Link Love: The Rising Cream

I'm amiss because I've been hoarding all these lovely bits of writing I've been finding recently and not sharing them with you. There are a lot of them, but maybe pick one or two and bookmark the rest for later reading. As always, friends, the cream will rise to the top, so resist the urge to fill your reading diet with click-bait and constant commentary on whatever Big Issue dominates the Internet today. Read that which encourages contemplation instead of only consumption. 

Fellow writer Laura Ortberg Turner has just delivered her baby boy, but before his successful birth, there were three miscarriages. I wept through this piece of hers, familiar with so many of the same emotions. Here's her piece, Missing Hope

This piece by Wesley Hill is just so well done. It is difficult to write about painful life experiences in a redemptive way, particularly when we're the one who comes out looking broken. But Wesley does this well time and time again. His piece called Love, Again is on the breakup of a celibate friendship in which Wesley fell in love. 

This piece from Beth Moore made the rounds a month ago and I saw many, many, many men share it and rave about it. Something about the applause irked me, though, because many of these same men exhibit the qualities Beth called attention to. It has gotten me thinking about the ease of applause in matters of justice and the difficulty of accepting rebuke when it becomes personal. 

Here's John Blase doing what John Blase does so well (I will read anything John Blase writes and makes public for as long as I live). He speaks of being a "wintery soul" in this and I know, I nod, I agree. 

I held my breath reading piece on Image Journal called Bent Body, Lamb. Just read it. 

I'm blessed to consider a few women in life my dearest friends, but they're all long-distance, in New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon. Seeing them is a once a year occurrence and though we try to remain faithful via text or face-time, life in the present is full. I loved this piece on Long-Distance Friendships

For the past few years I've felt betrayed by my body. From Adrenal Fatigue to miscarriages to unexplained weight gain to PCOS and the havoc the stress of moving cross-country three times has wreaked on my body. I long more than ever for the new heaven and new earth's promise of a new body. I loved this piece from Derek Rishmawy called Is the Body That Betrayed Me Still Good?

Finally, this piece in GQ about a novelist who was advised to not have children if he wanted to be successful at his vocation is beautiful. 

The Effortless Eternal Feast

We were caught in the rain this morning, he and I and the dog. We saw the lightning, heard the thunder, but the cool and quiet morning was too much to resist. It was no use trying to run or find shelter, the rain came fast and hard and cool, drenching the ground and us. I have always loved the rain, prayed for it selfishly in Texas because it cools the blistering hot for a few moments. I prayed for it less selfishly this year because I am watching our garden thirst and I love our garden more than I love the momentary refreshment of rain. This is what gardening does in you. 

I have been watching a tiny pile cherry tomatoes build on our counter. I suppose if I was more impatient or less of a planner I might have popped them one after another into my mouth already. But I am patient and I have a plan for these small orbs. It occurs to me that time + money + water + sunshine + dirt + worry = a small handful of cherry tomatoes, when it would be much easier and cheaper to buy a plastic box of them at the local grocery. Nate is there right now, I could call him and say, "Hey, will you grab a box of tomatoes while you're there?" and he would. So easy. 

Yesterday the sermon was about the incremental degrees of sanctification and growth, about how we are more consumers than cultivators and creators. I think, of course, of my garden, of the small pile of tomatoes on my counter, and of the rain I've been praying for. I think about how much faith there is in gardening. How we drop a seed into the dark, damp earth, do what we can, and then just wait. 

Our sunflowers are almost ten feet tall, still unbloomed, throwing back their heads and just absorbing all the light they can. The dahlias are half that high and blooming faster than I can prune. The heirloom tomatoes are flowering, spitting out little yellow blossoms faster than I can count. Two months ago these were silent plots of dark earth and I checked them every day, impatient. 

When we came home this morning, wet, our flesh freckled with goosebumps from the sudden rain, I thought of how life is made up of small adventures, small moments. Tiny, incremental happenings. Ways we mark or note or remember time. If we only consume the adventures of others (which I am prone to doing with my Netflix mysteries and my bedside library books) and create none of our own, it is easy to stop noticing the glory-to-glory changes. We lose our measuring stick. 

A garden is a measuring stick. And so is the growing pile of cherry tomatoes on the counter. So is praying for rain. And so is getting caught in it when it comes.  These all reminders of the slowness of growth and the fruit of growth and the prayers and answers to prayers. The engagement of living. Tiny notches in the wall marking from one year to the next, one degree of glory to the next. 

