How Do I Live an Intentional Life

I do not so much happen to my life as my life happens to me. By nature I'm a bit passive, wont to fear of trying anything in which there is a possibility of failure, prone to finding the easiest way out or through a situation, and likely to ignore problems instead of facing them. The good thing is I know this about myself and feel constantly armed with fresh candoitiveness. Mondays are my favorite, tomorrow mornings are too—"fresh, with no mistakes in it, yet." I love Januarys and also Septembers. Any chance for a do-over, I say. 

It is strange to me then that I get asked the question (often): "You seem to live your life so intentionally, how do I do that?" Oh dear, she said, I have no idea. 

The truth is I am less intentional about my life than I am introspective about it. I think it is easy to confuse the one for the other. The former means coming at life well and the latter (for me) means to look behind at what happened well. These are two very different things. One is active, determined, and disciplined. The other is insightful, thoughtful, and optimistic. The former knows failure is imminent and plans for it, the latter muddles through the aftermath of failure for the lemons and makes lemonade. I make great lemonade, but, dear reader, do not confuse this with growing a great lemon tree. I am introspective, but intentional I am not. 

 "I think, therefore I am," the old philosopher said. He didn't mean, of course, exactly that when we think we become what we think about. But, as the old physician said (kinda), "You are what you eat." So what we think about, or eat, becomes what we are. So if you're introspective enough you will become a form of intentional. So when you ask me, dear reader, or observe some element of intentionality in the way I live, be assured: I am near constantly making up for lost time, wishing I'd done better yesterday and just fumbling through today with faith. 

There are a lot of type-A, planner central, smart women out there. They're writing blogs and making print-outs available. They're the queens of check-lists and goal-making and Big Idea Spreading. I am not that person. I will never be that person. I do not exist well in foreseeing the details, I exist best in the exploration of them afterwards. I'm the person you want at the table after the poorly planned party, not the one you want in the room for the planning meeting. 

So when you ask: "How do I live an intentional life (with the subtext: like yours)?" I just want to say get that illusion out of your head. I'm muddling through life just as messily, regretfully, haphazardly, and winging-it-ly as most of you. My only counsel is that we become good and honest inspectors of our lives. 

Life passes us by so quickly, more quickly than every before. There is hardly a moment for breathing or praying or thinking or stopping or stilling or being. And we make ten-thousand excuses for why that is in each of our lives (the body...). But if we're wondering why any semblance of intentionality eludes us, that's why. We're so busy planning and planning more, that we don't stop to reflect, relearn, rewire, and repent.

If you sniff intentionality in what you read on Sayable or know of the Wilberts, please know it's because we fight hard to have intentionality in one area: space. We know the importance of stillness. We know the importance of remembering we are not God. We know the importance of awkward silence, making room for the quiet ones to share after the loud ones have gotten all their talking out. We know the importance of walking in faith instead of just wisdom. We know the importance of true reflection and repentance to one another and to God. And we won't let anything infringe on it. 

There is an inordinate amount of pressure on God's people from God's people these days to Look Busy for the Kingdom of God is at Hand (and it is), but busyness is not the way of the kingdom, faithfulness is. And if we're looking to our rights and lefts to see what faithfulness is, we've got it wrong. We've got to look at our Master, the one who entrusted us with a home or a family or a church or a job and a future. He's the only One who measures our faithfulness. 

The life of intentionality is a life of faithfulness to God. A willingness to confess we messed up.  A willingness to say no to what is good for what is better. A willingness to cheer others on in what God has called them to, and to stay faithful to what He has called us to. That's an intentional life. It has very little to do with planning or house mottos or how we spend our holidays or our Sabbath rhythm, and very much to do with looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. 

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I Feel Called to Write. Now What?

A few weeks back I mentioned I'd be answering some of your questions here on Sayable. Today I'd like to write a bit in response to the question, or a variant of it, I get more than any other: What would you recommend to someone who thinks they're called to write? 

I've written much on this subject before, so if you'd like to read more, just click on the writing link at the bottom of the page. Now I will tell you what I tell every single person, regardless of their obvious gift or visible lack of chops: if you feel called to write, you must read, you must write, you must listen to those closest to you, and you must not think about the outcome too much. 

That seems like a silly answer, but I think the questions behind the question for a lot of people is: "I feel called to write and therefore need to grow a "platform." Do you suggest I do that in blogging? Growing my social media channels? Write books? Where should I publish? How do I get my name out there? What if no one reads my blog? What if I work really hard at it for a year and still no one reads my blog?" 

First, the word "platform" is an awful one and one I wish would never enter the vocabulary of a writer. It steals the beauty of the vocation right out from under its feet, making it about readership instead of readers. We ought to care very much for our readers, those humans with stories and hurts and feelings and intellect. And we ought to care very little about readership, the masses of people reading or not reading. So first, if you feel called to write, root the word platform out of your vocabulary for now. It may become a necessary evil if you get the the publishing a book phase, but for right now (even if that's your end goal), it's just a distraction. Omit it entirely today. 

