Living Water at a Broken Well

I have a post over at my church's resource page today. Here's the beginning, click through at the bottom for the entirety. 

A week before my birthday my husband prayed it would not be like the last two. In 2015, I witnessed the violent shooting of a police officer. In 2016, my husband was gone on a trip that didn’t go as planned—a terrible disappointment—and I celebrated by making myself banana pancakes and sharing them with my dog. It was a sad, rainy and lonely day. In 2017, I was supposed to be camping with a few close friends, but instead I spent the day moving from my bed to the bathroom, losing yet another little life inside me, our third miscarriage in three years.

A birthday is simply a marker, an anniversary of sorts, a stake in the ground: I have been alive for 37 years and am now in my 38th year. But when that marker is marked doubly by sadness, tragedy or pain on an ongoing basis, it creates inward stasis. Moving forward seems impossible, so staying in place seems the way of safety. There comes a paralyzing fear of feeling anything in regard to pain; instead, it seems better to become stoic and indifferent to it. We know life holds suffering and God is sovereign over it, but when the suffering comes in waves and leaves no corner of our hearts and lives untouched, it can be tempting to find the deepest corner and bed ourselves there permanently, praying we can bear it. The Bible is not silent on this stasis, though, nor does it offer demands too insurmountable for the broken. The Word of God and the gospel offer living water even to those waiting by broken wells.

On the morning after my birthday this year, my husband read John 5:2-9 to me, the narrative of another person in his 38th year, another man who was waiting for wholeness too, while he watched others receive what he desired:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Over the past month, I have been asking the Lord to show me the way out of my insufficient corner and into the way of trusting God with all my emotions, frailty, paralyzation and sorrow. He has been using this passage as a roadmap of sorts, and I am grateful for it. This passage is descriptive and not prescriptive—meaning it tells us what happened then, but not necessarily how it should always happen. But it does show us a common malady in the hearts of men and the posture of our Savior.

Read the rest of this post at The Village Church Resources

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. 

Contradictory Belief

I'm always looking for the easy way out. I'm inherently lazy, short-sighted, impatient, passive, or fill in the blank with some other vice. I do not like walking in the tension of anything and if there is a more comfortable option, I will take it with a cherry on top, thank you very much. I fear the unknown—especially when the unknown exists within me, not just around me. 

I was created from dust and bone fragments, so I don't know why I would believe perfection is possible before the return of Christ. I seek it though, friends. I seek it. 

One of my favorite passages of Scripture, one I return to again and again and again is from Mark chapter 9. Jesus had just undergone the transfiguration and had come back down the mountain, running into the father of a demon possessed boy. The father cries to Jesus, "If you can do anything, have compassion and help us!" Sweet Jesus response with incredulity: "If? If I can heal him? All things are possible to him who believes." And this, my favorite line in all of scripture, the father's response: "I believe. Help my unbelief."

I come from a charismatic background, not name it and claim it, health, wealth, and prosperity, but certainly a side that believes words have life or death in them. That if we speak death, we run the risk of experiencing it, and if we speak life, then the odds are higher we'll experience it. I look back now and see the ways I misunderstood and ingested theology without parsing it for myself, eating the words given me instead of the Scripture informing them. But what resulted for me is that I became a bundle of fear, afraid to ever speak what was actually true about myself, my sin, my fears, my anxieties, and only willing to speak what was not true, that I had assurance, joy, peace, faith. I didn't know how to walk in the tension of speaking what was not fully true but which I wanted to be true and speaking what was true but I wanted to be untrue. I could not have said, "Help my unbelief," because to confess unbelief seemed like the pathway to destruction, but I felt like a liar every time I said, "I believe."

All that changed in early 2010, when I could not live the lie of belief anymore. I pounded my fists into the tan carpet of my rental house and cried harder than ever before and said to God, for the first time ever, "I do not believe in you!" I have never heard the audible voice of God, but I will never forget the strong impression of the Father picking up his robes and running toward me saying, "Finally. We can begin with this." 

I think there are two temptations for the Christian who doubts. The first is to only say what is yet untrue (I believe) and the second is to only say what is true (I have unbelief). If you come from a background, like mine, where to utter words of unbelief means you are silenced by well-meaning friends who say you're just going through a hard time and it will wear off, you probably will be bound up in living the lie of belief, and, as Jeremiah 17 says, "You will not see good when it comes." If you come from a background where it's okay to have struggles and wrestle with truth and faith, you might be afraid to say the words, "I believe," because you don't want to lie about having something you don't fully have. 

What is the doubting Christian to do? 

This is why this passage from Mark 9 is so helpful for me. This father shows it is possible to say two conflicting things, neither of which are fully true and both of which are absolutely true at the same time. I believe. Help my unbelief. Both true. Both not all the way true. Both seeming to be in conflict with one another. 

