Sunday, December 17, 2017

Reading Life 2017

I read 22 books this year. That's not too bad considering I taught two bible studies that totaled 20 weeks of study, worked full time, navigated my daughter's freshman year in college and cooked dinner most nights. I listen to audio books on my commute, but I also listen to podcasts, which I haven't counted here. Nor am I counting my online reading, which I also do. Here are some standouts in no particular order.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

This was the year my deep-thinking, like-minded, brilliant friend and I decided to read together. I dubbed our meetings the The Theology Nerd Girls Micro Book Club, and it stuck. Reading with Amanda is one of two favorite new practices I began this year. Without her, I would never have finished (nor understood) Chesterton's smart and pithy defense of his Christian faith. He is articulate,  an eloquent write, and too smart for his own good. We are taking on Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship next.

Hum If you Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

This debut novel told heartbreaking parallel stories of a white girl who lost her parents and a black woman who was separated from her daughter in 1970s' Apartheid violence in Johannesburg. I quoted many beautifully-written passages on Facebook. Here's one:

"He was right. Instead of facing my fear of losing Beauty, I'd tried to run away from it. Instead of raising my fists to an unknown future and facing whatever a Beauty-less life would entail, I lied and hid the evidence of Nomsa's return, and then I'd run and run and run. But you couldn't outrun your fears because that was the thing about fear: it was a shadow you could never shake, and it was fit and it was fast and it would always, always be there just a split second behind you."

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

Not only was this book somehow both heartbreaking and hopeful, it was beautifully written and so engaging, I looked up interviews on YouTube afterwards because I didn't want his memoir to end. I read this book with my mother on audio while we were on a rare road trip, which was reason enough to love it. A beautiful book of compassion and triumph paired with a wonderful mother/daughter long weekend adventure together.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe

I am not a follower of Hollywood, but this audio book came highly recommended. Memoir is probably my favorite genre, and I love author narration because you get the author's intended tone and inflections. These factors together won me over. Oh. My. Goodness. This was a story of a man finding himself despite fame and success. It grew and deepened as it transitioned from the things he did to the things he is. It was a redemptive story about  life as an artist abounding with perfectionism and  always being unsure, of choosing art over security and stability, of defeating addiction, self-discovery, and learning to become the man he really wanted to be. It was beautiful, quality writing. I loved this book so much, I promptly read his follow-up Love Life and followed him on Instagram. I feel like we're old friends because he was so open and vulnerable, but I never "like" his Instagram photos because that's entirely too fangirl and I have my dignity.

A favorite passage:  "As Thanksgiving rolls around, I spend my first major holiday away from home. This doesn't help my loneliness, but it does introduce me to another facet of the path I have chosen. You are going to miss a lot in life that most people take for granted. If you are not vigilant, the list can include holidays, birthday, births, deaths, funerals, graduations, parent-teacher conferences, first steps, first words, school plays, trick-or-treating, Little League games, and just about every other moment that makes life worth living. Sure, there is an obvious trad-off with some of the great perks of success, but you can't build a life on a backstage pass -- or free swag at Sundance."

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

This is an historical novel that shined light on the despicable Memphis, Tennessee orphanage that stole children from poor families in 1939 to "sell" to wealthy adoptive parents. It was a horrifying and heartbreaking story. It was voted a 2017 Best Book by the Good Reads Choice Awards for historical fiction.

Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy by Carlos Eire

I read his first memoir over ten years ago, the National Book Award for Non-Fiction winner, Waiting For Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. Eire is a Cuban-born immigrant to America of the famed Peter Pan flights. The man can write. Both books were exquisite, not to mention my interest in the subject matter because of my own connection to another Cuban Refugee Boy. He is a History professor at Yale, and I wish I could write just like him.

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard by Laura Bates

I bought this book on Kindle for $1.99. I'm an English major with a soft spot for Shakespeare and college English professors. The men in our church also minister to male prisoners regularly. There are many Shakespeare prison programs out there. Google it, they are a real thing. But not until Dr. Bates pioneered the first program. This book addresses ethical questions about prisoner rehabilitation programs at tax payer expense and the necessity of our penal system in tension with the humane and even compassionate treatment of prisoners. It was heartwarming, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.  Have I said this about every book so far?

