When God Doesn’t Feel Enough

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JOY

2015 was a hard year for me, in just about every way – professionally, personally, relationally. The year started out on all cylinders, per usual, but in the best sorts of ways. I felt confident, secure, work was going well, I created better habits -I was budgeting and exercising and flossing my teeth! I was investing in meaningful relationships and my relationship with the Lord was going really well. Then late fall hit and ‘life happened’. I hope I’m in the kind of company that can understand the complexity of that assessment.

Part of it was that a few people let me down, not because they’re bad eggs, but because they’re human. I decided my consistency wasn’t giving the results I wanted; the Lord shifted some details for my future, and my hope had somehow shifted from him to those details, which left me disappointed and a little kicked in the teeth. I was tired. I was tired from hoping and doing the right thing without the results I wanted. This is the worst kind of tired wrapped in shame and depression and a constant Willy Wonka meme face. It’s also hard to be inter-dependent on people who don’t have the same level of need or dependence for you. This is particularly painful and exhausting as a single person in a small community.

My modus operandi in these sorts of seasons is to immediately call God into question. My hope is that in the riper years of life, this will not be the case. I trust and pray the Lord to continue his good work in me that one day, this side of forever, praise falls first from my mouth, not accusation.

I’ve had a lot of time to mull over the year as it has come and gone and I’ve come to grieve the wasted opportunities to lean in my disappointment and turn it back to joy. This is especially hard for me to realize, when looking back at my birthday, which was an unexpected highlight. The word most often spoken over to me by my closest friends on that day was the word “joy”. I wanted to own that word last year. I would like to think I would have been content to know I had become an utter delight inside and out regardless of circumstances. I was not. God bless my little tribe being pulled in and out of my wake.

This year, more than most, I found myself with quite a few young people asking for my advice, which is quite a lightening storm to be in counseling students and praying God doesn’t strike you down for preaching against your own disobedience. I love students for many reasons -and one of my favorite reasons is how honest about where they are in life. I think adults can easily lose that along the way. Sometimes I feel God has placed me in the lives of so many college students over the last four years to simply spread two messages, the first being: adults are just as confused as you. Same fears, different context. We might just be a little better at diffusion and diversion. The second message being: don’t wait to change yourself to come to Jesus. He wants you just as you are, he shapes the rest. If I could apply this to myself every day, the expectations of myself and God would be rightfully aligned and I would finally be an utter delight. But I have not and I am not. Any person who would beg to differ extends to me what Jesus calls grace upon grace and it’s not merited in the least.

One particular conversation I kept having over and over with several students this year was the topic of expectation. Life just isn’t panning out the way I thought, they said. Mine too, I would think. I ‘got it’. It’s easy to say “if I could just change this one thing about me” or, “if only I knew what God was doing then all this would be better.” But I don’t find these, what I call, “band aid” statements particularly helpful or forward moving in our journeys with God. Self blame is a terrible motivator. I would ask you not to take my word for it, but I will. It’s an unnecessary lesson to learn through personal experience. So much of struggle is wrapped in self hatred and stamped “with love” by the enemy who, by the way, can take a vacation from distracting us from Jesus because we’re stuck loathing what we have or do not have.

I had so many of these conversations, in fact, over time the Lord began showing me where my heart had begun to stray. I have revisited a lot of my conversations, text, and email exchanges through the year and was deeply convicted to see where my actions had fallen out of step with my words. In the big picture, it’s good to have these sorts of moments that leave you with a more honest picture of yourself. I need to revisit the tumble out of 2015 and into 2016 so I don’t repeat this story.

So, I’m writing my lessons and reminders of 2015 for myself in 2016 and all of its bitter moments, in the hopes I will join hands with Jesus and let him turn those bitter moments to wine and prove again and again to me, He is always better.