I have met a few Christians who have simple faith. They believe the Bible is true, absolutely. They believe Jesus rose from the grave. They believe they are saved. They never wrestle with Scripture in a way that leads to confusion or tension or questions. They simply believe. I know very few of these. The great majority of Christians I know have complicated faiths. They all have a different history behind them that informs their reading and study of Scripture. They all have varying levels of schooling. They have different personalities, different propensities, different desires. And all of these things are informing their belief in some way—and their unbelief in some ways. 

The Christian who can say, "I believe. Help my unbelief," is the Christian who knows with absolute certainty that full, unfaltering faith is possible, and also that they do not have it, not fully. They know they are in progress, going, as Paul said, "from one degree of glory to another" and "the righteousness of God is being revealed faith to faith." We're not there yet, is what Paul was saying, farther up, further in, more to go until we arrive on eternity's shores. 

If you're someone who struggles to believe all the way through all the things you think Christians believe all the way through, I just wanted to say, hey, I'm with you. I struggle with that. My struggles with faith didn't cease the moment the gospel was unveiled to me. The difference was a difference by degrees: I saw more dimly before, and now less dimly, and will see even less dimly tomorrow. There are so many things about faith and the Bible that seem confusing to me, sometimes even more the more I study and read. I see what seem to be inconsistencies in Scripture, in other Christians, in the world in which we live. I don't understand fully how justification or sanctification or mortification or vivification work. I don't always know what I'm supposed to do and what only God can do. Here's what I know how to do: 

I know how to pray, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." 

I'm praying for you today, that you can pray that prayer, believing he hears and heals and finishes what you cannot with mere words and weak faith. 

There is no magic bullet for your faith to be bolstered. I'll share a few things have grown and strengthened mine, but it might be something entirely different for you and that's okay. This photo is of the books on our shelves that have helped me realize I am not alone in this wrestle. I'll also link to a few below.

Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones

Help My Unbelief from Barnabas Piper

Sensing Jesus (now called The Imperfect Pastor) from Zack Eswine

Spurgeon's Sorrows by Zack Eswine

This sermon from Matt Chandler from before he was my pastor (I listened to it sixteen times in the spring of 2010).

High Noon and Our Hiding Places

I have always known the woman at the well came there at high noon when the fewest other women would be there. This is the first clue. Next is she is a woman at all and to do most anything by ourselves takes courage most often borne in fear somewhere down there. This is the second clue. The third is the way she stands by the well when Jesus reads her life before her, like a judge reading the charges. Her head high and drooping at the same time, the way pride and shame go hand in hand: the paradox of being both not enough and too much that plagues almost every woman I know. 

Perhaps it is that Jesus speaks to a Samaritan that should surprise us, or that she was a woman at all, or even that he knows her life as if he lived it beside her. But what catches my breath in recent weeks is that he met her at high noon in her loneliness, shame, and pride. He entered into the uncomfortable. 

It is often that I fear Jesus doesn't want to see or encounter my sin, that it is too much or I am not enough. I slink around the corners of confession, repentance, fellowship with him, thinking if I don't show up, he won't read the charges. 

I love Jesus in this passage because he is there, at high noon too. He is in the uncomfortable place  to meet the uncomfortable person. Not to read her charges, either, but to read her life and give her water that satisfies. I love that he doesn't demand her repentance, but offers it to her as if the gift of her repentance is one he gives. Another paradox of faith in him. 

I suppose we all have high noons in our lives, places we're hanging out alone or people we avoid or environments where we feel our shame the least and the most at the same time. And I also suppose Jesus is hanging out there too. It's strange, isn't it? She thought she was hiding and really she was standing out, being what she actually was: alone, ashamed, fearful, prideful, and empty. She came to the well in the heat of the day with all she ever did cloaked around and within her, sticking to her like her sweat and the day's dust and the scorching of the sun's heat in the red of her face. Unable to hide where she thought she was hiding. 

“He told me all that I ever did,” she said to her fellow townsmen.

And Jesus met her there. 

I love this. 

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Sinking Feelings and a Solid Rock

It was my particular wish that we would get one good snowstorm this winter, but we rounded the corner into March with blooms aplenty and only a dusting in mid-January. While the rest of the east coast laments about a March "snowpocolypse" though, Nate and I were taking bets on over/under inch predictions (winner gets cart blanche on Netflix picking for the next two weeks).

OPM gave some federal workers a telecommute day because of the snow and Nate is one of those workers, which is a double treat for me. Snow and the sight of my husband's flannel-shirted back working at our dining room table all day? Win, win. Something about having him home helps me to focus on tasks instead of floating through the day, week, month with nothing but my own schedule to tend to. I read Tim Keller yesterday, "There’s nothing that makes you more miserable, or less interesting, than self-absorption," and I thought, well, that's true. At least in my life. 