A favorite passage from Chapter 70: "The cell phone was never proven to have been Larry's (his cell mate submitted a statement swearing that it had been his, not Larry's), but as a result of the possession charge, Larry spent six months in the disciplinary cell house in general population, while the Shakespeare group prepared their performance of The Taming of the Shrew. After that, he spent another six months in the SHU, without a conviction or even a hearing on any charge. He spent the time not sulking or fuming, but writing another workbook, the most ambitious of all, covering all nine of Shakespeare's history plays: Richard the Second; Henry the Fourth Part One and Part Two; Henry the Fifth; Henry the Sixth Part One, Part Two and Part Three; Richard the Third; and Henry the Eighth. Arguably the most difficult plays in the collection, they are rarely read by students and infrequently examined by scholars. At sixty thousand words, Larry's workbook was longer than my PhD dissertation. And, in one important respect, it was also better. Doctoral dissertations are a composite of others' ideas, with footnoted material almost as long as the text itself. In Larry's work, all sixty thousand words represented his own original thinking on these plays, without the crutch of professional scholars' writing.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Failing Forward: Final in a 3-Part Series

When Eyjafjallajökull, a barely pronounceable volcano in Iceland, erupted in April 2010, the ash cloud it produced grounded all air travel across Europe for six full days. It left Colonel Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Afghan War, and his staff stranded in Paris. Journalist Michael Hastings was scheduled to be with the colonel for only two days in Paris in preparation for a profile piece on McChrystal. Renegotiating travel plans for the millions who were stranded expanded Hastings’ two days with McChrystal into a month, too long to be officially on the record without letting hiss guard down.

When the McChrystal profile, “The Runaway General,” was published in Rolling Stone, it exposed controversial opinions regarding the Afghan War and U. S. leadership that McChrystal let slip during that month-long interview. Instantly, McChrystal became an embarrassment to President Obama, who accepted McChrystal’s resignation.  

In discussing the event with Guy Raz, host of NPR’s Ted Radio Hour, McChrystal said, “Sometimes curve balls don’t curve, and you just move on.” Almost four years after the incident, the colonel admitted he wasn’t yet fully recovered from the sting of that failure, proving that moving on can be harder than he made it seem.

Knowing how to move forward after a big failure is an essential life skill. It’s not the failure itself that matters most, but what we do next.

God can teach us how. He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is our bridegroom and Abba Father. He’s been meeting us in our failure since Eden. But sometimes he turns failure into success so slowly, it’s easy to miss what he’s doing, if he reveals it to us at all.

God called Jeremiah to be his mouthpiece, then told him his message would be repeatedly rejected. Jeremiah’s failure was so massive that his rejection was accompanied by hatred, imprisonment, and bodily harm. On the surface, it looks like God commissioned Jeremiah to the express frustration of years of failure.

In the middle, so much can look to us like failure, and the middle can be agonizingly long. But what if what looks like failure in the middle of our stories is actually a long route to something better?

When Jeremiah’s prophecies about coming judgment finally were fulfilled, Israel was defeated and forlorn. This turn of events in the context of Jeremiah’s decades-long message of judgment made his message at that precise moment—words of hope this time—sound all the sweeter. The years of failure through rejection turned out to be necessary to the ultimate and unexpected gift of hope he delivered in the face of utter despair.


Look at the story arc of the Bible itself. God walked with us in the garden at twilight in Genesis. When being present with us came to an abrupt end with our sin, God came to us again, this time in the flesh—a closer togetherness. When Jesus left the earth, he sent the Holy Spirit to live within us—even closer. And still to come is the extraordinary togetherness God has planned for us—a marriage in heaven, the complete and perfect union never to be broken again. He moves us from Eden to Heaven with an abundance of seeming failure in the long, long middle. Knowing the end in advance, the middle can look like wisdom being gained or a necessary learning process. The long, hard middle is not a failure at all. 

