Link Love for the Journeying People

It's been weeks and maybe months since I've shared some things I've read around the Internets. I know no one reads blogs anymore (that's what they say) but sometimes I happen along a blog or seven or an article or two that I think more people ought to read. I love the blogging format for what it is: an opportunity to invite the world into today's thoughts. It's one of the reasons I won't quit anytime soon (even though they say no one reads blogs anymore). I love knowing here, today, right this minute, this is how I see the world. It may change in two years or twenty, but for a moment, this slice of life is served up. 

So for that reason I'll also keep reading a few blog sites, a regular rotation of what my soul needs to feast on: other writers stumbling along in words and life, offering their crumbs or delicacies or finest fare for those in need. I need too. 

Winn Collier has this Advent reflection

Bethany Douglass on Thoughts for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Parent. I am not an overwhelmed homeschool parent, but I know many of you are. I was glad to see the grace in this and you might need it today. 

Again, not a mother, but this advice is for every Christian. Carolyn Mahaney on her Biggest Mistake as a Mother

Nate and I are eating the words of Wendell Berry in spades these days. This piece on him resurfaced recently and I loved it. The Hard Edged Hope of Wendell Berry

The Mainliner who Made [Russell Moore] More Evangelical. One of the things I like best about Russell Moore is how widely and out of his camp he reads. This piece is proof. (And I love Buechner too.)

This reflection on the Wendell Berry documentary, Look and See, is from Brett McCracken and I've thought about it so many times since I read it. Wendell Berry is a Dandelion Man

This blog from Timothy Willard on the Value of Retreat is just necessary for all of us. 

I hope even just one of these pieces encourages you, makes you think, or challenges you this week. These writers are all inviting us into their process, thoughts, and sacred spaces. I hope you find comfort or rest for your soul when you join them. 

Also, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to my Patreon supporters. Many of you pledged a simple dollar a month but I want you to know: that dollar a month means the world to me. It says to me that money is tight, but you care about me and you care about Sayable. It says, I don't have much, but such as I have give I thee. It says, like the widow with two mites, you're giving what you can. I just wanted you to know that small act of generosity means millions to me. That's not hyperbole. I mean it with all my heart. Thank you. 

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For the Anxious at Christmas

We wrestled our way home through post-Thanksgiving traffic where all the cheery thankfulness of our nation had by then dissipated and was replaced by a mostly a grumpy, rushed, chaotic nation (of which I was chief after one too many reckless driver cut us off). To add insult to injury, while driving we listened to a sermon from an unknown preacher on anxiety, which was mostly just seven reasons you shouldn't be anxious and a lot of shouting. Thirteen hours into what was supposed to be an eleven hour drive, my anxiety was high.

And then today, it's all photos of homes decked for Christmas already and Cyber Monday deals and an empty refrigerator and three article deadlines + a book review for a book I haven't gotten through yet. Another five opportunities for anxiety. 

I've always been a more mellow sort, more prone to depression than anxiety, but I think two things happen as we age. The first is suffering adds to suffering adds to suffering. And the second is we are faced with a choice: to face the suffering or to medicate ourselves into unfeelingness. December is a month ripe for the latter. It is the one month of the year we indulge every good and beautiful thing and many distorted and disordered things. Perhaps it is all childhood and magical and sparkly and warm in your sphere, and if so, enjoy it. But that is not the reality for most Americans, or the rest of the world. There is a reason reports of anxiety rise leading up to the holidays. Folks are either completely alone or they are engulfed in the mess of materialism. Folks are in poverty or they are in excess. Folks are mourning or they are overwhelmed. 

Almost every person I know is suffering right now. Perhaps they're masking it with trite conversation or seasoned optimism, but the cares of this world are pressing against them in pain and in loss, in grief and in dashed hope, in loneliness and in fear. In our most vulnerable moments we admit it, but in December it is easy to bake another cookie, hang another garland, play another classic, and wrap another gift, to forget, for just a moment. 

