Weep with me

I’m about 100 years behind on pop culture, but I finally watched Me Before You last night. Based on the book of the same name by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You is about a young man, Will, who ends up paralyzed after an accident, and his caretaker, Lou(isa). You know the drill: boy is standoffish at first, but girl manages to worm her way into his heart, they fall in love, yada, yada. Until she learns he’s planning to end his life, and concocts a plan to get him to change his mind. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t, everyone cries, the end.

The Big Theme of the movie, of course, is right-to-die. Will believes that dying is better than living with a disability, and aside from a few heartfelt pleas, no one in his immediate circle takes any meaningful action to convince him otherwise. How tragic. How deeply, horrifyingly tragic. Joni Eareckson Tada and Samuel James have more on that here and here.

As a person with a disability myself, I’ve been thinking lately about the people who love those of us with disabilities, and how disability affects relationships. So I was most intrigued Lou’s response to Will’s plans. And by intrigued, I mean disappointed. First, she didn’t hear it from his own mouth—she just happened to overhear a conversation between his parents. Rightly horrified, her next step is not to talk to Will, but to take matters into her own hands. She decides that if she plans a few fun trips and outings, surely that will restore Will’s zest for life, right? Right? Right?

The assumption she makes is the same mistake of many: she assesses the situation for herself and determines a solution, despite not living with a disability herself or asking Will his thoughts. She never asks him why he wants to end his life, pushes back against him to consider another way of viewing life with a disability, or enters into his pain. She does not hurt along with him. She might hurt for him, or for her own loss, but she is not in the thick of it, grieving his former life with him, sharing his tears or his heartache.

I don’t know what it’s like to live an active lifestyle and suddenly find myself unable to move from the chest down, as Will did, but I do know what it’s like to live in a world that I cannot maneuver as effortlessly as my hearing peers. I know what it feels like when people look at you funny, when you have to ask for help (again), when you just straight up have to miss something special because you couldn’t participate. Sometimes embarrassing and awkward, often frustrating and unjust. This is not the kind of heartache that can be resolved with a few vacations and a little flirting. This is not a minor annoyance that can be fixed, glossed over, or ignored. No, this is a pain that clobbers you, demanding to be felt, and never fully goes away. When loved ones brush past this agony or rush to fix it without paying respects to its depths and complexity, that only rubs salt in the wounds and threatens to tear the relationship asunder.

Now, it’s not always like this, and not for everyone. Some have made peace with their disability, or don’t consider it a disability at all. Others, like me, go back and forth. Sometimes OK, sometimes not OK. Something I’ve learned about those times when I’m not OK is that I just want someone to weep with me. Alongside me. Next to me. It’s not that I want you to hurt with me because if I’m miserable, then everyone else has to be. It’s just that getting burned up by pain is lonely business, kids, and I wish so badly to not have to bear every part of it alone. I want you to listen, to step into the hurting with me, not away from me. Please, won’t you remind me what God says about me, about my inherent worth as someone made in his image, to tell me all is not lost, that God is good, and maybe even that I’m loved, still?

All of that has to start with a hard conversation, maybe an uncomfortable question or two, and that’s what Me Before You completely misses.

When Lou finally confronts Will about his plans, she mentions nothing of his inner turmoil; she simply begs him to change his mind. When Will refuses, she screams that she wishes she’d never met him and storms off. Like trying to clean up a knocked-over cup of milk by wiping the drips off the floor before mopping the spilled drink on the counter above, Lou’s attempts to convince Will to live fall short of any real help. She says she loves him, but here’s the thing: love doesn’t avoid, doesn’t pretend, doesn’t ignore what’s right in front of it. We seem to think that love only feels good, but I say it’s not love until the giving of it hurts.

