 

You may feel called to be a mother or a husband or a pastor or a teacher or a writer or a wife or a single or a speaker or a counselor, but a sense of calling does not mean God will fulfill things in your order or way. The way to be a successful wife is not to have the perfect husband, the way to be a successful pastor is not to have a pastor's wife, the way to be a successful writer is not to have a successful book, and the way to be a successful single is not to be undistracted by the opposite gender. No. The way to be successful is simply to be faithful with today. 

And tomorrow.

And the next day.

And the day after.

Someday, when you are very old, or maybe not very old, and just in the middle of your life, you will look behind you at a series of crushing disappointments, plans that went awry, ways you felt stolen from and lied to, and you will see the faithfulness of God pressing you into the way of a faithful servant. This is the mark of a successful child of God. 

The answer to the questions we're all asking can be summed up with another question: What is the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of you—within the confirmation of Scripture—telling you to be faithful in today? 

That's it. That's our answer. 

Your life will take many twists and turns and near fails and falters and wins and losses, but if you're pent up inside trying to situate yourself in such a way for success as you determine it, you will feel lost on the way. No matter how strategically you play the pieces of your life, you are not guaranteed the win you envision. You are only guaranteed the win you have been promised in Scripture. The sooner we can all learn things won't turn out like we planned because life is not some choose your own adventure book like we all think it ought to be, the sooner we can rest in the comforting presence of the Spirit, the true promises of Scripture, and the beckoning care of the Father. 

Whatever decision it is that's tying you up in knots today? What does it look like to open your hands around it, obey the Spirit (as hard as it might be), and let the trajectory of your life take an unexpected and—perhaps—painful turn? I promise you, no, Scripture promises you! There is the joy of your Master at the end of the story of your life—a story you can't even imagine today he would write for you.  

That time we made a plan to move to Chattanooga and didn't. 

That time we made a plan to move to Chattanooga and didn't. 

Empty Tables: Singleness and Barrenness

There are moments in our lives when we have startling clarity about a painful memory or circumstance in which we find ourselves. It is at times only a moment, and other times it shakes us so deeply we know we'll remember it from then on. There was a moment like this for me in 2012. 

I, like most of my friends, assumed I'd be married sometime in my twenties, like most of my friends. One by one, two by two, I watched almost all of them marry, and I crossed over the threshold of thirty wondering what horrific thing must be wrong with me. Each year that passed then, the growing feeling of being defective grew. I found more purpose in my singleness, exponentially so, but simultaneously there was a growing feeling of having been overlooked. There was a public purposefulness existing alongside an interior confusion. 

In 2012 I met a few friends who struggled with infertility, and this was my startling moment of clarity. As obvious as it might seem now, until that point I had not considered the similarities of the struggles we shared. And now, having experienced infertility, I find myself grateful for the strange gift of lack. If anything, experiencing these two similar seasons has made me more aware of the people all around me who are waiting for something they have not been promised, and how quickly we can run to the seeming safety of that identity to excuse our sins, fears, failures, and life choices. 

The lessons I learned in my singleness translate to this infertility in a few ways: 

1. I had to learn that marriage was not promised to me, as much as I wanted it and believed I was made for it. It has made it infinitely easier to remember children are not promised to me, as much as I might want them and believe I am made for them. If I believe that a simple desire for a thing means a guarantee I will get the thing, I have made that thing an idol, something that takes the place for God. It cannot be the thing, or the desire for the thing, that commands my worship. 

2. I had to learn my purpose could not be put on hold until I was married. In the same way, I have to learn I am not less than, being withheld from, incomplete, or unable to learn what God has for me to learn in barrenness. God will teach me patience, hope, his sufficiency, faithfulness just as thoroughly as he will teach moms of young children and has taught empty nesters. He withholds nothing good from me, not marriage, not children, and not lessons I think are limited to those who have them.

3. I had to learn in my singleness that I would always feel a little incomplete and this was not a bad thing. So too in barrenness. The gift is the lack. The feeling of incompleteness is a great gift to the Christian because it reminds us we're not home yet, we're not face to face with Jesus. Pray that the areas where you feel the ache of emptiness, you would long more for the day of Jesus

4. I had to learn that my family was not a husband or children, but the local church. Our world and church culture is so built around and acquiesced to the nuclear family, this was a difficult one to learn. In my singleness I had to be very purposeful to find sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and children within the local church. In barrenness it is the same. My family is not limited to blood and DNA, but it is the body of Christ

5. I had to learn my hope was not in a single person to be my best friend, my closest confidant, and the object of my affection. In barrenness I have to learn that I may never have children to dress, to teach, to feed, to nourish, to love, to discipline, and to release. It teaches me to look up from me, and see the many

I am convinced, every single day, that my years of singleness were preparing me for these years of infertility. I do not know when or how or if we will have children. But I do know I do not feel wasted, overlooked, afraid, ignored, or short-changed by God. And I know for certain it was because I entered into the suffering of my barren friends during my singleness and learned to see we're all waiting for something, every one of us. 

