Gone Fishing for Hope

I know this post will feel like whiplash after the last two posts and I don't mean to do that to you. But this morning I read Psalm 127 and it's sticking to my gut in an uncomfortable way. It's sticking to my gut in a way that confirms some things that have been otherwise floating around: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

I read it through twice, three times, and then a fourth. I am no stranger to this Psalm, I know it to near perfect memory. As I read it this morning though, I pictured my life in it in a way I never have before. Until I owned a house, felt the danger of a city, lost the fruit of my womb, and had enemies, it was easy to picture this Psalm as it was sung in ancient days, but not these days, not my days.

Today though, I see my home in Denver, the financial loss we took on it. I see the gunman shooting six times into the police-officer on the ground in my new city. I see the year now of sleepless nights, learning to share a bed, putting a night person and a morning person on a similar schedule, waking with a new puppy every hour to few hours, a husband who rises in the four o'clock hour most mornings. I see the two tiny humans we lost in unceremonious ways, gushing away from my womb, out of our quiver, into their watery grave. I see enemies, accusations against me, us, our small family, our decisions. This Psalm infiltrates the fibers of my life this year and leaves nothing untouched.

. . .

Being a child of divorced parents left a undeniable impression on many, many, many things. One of which is I decided if the Lord ever gave me the gift of marriage I wouldn't wait until our marriage was in trouble to get marriage counseling.

So, almost a year to the day of our wedding, we met with a counselor last night for nearly two hours. The first thing we said was, "We know you're not our Savior, we just need help processing all of this." We were a deluge of facts, bulleting down a list of All The Things. We sat close to one another and adored and loved one another not one iota less than a year ago, but with a heck of a lot more weight to all of it. We spilled it all. And at the end of it he said, "I'm wondering something: do you guys know how to feel emotions?"

I pictured the silly magnet on my Gram's fridge when I was little for a minute. The grid of different faces we now call "emoticons" (as though our generation invented the smiley face...) with a "Today I'm Feeling..." title in some eighties version of Comic Sans. And I thought to myself, I don't know how to feel anything except exhausted.

We said no. No, we don't.

. . .

My personal challenge for this month is to Engage Emotions, but all this month has taught me is that I have no earthly idea how to engage anything. I'm like a whack-a-mole with my heart: the moment something foreign or heavy or scary or angry pops up, I pound it back down before it takes over with a force I can't fathom. But I'm so angry. I am. I'm not angry like a raging fury, I'm angry like a rolling storm over a Great Lake, picking up rain and force as it comes.

I'm not angry at a specific person or even God, but I'm angry that two barely married kids were thrown into situations we had no idea about. I'm angry that Nate's contract wasn't renewed only a few months after getting married and a month after buying a house. I'm angry that in the face of all the stress my body couldn't hold two new barely formed babies. I'm angry that a hundred applications and demoralizing interviews left us with only one offer—on the other side of the country. I'm angry that there is evil in the world and I saw it and now every siren and suspicious person ushers in a low grade anxiety. I'm angry that our house was worth what we had it listed for, not a penny less, and we ended up losing so much on it because we couldn't float lives in two different states. I'm angry that my husband's heart has been having issues for months. I'm angry that I haven't gotten a full night's sleep in a year. I'm angry that I went to the doctor yesterday and listed out all the things and she said, "Sleep is going to be one of the most important things you can do to heal and restore your body."

I'm angry because God's word says He gives His beloved rest and all of this makes me feel like I am not His beloved after all.

But I'm angry, like I told our counselor yesterday, in a standoffish way. As though I'm viewing an intricate painting in the National Gallery or a complicated sculpture or a biopic. That's someone's life but not mine. I feel angry on behalf of the girl I was a year ago and the girl I left behind somewhere along the way.

Today I shared a bit of that with some friends and fellow writers and one said, "I have often marveled at how detachedly you write about all you're going through on your blog. Now I see from what the counselor says how you do that! Seriously, though, I wonder if writing about all this for the public while in the middle of it serves to exacerbate the emotional distancing. Writing inherently distances us from our inner life simply through the process of externalizing and reifying it. I wonder if this might contribute to that kind of detachment."