Weeping with those who weep means just that—weeping as if their pain is our own, because it is. By his own gruesome suffering, to spare us a worse fate, Jesus made us a family, and charged us to bear each other’s burdens. We may not know how to do this, but we need only look to him, because he shows us how. Jesus does not merely tolerate us or heave a sigh and force a smile. He doesn’t “there, there” our pain at arm’s length. He suffered in our place on the cross and comforts us now. He will not ask us to do less than this for each other, for him. When someone is suffering, “they” are not suffering, over there, in the corner, away from us. No, when a brother or sister is suffering, we should be split open, too, because “they” are not suffering; we are. We’re a family, and to borrow from a completely different movie, family means nobody gets left behind. So get to weeping, fam.

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Seven things to know about hearing loss

Sometimes people treat me differently when they find out I’m hard of hearing. Their smiles freeze in discomfort, they find an excuse to leave the conversation, and they limit further interactions with me to “hello,” “how are you?” and “fine, thanks.” (I know we, as a people, just kind of do this to each other sometimes, regardless of our degree of hearing loss. But this happens too frequently to me and my deaf and hard of hearing friends to be a coincidence.) Please do not do this thing. I’m hard of hearing, yes, but I’m also a human person who wants to know and be known. Just like you.

Here are seven things I wish you knew about being hard of hearing.

(I wrote this with my local church family in mind, because that’s my most immediate context. But big-C Church family, this one’s for you, too. And you, gentle reader, with the grandma who’s losing her hearing or the co-worker who’s deaf, this is for you, too. Just keep in mind these are coming from my own experiences and preferences, which may or may not align with those of your congregant, grandma, or co-worker. When in doubt, just ask.)

Hearing loss isn’t only the absence of sound. I have severe-to-profound hearing loss, but with two hearing aids, I can hear some sounds but not understand them. For example, in a crowded restaurant, I’m not able to pick out the distinct sounds of clattering silverware, patrons talking, or the TV blaring. They all blend into one buzzing white noise. Sounds don’t make sense to me unless I have some kind of visual to go with it — closed captions, lipreading, and sign language help me make sense of the noise and feel included. Even technology meant for the masses, such as texting and email, have been a godsend (and hearing loss is a handy excuse to not make phone calls. And all God’s introverts said “Amen.”). What a time to be alive.

Please don’t feel sorry for me. I’m not less of a person for being hard of hearing. I’m actually OK with hearing loss itself. I hear nothing at all with my hearing aids out and silence IS golden, my friends. Turning my hearing aids off is like having my own personal mute button, which is exactly as amazing as it sounds. Y’all are LOUD sometimes.

You don’t have to know sign language to communicate with me. Yes, I sign, but I use my vocal cords more than my hands to communicate. If you know sign language and want to practice with or show it off to me, please do. If you don’t, just talk to me. I’m a lipreading ninja, but I need your help! Speak clearly. Don’t cover your mouth. Don’t over-enunciate. Don’t yell. Don’t mouth something unintelligible and then ask me what you said (I will side-eye you so hard.). Just make sure I can see your face when we’re talking and we should be good. If I can’t understand you, I’ll let you know, and if I’m just not grasping something, try rephrasing rather than repeating. That might do the trick.

Please include me in the group conversation. I communicate well one-on-one, but it’s a lot of work to keep up with a group larger than three or four people (so, most groups). I’m slow to speak up because I’m constantly trying to figure out if it’s OK to talk or if I’ll be accidentally interrupting someone.  And I’m rarely 100% confident that I’m following the conversation topic correctly, so it means a lot if you ask me specific questions to include me (“We’re talking about the Royals game last night. What did you think of that play by Hosmer?” is super helpful.).

Along the same lines, please don’t assume I can’t participate in an activity. If you’re not sure how to include me, ask! I will make it easy for you; here’s a simple script to follow: “I’m planning to do XYZ at Bible study; is there anything I need to do or be aware of in order for you to participate fully?”

Sit with me. At church, or any other kind of lecture-style gathering, I almost always sit at the front, closest to the speaker(s). Will you join me there now and then? It gets lonely up there.