I find myself growing more slowly in sanctification the older I get. I wonder if this is a common malady or if I am more flawed and more sinful than others. The stark and clear sins with which I wrestled five or ten years back are mere specks in my rearview. Now the challenge is to not settle, to not grow comfortable, to not assume, and to not grow stagnate. I want the quickness of youth back, the hard right turns and the slamming of the breaks. There was thrill in that. There was the impatience of watching a seed sprout, checking every day to see if there were any changes. And there were! Praise God, there were! 

But life now, like the little pile of cherry tomatoes on my counter, is less dramatic. No longer ripe for dime a dozen opportune moments of youth, now just ripe for the eating. Now it is just the work of slow, quiet faithfulness, lifting up our heads to see the goodness of God in the land of the living and in the land of the dying too. Because he's there too. He is at work just as much in the provisional feast of harvest as he was in the seed and the sprout and the blossom. We just have to remember to look and to see. 

I don't know which of these seasons you're in and I suppose some will laugh at a mere 37 year old waxing on about feeling old and I also suppose that's okay. I am so much older than I was ten or 13 years ago, when life felt more like a race at which I was perpetually in threat of losing than simply getting caught in the rain while on a walk with my husband and dog at 7am. And I suppose I will feel much the same about today when I reach 47 or 50. Incremental changes; quiet, whispered prayers; yes, small, hardly noticeable. Until they're answered. And we're left with harvest and rain and an effortless eternal feast. 

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Dear friends, I am working on a project behind the scenes (unless you're a Patreon supporter) that will use most of my writing muscles this summer. So if Sayable has seemed a bit quiet, this is why. 

The Dirt Reminds Us

The older I get, the less I feel at home in any institution, group, community, or place. It's not that I want to be defined by what I'm not. It's just that my eyes are crusted with the dirt of living, dim with suffering, blind to any inherent goodness in politics, denominations, ideals, or opinions. As my sight grows dim, though, and I see less, I also see more. 

I think this is how it is for most of us. Either this, or we grow stodgy and arrogant, planted deep in the soil of whatever ideology we feel responsible for making (or breaking). We become old dogs who can't learn new tricks or old preachers who choke out passively worded apologies to protect our institution instead of the women within it. So, the alternative is to let our eyesight instead grow dim to this world and her various institutional pillars. Which is where I find myself more often than not these days. 

I mourn this shift in some ways and invite it in others. I wish there was some thing, some place, in which I could plant a flag and claim mine from now until I die. I mourn the disenchantment with particular theologies and practices, groups and networks. Sin does that and there's no way around it. As long as we are here on this breaking earth, as long as the kingdom is not fully established, as long as eternity is only written on our hearts and not the place in which we dwell, we will find ourselves saddened by the state of things. 

Oh, there is hope in the midst of it all too. Don't miss that. I'm what they call a hopeless romantic or an idealist or an optimist. I can't help but be delighted by trees and sunlight and the buds on my dahlias out back or the poetry my husband read aloud to us on Sabbath. I can't help but be enamored by oceans and mountains and to feel small before them. That smallness, though, is what makes the true optimism grow—and with it, the enchantment of here diminish. 

A couple of years ago I lost my political affiliation and nearly in the same breath, though by a different cause, began to feel less at home in my denominational affiliation. Since then the losses have only mounted. I ask my husband a month ago: is this what a mid-life crisis feels like? This monumental sense of loss of home, of being, of place? Is this why there are boob-jobs and Maseratis and affairs and everything bigger and seemingly better? Because somewhere along the way we lose our place and scamper to fill it as quickly as possible? 

My theology won't let me fill it though. And, if I'm honest with myself, my place in theology was errant if it could be lost in the first place. This isn't a mid-life crisis as much as it is a waking up. Waking up with sleep in our eyes still, yes, the Sand Man my grandfather called it as he took his two strong Scottish thumbs and rubbed it out, but waking up still. The thing is now we know our eyesight is dim, before we thought we saw it all so clearly. This is the beauty of youthfulness, I suppose. 