She said the words Nate and I have been thinking and talking about for a while. And for one moment, it felt like permission to do what we've been talking about: putting Sayable on hiatus. To learn God's word is about God and for those back in ancient times, also it is about and for you, and it is also for me. For my weak heart and disengaged emotions. For my inability to feel anger or sadness or frustration or joy for myself, for fear of what it might say about the Holy Spirit inside of me.

So friends, for the sake of my marriage, my home, my heart, and my love for the Lord, I will be putting Sayable on hiatus for a few months. I don't know how long a few months is, it could be two, it could be six. It may seem easy to write about emotions and mourning and decision making as deeply as I do here, but it takes a lot out of me in all honesty. It takes a lot of me. Part of my problem is I've begun to write for you instead of writing for Him, and I've been brutally honest with you, but struggled to bring my everything and my nothing to Him.

I cried hard today while writing this and it was the most cathartic thing I've done in a year. I know it is the right thing to do. I will miss you, but I miss my heart more.

I need the Lord to build my house, otherwise all my labor is indeed vain.

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May Sabbath

photo.PNG It was after writing this post through tears in the early morning hours that I remembered it was almost May. May means Sayable Sabbath month. Usually I feel ready for that 12th month Sabbath; I feel I've earned it, worked hard at my craft, swallowed pride, written my heart out for 11 months. But all I feel this year is guilty for how much I've hated writing for six months.

In November of last fall I began feeling like I'd lost my voice. I wasn't sure where it had gone, all I knew was this was a different writer's block than I'd ever felt before. Usually I press through, write anyway, exercise that muscle, and the words eventually come. But this wasn't missing words, this was a missing voice.

I was asking the question, "Who am I?" in a way I never have before. I'm not a person who struggles with identity. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, and my proclivities. Every writer has to know a few things before writing a term paper or book: who am I and who is my audience? I'd perfected the answer to those two questions, but suddenly neither of them seemed right anymore. I didn't know who I was and I certainly had no idea who my audience was.

When we lose our voices I wonder if this is simply God's grace to us after all—since we are His and He is our only audience.

I think of Isaiah in chapter 6, standing before the throne of God, the seraphim around Him singing one refrain, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory." I think of Isaiah standing there with his head bent down, saying the words, "Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips."

Do you feel the uncleanliness of your lips sometimes? Whether you are a pastor or a blogger or a mother or a son, do you feel the clutter and grime that spews from your mouth and your fingers? The realization again and again of how selfish and prideful and arrogant you are and how you cannot clean yourself up enough to stand before the Holiness of God?

I feel it. Oh, how I feel it.

It was a burning coal that cleansed Isaiah's mouth but we are all looking for the nectar and sweet juice to cleanse ours. The affirmation of friends, the compliments of strangers. We want the feel good way to feeling good, not the burning coal, God, not the burning coal.

I have felt the burning coal these last months. Learning the hard way that I am a person of unclean lips and all around me are others with unclean lips. We who are being sanctified and being transformed are still so not. Look, and not too far, you will be undone too.

We do not Sabbath to give God his due, His 10%. We are not tithing our time, giving of our first-fruits. We Sabbath to remember we need Him. We do not need rest or stillness or peace or comfort. We need Him. We need a vision of Him and His holiness. We need a burning coal. We need to be undone. We need to be touched and sent. But only through Him, Lord of the Sabbath.

Normally I have guest writers for the month of May, but somehow that seemed cheap to me this year. I want Sayable to be still all this month, to Sabbath, and to offer to you readers the blessing of one less thing to read. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, especially for sponsors, but I'm willing to lose here. I want to lose here. I want to feel the burning of the coal on my mouth, my voice, my "platform," and my pulpit. I want to stand before the throne undone.