Head’s up. Most of us instinctively bow our heads to pray, but if I’m around, please keep your head up when you pray so I can read your lips.

I know there’s a lot more I haven’t covered, but I hope this prompts some meaningful conversations in your own circles. If you are D/deaf or hard of hearing, what would you add? If you are not, what else would you like to know? To the comments!

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The love planted by God

From Joel Beeke, on the Puritans and marital love:

It is an entire love, a fulsome love, a love that pours itself out between spouses constantly and without reservation in a variety of expressions, gestures, looks, and actions. This love, Daniel Rogers (1573-1652) wrote, is not “raised suddenly in a pang of affection, ebbing and flowing…but a habitual and settled love planted in them by God, whereby in a constant, equal, and cheerful consent of spirit they carry themselves [towards] each other (Rogers, Matrimonial Honour, 137-138).

The whole thing is worth reading, but what jumped out at me was the “love planted in them by God.” As a single lady approaching her mid-30s, it’s easy to let the fears in. I must not be attractive. I’m too old. I don’t have the right body type. I’m too much. I’m not enough.

The underlying assumption: If I could just figure out and fix what is “wrong” with me, then dating wouldn’t be so hard. Now to be sure, we may carry certain attitudes or perspectives or habits regarding dating that ought to be addressed or reconsidered. There may be times when we need to take a long, hard look at our lives and what our constant video games or Netflix bingeing or general laziness might say about us. But if, after working through all of that, we’re still single, what then? What’s left to do?

Nothing, really, as infuriating as that may be. I can be friendly and open. Be active at church. Be brave and try online dating. Realize that’s not really what I want and delete my profiles that are way too easy to restart. Ask friends and family to keep their eyes peeled. Stay busy. Press into the life I have, not the one I thought I’d have. When no one materializes despite my most reasonable efforts, I’m left with one conclusion: God has not planted that love in my heart for someone, nor has He planted love for me in a man’s heart. He may yet, or He may never.

I don’t have nearly as much say in dating as I want to believe I do, because my life isn’t my own. Like I said, infuriating. But also comforting—it’s not me. It’s Him.

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On being afraid of God

Someone told me once that thinking about God’s wrath helped them not sin, that every time they were tempted, they just thought about how mad God would be at them if they followed through. That fear was enough to nip temptation in the bud. Our conversation ended shortly after, and while I’ve wanted to quell the observation with a pat theological answer about God’s wrath toward us finding its end in Jesus, it keeps coming back, like water you can’t push away.

I started reading through the Bible with my women’s group from church last fall, and as we traverse the Old Testament, I keep thinking, “God is not to be trifled with.” A lot of people—including his own people!—die by God’s hand. There is blood—so much blood—involved in the Levitical sacrificial system. Regularly, God’s anger is kindled against the Israelites, over matters of the heart that you and I are regularly guilty of ourselves, namely, of not believing God’s ways are best, and for thinking we can come up with  better ways to obey him. And that’s just in the first five books! Spoiler alert: it doesn’t get better. Not even for Jesus. There’s no getting around it—God is terrifying. Even the New Testament warns us that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

Whenever I consult the Google for an explanation, I often find answers that attempt to redefine this kind of fear as respect or reverence of God. Some really smart guys went to some really smart seminaries to be able to say that, so I guess they must be right. But I can’t shake the feeling as I contemplate the blood and gore that maybe I actually am afraid of God. Not so much that I’m afraid of his wrath toward my sin—maybe I should be more afraid of that, but I’m assured of the blood of Christ atoning for my sin. No, this fear is more a sober dread that God will do what God will do, in my life, in the lives of the people I love, in my neighborhood, in my nation, in all the universe. I cannot reason with him, because his reason is beyond my understanding. I can’t plead my own case, because apart from Christ, I’ve got nothing to stand on—no good works, no gifts, no nothing. But that’s the key, isn’t it—”apart from Christ.” But I do have Christ, and doesn’t fear have to do with punishment and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)?