We see it in Christ, who showed us that detours from a straight path to success can lead us to unspeakable suffering, death, and a grave, but they don’t have to be failure and loss in the end. Instead, his detour turns out to be the most excellent, and the only, path to success—the very best set up for rising again.

In his Ted Talk in 2012, Colonel McChrystal shared that he learned leadership by example from his superiors in the U.S. army as he slowly climbed the ranks. He recounted an occasion when a training exercise he commanded failed. The leaders gathered all involved for a debriefing to teach them by berating them for what they did wrong. McChrystal calls it “leadership by humiliation.” Feeling lower than low, he left that meeting and apologized to his battalion leader for letting him down.

The battalion leader said, “Stanley, I thought you did great.”

McChrystal says that one sentence set him firmly back on his feet and taught him that leaders can let you fail and not let you be a failure. When McChrystal expected salt in the wound from his superior, he received a balm instead. “It forever bound me to that man,” McChrystal said. When our superior reaches through our shame and offers compassion, kindness, and a way forward, it has that binding effect.

That experience colored the leader McChrystal would become and the way in which he approached and interpreted his failures that were still to come, including the botched interview and embarrassing article.

What McChrystal’s superior did for him in his failure, Jesus does for us. The balm is sprinkled throughout Scripture: he came for the sick not the healthy; where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more; his power is made perfect in our weakness. He’s telling us that he’s letting us fail, without letting us be failures.

While it’s easy to view ourselves through the lens of failure and doubt, God views us through his better ending, our perfect union, and his ultimate victory. When we see the scriptural glimpses of how God uses failure in our lives, we can know hope instead of ruin, rise above our shame, and dare to deal more gently with ourselves in our future failures.

* * * 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Out of Eden :: After Failure

This is the second in a series of essays exploring failure and its place in our faith and in God's plan for the believer.
You can find Part 1 here.

Adam and Eve chose the fruit and set a fallen world in motion. They didn't know they were choosing to live apart from God, or that they were ushering in pain, despair, toil, and trouble. They didn't know God would no longer walk with them each day or send them away from the only home they'd ever known. They didn't know they had altered life irrevocably for everyone thereafter for all of time.

That first sin, a cataclysmic failure, had unimaginably far-reaching consequences.

God allowed all this, which appears to be terrible, and he has his reasons. He doesn't have to answer to us about it, although we'd often like him to. We have to be content with sometimes not having answers. WE have to be at peace with the idea that  God can handle our failure — the notion that it might be okay that things are not okay.

But we resist this idea. We think if we work hard to appear flawless — hide the mess we made — we can undo our failure. Surely this is how we best serve God outside the Garden. We've been trying to fix our problems and failures on our own since we donned fig leaves. We think we're on our own, so we do our best.

But we aren't on our own. When God banished us from the Garden and posted an angelic sentinel barring our way back inside, he wasn't leading us to a place outside of or away from him. Our sin alone did that. So if leaving Eden wasn't about separation from God, then what was it?

What if our colossal failure and frailty are parts of God's glorious plan instead of blights that thwart it (as if we are even capable of sabotaging God)?

He willfully placed us outside the Garden and barred reentry, so we should embrace that. If that's where God put us, then most assuredly that's where God is, since he didn't wall himself inside while walling us out. Maybe we need to take God by the hand on the other side of our failures, right there at Eden's guarded gate, and embrace the path that our failures have birthed, acknowledging it as the very path God clearly put us on.

Perhaps we should stop resisting our new identity in a fallen earth. Not to remain in our fallen nature, but to acknowledge it and look directly in its sad face, because it is who we are until we leave this planet.  We can't fix it, but we aren't alone in it.

God is with us and goes before us and behind us. He is able to remedy our failure with the epic redemption plan he crafted even before we chose unwisely. Because he redeems, we don't have to shy away from looking our failure in the eye. We should, in fact, because when we do, God will be there with us. This is why we Christians mourn, but not like those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). By pushing us beyond the Garden, God broadened our story into something much bigger and grander.

With the Garden, God created a paradise, but with our sin, we re-created it into a place of pain and lies. Eden was a place where we became sick and ceased to be who he designed us to be. Outside of Eden became the place we would rise, and God would become redeemer and begin to right all things. Out of Eden is the road to more, so much more.

