in the quiet

It’s been just over three months since we packed up a Uhaul, a truck, a CR-V, a motorcycle, two bikes, and a dog, all to move two and a half hours south to my growing-up town. The transition itself has been like a party with the music turned up just a little too loud – fun and exciting but also exhausting and deafening and slightly chaotic.

There are days when I feel settled, and days when I feel homesick, and days when I feel generally confused at how I actually feel.

But overall, we are beginning to stabilize into a “normal,” and we are very thankful for new friends and a new house and new jobs and this town. We are thankful for how God has shown up in the midst of the transition and how He has begun to quiet things in a sweet, settled way. It’s a lot of work to have almost everything change, the major components of your life running ahead of you and hollering for you to catch up. I think we are finally catching up.

While the majority of the details in our life changed, though, there is still something that hasn’t, and I confess being more than a little sad about it.

That’s the way it always goes, isn’t it? You ask for something, and the Lord works and moves in all of these incredible ways – but instead of focusing on the things He is doing, we find ourselves asking “Why?” in the area He doesn’t seem to be acting in.

Are you shaking your head at me, or with me? Is it just me, or you too?

I’m never content. I’m more like the fickle, needy, selfish Israelites than I am comfortable admitting. God provides manna and quail, but I complain about wanting water (Exodus 16-17).

So what do you do when the thing you are hoping will change, doesn’t?
How do you handle the silence when what you are craving is the beat of the drums and the rhythm of the guitar?
How do you believe that God is at work when things are quiet, when He is quiet?

He’s not absent. He’s very much here. But when it comes to my prayers for change, my unfulfilled desires, He gives no indication and no promise of what’s to come. He listens and comforts, but honestly, He isn’t providing any answers.

I don’t feel abandoned. I don’t sense distance or His disapproval. But I am struggling to reconcile the why. And the when. My head knows He is good, but my heart is hurt by what I am experiencing as a lack of action on His part, despite Him being all-powerful. If He’s able to do anything, why doesn’t He do something?

Honestly, I think I have begun to give up in my prayers. I don’t know that it has been a conscious decision or a choice stirred by frustration or bitterness. It’s been a slow decrease, a weary reaction, a little at a time until I begin to think that prayer wasn’t accomplishing anything, anyway, so why keep it up? Maybe God’s just not going to answer it, or maybe His timing is to make me wait, so my prayers are useless right now because He’s going to do what He wants. That’s His prerogative, but I’m sick of getting my hopes up.

As I type that, I know it’s not true. I don’t actually believe that. But it’s how I feel, and I think I need to admit more often what I am feeling so that I can see it and remind myself of what actually is true.

Really, that’s the only thing I know to do right now. To repeatedly and continually fill my mind with truth about God and His character, asking Him to develop in me true hope that is fulfilled in Him and not in my requests being answered.

  • HE SEES ME IN MY PAIN. Genesis 16:13 – So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
  • HE IS GOOD, AND HIS ACTIONS ARE GOOD. Psalm 119:68 – You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.
  • HE GIVES PEACE. John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • HE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF OUR DESIRES. Psalm 145:16 – “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
  • HE BRINGS HOPE FROM OUR PAIN. Romans 5:3-5 – “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.”
  • HE IS OUR COMFORTER. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – “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. “

Even in the quiet, He is there. Even in the quiet, He is at work. His ways are not our ways, so maybe what looks like still and stagnant to me is part of the process to Him.

Maybe He has pulled me into the quiet to teach my soul the art of contentment, the joy found in Him alone. Despite my kicking and screaming and desire to get up and leave. Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, having no stability or place to call their own, but they had God, Who called them His own. Is that enough for me – to be His, and not be looking for what to call mine?

autumn’s easter celebration

While I’ve been somewhat silent on the blog front, I haven’t stopped writing. I’ve been storing up words and phrases, piecing them together and keeping the pretty little things like a child storing pebbles in her pockets. The purpose of this collection is more for my own personal joy than for putting into prose and publishing here.

I am savoring fall bit by bit: the fog frosting the fields, the fragments of pink scattered across morning sky, the street lights dimming one-by-one and reminding me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Lamplighter.”