Maybe I’m afraid the way we are when we fall in love (so I have heard)—vulnerable and helpless, exhilarated and terrified all at once. Am I afraid of God both because he is far better than me and because he will destroy my old self, with all its prides and insecurities and lusts and greeds? The very things I hold too closely, for no reason at all, really, except that they are mine, my preciouses.

I understand better why the disciples were afraid after Jesus calmed the storm. You’d think they’d be relieved—bye, storm!—but they are terrified (Luke 8:22-25). Who is this, that even the wind and the seas obey him? Who indeed? If we ponder that without our souls quaking, then maybe we either haven’t encountered the true God yet, or we’ve forgotten him.

I’m still not sure my friend had it right—shouldn’t it be God’s kindness and not his wrath that leads us to repentance? But maybe there is a kind of fear that is appropriate in the Christian life.

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When life is not what you wanted

I didn’t write as much as I thought I would last year—I count exactly four posts in 2016—but a common theme among those and all the posts I didn’t write is loneliness. I wonder now if I was trying to prove something, like, see, Lord, I have learned All the Lessons, so please relieve me from this pain. Because we tend to do that, don’t we? We think God gives us trials and suffering and unwanted life circumstances to teach us lessons, and the sooner we learn them, the faster the pain will pass, and we’ll be rewarded for hanging in there.

But life is—God is—not so transactional. We are not characters in a video game—shoot enough poison flowers, get an extra life. Gather enough coins, get a new weapon. Defeat the Big Bad, free the princess. A good theology of suffering is not about what we do, or how well we bear it, but about what God is doing with it. Who can know exactly why he does what he does? The Sunday School answer, of course, is “for my good and his glory,” but why sickness for this person and health for another? Why singleness for this one and marriage for another? Why this, why that? I am tired of asking such questions, for they offer no answers, and possibly never will, because despite my best efforts, I’m actually not the one running the show here.

Ecclesiastes says that even wisdom and knowledge are ultimately meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I don’t think that means it’s wrong to be wise or to know facts, but that answers are not the goal. Job didn’t get any; why would we?

Sometimes I think, I did not sign up for this. This life feels arbitrary, or like I got gypped, or even like God has forgotten me. But a few things the Spirit keeps impressing upon me:

  1. God loves me the most—not that he loves me more than he loves others, but that he loves me more than any person ever could. So whatever he does must be borne out of that perfect love, and be good.
  2. He will bring us to a place of abundance. A few verses that I have meditated on over the last year, sometimes through tears, are from Psalm 66:
    For you, O God, have tested us;
        you have tried us as silver is tried.
    You brought us into the net;
        you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
    you let men ride over our heads;
        we went through fire and through water;
    yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. (v. 10-12)
  3. Better this life, with all its aches and pains, came from God than from Satan, or from myself. Many words have been and will be spilled over God’s sovereignty, human responsibility, and Satan’s role in suffering. This isn’t the place to rehash all of it, but my hot take is that I am more at peace believing that my suffering comes from the hand of God himself, because he loves me and wounds to heal, not kill. If suffering came from Satan or my poor decisions apart from God’s direction, then God would merely be a paramedic who rushes in after the damage has been done, not a wise, trustworthy, in-charge Father.

Rolling into 2017, exactly zero things in my life look like I thought they would at this point. I can’t analyze the one I want into being, or learn the right lesson in order to move on to the next level. All that’s left to do is to just live my little life—the one I’ve been assigned, my portion.

Life is hard. God is good. Let’s roll.

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Call it suffering

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I have a weird threshold for pain. Pinch me lightly and I will scream bloody murder. But break my arm and I will tell you it “feels a little sore.” It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I was writhing in pain on my living room floor over what I would find out a few days later was  gallstones and would require surgery, that I finally conceded an important principle of pain — if it severely interferes with your ability to enjoy an episode of Parks and Rec, something is capital-W Wrong. It’s time to call the pain “pain,” and go to the doctor.