Last night Nate and I watched a movie a friend recommended, and in it, one father who lost his child says to another father who has just lost his child, "You have to feel it, press into it, remember the memories. If you try to run away, to not feel it, you'll begin to forget." I wept when I heard that because there are a lot of memories in my life I've tried to run away from. A lot of feelings I've neglected to feel. And a lot of emotions I've stuffed to the bottom. I'm in a season where those are being dug up and stared at, by me and others, and I have to remember the dark before the dawn. December is always difficult for me, but this year I sense it heavier than ever. 

The only remedy for my anxiety is to remember and rejoice, remember and rejoice, remember and rejoice. Remember my God in flesh who was born in poverty and lavished with the gifts of a king, who was a baby boy born when all the other baby boys were killed, who was refused the inn and found haven with the animals, who knew loss and grief and loneliness and death. And then, when I can and only when I can, rejoice.

There is no remedy for anxiety except this: for the anxious, Christmas

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* I know for some folks the mental illness of anxiety is debilitating, and there is no reductionistic answer to that kind of anxiety. Medication is a common grace, and one we should all feel free to use if it works for us. Also counseling (which is a common grace I'm partaking in these days). Also good, healthy foods and routines. 

Seven Ways: Ruling over Screens Crouching at our Door

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day.

. . . 

We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans.

I would say, of all the pillars we try to build our home upon, this is probably the most difficult and the one that needs constant realignment. Both my husband and I make our living by using screens and we are not immune to the allure of news, social media, and whatever new show Netflix wants us to binge upon (currently season four of Great British Bake Off). One of the reasons in my intro post on this I used the verse from Genesis about sin crouching at our door and the need for us to rule over it, is because I believe Cain tried to convince himself that his offering would be pleasing to God. It seemed like he treated it as a gray area, not a black and white one. That's just conjecture, there's no way I can know for sure, but I've always assumed that was the case. 

Technology can be like this. One side of its coin seems good: connectivity, ease, a medium for enjoyment. But the other side can be not so good: producing laziness or indulgence or jealousy, or a God-complex (the idea of being everywhere for all things). The idea is that it is not necessarily sin, but that it is crouching at my door waiting to become sin. I have to rule over that. 

Nate and I are constantly reevaluating, readjusting, recommitting, re-deleting, and rearranging our priorities around technology. It would be easy to see this as failure, but I actually think, in our current culture, that's a good way to approach this. We are both legalists in our hearts and our nature is to cut a thing off entirely (and in some ways we've done that, i.e. our commitment to not having a television), but we also know it's not sin to watch, for instance, The Great British Bake Off. 

I love how Andy Crouch subtitles his book (my running for best book of 2017), The Tech Wise Family: Everyday steps for putting Technology in its place. The creation mandate is to rule over creation, to take dominion over this garden and we cannot do that if we pretend weeds don't exist. Weeds do exist, and for us, the weeds are not necessarily the screen itself, but the time, content, and emotions the content produces in our hearts. We have to be attentive to being addicted, being anxious, being fearful, fear of missing out, fear of the current political climate, overlooking our community, or overlooking one another. These are the weeds produced in the garden of screen technologies.

So how do we combat these weeds? 

It's not easy. And we fail often. That's not me being modest about our failures. We fail often. We are always circling around this conversation in our home. But: 

We regularly fast from certain things. I use the Freedom App on my phone to block all social media except Instagram all week + Sunday, and on my laptop during work hours. The only day it's not blocked is on Saturdays, which is a work-with-our-hands day anyway.

We have canceled our Netflix subscription no fewer than seven times in two years. Sometimes we just need a break from its temptation.

We do not have a television. (This one seems to get the most response, especially from families who have movie nights or use the television to occupy their kids. I don't have kids so I can't speak to how difficult those seasons are. But I have been a kid and I know from experience that when my parents got rid of our television when we were all little it produced good fruit in me. I know it created more work for my mom, but I'm grateful she was faithful with our young minds—even at the expense of things she probably would have preferred doing.)

We do, however, have a projector and so have occasional movie nights or documentary viewings with friends. We're not against watching content, but we do both find that when we do see a commercial or advertisement, they have a jarring effect on us. As they should. So a projector to watch a movie is a good route for us.

We do not read news on our Sabbath. Our aim is to enjoy creation, each other, and to remind ourselves that God is sovereign over the whole world, our only Creator, our only Redeemer, our only source of true Joy (more on this when I write about our Sabbath).