Because of the curse, outside of Eden is a place of harder work. Long ago, we labored day and night to survive this hostile land. After inventing the wheel and industrialization, we now provide for our existence and have time, energy, and resources to spare. There are too many things to choose from, sundry ways and multiple opportunities to try hard and fail again and again.

The ancient, the present, and all the time in between have one thing in common: life outside of Eden is exhausting and unfulfilling. Then and now, we struggle. An old, wise king likened it to vanity and striving after the wind (Ecl. 1:14).

In all of life's busyness and labor outside of Eden, we wear out, we dry rot, we crack. Eventually life's meaning seeps from the cracks. In our weariness and emptiness, we find we've come full circle back to vanity, the futility that marks life beyond Eden.

We struggle because of slavery (Rom. 6:6), we struggle because of the curse, we struggle to thrive outside of Eden, and we struggle by God's design.

This is God's glorious plan: He barred us from paradise and subjected us — against our will — to futility, in hope that we would want to be set free from its slavery (Rom. 8:20-21).

What kind of God would subject us to futility (the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word for vanity) against our will? We may rail incredulously at a God who would do such a thing and the thought that it could be part of God's plan. What kind of God would frustrate us like this?!

The kind who rescues us in our need. The kind whose judgment is really mercy when we disregarded his command and tasted forbidden fruit. The kind who planned for redemption long before we saw our shame and hid from him.

What kind of God subjects us to futility? The kind who loves us.

Even when our eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil. Even when we turned from trusting him to become our own source of discretion and discernment. Even when we thought we could work hard enough to fix our flaws ourselves.

When our sin and failure separate us from God, he comes to us, and he brings a curse to offer us freedom. He banishes us from paradise, but he joins us in our exile, right there on the other side of our failure.

Beyond Eden is where he offers freedom, that in our inadequacy and failure, we might seek him. The path out of Eden is a path to vanity, futility, and failure. But it's the glorious path that leads our hearts back to God. He meets us outside of Eden in our failure so we can ultimately find everything we need in him.

This essay first appeared in Reach Out Columbia magazine in a series on the role of failure in the life of the believer and God's master plan for his children.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Embracing Gray

I'm growing out my hair color. Going gray.

I'll be 49 this year, and not that numbers mean anything inherently, but 50 on the horizon feels like a profound place to pause and reflect.

As long as I can remember, I've been a conformer, a rule-follower. I've spent much effort to meet outside expectation without even thinking about it. This facet of my personality is so much a part of me that I don't even know I do it most of the time. One way it manifests is in my measuring my beliefs and behavior against the expectations (perceived or real) and editing them to comply.

When you do that long enough, you don't know who you are anymore. I traded being myself for conforming to someone else's or something else's ideal. And it comes with it's own rewards and incentives to continue to behave this way, which doesn't help.

But I can think of only one instance when this is healthy:  when we determine to crucify the sinful nature and put on Christ. (Of course, we must know who Christ is, and for that I and others like me rely on an outside source to dictate who he is and what that looks like lived out. Dizzy yet?)

This new decade on the horizon is bring some unexpected things with it. I'm testing the stuff of my life for authenticity. I'm asking hard questions of myself, questions that may make uncomfortable the powers that be that I have allowed and conformed to. I've been searching myself with questions like:

Do I really believe this thing I've taken at face value since forever?
If I believe that, am I doing it right? Is my way the right way to live that out?
How do others who value the same ideal as me live it out?
What does that mean if theirs looks different than mine?
Is someone right, someone wrong? Could both be appropriate and add value?
Could the fact that there is more than one way be the actual point? Is this the real beauty we were supposed to find all along?

With a new decade, I'm becoming more open, more reflective. I'm more interested in real truth, knowing myself, owning what I know and want, and who I really am down deep, even if questions and uncertainty lurk there. I want to keep seeking answers and never stop. Even if I land on the same old answer I used to trust at face value. And even if I land elsewhere. I'm trusting God with the questions and the quest.

And that's scary for someone like me who values pleasing others and conforms to expectations.