If your table is empty because you are unmarried or because God has withheld children from you or because your children are grown and away, what might he want to fill those chairs with? What is he teaching you about his character? What various sorts of trials is he asking you to enter into with your brothers and sisters, even if they're not the same as yours? How has he prepared you in the past for the struggle you now face?  

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Throwing Stones at The Glass Castle

I think I can say with nearly 100% accuracy that I have never written about a movie on Sayable. I'm not sure why I'll venture to today except that I watched The Glass Castle last week and haven't stopped thinking about it. 

I first read The Glass Castle six years ago and loved it. Jeannette Walls is a talented writer and storyteller, and as with most good memoirists, takes unremarkable life and makes it profound. I won't give too much of the story away, but the basic plot is the story of a dysfunctional family. There is no beginning, middle, or end to their story, and if it sounds hopeless it's not because it is, but because we are so predisposed to sore beginnings and happy endings. Eternity is written on our hearts, the Bible says, and the way that plays out for most of us is we want the feast, the Father, and an eternity of joy. (Spoiler alert: Children of God get all three.)

The critics did not like the new film version of The Glass Castle and so while I was looking forward to my viewing, I also was setting my sights low. When is the movie ever really better than the book? The main complaint, it seemed, was not on the acting, the setting, the scenery, or even the story, but on the ending. After a lifetime of dysfunction, years of neglect, abuse, alcoholic rages, and spots of joy so tangible you could taste them, the children in the film, now grown, seemed to forgive their parents, even laugh about their childhood. The book didn't portray their joy quite so tangibly, so if the critics complaints centered mainly around the disparity there, I could understand. But they didn't. They critiqued the neat ending, the tied-up ribbon, the tears and laughter around the Thanksgiving table, remembering their father. How could these children seemingly forgive the monstrosity of their parentage? 

I am not a movie critic, but I do think about life quite a bit, and what I can't shake is that the strings of unforgiveness are so woven into the fabric of our lives and culture that we can cannot fathom life as a mixture of pain and joy, highs and lows, brokenness and forgiveness any longer. People become the sum of their actions instead of humans first and broken second. This is everywhere around us, in the news, in our living rooms, in our marriages, in our friendships, in political sides, in theology, in lifestyle. And as we spit nails at the injustices of others, we become what we behold: unjust justice police. 

Life isn't so neat and orderly as the critics of The Glass Castle want it to be. Forgiveness doesn't mean there isn't still a bittersweet taste in your mouth when you think of your father. Laughter doesn't mean there is no trace of regret. And coming around a Thanksgiving table with the brokenness of seven lives and worlds and histories behind you doesn't mean none of it ever happened. It did happen and it shapes things and changes them and shifts them. It doesn't mean they don't tell the truth about the kind of man their father was. And it doesn't have to mean they can't take the hand of that dying—and broken—man and smile at him through their tears. 

The beauty of The Glass Castle is not that it ends too neatly, but that it ends messily and complicated, just as life is. We want clear delineations and boundaries and decisive clarity on whether folks are in or out, but life is not like that.

I read this morning in II Corinthians chapter one, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

Hurt people hurt people, and Paul says those who are hurting from any affliction can be comforted with the comfort we've been given by God. That's messy, friends. There's no way that's not messy. To enter into brokenness, where years of hurt has induced hurt, and to say, I'm going to offer the comfort of a smile through my tears, laughter through my pain, and the hand of peace to the hand of neglect. That is messy, but that is also grace. 

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Link Love and Some Beauty for Your Tuesday

Now that most of the United States got themselves in a flurry for the total eclipse and found themselves sorely disappointed when it turned out to be merely a partial eclipse for most of us (Anyone? Just me? I don't do science good.). And now we're all tired of memes and funky glasses and is Total Eclipse of the Heart on repeat in anyone else's head? I wanted to share with you Annie Dillard's classic essay on her experience of watching a total eclipse. I can only imagine mine would have been similar if I lived within the totality region (Good news, in seven years it'll hit a bit closer to home.). Here's her essay, take twenty and read it slowly

One of my favorite writers from Image Journal's blog, Good Letters, has come through with another soft piece that landed in all the right places for me. Even though our situations are different, I find myself in a similar season of subtraction. Entering the Age of Subtraction. 

Also, because Image Journal redid their website and it's so much more readable again (Hoorah!), I'm going to recommend another recent piece from their blog, simply titled Miscarriage.

The most notable thing about this piece from Elyse Fitzpatrick is the order in which she lists her advice. Too many burgeoning writers begin with number three without considering—or putting their writing forth for consideration by honest folks—her first point. I'm not a Writer, but I Write. 

I love this quote my friend Mason posted on his site. 

Finally, Erin Loechner, has this poetic piece on injustice, naming, and experience. It's beautifully written. 