1. Don’t belittle your pain

The sooner I stop comparing my pain to someone else’s, the sooner I can heal. I will not heal if I cover my unmet expectations with shame and belittlement; instead, haughty pride’s counterpart, self deprecating pride, grows in the dark eats away at me. Failure to humble myself and confess to the Lord is a missed opportunity to experience the joy of acceptance and completion in Christ. It also allows my heart to begin to draw lines where God is and is not welcomed.

2. Stop listening to your insecurities and speak your confidence

I’m sick of confirming my own worst fears about myself. It’s good to be in the practice of listening to your heart to understand where you’re at, but when the lies begin to spill out, at some point you have to stop listening and start speaking to it. If that’s you right now, start speaking to your heart. Speak whatever you know to be true about God and/or about yourself: My hope is in Christ alone.  He will never leave me or forsake me. He is unchanging. I am perfectly and wonderfully made in the image of God. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed my sins.

3. Confess to the Kindhearted

One of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned in 2015 was knowing that we confess to God to be forgiven but we confess to one another to be healed. After confession before the Lord, do not underestimate the healing of coming clean to a person who you have built trust in, who loves you a lot, but loves Jesus even more. There needs to be accountability behind our repentance. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

4. Check your loyalty

I think it’s easy to assume because you’ve become a Christ follower, you are immune from a mutiny from him. Deep down inside, I think we all know this to be a lie, but in that one corner where the belief that your performance sometimes sways God’s favor, this little thought lives there too. Be so careful in your pain to recognize when you are struggling on behalf of your own pleasure. James 4 has some pretty sobering truth for us about that:

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”

Maybe we don’t wage war in a physical way but we need to be constantly upholding our loyalty up to God’s loyalty. Whose best interest do I have in mind -mine or His? One is impossible to satisfy, the other is satisfied with himself and longs to satisfy all your pain with himself.

5. Choose to believe what your heart can’t feel in the moment

See number 2. You can’t change what your heart feels but you can change what’s fueling it. Have the maturity to know when the screens need to be powered off, the word opened, the sneakers put on, the mouth zipped, the music blasted on …whatever it is that helps you most naturally connect with Jesus. Let’s resolve to no longer be the sorts of Christians that cower and stew in our weakness but rather step out of the boat and trust that God will meet us and help us up in whatever clumsy mess we find ourselves. Let him tend to places of our hearts that feel too vulnerable to hand over. No one has regretted letting the Lord tend to those matters. Amy Carmichael, whose life is one of the most beautiful ones that ever was, once said that “it is a safe thing to trust God with the desires which he creates.” The song I’ve kept playing over and over lately in my awakening to my desperate need for Jesus has been a song whose chorus cries out, “You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free, I’m going under, I’m in over my head. And you crash over me and that’s where you want me to be I’m going under, I’m in over my head. Whether I sink, whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head Choose to believe what your heart may not be able to feel.

6. Preach the Gospel to yourself

I hope this phrase has not lost its flavor on you. This is the summation of life and death. It’s the story that allows us to come face-to-face with our creator and fundamentally changes not only the trajectory but every fiber of our beings and aspect of our lives. This rightly puts us humbly and gratefully at the feet of Jesus and reminds us that life is not about what I WANT but what God has for us.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, & fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

Tell God’s love story to yourself over and over. Never grow weary of this story. Our problems and pains grow dim in light of this incredible news the world is dying to know. I need my people asking me this year, “Bri, what has God given you today?”, “Who is your hope in life and in death?” I wasn’t careful to remember these things some of this past year, and I despaired. Matthew 10:27 says, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what I whisper to you, proclaim on the housetops.

Once we’ve preached the Gospel to ourselves there are three choices that can be claimed and claimed consciously and regularly to bind out the enemy and seal our affections for Christ alone:

Choose freedom

Choose wonder

Choose joy

Joy.