Up until that point, I was stubborn about physical pain and sickness. I showed up to work sick. I powered through migraines and more than one asthma attack. I thought I was being noble, but really, I was just being stubborn. Not acknowledging the pain didn’t make it better — it made it worse! I should have been home resting and drinking lots of fluids instead of going to work and passing my cold along. Trying to go about my business with a migraine — answering emails, watching TV, carrying on a simple conversation — only prolonged the migraine and affected the quality of my work.

I have a weird threshold for suffering, too. The light pinches — changing plans, miscommunications, a torrential downpour the same day I’ve schedule a pedicure — set my mind racing and put me on edge and invite all manner of first-world problems! admonitions. But the arm-breaking stuff — ending a relationship, hearing loss, depression — I deal with it by essentially trying to shame myself out of it. I think of all the ways something could be worse, or I think of people who I know have it worse, and scold myself for feeling any pain at all.

Why should I be sad about being single, after all, when so many marriages around me are struggling? What right do I have to days where being hard of hearing is draining, when there are people whose disabilities limit their very mobility? And maybe I’m not really depressed — there are people with actual problems out there, so just get over it, self. This isn’t really suffering.

But in the middle of one of these rants to myself recently, it occurred to me that by not calling my suffering “suffering,” I was missing out on the blessings of suffering. Yes, the blessings.

Consider what God tells us suffering is for:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. — 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. — 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… — 2 Corinthians 4:17

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. — James 1:2-3

If I don’t understand my circumstances as suffering — if I write them off as unlucky, or just a part of life, or if I determine they can’t possibly be suffering because other people have it far worse — then I’m only hurting myself. Refusing to acknowledge the pain keeps me from going to the Physician who heals. Not calling suffering “suffering” robs me of hope, glory, comfort, steadfastness, and blinds me to the power of God himself. How tragic would that be, to completely miss out on God because I’m too stubborn to admit that I’m hurting?

Our suffering isn’t just for our own selves, by the way; it’s for each other, too, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our suffering helps us to comfort each other, to help each other make it home. Not only do we need to stop dismissing our own pain, we ought to be extra wary to not dismiss each other’s. We’re all in different places in our own walks with the Lord and what seems like suffering to one person may seem like nothing to another. But we bear with one another in humility and gentleness and love (Eph. 4:1-3).

So let’s be slow to say things to each other and to ourselves like, “At least your pain isn’t this,” or “at least there is this good thing about it.” Let’s be reluctant to compare our pain to someone else’s, or each other’s pain to our own. Let’s not play the “Who Has It Worse?” game with each other at all. Instead, let’s be quick to call suffering “suffering” in all its different forms and trust that God is using the suffering for good in each other’s lives, for his glory, and for the building of his Church.

Call it suffering. Press in to it. Be blessed by it.

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Accepting the limitations of singleness

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I’m seeing more compassion, an increased willingness to engage, and more mindfulness of singles among gospel-centered bloggers. A common theme of some of the posts is that the Church is a family, and we should all be family — mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother — to each other.

“What if the Church,” Scott Sauls posits, “was filled with unmarried people but had no ‘single’ people, because unmarried people were as family to each other, and surrogate brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters to the rest of the Church?”

I love this train of thought, and have taken it to heart and seen its fruit in my own life. But as I’m delighting in this truth, I have to watch myself that I don’t take it too far and expect my friends and church family to be the same thing as having a family of my own. I have to remind myself (sometimes in a Captain Obvious way!) that there are relational limits, especially with married friends, that come with being single.

So here are three (more) truths for the (my) single heart:

Even singles are called to honor the marriage bed — to respect the boundaries of marriage. Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church, the elect. He is not the Bridegroom of every single person who has ever lived. He is narrow in his pursuit of his Bride.