I'm determined to make, buy, borrow, or steal the makings of this wreath this fall. I love it. I don't know where this one in particular is from, I just have it saved on my Pinterest board, D I R T. 

I'm determined to make, buy, borrow, or steal the makings of this wreath this fall. I love it. I don't know where this one in particular is from, I just have it saved on my Pinterest board, D I R T

Marriage is as One Long Conversation

The old philosopher said, "Marriage is as one long conversation. When marrying you should ask yourself this question: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman into your old age? Everything else in a marriage is transitory, but most of the time you're together will be devoted to conversation.” The old philosopher was right, but as with all bits of rightness, it ought to be understood in its place. 

I have always known marriage was not an easy conversation. I am of Scotch-Irish descent; men in my family love their beer and asserting opinions, and as for the women, there's a demure outside but on the inside it's all fire and spit. Most conversations were spent seeing who could talk the loudest the longest without throwing the first punch—even if the punch was merely metaphorical.

When I began to grow outside the incubator of family alone, I saw the long conversation of marriage through a different lens. These marriages were built on the scaffolding of details: who is supposed to be where and when and how, who needs to be picked up, what's for dinner, what should we do about this child or that one. There was an ordinariness to the conversations of marriage, unaccompanied by emotive, defensive jabs at the other. It seemed simplistic. I know now it's because I was not in the middle of those marriages as I was in the middle of the marriages in my family, and when we are in the middle of something all our own, we see all its inconsistencies and broken-places.

As I stepped into adulthood and was able to see my skewed perspective of childhood and adolescence both, I began to see marriage was a long conversation, but the tone of voice could change it from a pleasant one to a violent one. Armed with this newfound knowledge of tone, intention, nuance, and even love, I began to assume all the long conversations of marriage could be blissful. A constant sharing of ideas and delights and hurts and confusions, a true partnership. Whenever I thought of being married it was the long conversation I looked forward to most. 

Marriage has been that for me and Nate. The cusp of our friendship was on deep conversation, leading to dates full of long, easy talks, quiet pauses, intentional listening, and slow responses. This was the long conversation of marriage I wanted, I could see that clearly from our first date. 

The long conversations become subject to the tyranny of the urgent, though, as most things can. A few weeks ago there were twelve decisions that needed to be made and seven of them required quick conversations but the other five required depth, time, focus, and charity. We were short on all of that, though, and so if the conversations were going to be had, they were going to be had on the surface, quickly, while we multi-tasked, and were short with one another. As with most conversations built on bedrocks like that, we needed to repent later to one another. 

The urgent doesn't let up, though, does it? There is always someone who needs an answer or thinks they need an answer, or wants one. There is always something that must be signed up for or paid or responded to or agreed upon. There is always something left unfinished, unsaid, unsealed. I have learned to say to others, "I want to talk to Nate about that first," but the when of talking sometimes comes slowly or is mingled among the other conversations, never finished.

Nate and I practice (and by practice, I mean we are very unproficient at this and must practice) the discipline of saying "No," to ourselves, our minds, our friends, and the tyranny of the urgent. If, in saying no, we find ourselves disappointed or others disappointed by our lack of a quick answer—this is the discipline of the practice. This is the sacrifice, the hurt, the pain. This is where we admit to ourselves and to others that we are not God, as much as we sometimes think we would like to be. 

I think about Jesus in John 16. He says to his disciples and friends, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you." I think about how often we fill conversation simply because we do not want to feel the lack of the incarnate Christ and we do not want to wait for the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do. We are uncomfortable with the long silences, afraid the Spirit will not do what He does: move. 

Yesterday morning, in the early hours of our day of rest, Nate mentioned some conversations we've left unfinished this week, answers others expect. And then he said this: I want to pray about these things, ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, humility, and a direction, even more than we simply talk about them. And then, for the rest of the day, we didn't talk about things we could not solve on that day. We left space for the Spirit to enter in, give peace or withhold it. 

Marriage is one long conversation, but it is not, primarily, a conversation between two, but three. If we find the conversation to be focused on just two, it may go the brawling way of my family, or it may go the stoic way of my checklisting friends. But, I think, if we move ourselves away from one another for a moment, stop talking and begin listening, not primarily to one another but to the Holy Spirit, we may find that conversation more robust, full, and gentle than we could have imagined before. We may leave more things unfinished, more things unsaid, more events unattended, and more lists unchecked, but I do not think we will leave less full. 

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If you're married today, what might it look like to still the conversation—even about the rudimentary things or the things that seem pressing and necessary—and begin to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in this longest conversation of your life? 

If you're not married today, what might it look like to trust the Spirit is still at work in all the seeming silences of your life? In the lonely places where you long for conversation, how can you exercise listening to the Helper, learning from him, and obeying him as he perhaps prepares you for the long conversation of earthly marriage and definitely prepares you for the long conversation of eternity?