I’ve thought about that word a lot in the last month and I’m claiming it for 2016 again, whatever it holds. Maybe you need more of that in your life too. Write it on your hand, put a put a post it note in your car. Put it on the background of your phone. I’m doing this kind of silly stuff just to get the ball rolling. Sus texted me on a hard day this week, “What was your joy moment today?” FIND THAT PERSON IN YOUR LIFE. Dig into the Word. Join me! Joy is not rooted in the outcomes of our lives but rather a posture and choice of the heart before the Redeemer who loves us deeply. May we venture into 2016 with joy of the Lord on our hearts and may that same joy be our sustainer through and through.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” -James 1:2-4

He is better. May his praise ever be on our lips.

Here’s to choosing a joyful new year, friends.

xx

A Whaley Good Holiday, Roberta!

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Two uninterrupted weeks with family was so great this year. I kept the camera around the house and it was put to good use. Enjoy Ashley and I SLAYING our golfing game. We’re the natural athletes of the family. We missed my sister Britt terribly but we were happy to Skype her in the festivities and hear about her first South African Christmas. Shoutout to the Barbs for the gift of the diy macarons! We had a blast making them, even if they looked pretty hilarious.

Wishing everyone a happy and blessed new year!

xx

The Man Who Watched Them Die

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Tonight I turned on the world news while I was organizing bookshelves upstairs. I absorb news coverage in cycles; it usually begins with guilt of not being informed and ends with me being overwhelmed by being over-informed on the crappiness of the world. And after a few weeks the cycle begins again. Anyway. Tonight I saw a reporter speaking with a man who was at one of the restaurants targeted during the Paris attacks waiting with the wounded until help came. The reporter asked why he stayed with them and the man simply stated very composed that there was nothing he could do to help them medically so he laid down beside them as they died, because in his words, “No one should die alone.”

I know this whole thing is a mess and as much as we promised ourselves we weren’t going to use this to make our points known on the refugee crisis or Islamophobia or national security, we all up gave up on that notion half an hour later. And now that we’re four days removed and we’ve posted our thoughts in ALL CAPS and strategically clicked “like” on all the articles that give us a sense of justice and order, and our poor little fingers can barely type another grievance against one another, there’s still just a sense of sadness that even our anger can’t cover up. I know many of us were upset that Beruit didn’t get the appropriate attention it deserved and it’s uncomfortable knowing some atrocities garner more public grieving than others. It’s all horrific. I always think about Jon Stewart’s comment about going back to work after 9/11, “Because apparently there are no positions open for grown men in the fetal position crying under their desks.”

I guess what I was absorbing tonight watching that segment is that in the thirty minutes we held our crap together, mainly by shock, while we watched what happened in Paris unfold, a man laid down next to strangers and looked them in the eyes while they died because he knew humans need each other. Guys, it’s never too late for us to start loving our neighbors. And Jesus raised the bar even higher and said love your enemies. We forget this is what it means to be like Jesus.

We are all made in God’s image and I couldn’t be more honored to live in a world, as messed up as it is, where a man in Paris reflected that likeness by loving his neighbors in their last moments with us.

I’m just going to crawl under the pile of books I’m organizing and have a good cry.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:31-32

Smelling Salts

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“Instead of proudly trusting in his own or others’ expertise, [Namaan] was called to the soul work of humility. As a result, he not only got a cure for his body but a new relationship with God and a soul infused with grace and joy. Suffering led to his salvation. This does not even begin to answer the question, “Why does God allow so much evil and suffering in the world to persist?” Nor does such an example justify suffering. And yet one of the main teachings of the Bible is that almost no one grows into greatness or finds God without suffering, without pain coming into our lives like smelling salts to wake us up to all sorts of facts about life and our own hearts to which we were blind. For reasons past our finding out, even Christ did not bring salvation and grace to us apart from infinite suffering on the cross. As he loved us enough to face the suffering with patience and courage, so we must learn to trust in him enough to do the same. And as his weakness and suffering, thus faced, led to resurrection power, so can ours.”
 
