The Membership of the Living: the common anxieties

Before I set aside my phone for the night yesterday, a friend and I were texting. We're two friends who try to be faithful in the life God has given to each of us, in the season in which we find ourselves, to the church to which we've been covenanted, to the people we love and who love us. Anyone looking in from the outside would probably say the same about each of us. They might see a few places we could be righted or nudged forward in, more restrained about and more disciplined in, but I think, overall, most folks would view us as two well-adjusted, acquainted with sorrow, faith-filled women trying to live within the goodness of the gospel day to day. 

Yet most of our conversations are not full of accolades about ourselves or pats on the other's back or lists of how well we're each doing. Mostly they're full of confession of brokenness, fears, anxieties, discomforts. They're usually brimming with the asking of precise questions and then really listening to the answers, rarely giving counsel to one another (although she is by profession one and I am not without plenty to give), but mostly just listening. 

Last night I vaguely confessed some anxiety and she asked me to name my top three and, dear readers, I'm going to share them with you here without regret.

My first is that I will never be a good enough wife (although my husband has never and would never say that to me); my second is that my body will always betray me, no matter how healthily I eat, how faithfully I exercise, and how tenderly I treat it; and my third is that I have peaked in life, ministry, faithfulness, writing, and it's all downhill from here. These are the anxieties that arrest my soul. And then my friend shared hers. They weren't the same as mine, but they were nearly the same; the first having to do with love and marriage, and the want of it, the second having to do with the frailty of the body, and the third having to do with living in light of eternity. 

It occurred to me that most of us, if we're honest, probably struggle with these three main anxieties: the anxiety of being loved, the anxiety of being alive, and the anxiety of being faithful. Fill in the blank of your anxieties and my guess is they will fall somewhere in there somehow. We humans are more alike than we like to pretend in our individualistic world. 

I have been thinking a lot about listening recently. How good and right it is to listen well and how awfully bad we are at it. Most of us are thinking of the next thing to say before the other has said anything at all. Many of us only ask questions to ascertain information for ourselves or to turn a conversation in the direction we want it to go. Some treat conversation as an opportunity to interrupt or monologue or catch the other in a moment of poor logic, frailty, fear, or false theology. 

Recently my husband and I were listening to a friend talk about a hard thing that happened in her life and I wanted to interject counsel or a good idea or to give quick comfort, and my husband only said, "I'm sorry this happened. It must have been hard." And then he was quiet, listening longer, letting our friend speak freely, without caveat, without question, without interruption. I thought to myself, I want to be more like this. Rarely do we stop to consider how alike most of us all are, deeply wanting to be loved (or even liked), deeply desiring the full experience of being alive, and deeply wanting to be found faithful. And how most of us just want the comfort of another person acknowledging the pain of life on this orb, and then simply saying, "I'm sorry. I think I get it a little, but not all the way, but I want to sit here with you in it." 

I just finished rereading Wendell Berry's essay Health is Membership from The Art of the Commonplace again yesterday. It's one of my favorites and it ends with this short illustration from when Berry's brother was in the hospital undergoing a triple-bypass operation. The whole essay is wonderful and should be read by anyone who is alive, but I wanted to share the last few paragraphs with you today: 

The most moving, to me, happened in the waiting room during John's surgery. From time to time a nurse from the operating room would come in to tell Carol what was happening. Carol, from politeness or bravery or both, always stood to receive the news, which always left us somewhat encouraged and somewhat doubtful. Carol's difficulty was that she had to suffer the ordeal not only as a wife but as one who had been a trained nurse. She knew, from her own education and experience, in how limited a sense open-heart surgery could be said to be normal or - routine.

Finally, toward the end of our wait, two nurses came in. The operation, they said, had been a success. They explained again what had been done. And then they said that after the completion of the bypasses, the surgeon had found it necessary to insert a "balloon pump" into the aorta to assist the heart. This possibility had never been mentioned, nobody was prepared for it, and Carol was sorely disappointed and upset. The two young women attempted to reassure her, mainly by repeating things they had already said. And then there was a long moment when they just looked at her. It was such a look as parents sometimes give to a sick or suffering child, when they themselves have begun to need the comfort they are trying to give.

And then one of the nurses said, "Do you need a hug?"
"Yes," Carol said.
And the nurse gave her a hug.
Which brings us to a starting place.

Listening can be a hug. Asking questions can be too. Confession can be. And mirroring confessions can be too. Conversation is an art. It is a commonplace one, but no less worth the attentiveness of a master artist and maybe worth it more than all the canvases of the world hanging in all the museums of the world. 

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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.