This is reflected in the exclusive nature of marriage. Husband and wife vow to forsake all others, to commit to each other above all others. They do not automatically lose friends as a result of this union, nor are they forbidden from having close friendships outside of their marriage. But marriage and family do reorder priorities.

My friendships with families, while lively and loving and familial to some degree, are marked by boundaries that respect their commitment. I’m not over at their house every night for dinner. The mom/wife isn’t out every night with me. Even during my most social weeks, I rarely see the same person or family twice. We spend a couple hours together, and then we go our separate ways for the night, for the week, for the month. This is appropriate, and normal, and right. I am not their primary ministry; their family is. That’s their assignment (1 Cor. 7:17), and they need to be faithful to that call. The way I love them is to get out of their way sometimes, so that they can serve where they’ve been called. That’s my assignment.

Being single means being single. It does not mean fabricating an intimate family life. Being single is a calling, and sometimes that calling means being the only person who pays the bills, takes out the trash, and makes the Major Life Decisions. That’s freeing some days, crippling others, but it is the lot of the single person to bear it all. As much as I love my church friends, and they me, there are limits to how present we can be in each other’s lives. We might get front-row seats or backstage passes to each other’s daily living, but we’re not actually in the intimate, mundane, on-the-road moments together. Married people are called to Do Life with a partner; single people are not. Those are our assignments, and we ought not deviate from them by trying to pretend singleness is something other than what it is.

Being single means a lot of waiting, longing, some tearful moments, and loneliness. But heart, don’t rush past any of that so quickly. They matter. They’re working for you an eternal glory that far outweighs the light and momentary pain. So don’t throw yourself into the nearest family in a vain effort to pretend singleness doesn’t hurt. Let it hurt. It is precisely in the waiting, in the longing, in the tearful nights, the loneliness, the wondering if it will always be like this (spoiler alert: it won’t), the uncertainty, the fear, the very alone-ness nature of singleness that increases my dependence on God who raises the dead, that hems me in so that I have no other recourse but to go to Him, that exhausts all my other idols so that I can say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall [I] go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). This is a blessing, even on the days it feels like a burden. Singleness, in this season, is how I get more of Jesus. When I ignore this and try to make other people my family in a way that they are not, I miss out on God’s good gift of singleness to me.

Being single doesn’t mean being friendless, and I’m not advocating that singles give up and become hermits. Be part of the church family. Roll up your sleeves and labor alongside them for the sake of the gospel. Love widely. As long as it is your assignment, be single, and be single well.

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Of manna and singleness and the unplanned life

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I will turn 33 in a few months. I was not planning on being single at this ripe old age. I had zero expectation that I’d be making decisions on my own about car repairs, work, or where to live. And yet these are my days. Listening to the mechanic explain valves and check engine lights and a bill that makes me wish I had someone to run it by before agreeing to the repairs. Coming to terms with the truth that my career needs the attention that I had planned on giving to children. Scouring listings for rentals to share with roommates, not houses to buy with a husband.

None of these scenarios are bad, or unusual, or even frightening. I just was not prepared for them. It’s like being hired to bake cookies, only to show up on the first day and find out you’re here to make cakes instead. Tasty still, and you’re not about to quit now, but you’ve never made a cake from scratch before. You have all the ingredients and proper tools, and a vague notion that you’ll need some more eggs … but now what?

That’s where I’m at, friends. Most of my prayers these days are along the lines of, what is this life? How does it work? What do I do with it?

In Exodus 16, the Israelites have been in the wilderness for a couple of months. They’ve seen their God send locusts and hail and boils and darkness and death upon Egypt. With their own feet they trod the earth that only moments ago had been seabed. The message has been received: God is great and not to be trifled with.

But. But they are hungry. But they were promised milk and honey. But freedom wasn’t supposed to look like this, feel like this.

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16: 2-3)

God, because he is a good, good, Father, knows their hunger and instead of sending them to their rooms for whining, gives them food to fill their bellies. Manna in the morning and quail in the evening. Bread for breakfast and meat for dinner. They have no quarrel with the quail, but are utterly befuddled by the other.