– Tim Keller, Walking With God Through Pain & Suffering
 
So much of who God is remains mysterious to me, as is faith in general, but the longer I’ve followed and loved him, the more desperately grateful I am to know that he shares in our suffering, that our pain is not wasted. He does not inflict grief or affliction willing, nor does He not lead us through something Christ himself has not gone through. He does not ask us to keep a stiff upper lip, rather he weeps with us because God feels the weight of death and pain even more than we do. May we have patience and courage to take the next step in our valleys in the hope and promise that he gives us himself in the midst of it. God is using this book to change me in big ways -it’s so dang beautiful and difficult to digest! I had high hopes of extrapolating what God specifically is teaching me through this book but any attempt would be to quote most of it front to cover. I’ve tried. If you lack a grieving community and are longing to connect with someone about the problem of pain, Dr. Keller’s got you covered. This is a special book and will be well worn for years to come. 

Missouri 3.0

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Last night I sat in the kitchen and talked about finance, religion, and every other uncouth subject with Julie until 11:00 PM while she prepped meals for my fourth summer of craziness at the MBC. Matt stumbled in from an evening nap and cracked a few jokes; then they both gave their semi-frequent “rah-rah-ree, we’re team Bri!” pep talk before we all went to bed. Today I woke up in my brightly lit bedroom, where pictures hang of people who were just footnotes in my college years, in a house I never thought I’d stay overnight again after 2009. People I’ve admired from afar and friends I’ve enjoyed as a big kid have become dear friends and my part of my family as an adult.

When I moved to Missouri, I wasn’t sure I was cut out for working as a little presby in Southern Baptist world. I had friends take bets I wouldn’t last a year here. I knew I wouldn’t be living at the Kearns longer than six months. I was worried my life was going to become too small. I thought I would expand my photography business and write a book. All of that was wrong.

I remember my last Monday night in Rogers, Arkansas to grab a cup of coffee at the only place I’ve ever been known as a “regular” and catch up with a friend. Elizabeth made my decaf and Logan gave me and my friend the left overs of the day’s pastries while he and Alex mopped the storefront. I remember my friend, after some hesitation, telling me that it didn’t seem to fit my goals to move to Missouri. I knew what he meant, I felt the strain so badly of my career goals and my personal goals pulling me in two. “I just work too much, for too little, and no time to have community or be known.” I finally breathed out, probably a bit defensively. Let me tell you, it’s hard being 23 and knowing the difference between good choices and best choices. I cried leaving the Pleasant Grove Starbucks that night because I wasn’t sure I was doing the ‘right’ thing. I won’t ever get the chance to know what life would have looked like if I had stayed at the little camera shop off Walnut street or found another job in town, but I’ve been afforded the perspective of my life since then in Missouri and with every ounce of praise and gratefulness to God I can say I am known.

I have been known on my ugly days and sad days, on the days I am being silly or kind, on the days I want to be known and the days it’s hard being known. I work with the best kind of team of coworkers who invite me in their lives and have walked with me in my faith. I have little roots sprouting off my livelihood that worry me will hurt will they will have to be pulled up. I have learned that loving the Lord, being disciplined, growing up, and being joyful are all choices I have been grateful to make.

All this to say, I woke up this morning and realized it’s May 22nd. I’m celebrating a three year work anniversary in the best way I know how: prepping for college students to move in on Sunday, taking Melinda to lunch, and chasing around Carson kiddos.

It doesn’t get much more ‘Jeff City’ than that. XOXO -B

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May 22, 2012 – Peace out 208 North Michael Street!

2012-05-27 18.12.47

2012-05-30 09.29.092012-06-15 17.28.25 2012-06-15 10.44.56 2012-05-29 17.22.13 2012-07-11 09.18.15 2012-07-11 09.18.26 2012-07-18 17.01.39 2012-07-24 18.13.49 2012-07-24 18.14.10 2012-08-10 10.52.49 2012-09-02 20.41.16 2012-09-10 18.56.01 2012-09-19 14.10.23-2 2012-09-19 14.11.19 2012-09-19 19.02.53 2012-09-24 18.25.41 2012-10-10 20.54.35 2012-10-10 20.59.19 2012-11-03 16.14.49

Year one was pretty great, but it just keeps getting better. Look at how little those kiddos are!