We're two weeks out from closing on a house in Texas (which has proven to be as fraught with unknowns as when we sold our house in Denver) and I keep checking myself, my heart, my mind, every time I tape a box closed or set something on the Give Away shelf: will I be sad to leave here? Will I miss Virginia and DC? Will I look back with longing to this season of life? It has been overwhelmingly hard in many ways, and lonely, but there were sweet stretches and I never want to forget them, not ever. 

We brought Harper home here. She's not a child and I don't want to memorialize her as such, but she has been such a gift to me in particular. She gave me something to mind, to train, to care about. She gave me, on many dark days, a reason to get out of bed—even if that reason felt more animalistic and less joy-filled. She was born on the day we moved into this house, though we didn't bring her home until eight weeks later, and we will sign our names on the dotted line for a new home on her birthday this year. Something we thought impossible a year ago.

A year ago we were staring down the barrel of foreclosure and had no idea we were going to lose every penny of our downpayment and our entire savings account, effectively starting over financially in June. Then, in July, a publisher friend of mine reached out with a project she wanted me to work on. Her reasons were simple (and profound, to me). She knew I felt strongly about the flood of books being published, by the pressure to platform and perform, and even though there are probably books inside me somewhere, she knew publishing a book right now wasn't something I was passionate about doing. But this project, editing Christian classics and writing study guide material for them, seemed like it would be perfect. And it was. And it provided a salary for me we never expected and couldn't have foreseen. We were able to build back up our savings enough to buy a house less than a year from when we thought it would never happen again.

Editing those books, and, in particular, writing the study guide material for them, was such a singular blessing to me this year. I learned so much (and will write more on this soon). I said to my publisher friend the other morning: God disciplined me and discipled me through this work. I wept over brokenness, sin, doubt, and fear in my own heart as I wrote response questions to Christian's travels with Hopeful in Pilgrim's Progress. I was convicted and convinced as I worked on George Mueller's Answers to Prayer. I wrestled with theology, truth, and scripture as I worked through Hannah Whiteall Smith's words. I am still working on these projects and they never fail to convict and challenge me, not only because God's word doesn't change, but the nature of man, sin, faith, hope, joy, and life doesn't change much either. The blessing of this buoyed me this year. 

I lamented to a friend this week about how sometimes I miss my singleness. I love my marriage and I love my husband. Nate is God's best gift to me in this season of life and I don't want to make that a small thing. But I have struggled with the lack of purpose I often feel in marriage. I felt so purposeful and driven with my singleness, knowing I could waste it or use it, and determined to do the latter. It gave me such drive and passion to do it well, to find others who were doing it well, and to encourage my brothers and sisters in the dry land it can sometimes be. But within marriage, I've struggled to find that same purpose, drive, and passion. It occurred to me recently, though, that when we pack up the truck and head down south, I will be leaving behind a solid year of singularity: my primary, sometimes only, calling this year was to my home and husband. I don't know if I'll ever have such a season of undistraction again. I learned to be my husband's cheerleader and friend. To be a wife and homemaker. To care about what my husband cares about, to learn to hear him, know him, listen to him, trust him, and submit to him. In other seasons of life I have thrived on my ability to juggle many things, carry many loads, do many things well. In this season of life, I couldn't run away from the One Thing in front of me and it has been so good for me. 

More than any of that, though, I have learned in a deeper way and in a way I don't know if I could have learned any other way, both how important a church family is, and also how challenging it is for many people to find a home in one. I have never been flippant about my love for the local church, but I have been flippant about the hurt others experienced in them or the struggles others faced in finding a home in one. I was matter of fact, direct, pointed, without empathy for the hurt they might have experienced or their reticent to go, become members of, submit to, and invest in. It seemed to be born out of selfishness, and maybe some of it is, but after this year and our hurt and struggle, God's good gift to me was the ability to see that it is not as easy as three steps or just making up your mind. Maybe we make it more difficult than it is, but maybe we don't. We are grateful for the many pastors and church members who reached out to us, invited us, and made us feel welcome here, but the inward struggle, the hurt, the fear, and the hopes were never fully settled and that takes time.

I learned this year that time doesn't heal all wounds, but also God is never in a rush to finish healing if there's something still to learn in the hurting. I'm grateful to go back to my church family, but I go back with much, much more awareness of the struggles many Christians face in the simple act of going to church, not to mention being a part of  one. I'm grateful for that wounding, although there were many Sundays this year I could barely breathe through it.

These are only a few of the blessings of this year—which in many ways, didn't feel like blessings in the midst of them. I knew one day I would look back at this year and see God's purpose in the midst of the hard things, but more than anything I'm grateful that I was able to see God's goodness in the midst of them. It's one thing to derive meaning from something. It's another to find no meaning but that on Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. 

All other ground is sinking sand. His character, his attributes, his nature—these never, ever, ever, ever change, and this carried me this year. I never faltered in my believe in his character because he never changed who he was and is. So while meaning might still feel a long way off in some ways, assurance of God's goodness, faithfulness, lovingkindness, generosity, justice, mercy, grace, patience, and more are never far off. He draws near and on him I stand.