We do not have our phones at the table at mealtimes. Our aim is to enjoy one another and our food, as the provisions from God they are.

We do not take our phones to bed. 

One of us usually leaves our phone at home during date night and the other uses it minimally (GPS or Yelp).

We have all notifications turned off on our phones. I have always had my phone on silent (except for Nate) and no notifications except text-messages coming through (though still on silent). But this week I finally turned even text-notifications off. There are no red bubbles on my iPhone. I find in myself a sick-slavery to them and that's not what I want to be beholden to. 

These are what the Wilbert family chooses to do. These are not Biblical prescriptives, these are permissives. Doing these things permits us to look up, engage one another, trust God, trust one another, enjoy creation, enjoy our home, enjoy one another, fight the temptation to indulge, fight the temptation to check out.

You have to figure out what things give you permission and space to do those things in your family. Perhaps you have young children and the only way you and your husband are going to enjoy one another is to set the kids in front of PBS for an hour. Perhaps you have a sick family member and turning off text-notifications isn't going to work in this season. Whatever our season of life is, we have to recognize sin is crouching at our doors in the form of screen-technology, how will we rule over it? 

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The Dark Grows Bright: Advent reading suggestions

Next week is Thanksgiving and then we're a month out from Christmas. The Christmas season and I have had a strained relationship for a long time. I love what we're celebrating, but I've struggled for years to enjoy the season. Decembers, for me, tend to be dark months. In my wrestle with depression over the years, it usually has spiked in December. I dislike clutter and busyness, and sometimes the whole season can feel busy and cluttered. When most families were gathering, it seemed for years like mine was splintering. Singleness felt prolonged, while all my friends were celebrating first, second, third, and tenth Christmases with their spouses and babies. 

After years of these persistent wrestles, I began to realize the way through, for me, was to slow the season down, to declutter it, to simplifying it, to use restraint instead of excess. Celebration doesn't have to be about excess or indulging. It can be simply about narrowing our focus in on One Thing: the Christ-child and his birth into a fractured world. Advent is very literally about the dawning of light. It is meant to be dark and yet getting lighter. When I began to understand, and practice Advent, instead of just Christmas, I felt my hope grow, the light grow brighter. 

Narrowing my focus over the past five or six years has been really helpful to me in this time of great angst. Staying home more, going to bed earlier, saying no more, simplifying gift-giving. And also about adding in some things that help me on the slow plod through December. 

Lighting Advent candles. Keeping our gift list to a minimum (Want, Need, Wear, Read), giving more attention to hand-written cards and less to fancy wrapping paper. A smaller, unimpressive tree and more quiet evenings beside it. More reading of advent books around the dinner table and fewer parties out. These are things I did not wait for marriage for, either, and things we're not waiting for children for. These rhythms begin now. If God gives us children, they might change some, but I'd venture not. Just as when God gave me marriage, they changed some, but not much. 

This week is the time to nail your Advent Reading down in time for the first Sunday of Advent. Here are the four I've used in the last four years, and a discount code for one for this year. 

I read Behold the Lamb of God, by Russ Ramsey, in 2013, and I think this will always be a favorite of mine. This is appropriate for reading aloud if you've got young children and nearly every entry is reaming with the light of Christ to come. Russ works through all of Scripture to the birth of Christ, showing Christ in all of Scripture. It's beautiful. 

I read The Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp, in 2014, and what I loved about this were the opportunities to reflect on each entry with the provided questions. This worked well for me as an unmarried person because I was doing it by myself. The questions are thought-provoking and, for the season in which I found myself, helpful in preparation for a lonely Christmas. 

For Nate's and my first Christmas, in 2015, we read The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, by John Piper. That December was one of the hardest I can remember, bookended by heart-break, sadness, and suffering. Reading this book about indestructible joy was so helpful. I remember many nights, sitting at the table, reading this aloud and struggling to believe that kind of joy would ever be possible. It was such a helpful book in a season of suffering. 