In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. (Exodus 16:13-15a)

Isn’t that how it always goes? Just like the Israelites, we are hungry, and our Dad gives us food we don’t recognize. We were expecting marriage, and got singleness. We planned for a house in the suburbs and got an apartment in the city. We thought we’d have children — plural — and have one — singular. We prepared for snow and got spring. We hope for honor and are humbled instead. What God gives us instead isn’t bad, or less than, what we expected. But it is unexpected, and we sometimes buy the lie that it is not enough, that it is not good, that He is holding out on us.

But the thing is, whatever we have, whatever’s in front of us — that’s His provision, and it is enough.

And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. (Exodus 16:15b-18)

I love this. I love it and I fear it. I love that no matter what God gives, it is enough. He never gives us too little or leaves us wanting. When it feels like we have a lack, it is only there to drive us to His presence, where there is fullness of joy.

I fear it — the same way I fear a thunderstorm, safe in my home but dumbstruck by its power raging outside — because God never gives us more than what we need, which means that He will sometimes not give us what we want, so long as what we want is not ultimately Him. It is bloody, dying-to-self business to trust that the freedom and uncertainty of the manna is better than the slavery and certainty of meat pots.

And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. (Exodus 16:19-21)

The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Exodus 16:35)

And yet this is not really a story about manna, is it, but the God who gives it. Not the gift, but the Giver. Because every time God’s people tried to take matters into their own hands and save some manna for the next day, it would rot and stink and be unfit for consumption. The manna only satiated their hunger for the day, so they would learn to depend on the God whose mercies are new every morning. They ate because He provided faithfully for 40 years, not because they were clever enough to find their own food.

Isn’t that the gospel? We can’t get the best life on our own. All our attempts at hoarding it only leave us with wormy, stinky bread. We get what God gives us because He knows best, because He loves best. Like that time the Jews were looking for a Messiah to overthrow the Roman empire, and instead, the whole world got a Savior. So whatever we have today is enough, because it came from our Father who loves us. These little lives of ours that we didn’t plan for are no lack after all, because in Jesus, we have everything. Everything.

What is it? It is enough, because He is enough. 

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The highest calling

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From time to time, I’ll hear (er, read) someone, usually another lady blogger/writer/conference speaker, say something to the effect of:

A woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mom.

Let me set the record straight: No, it is not. 

A woman’s most noble calling does not lie in being married or being Mommy. Those are sanctifying states to be sure — how can they not be? It’s you, a sinner, sharing a bed, or a table, or your food, or your DNA, with another sinner and/or tiny sinners. You do not suffer a lack of opportunities to die to self. Marriage and motherhood are sanctifying, and they may be part of your calling, but they are not the calling.

I’m not trying to make a case that being single is the highest calling. Yes, Jesus and Paul were single, but nowhere is singleness held up as being holier than marriage (all Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7 is that the single Christian has more freedom to serve. It is not a higher calling, just a more flexible one.).

The highest calling for anyone is to love God and love others. 

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

The two greatest commandments are not: Fall in love and get married. They are not: Be fruitful and multiply.
They are: Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Is there a higher calling than this, to plumb the depths of riches and wisdom and knowledge of God? To be known by him? To give this joy feet by loving whoever it is God gives you to love: your people at church, your friends from college, your spouse, the person you’re dating, the person you’re not dating, your next-door neighbors, your co-workers, your nieces, your children.
Our God is more than our marriages, more than our singleness. Both are good, both are gifts from God, both are designed by him for our good and his glory. But they themselves are not our highest calling … He is.
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When God Fills the Silence: Zechariah’s Story

Luke 1 has been my go-to for Advent reading for a second year in a row. Last year, “the tender mercy of our God” was what fueled my joy. This year, I’ve been over the Magnificat several times as my sweet Catholic neighbor and I discuss our differing views of Mary. My neighbor sees “all generations shall call me blessed” as proof of Mary’s veneration. Meanwhile, I’m struck by “He who is mighty” as I tell her that Mary’s song of praise is less about herself and more about her God. Around and around we go, explaining and defending and sharing and asking.