But it's also freeing and rewarding because I'm learning who I am.

I once embraced the idea that the Harry Potter books were sinful because that's what people I trusted told me. I've now read them and enjoyed them immensely on so many levels. Further still, I'm willing for people I know who still believe that way to know this about me and form whatever opinion or judgment they will.

In other words, I'm willing to differ with people I love about things because I want to own who I am. It's hard work to be proud of who I am, because being the real me doesn't come naturally to people like me.  Complicating things further, many people feel free to make judgments about pastors' families when they wouldn't with others. I'm not sure why we feel that unkind liberty unless it has to do with the scriptures that say spiritual leaders should live above reproach.

I have found that trying to live above the approach of every cotton-pickin' person with an opinion is exhausting and impossible.  It's covering the gray with a chemical that will give me the appearance of my childhood brown.

So I'm growing it out, letting the artificial façade fall away. It's going to be interesting to learn which color of gray lives under decades of vigilant cover-up.

I  had a conversation with a childhood friend who went before me in going gray. I told her that my decision to go gray changed my perspective on my roots. I used to view my root growth as my enemy, old and ugly. Now, I welcome it, curious about what my natural color actually is (because it's been so long no one knows!). What hues will my gray be (I've never thought to ask before because it didn't matter to me.)? This shift in perception surprised me. The new perspective was my own personal proof I have been stupid.

I had adopted an outside view of what female beauty is and isn't. I didn't think for myself. I was surprised to uncover a desire to form my own ideas about female beauty.

My youngest daughter, at 17, is my biggest supporter in going gray. (She is so smart.) What is this new experience of embracing my gray saying to my young-adult children, not just the two daughters but the son also?

What else will I discover about myself when I look beneath all the adopted ideals I heaped on top of my natural self? What will I discover when I become ultra-aware that I have a propensity for mindlessly adopting the ideals of those I love and trust and try to stop doing that?

I am scrutinizing many things I've formerly accepted without the thoughtfulness they -- and I --  deserved. No more stupid (slow of mind, given to unintelligent decisions or acts, acting in an unintelligent or careless manner).

I want to know what I think about things.

Things like a woman's place in ministry and my desire to be seen as a competent human being with intelligence and an equal ability to contribute to the body of Christ that isn't defined solely by my gender. I want to be taken seriously and be treated as an equal spiritually and theologically. I want to know what I think about hard stuff like why God would give women the gift of teaching and then limit their audience to half the population. (My husband says teaching is not a gift but an office, and I'm thinking about that too.)

I'm thinking about friendships that cross gender lines and all the potential that could be there if we stop over-sexualizing and viewing one another through only the very small lens of anatomy.

I'm reading Harry Potter.

I'm longing to worship in cathedrals that are works of art because I'm discovering that art and beauty are a legitimate expression of glory to God in the highest, a true act of worship.

I'm looking at what other cultures, ancient and present, can teach me that are worthy of incorporating into my modern, Western Christianity to combat its bias.

I'm curious about church history and the mystics, and some of the more ancient Christian practices and wondering if we Protestants turned our backs on legitimate ways to walk in Christ.

All these issues feel like taboo.

I want to study what both sides say about all these issues and others, and draw my own conclusions. I want to uncover and own who I am, even if that reveals a whole lot of gray.

I'm learning that although God has told us in his word that some things are black and some are white, his creation is filled with many colors, including gray. He called it all good back when we were in the garden, before we stopped trusting him to define good and evil, before we stopped trusting him to lead us, and we stopped learning from him.

I want to live there in the Garden again, the one before they chose unwisely. And I actually do, because long ago I submitted my life to trusting Him, even with all the gray, and the Holy Spirit became my resident teacher. I don't think He wants me to be afraid to investigate my surroundings and learning of him.