The Rewriting of History

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Yesterday I made a long haul to Oklahoma City to spend some quality time with my college roommate, Susanna, this weekend. I relish any trip that takes longer than an hour as an opportunity to spend time listening to that new album all the way through (twice, if it’s that good), catching up on my podcasts or long overdue phone calls, and time in prayer for my loved ones and thing things that are hurting my heart. (aka Introvert’s Paradise) If I’m not intentional with the quiet spaces in my life, I will fill them up quickly with frivolity, and get out of the practice of living honestly before the Lord.

Do you know that feeling? That feeling like it’s been so long since you’ve been close and open to God about what’s on your plate? That feeling that even though nothing’s different about your surroundings, it’s all different in a moment because your heart is fixed on Him and the world seems to just stop for a second? Sometimes that moment is too painful when I’m out of stride with his, or maybe I’m upset with how he is playing out the circumstances and his power takes my will to task. Sometimes my heart is too full to take on that moment. But sometimes, God has spoken gently and lead me to a place of longing to be before him just as I am, sitting in my car at 70 MPH on the Oklahoma turnpike.

This weekend is a special for Christians all over the world as a day we remember his life, death, and resurrection. This year, more than others, I’m so overwhelmed at the kindness of the Lord for his people. His love for me.

There’s a lyric I’ve been meditating on lately that says “You are rewriting our histories with love, yes You are rewriting our histories with Your blood. When we look back all we will see is Your kindness because You are rewriting our histories with love” (Bethel Music, Alleluia) I confess, over the past five years this has not always been the posture of my heart. My experience has always been that God calls me to obedience and when I submit, I have felt his chastisement and perhaps, his judgement. I’ve felt the inadequacies of my faith and despaired in the gap between faith and action.

I’m learning through a little over two decades of following Christ that faith is a journey that grows and mature only through time and grief of the brokenness we live in. It means being honest when doubts bubble up in my faith, and living honestly before Him and his people. I’m learning that God loves me exactly as I am -in seasons of nearness and separation, faith and doubt -he delights in ME. And when He lived as an example for me on earth, and died on my behalf, He did not expect me to follow it to the letter but simply come to Him first with my greatest joys, trials, pain, and disbelief. He just asks us to show up. I know for some of us that have known Him a long time it can feel like there’s more to it, but there’s not. We are just compelled to lean into Him. The Gospel is so simple and free and over the years I’ve muddied that.

I’ve had time this past week to think through the last five years through a series of reading journals and emails and I’ve finally realized for the first time in a long time that because of Him, everything is different. My past, my present, and my future. I’m broken over this. My heart has been shredded by love this weekend -not by law or morality, not by church, or by all the pain and suffering we must withstand this side of heaven. For the first time in forever, I am broken by undeserved affection. I feel his pleasure. I am stunned at what lengths God has taken to rectify his relationship with his creation. His relationship with me.

This song I’ve been listening to a lot this week goes on to say, “What goes up it must come down, that’s why glory falls when praise abounds”;  this simple line has brought so much truth and joy to my soul. Over five years of struggle, of self-condemnation, of wondering if this faith journey is really cut out for me, not only have I found Christ faithful and true, but GOOD and worthy. His glory has been near. Out of obedience, I want to wear him well in my life, to speak of his kindness in the midst of struggle. He is worth it. This is not a confession of happiness but of joy, not a confession of ease but of weightiness. His love is the greatest taste, the richest of fair.

This Easter I’m coming to the house of the Lord with nothing to offer but my gratitude and a humbled heart. Maybe next year will be the same, maybe not. But I want to remember this week as a week I remembered the Lord and spoke well of His name. Whatever may come and whatever lies before me, may I bless His name.