The closer eternity gets for me, the more I feel myself drawn to the earth. I know I said earlier I feel less at home there, but the fact is I feel the gravitational pull toward it, though less the ideal form of it and more its real form. I want to be more acquainted with dirt and seeds and the grittiness of sin and the blindness of people who don't even know eternity is a thing. I say to Nate I am too comfortable here, by the big box stores, in our house in the suburbs, where I can't meet a neighbor who's not a Christian (serious ones, evidenced by the mutual invitations to one another's churches). I need friction, tension, strong Scottish thumbs against my crusty eyes.

Our garden needs to be weeded before we leave for ten days. Our housemates will care for its watering and perhaps pick its first fruits, but the weeding is all my job. I will move the plants aside, bend deep to the soil, and pull errant roots from it. My mother-in-law says a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. I know there's an allegory there somewhere but the dirt is calling and I must go. 

I need the dirt to remind me this earth is my home, just not yet. 

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Walking in the Faith We Have, Not the Control We Don't

I am barely awake before the litany starts. All the shoulds and coulds and wishes and wants come one after another. They're not all bad; they're the list of things to pack for an upcoming trip, they're the things I need to do before we leave, they're the piles of things I wish I could pack in a return suitcase: lilacs, mountains, foggy mornings, fires at dusk, time alone with my husband. 

He and I have been talking about the difference between wanting a thing itself and wanting the approval from others that comes from having the thing. In this case the thing is not a thing at all, but a child. May and June are ripe for conversations like these and I suppose visits to IVF clinics and adoption applications rise after respective Father's and Mother's Days every year. We're all just trying to plod through life, putting our feet in the footprints left behind for us. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.

But, what if first never comes? Or second? Or third? What then? Where do you put your feet then? 

Then is when you have to decide: am I doing this because it is expected of me, because it is the logical "next step," or because I am truly being asked by God or given to by God? Am I trying to force the thing because everyone else around me has the thing and I feel twenty steps behind them if I don't too? Is God actually asking this of me, calling me to this, or am I trying to control my outcome because the alternative feels scary and lonely and very unAmerican? 

I know I am dancing on the fringes of some sacred cows and these thoughts of mine very well might make some nervous who have been given a different calling. Please know I am not judgmental of anyone's decision, but I am mighty suspect of my own motives for my own life. What do you do when God has not given or made clear a path for the thing everyone thinks you're supposed to move heaven and earth to have? 

I have no earthly idea. 

When I was single with no prospects for marriage, occasionally someone or a group of someones would be talking and the topic of online dating would come up. I have a good amount of friends who met their mates online and so I cannot argue with its success rate. But I knew, deep in my soul, it would not be walking in faith for me. I knew God was asking me to trust him with the outcome completely. To not even look, search, move, or say "Pick me." And I also knew this was an unpopular and really, really, really difficult thing to do. I knew it looked foolish to others. But I felt deeply confident in my spirit if God had marriage for me, God would orchestrate the events necessary to give it to me (even if someday one of the tools was online dating, I knew it wasn't today). And then today turned into tomorrow and then into the next month and next year and then one day, there he was, standing in front of me in the foyer of our church. We had a two minute conversation of which he remembers most and I remember little. But God did that, not me. I was walking out and heard my name behind me and then a friend introduced us and it was good. 

The only way I can describe how I feel about a controlled effort to have children for us is that same feeling of certainty: if God has this gift for us, I have to trust he will give it to us. It doesn't remove the need for acts of faith, in fact, it increases it (again, for me). It is an act of faith to rejoice with my pregnant sisters. It is an act of faith to bundle a box of baby gifts off to Portland when my best friend births her second. It is an act of faith to look up from the couple in front of me at church cooing over their new one. It is an act of faith to absorb the comments parents make about how rested we look and how easy they assume our lives must be. It is an act of faith to look at the lack and see a gift

God is not wasting this time. And he isn't absent in it. And his goodness isn't far off and his gifts are plenty, if I'm looking in the right place. Mother's Day is a reminder of what I do not have, but every other day is a reminder of what I do. I have an attentive Father and a present Savior and a tender Spirit, who knows my heart far more intricately than I do. He knows if I was wringing my hands and fretting about how to bring a child into our home, I would not be looking at him. He knows how "fear and anxiety leads to control and manipulation" and how these wreck relationships in spades. He knows what is best for me is to trust, look at him, let him absorb the comments, let him absorb the stabs of fear and the hits of pain. He knows he's working in the waiting (and not the waiting for a child, but the waiting for the culmination of all things). 