A PLACE TO COME HOME

I’m at my best friend’s house in upstate New York. I have traveled the world over and I do not know of a more picturesque place than the largest part of New York state. This is perhaps because I am a mountains girl and am most at home hemmed in by these hills. But I think, too, it has something to do with the air here, clear and pine-scented air. I breathed it deep as my little car crested and descended hills, windows open, and eyes open too.

This month off has been, in one word, full.
I mean that in the sense that my best friend’s belly is full of a new life right now. She is bent over a new garden near me, her new husband attentive and capable. She is full of life and we spent four hours this morning talking to one another without pause. She is perhaps the only person in the world with whom I can talk without pause. We are full of questions for one another, full of tears at the things which are deeply in us, full of joy for the other’s joy, and this is what I mean by full.

I spent a week at a cabin by myself in Tyler, Texas, ensconced in a cabin underneath the towering pines of east Texas. I drove hours through the bottom Appalachians through pouring rain and big dreams, to arrive at one of my favorite mountains, a small valley that houses two homes, a family, and some animals, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. I drove 16 hours north (through more pouring rain) to land with the people who make me laugh more, cry more, live more than any people I know, in Potsdam, New York. And now I am here, with my full friend, her living room full of my old things—chairs and art I couldn’t take with me to Texas—her husband full of love for her (and me!), and their lives full of service and love. I am full.
The past few weeks I have accumulated over 50,000 words that will speak of lifelessness and fullness and the ways we hinge ourselves on both, and this week I feel the words slow, the creativity ebb, my cup full.

If there is one thing I know to be true about God these days it is that my heart overflows with a good theme.

The psalmist says "My cup overflows" and I have never know this to be true. 

I have never known the fullness of His character or the depth of His goodness or the life of His love—my cup was half-full or half-empty and I thought this was the way we limped our way toward heaven.

And that may to be true in ways—Jacob wrestled with God, won, and still walked with a limp the whole of his life.

But sometimes I think God delights to give us months or days or minutes in which we know the fullness. He delights to give us glimpses of His wholeness, even in our void. He beckons us toward His joy, even in our sadness. And I think He does it because without these small glimpses at His greatness we would hide, fully in ourselves, fully void of hope. 

I am full, overflowing.

This was written about a week ago, as my month off was inching closer to its end. I am home now, but my laptop died the last day of my sabbatical, so I am awaiting for its successor's arrival before I jump back online with any consistency! 


But thank you, thank you, thank you, for welcoming my guest writers, for extending me grace in my absence, for not deleting me from your feed readers or email lists in my absence. Thank you most of all for being a home of sorts, a place to come home to. 

THOM TURNER

If this is your first time here, welcome! I'm on sabbatical for the month of May, but I have guest posts scheduled in my absence. Enjoy them and hope you'll check out the archives as well!

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Thom writes over at Everyday Liturgy, which is one of my favorite places to visit for, you guessed it, everyday liturgy. He teaches English at Nyack College and is the Senior Editor of Generate Magazine. He also writes for The Curator, The Englewood Review of Books and The Other Journal. I have loved reading everything I've read on his blog and sometimes his short morning liturgies stop me enough to help me coast for the rest of the day on his insights. 


Hope is circular.

It comes in waves, and then recedes back to the ocean. When it leaves, I am left wet—cold and shaking—not knowing what to do next. I start to hope for hope, that like high tide it will come again and wash over me. And maybe the next time it will stay, and I will float in the gentle bob of the current, and let hope take me where it wills.

But I have never had hope hang around like that. It always pulls away and leaves me at low tide.

Faith is the evidence of things unseen and love is the greatest of these, but what is hope a sign of? St. Paul wrote that character creates hope, but he stops there. Tell me Paul, what is the product of hope?

There is a trinity of actions Paul prescribes to us—faith, hope and love—and they each have their role to play. Hope, I feel, is the most fickle of them, always supported by faith or love. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and love always hopes, so in the end hope is built on a foundation of faith and love.

I long to always be hopeful, to see the bright side of things, to be constantly cheerful, joyful, fun-loving and gregarious. To be hopeful no matter my place in life or circumstance. I always feel hope fail my grasp like sand running through my fingers, and then wonder how do I hold onto something that constantly shifts. How do I sustain hope?