Come in close, lean in. He delights in filling those broken places.

Happy Easter, friends. May you find him faithful in whatever journey you are on.

A Thing or Two About Home

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I drive across the train tracks past an old community every Tuesday morning just north of my neighborhood to have coffee with Joan. It’s a weathered stretch of homes down the little highway that has seen better days. Several of them have been vacant for years; weeds creeping in and rotted board dangling over stoops. I imagine how adorable a few of them would look gutted out and spruced up with a little garden and laundry line in the backyard but I’m sure for most prospective homeowners it couldn’t possibly be worth the time and money. I pass those abandoned houses every week, some days I imagine what they could be and other days I imagine what they were at one time. My favorite house is a tiny two-story white farmhouse with lots of little windows, a yellow door frame, and a snug front porch. I’m a southern gal through and through and I love nothing more than lounging barefoot at the end of the day on a porch listening to katydids and watching lightning bugs. I think about that looking at that mess of a house. The siding is peeled off and some of the windows are busted through. The roof is curving upwards on the edges, like a sticker a sweaty-handed child has handled too long. At one time that house was a home and it was given care and it sheltered life.

Sometimes I wonder about all the small deaths of hopes and dreams in our lives that take our little homes that our spirits are encased in that wear us down; when our ideals and taste do not match our expectation or ability. Or further still, I think about all the small, unnoticed secrets and undisciplined areas that we allow in our average day-to-day business that spread and grow in dark, hidden places. I think about the whirlwinds that rip apart our lives, from foundation up, without warning or consent and we’re left alone deciding where to start picking up the pieces.

The way I see it, we’ve all been given land, a space in time that our experiences begin to lay the foundations of our homes, where we grow and dwell. For some of us the foundations are already there, for others we start with shoveling dirt. How our homes are shaped determine the strength of them. I think about those homes on HGTV that are beautiful but when they have an inspector take a closer look, there’s a sagging beam in the attic or a termite infestation that only the contractor can see. Ultimately it will bring it to the home’s ruin but on the outside, everybody wants it. I see myself in this way sometime, in the seasons I want to keep people at arm’s length for fear they will truly see me as I am, imperfect and at the center of my universe. I think about the secret sins that are easily masked to others but eat away at me on the insides. And then I think about the sturdy homes, the ones that have seen a lot of life and need constant maintenance, that have maybe lost its luster. I think about the people who feel far too established in who they are and where they are to have hope for change, and the tedious day-to-day work  it takes just to keep it all running leaves them feeling bleak and directionless. I think about parents of little ones, or those struggling to make ends meet at a less than satisfying job, or those putting in extra effort to revive those burned out marriages, or barely hanging on in chronic pain or illness. And then I think about the myriad of homes that have been utterly destroyed and the lives that they leave to pick up the pieces after abuse, death, and other devastations.

When I think about my life, I don’t always see a home or debris. I see my little patch of earth. Sure, I have family and friends, but I haven’t really found my niche in work or career and I don’t have a place that I consider my home and most of that is symptomatic of my season in life, which makes me think about the alternatives. I think about other people’s lives and wonder how I’m doing in comparison, which is usually a terrible idea as I usually succumb to a tiny heart attack. I think it’s why I’m drawn to the little white farmhouse that’s falling apart on Highway T. I like the idea of fixing something, taking something established and making it new (and cute). I long for that establishment and rootedness. I think about all the times Abraham picked up that tent and kept moving, settling, and building alters to Yahweh. How exhausting that must have been! I moved five times in less than two years in college and I remember swearing I wouldn’t move for another two years after that, which I subsequently broke less than a year later.