Last Christmas, 2016, we read Watch for the Light, essays from Dillard, Bonhoeffer, Donne, L'Engle, and more. I love collections of essays, but sometimes you've got to chew the meat and spit out the bones. I'd say that was the case with this one. This might be a good read if you have older children or no children. There is food for discussion, and last Christmas we had nothing if not plenty of time for discussion. I do remember we skipped over a few. But overall, I think it's helpful to read outside our camp.

We will select our Advent Reading this week and here are a few contenders: 

Come, Let us Adore Him, by Paul David Tripp

Celebrating Abundance, by Walter Bruggemann

Light Upon Light, by Sarah Arthur

She/He/Kids Read Truth also has an Advent Bible Reading Book here and if you order any of their Advent materials, I have a code for you to get 10% off! I got their She Reads Truth Advent book in the mail yesterday and, as usual, it's stunning in its production. I love how attentive they are to details, imaging the creator nature of God in all they do. 

Use the code LOREADVENT to get 10% off your order. 

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I hope whatever Advent traditions you have or begin this year will be rich, warm, simple, and full of the indestructible joy of life in Christ. Jesus is the reason for all this, not just this season, but every season, the good, bad, hard, easy, simple, excessive, empty, and full. And he is making all things new right now. 

Seven Ways We Fail and Get Back Up Again

The first time the word sin is mentioned in Scripture is not at the moment when sin entered the world, but the moment before the fracturing of two brothers, Cain and Abel. After Cain brought his offering to the Lord (which, for whatever reason known to them and not clearly to us, displeased the Lord), the Lord said, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4).

That phrase, "Its desire is contrary for you," has always stuck to me like an autumn burr on a wool sweater.

There are so many things in our lives pressing us back, crouching at our doors, slinking in unforeseen gaps and spaces, taking up room, both invited and uninvited. Sin is not a passive agent, but if we are passive, it can rule over us. There are so many areas in my life where I am the passive agent regarding sin. I say something smartly but intended to get my point across: sin. I leave something unfinished in hopes someone else will notice and do it: sin. I cite needs and desires as my primary motivator: sin. I avoid dealing with my emotions, letting them build and bubble over: sin. Wherever I look, sin is crouching at my door. 

A pastor at our church once said, "We don't get over our sin by constantly looking at our sin, we get over it by looking at the work of Jesus on the cross." This sounds really good, but if we don't make the cross both deeply personal and deeply practical, it can be difficult to see the ramifications of the work of Jesus in all the small places where sin reigns supreme in our lives. We can apply the gospel to the Big Sins, but overlook its power over the "little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (SoS 2:15).

Nate and I have been talking about some work God did in us as singles and now as a married couple, ways we have recognized the power of sin to creep in and the ways it has ruled us (and still does in so many ways), and exercises we do to press back and bounce our eyes to the cross. These are not grand theological gestures, they are small things designed to teach us restraint, remind us to submit, to fear God, of the bounty of God, and of the joy found completely in him. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day. We fail often and regularly at all of these, but: 

1. We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans. 

2. We practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

3. We eat whole foods, in-season, and locally if possible, in order to care for our bodies and the earth well. 

4. We practice hospitality not as an event or social engagement, but as a way to sacrifice ourselves, our time, and our energy, for the flourishing of others.

5. We choose the way of peace instead of violence and listening over making ourselves heard, as a way to remind ourselves we are not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. 

6.  We eat meals together in order to press back against the culture of busy, quick, fast, and convenient. 

7. We endeavor to live using restraint in our finances, not so we can build bigger savings accounts or retirement funds, but so we can serve others more freely today.

I often get questions about the way we practice Sabbath as New Testament Christians or why we choose to have a young man living with us or what made us decide to not have a television, and more, and my hope is that in writing more on these specific intents, I will be able to answer those questions more fully. None of these things are without theological purpose and very real—sometimes painful—sacrifice. That's on purpose. Not because we're masochists, but because we're Christians living in a hostile-to-the-way-of-Jesus-environment. It's never been easier, more convenient to not carry the cross and follow Him. So how, in 2017, in the suburbs, without children, with paying jobs, with every gadget available to us, do we say, "No, sin, you will not rule over us. We're already the children of a King." 

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The series will be tagged: Seven Ways so if you're looking for the whole thing at some point, just click on that tag at the bottom of the page.