One of the great tragedies of the modern church mingling with social media and the American dream is we all think everyone should be doing what we're doing, or doing it the way we're doing it. Our problem isn't always that we lack faith for ourselves, but we lack faith for others. We think if it doesn't look like the choices we've made, then the choices are wrong. But when I read Scripture, I see a great many ways in which God makes his kingdom grow. There is one door, one way, and one path, yes, but it requires many different measures of faith to get everyone on it.

I wonder how many of us are waking in the morning with the litany too. All the shoulds and coulds and wants and wishes. The list of everything we're supposed to do crushing us before we've even opened our eyes. The kids should be in three activities a week. I should work out more. He should take out the garbage without me asking. She should be nicer and she'd get married. He should ask out more girls. They should discipline their kids more. I should discipline my kids more. My boss should promote me. I should shop at this grocery store instead of the other one. I don't know what your litany is, but you do, you know it better than anyone. What would it mean for you and your faith and your joy today, if instead you looked to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith, and asked just one question: What do you want of me today? 

And then took one step forward. 

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Answering Your Question

About six years ago I closed comments on Sayable and have only regretted it once or twice. I closed them for a few reasons, the primary of which was I wanted Sayable to be a place that encouraged contemplation more than discussion. So much of the online world centers on discussion and I didn't want to be hosting one more place for it. I wanted discussion to be happening in my home, my community, and my church, but I didn't want to be responsible for moderating it online. For me, that was a good choice. At the same time, though, I didn't want to be irresponsible as a writer and not provide a place for readers to be heard if they felt led. I opened a contact page and haven't looked back. Alas, it has created a beast in the form of email for me, a beast I have not mastered or even tamed slightly.

You readers seem to be more willing to get raw and real and vulnerable in an email, I suppose, than in a comment. You ask more questions. You ask for prayer. You ask for advice. You rant. You rave. You ramble. It's glorious. I wouldn't have it any other way. Generally, though, keeping my personal/work inbox at a minimal level is enough work for me. Delving into the emails coming in from Sayable and giving them each the response I wish I could would be a full time job in itself. It would probably be two full time jobs. I cannot, in good faith, give that much time to responding. My position has been (mostly) to not respond. If you've gotten a personal response from me (as in, not an auto-response or a response from someone assisting me), you're among the precious few.

A few months ago a friend helped me sort messages into those that were just saying general thank yous and those who wanted a response directly, and there they've still stayed, unanswered. Nagging in the back of my mind constantly. On principle, I'm quite okay with their unanswered state. I am a wife, a friend, a housemate, a home-maker, a home-group leader, and I have full-time work on my plate. I have to give those things my primary attention. On my less principled days, though, I feel the presence of those emails stalking me around. 

I spent about an hour this morning reading through a hundred or so emails, and thought to myself, "There is so much overlap here, what if I just answered these questions in blog format?" Many of your questions I've already answered (and I'd encourage you to avail yourself to the search bar or tags below—which is the best way to finagle your way through 17 years of archives), but some I might have a new or different perspective than I did before, or just want to revisit for your sake. My aim will just be to occasionally answer some questions, maybe weekly, maybe less often. I still cannot respond to all the emails, but if you asked a question and I tried to answer it, I will try to send you a link. I will not quote any question directly, because there really is a lot of overlap and it would be better to present the question as an amalgam of them all. 

I jotted down a few of the questions here, so if you see yours, just keep an eye out for it later: 

Why do you have a male housemate? (You'll be delighted or dismayed to find that now we have a male AND a female housemate!)

What advice do you have for someone who is engaged or married to someone with a mental illness?

How do I make new friends? 

How do I live an intentional life? 

Do you endorse everything someone (Jen Hatmaker, Jack Deere, Brene Brown, Madeleine L'Engle, etc.) has said just because you reviewed or recommended their book?

How do I trust God when I've had nothing but loss in my life? 

Why should I listen to anything you've written when you're married to a divorced man? 

Do you recommend writing under a pseudonym? 

What would you recommend to someone who thinks they're called to write? 

What do you do when you can't make yourself not doubt God?

Should I date/marry: an unbeliever, divorced person, someone with mental illness, or someone I don't feel peace about? 

Thanks, as always, for reading, friends. Some writers write because they can't not. Some write because they want bigger platforms or publicity. Some write because they have something to say and want to be heard. Some write because they say it's like breathing for them. That's not me. I don't need to write. I write for you. As long as you keep reading, I'll keep writing. So thank you.

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