Here’s the thing: anything worth something requires hard work, doing the right thing, and denying ourselves for the sake of our little homes our soul longs to dwell in. I can point to the home shattered in a million bits and say “no thank you,” but who can control when disaster strikes and how can I believe that too will not also be my lot? I can point to the established home and say “yes, that one” but I cannot see the routine work and effort that must be pumped in everyday, whose strength and vitality has been built over time and careful attention and weathered many storms. I cannot point to the beautiful home on the best piece of property and say “I want what they have”  because if I only knew the sort of decay happening to its foundations and structure, my home would not stand long.

God is our master builder, our designer, contractor, inspector. He knows us and loves us each unlike we’ve ever known we could be loved and cared for and what we’ve been given and what we go through is not some terrible mistake. We were plucked out of eternity and placed in time, on our little bits of earth, and he has given us hard things to carry out while we’re here and he has given us the tools to accomplish it. You are not alone. The Lord tells us in Jeremiah that he has good plans for us, plans that give us a future and a hope. In Psalms 90, the psalmist wrote, “Lord, through all the generations you have been our home.” The whole psalm is incredibly beautiful and encouraging -it goes on like this:

Lord, through all the generations
    you have been our home!

Before the mountains were born,
    before you gave birth to the earth and the world,
    from beginning to end, you are God.

You turn people back to dust, saying,
    “Return to dust, you mortals!”

For you, a thousand years are as a passing day,
    as brief as a few night hours.

You sweep people away like dreams that disappear.
    They are like grass that springs up in the morning.

In the morning it blooms and flourishes,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We wither beneath your anger;
    we are overwhelmed by your fury.

You spread out our sins before you—
    our secret sins—and you see them all.

We live our lives beneath your wrath,
    ending our years with a groan.

Seventy years are given to us!
    Some even live to eighty.
But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble;
    soon they disappear, and we fly away.

Who can comprehend the power of your anger?
    Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve.

Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
    so that we may grow in wisdom.

O Lord, come back to us!
    How long will you delay?
    Take pity on your servants!

Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
    so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.

Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
    Replace the evil years with good.

Let us, your servants, see you work again;
    let our children see your glory.

And may the Lord our God show us his approval
    and make our efforts successful.
    Yes, make our efforts successful!

I didn’t know this until just a week ago, but this is widely regarded as a psalm of Moses. That’s right, the baby who was found floating on the Nile River, raised by royalty, killed a Egyptian guard oppressing his people, ran away, married a Middianite, returned to Egypt to free the Israelites, and wandered in the desert for FORTY years before being denied entry to the land that was promised to his people. Moses knew a thing or two about what home was and what it wasn’t. And here he has found God faithful in all the chaos, in all the change, and unbelievable work required of his life. I love this prayer so much in light of the life he lead. Moses knew the time he had was short, he saw awesome and horrific things and here at the end of his life, he has found the Lord to be his home. Oh, that our sights would be set on that! I pray that my heart would be fixed not on what is unfolding in other people’s lives but that I would be fixed on the Lord, who establishes and rules over it all.

So here I am.

This is my lot.

I am looking out at my field and my sleeves must be rolled up. There is a home waiting to be built, a soil that must first be turned up, a blueprint that must be followed, just as some of you must begin to pick up the pieces of what was and begin again, others must ask for help to pluck out the decay, and others still must continue in the grind of maintenance, faithful that all the small acts will withstand decades more of shelter. Here we are. Let’s do hard things.

Lord, make our efforts successful.

Be our home.

Advent: And Then There Was A Party

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This week of advent is focused on JOY. I love this week. However you celebrate advent, generally everyone celebrates the third week the same way. It’s party week! The wait is almost over, we’ve stepped out of solemn expectancy and quiet peace, and this week we get to cut loose and remember that Christ is on his way, he is our good news of great joy for all people! I hope you can take some time this week to sing out your favorite Christmas song, help someone in need, maybe read the gospel of John, buy someone’s coffee, smile at your cashier, just find a way to express your joy.

Any time I thought about what I wanted to say about the joy of Christmas, all I could think about was this oldie. So instead of trying to replicate, I thought I would just share it here.

“And then there was a party” – Happy Advent friends!