Embracing the gray in my hair feels dignifying and validating. If I didn't feel the devaluing in coloring my hair, I certainly feel "revaluing" in taking gray into my physical, and, metaphorically, my spiritual,  identity. Searching the hues of gray feels like a new and unfamiliar land of freedom. It hints at the wisdom that's earned by mindful experience. It feels like the opposite of stupid.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Case For a Broader View of Faith

It's okay that my room is not cleaned and hasn't been for a week. It's okay that I ate only cannoli today for lunch and haven't worked out in three weeks. It's okay that I look in the mirror and never like what I see. It's okay that I'm tired of working hard and a lot of times just want to give up. It's okay that God has shown me what I should be doing, and I still don't think I'm good enough to do it. It's okay that I am a troubled soul even though I have everything I could possibly need. It's okay that I should be seeing a counselor but can't afford it so I'm resorting to social media therapy. It's okay that I know hope is found in Jesus, but I still feel hopeless a lot of times. It's okay because I don't have to feel good about any of this to make a decision to live according to truth.
A clean room is beneficial, but the truth is, it's not eternal. Cannoli are not beneficial long term, but the truth is, they won't kill me today. My body isn't where I want it to be, but the truth is, I'm not unhealthy or overweight. I might not like what I see in the mirror, but the truth is, God does, and his opinion is the only one that really matters. In this very moment, I feel hopeless, but the truth is, I'm not hopeless, because my hope is and forever will be in Jesus, the resurrected Savior. I don't know if I will ever feel good about all of the above, but the truth is, I don't need to feel good about any of it for it be true and good.

These are a friend's humble words flung out onto social media. With them, she raised the veil for a rare glimpse of authentic faith. She is not a new believer. Rather, she has a master's degree in Christian education from a Christian university and is a leader in her local church.

This is a faithful kind of doubting where there is hope and trust in spite of and in the midst of continued human nature. This is what true faith really looks like.

Faith is hard and complex. Although we like to romanticize it, it's not glamorous. It's a slog through the mud, and it shouldn't come as a surprise. Our flesh is made of dust, and Christ is living water. Mud results from exposing the one to the other, and that's precisely what makes clay malleable. This is the very condition Jesus needs in order to craft us into his image. The work of Christ is both filthy and holy.

Courage exists only in the presence of fear. Heroism exists only in relationship to self-preservation. Faith and hope exist only amid despair, lament, and woe. The dichotomies are essential, yet Christians often focus only on the positive traits as if they exist in a vacuum.

Western Christianity distances itself from doubt, sorrow, and mourning and exalts success, victory, and strength. But we should esteem the questions we are afraid to ask and own the doubts that still remain, because the truth is, there are questions that will never have adequate answers. Faith is being at rest in the unknowing of things.

Yet we Christians strive to keep a secret from others — and maybe even ourselves — the fact that we don't have it all together. We do so because uncertainty and shortcoming are not virtues in our societal norm. This notion skews our understanding of strong faith. Our lingering, pesky doubts and failures might be construed as evidence that Christianity is a farce and should be dismissed, or that our faith is not winsome and is, therefore, ineffective.

So we tell a tale with a happily-ever-after ending replete with nary a hardship. We craft a false narrative of the Christian faith where sin is unequivocally conquered and forever banished from the kingdom. While it's not a fairy tale. it won't become a reality until after Jesus rides in on his white horse.

In the meantime we don't want our incompetence to detract from God's name, character, or actions. So we compensate by obscuring our frailty and focusing solely on God's greatness, another trait that can't exist in a vacuum.

The law teaches that sin is defined only by the presence of holiness. God's vastness is all the more vast in light of limited humanity. In our weakness his strength is all the mightier (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So by scrubbing our humanity from the outward expression of our Christianity, we trivialize all that God is and does. His love and forgiveness are all the more merciful when they are couched in the rightful context of our impotence, depravity, and utter need.

We learn early in adulthood how to spin our failures into something more palatable to our Western sensibilities — to fail well, if you will. We spin our failures into something good: a life lesson learned, a more informed perspective through wisdom gained, increased compassion toward others, or an essential part of the path to a different success. While these aspects of failure may be valid, we are sometimes guilty of projecting success onto our failure to clean up God's image, to insure that Christianity doesn't suffer from our still-flawed humanity.