Next, you must read. Commit to reading both broadly and deeply. Do not only read the authors all the cool people share about on Instagram stories. Read classics (Graham Greene, Toni Morrison, Agatha Christie, and Marilynne Robinson, David James Duncan are classics too). Read poetry (start with Mary Oliver, Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, Billy Collins, Langston Hughes to whet your appetite, move on to Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, and Richard Wilbur). Read short fiction (Flannery O'Connor, John Updike, Barbara Kingsolver, various short fiction in the New Yorker or Harpers Weekly). Read memoir (Madeleine L'Engle's Crosswicks Journals, Jennette Walls, Frederick Buechner, and Annie Dillard). Read popular fiction (John Le Carr, Ann Patchett, Ray Bradbury, Barbara Kingsolver).

Read theology too, but especially if you want to write about theology, make sure you read more of what's listed above. Why? Because if theological writing is the bones on which our body hangs, creative writing is the flesh. It fills out the muscles and fills in the crevices. It takes what is foundationally real and true about God and man, and fleshes it out. If you want to write, you must read.

If you don't want to read, or consider reading unnecessary for a writer, you will run out of things about which to write, you will be a one-trick pony, you will taper off, and ultimately you are not called to write, you just wanted what you thought was a quick way to get noticed. Readers can tell when writers don't read. If you don't read and you can't figure out why nobody wants to read you, this is probably a big part of it. You can't cheat this system.

Next, you must write. That seems silly to say, but it really is that simple. I just finished a twelve week writing mentorship and gave away most of my secrets in it, but generally, just write.

Don't write to be noticed, don't track your readership, don't always be in respond mode to whatever terrible thing is happening online today, don't be preachy, don't care more about your reputation than you care about your readers.

Do be a careful writer, that is, a writer full of care for both the words and the readers. Be, as Eugene Peterson says, a "shepherd of the words." Do write consistently, every day or at least every other. Do hold yourself to a word limit when you're first beginning and make it 1/3 tighter than you want it to be or 1/3 more than you're generally comfortable with. Do learn proper grammar. Do ask those who know you best to give you honest feedback often. Do write about silly things like the heat index and the way a book smells and the feel of rain on your face. Do also write about God, the way you see Him and the things you doubt about Him and the ways you want to see and know Him more. Do emulate (though never copy or plagiarize or paraphrase without attribution) your favorite writers. Do try your hand at poetry. Short fiction. Devotional writing. Do not get stuck. When you get stuck, keep writing. If you can't keep writing, go take a nap, you're probably tired and napping is essential to writing. 

Next, if you really want to write, you have to give up control of the outcome. You cannot care about what happens to the words once they're released. Every writer at every stage and at every age cares. We always care. But the aim must be to not care. You have done the work, you have called it good (hopefully). You have been care-filled at every stage of the process and now your job is to not care. Now you must trust the words to do the work in you and in others. God does that work, through His Spirit, and it is not you.

If you were faithful in the above, then you must trust the words into the world without you to explain them, caveat them, preface them, or try to make the reader understand. If you feel you must do that, then you have not been a faithful writer. This is why it's so important that we are faithful writers before we are faithful publishers. If you want to skip being a faithful writer and move right to the place where many are reading your words, you will cause damage. We only need to take a cursory glance at the Church today and the way it's both talked about online and the way it talks online, and see hordes and masses of communicators who just wanted to preach or teach or publish or get noticed without putting in the quiet work of faithfulness. So, if you really want to write and you believe God has called you to write, put aside any illusions of glory or grandeur, put aside any hopes for accolades or affirmation, keep putting it all to death (for the rest of your writing life), and trust the outcome of your words to God. 

This is the only writing advice I have. Plenty of others have more advice and you should listen to them far more than me. The only thing I have going for me is this little home on the web. It's been here for nearly twenty years (begun in 2000) and I suppose I've learned a lot about the practice we call "blogging," but I've kept myself pretty ignorant of the ways to Grow Your Readership in 100 Days or 10 Ways to Get 1000 Followers in 10 Weeks. I know God means for me to write because when I write like Eric Liddell ran, "I feel His pleasure." It is not simply because I get paid to do it or I am particularly gifted in one way or another. I know God means it for me because in the midst of ups, downs, discouragements, hopes, crushed dreams, highs, lows, failure, success, readers or no readers, respect in the writing community and criticism in the writing community, I still write and I still feel God's pleasure when I write. As long as I am able, I will write. 

I want to close with the poem from our favorite Colonist and white imperialist, Rudyard Kipling (That was a joke BTW. He shouldn't be your favorite.). I first read it when I was 13 and felt the first nudging of desire to write, and various phrases have echoed in my mind since then. I am a firm supporter in letting a piece speak for itself and this poem does. Every writer should commit it to memory—I wrote it on my bedroom wall at 13 and memorized it then. I have changed the last line to writer, instead of man. I think Kipling would be okay with that.

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a writer, my son!



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. 


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.