After all of our talking, talking, talking, when it’s just me, Luke, and the lights on my Christmas tree, it’s Zechariah’s silence that quiets my heart. You remember Zechariah. Priest. Husband of Elizabeth. Father of John the Baptist. He was serving in the temple when Gabriel appeared and made an amazing proclamation — that Elizabeth will bear a son, even though she is barren, and Zechariah and his wife are advanced in age.

With such weighty words to ponder, Zechariah’s response is exactly what I think mine would be: stunned disbelief. For demanding a sign, he is struck silent on the spot, and remains so for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

And I wonder, as I always wonder, why would God do that? Why is Zechariah being punished for not believing? Can You really fault the guy, God, for being taken off guard by a heavenly messenger and what seemed like an impossible promise? Can You not give him a minute to let it all sink in?

Then I realize with a jolt — He did. God did for Zechariah what He has done for me: gave him time to think.

I know this because without my hearing aids, I can’t hear either.

Does that surprise you? It surprised me! Zechariah’s deafness is not explicitly stated, but why else would his neighbors “make signs” to him (v. 62)? If he could hear, they would have just used their mouths to ask. And why would the angel say he would be silent and unable to speak? Because as long as you can understand what people are saying, you can participate, even without the use of your vocal cords. As long as you can hear, you won’t be silent.

So it stands to reason that for nine whole months, Zechariah can’t hear, can’t speak, can’t celebrate the news with his friends, can’t acquaint his son growing in his wife’s belly with the sound of his voice, can’t whisper words of joy to Elizabeth as they marvel at their pending parenthood.

Why does God make Zechariah deaf? I don’t know Zechariah’s heart, but I know mine — I know ours. We are a forgetful people, and I think God does the things He does so we won’t forget. If Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah, left out the bit about being silent, and then sent him on his way back to Elizabeth, it would have been easy for Zechariah to forget. To chalk this otherworldly visit up to a dream, or a figment of his imagination. To pretend it had never happened.

But because Zechariah’s ears and mouth were closed, every time he tried to talk, or every time he witnessed the laughter of a crowd around him and his heart broke at being left out, he would have to remember why. He’d have to bring to mind Gabriel and his strange announcement. Zechariah would have to remember it was the Lord who opened Elizabeth’s womb, not merely luck or timing that brought him and his wife a long-awaited child.

Perhaps most importantly, he was shrouded in silence to know who God is. “Because you did not believe my words” is a stern rebuke, because our God is not one to be trifled with, but it is also a loving discipline — because this is a hard saying, and much to take in and marvel at, because I love you, I will give you time to understand. It will not feel like a gift, but it will give birth to joy. 

Nine months. Nine months God gave Zechariah to help him believe. Nine months of loneliness, of feeling cut off from his own people, with nothing but his thoughts and his God to keep him company. Nine months of unfettered communion with the Lord, of reflecting on the covenant, on all God had done and promised to do for His people, for generations upon generations. Nine whole months for joy to grow and unbelief to be purged. God filled Zechariah’s silence with something better than sound or speech — He filled it with His own presence.

When the time finally comes to speak, the joy of Zechariah’s heart is not that his tongue is loosed, or that his hearing has come flooding back, but that His God, His Rescuer, His Redeemer is on His way. Nine months’ worth of questions and opinions and doubts and statements could have come tumbling out in that moment, but like Mary, all Zechariah can do is break into song.

At the end of his silence, at the end of his waiting and his longing — at the end of ours — is the good news of great joy that Jesus is coming soon.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

And that, Charlie Brown, is what Advent is all about.

Merry Christmas, friends. You are so loved!

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