The truth is, sometimes we fail, and there is no lesson God is teaching us Sometimes we fail because failure is part of human life, and there's no way to spin it into success. We cannot divorce pain, sorrow, suffering, anguish, depression, fear, doubt, anger, sin, and darkness from our faith. These are the earthen dust we are made of. Sometimes we face these issues simply because we live in the time in between —after the Garden but before the new heaven and earth.

What would happen if we welcomed a broader understanding of faith, keeping an eye on our deep brokenness as we look at and to our God as the remedy?

For now, in this age of in-between, it is ours to embrace the tension between doubt and faith, challenge and consolation, earthen and divine. Just as confessing our faith in Christ is powerful, so is naming our doubts. The tension is uncomfortable and keeps us vulnerable, but what is faith if it isn't entrusting ourselves to God when so much remains unknown, unseen and left wanting?

God is not ashamed of our continued fight with the flesh. It's where he has purposefully placed us in this age. The truth is, because we are still fully human, faith is not enough or our final solution. It leaves us longing for more, as it should, because now we see only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12). And while faith is not an easy or complete answer to our complex circumstances, it is the only hopeful and ultimately victorious answer.

This post first appeared in Reach Out Columbia, as the first in a three-part series on the role failure plays in our faith and in God's master plan for his children.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

We Knew Each Other Young

We met at church — I remember that much, but little else about how she came into my life. At 14 years of age, one doesn't know to pay attention to certain deceivingly inconsequential events, but that giggling girl there on the other side of the room was destined to stay for a lifetime.

We rode four-wheelers at the river and drove the beach with windows down, sandy hair and loud music flying crazy.

She is still the only person on earth I've shared a single bed with — well, aside from a night or two with my hospitalized two-year-old.

I wore her dress to the funeral home the night before we buried Jeff. Her gesture was not unlike my own desire to clothe my brother. She was newly married to Jeff's best friend, whom she was in love with since the beginning of time. Their bond to each other was another lash layered and entangled around my heart.

The relationships in which we have the most confidence are the first to suffer our neglect, and so we have stayed in poor touch through the years. Our lives have crossed only a few times after high school graduation. We know each other’s children only from Christmas card pictures.

But her voice is the same these 35 years later, and when I hear it, I'm not talking with a stranger. We are right there, still caught up to our hearts in knowing the other.

We talk of heartache, loss, failures and success. What makes us happy, worries us, and demands our time. We talk menopause, college kids, and husbands who were once teammates. We broach aging parents and confide that we've both mostly lost touch with our coastal hometown and don’t much care.

Four days later, I'm still thinking of her, haunted in the best way by the cliché of friendships with distance yet no distance at all. It's a serendipitous delight.

This woman still gets me, even though neither of us is the girl we were then, and we haven't been privy to the process that made us who we've become since. We knew each other young, and somehow, three years in the tumultuous lives of high school girls was enough.

Photo by Cheryl Holt, via Pixabay, used with permission under the  CreativeCommons License.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Weekend Wanderings: Mother's Day Weekend Edition

Special days to celebrate family ties and other things that bind us mean more when we contemplate the deeper things that define us in these contexts. May you find a way to see the blessings that come in the messy and all too human relationships that make us who we are in the end. And may you find that it is beautiful.

"Are we afraid of growing apart? Yes. We’ve seen too many couples drift apart as they’ve cultivated hobbies and passions away from their spouse. We’re aware of the risks. But what if we are like two hands playing the same piano music?"  Read on in ...

When You and Your Husband Have Different Callings // Leslie Verner for She Loves Magazine

Our youngest is about to graduate from high school. We have faced this twice before, but this time it feels more like the ending of an age for the parent part of me, not just a milestone in my child's life. If you're facing some endings of your own of any variety, Kimberly's words are a grace.

How to Navigate a Season of Endings // Kimberly Coyle

What this video lacks in quality, it makes up for in content. It's about songwriting, but, more broadly, it's about how we are all creatives in our own way and how incredibly important our creativity is. When I sent this to Adrian, he texted back the following:

I'd be remiss if I didn't share with you where I spend a bulk of my internet time. This guy's music has been the soundtrack of my life. Adrian is a songwriter, music teacher, worship leader, and performer. He's sharing most of his music for free these days, and you can explore his music on his landing page at

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