I can start turning back to the foundations of faith and love. If hope fails let me have faith. If faith and hope both fail me, then let me continue to love until faith finds its way back to me and hope follows with it. Only then will the waves of hope come crashing back, and I can find my home in the warmth of living waters.

LEIGH KRAMER

If this is your first time here, welcome! I'm on sabbatical for the month of May, but I have guest posts scheduled in my absence. Enjoy them and hope you'll check out the archives as well!

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Leigh writes about all sorts of things, from singleness, to starting over, to grieving, to baseball, and does it with an engaging presence and a hope-filled voice. I hope you enjoy what she has to say here today and that you'll visit her blog! Oh, she's in the process of finishing her first book, so that should be fun! 


Hope is breaking: My Hope bracelet, to be specific. After four months of daily wear, the leather cracks and stretches and begs for mercy. But I won't take it off. It will stay on until it falls off. Until Hope reaches its limit and I must find a new way to carry the symbol with me.

The parallels did not escape me. I noticed a particularly worrisome crack in the bracelet the same day I sobbed over reading a friend's pregnancy announcement on Facebook. I had reached my capacity when it came to rejoicing for others.

It wasn't just that day. That whole week pummeled me. I couldn't sleep, I canceled plans, I cried copiously. I avoided friends because it's too hard to explain the swirl of emotions and because sometimes we need to deal with the root on our own.

Nothing triggered this dark period. Perhaps a pile of mini-triggers but there was no specific moment breaking the camel's back. Every year or so I find myself in this Black Cave of Emotion. I've read this is common for my personality type (INFJ), which makes me feel only slightly better about my annual dark night of the soul.

I never know when it will happen until I'm in the middle of it. It's not depression. More like a pervading sadness. It's best to hunker down and see what my subconscious is trying to teach me. What are the lessons I need to learn? I am so used to listening to others that I sometimes forget to listen to myself. And eventually it all must be processed. This is how my body says when.

Of all that I face during these times, the hardest is residual self-esteem issues I'd thought long since resolved.

The lies astound me. They tap into whatever my current insecurities may be and because I'm depleted, I have little left to fight them. I resign myself to listening to the lies, to see if there's a shred of truth. And in doing so, I remove their power over me. It's no easy feat but I'm an old pro at these dark nights of the soul now. I know the storms will come and I've learned to ride the waves until they carry me.

It's not pretty. I cannot romanticize this. It's hard and I generally want it over yesterday so I can feel normal again. But that would be ignoring the gift of these dark periods- and there are gifts.

I emerge with a clearer sense of who I am and where I'm going. I realize which relationships require work, which might be time to let go, and which deserve a little more nurturing and care. I also carry myself more confidently because I've faced the lies and found them lacking.

Greatest of all, counter-intuitive though it may seem, the darkness teaches me to hope. Because through the tears and frustration, pinpricks of light accompanied me. I did not have to face any of this alone.

God spoke to me through song lyrics and book passages, TV shows and pictures, ever ready to counteract the abyss. I'd struggle with a friendship in one moment and then read a passage from Shauna Niequist's Cold Tangerines that perfectly spoke to the situation. A lie would arise and an unprompted memory would surface, revealing truth.

And in those moments when I couldn't do anything but cry or rage, I'd glance down at the bracelet on my wrist and remember. Hope. This dark night of the soul would not be the end of me. There's purpose to our pain and disappointments, if we allow ourselves to see it.

No matter how tenuous my hope, it was there all the same. I may not know the outcome of certain situations or how my dreams will unfold. But I could not give up then and I won't give up now.

This hard, hard thing reminds how tenacious I am when it comes to my dreams. I may have needed to curl up for awhile and regroup but I've come out of it stronger and more certain that life and adventure are there for the taking.

I'll let my bracelet continue to stretch, just as I've been stretched the last few weeks. Though it will eventually break, I won't.

No matter what comes next, Hope will carry me through. It can't be broken. Not really.