I’ve been reading a lot, too – mostly rereading, I suppose. Emily Dickinson and John Donne collections have been thumbed through and lingered upon, even as a spiritual discipline of sorts to spark my prayer and my praise. My annual adventure through Avonlea with Anne continues to captivate me, and my heart thrills to anticipate how “September [will slip] by into a gold and crimson graciousness of October.”

October is the most delightful month, in my opinion, and as today is October 1, I am savoring each and every glimpse I catch of God, more treasures to add to my pockets. The crisp morning air collides with warm afternoons to produce both layers of clothing and layers of thoughts about the coming changes. There’s a spiritual depth I find here, and my heart is more sensitive to the Lord as the world around me slows and cools from summer’s simmer of heat and activity.

There are moments when I instinctively feel that we should celebrate Easter in the fall. I wrote last year about how odd yet beautiful it is that we celebrate death during the autumn months, as opposed to the life (or coming life) celebrated throughout the rest of the year. And I get that Easter in the spring is sweet because new life is springing up, and it correlates with the joy that Christ is risen.

But I have a hard time celebrating death in March or April. I don’t want to focus on that part of the story when life is teeming all around me – yet that is a critical part of Easter’s celebration.

In fall, I am more able to process the change that death renders, the somber air of what’s taking place in the changing world around me as it lets go of the life it has previously been growing. It may seem like a backward step, like a defeat – I am sure Christ’s followers felt defeated as they watched their Messiah take His last breaths. But His dying is what produced everlasting and ever-fulfilling life.

In fall, I am struck with how God uses pain to produce hope in our lives.

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)

Last year I mused on finding beauty in death. This year, I am wrestling with the fact that hope is produced through our suffering.

I am not so sure I like that pattern. At least, not as extended as it has felt in my life. There are days when it feels like the suffering never ends, so where is the hope in that?

But I suppose God’s timing is never our timing, and His plans are never what we would choose – thus, our hope must be in Him and not in our trials ending. This world is broken, so there will always be something that’s not working right.

In seasons of discouragement, I find myself looking for stories of others who have walked well through their own pain and who have come out on the other side still able to say, “God is good!” I soak in their words. I think, “I want to write like that! I want to have that perspective in the midst of my own confusion!” I try to decide what I should say about my own circumstances, but when I sit down to write, I draw a blank.

I more often find myself agreeing with my dear heroine Anne of Green Gables: “It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?” And I suppose part of the difficulty comes in not seeing the full picture yet, as many of the writers I am reading or the women I am talking to are now able to do.

Why must the Lord use suffering to produce hope? It can feel like a constant battle to let this hope remain in my focus instead of the trial that continually blocks my view.

Yet hope does not hide until we are out of the fire. Hope must be present when we can’t see what’s ahead, because we can be confident in a strong God Who is able to handle our uncertainty. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

As leaves redden and crinkle, as days shorten, as layers pile up, we do not lose hope. We do not despair at the coming winter. Instead, we savor the delightful but ever so brief middle ground of autumn, knowing that winter will come, but so will spring.

And in the midst of trials, may our hearts cling to the hope that prevails in Christ – a better hope, as Hebrews 7:19 proclaims. Because of His death, we have life. Because of His sacrifice, we have an intimate relationship with God, Who is producing good through the sin and brokenness in us. He has not abandoned us. Rather, He is purposeful in our seasons of sadness, and He promises to continue that work in us until it is completed (Philippians 1:6).

Happy October 1 – may you find yourself celebrating this season with a joy that goes deeper than pumpkin spice and flannel shirts. May you identify with Christ’s death and rejoice in the life He gives, even if things here on earth continue to disappoint.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

God, in a southern summer and a bittersweet life

These days, Arkansas humidity lies thick all around.

The first metaphor that came to mind when I was trying to think about how to describe it was adding too much flour to your gravy. How appropriately Southern, right?

And while I can – and will – complain about the heat and the humidity and the stickiness that develops behind my knees just moments after I walk out the door, the truth is, I appreciate the humidity. My definition of “summer” is inseparable from the dampness of my shirt clinging to my lower back, the way it can be only 75 degrees in the morning but require a tank top due to the stifle of the warm air, and the scent of the bushes lingering in the midst of it all.

Summer’s humidity is imperfect. I’m not saying I enjoy basking in sweat. I can tell a (happy) difference if I travel outside of the South, and I can sit outside just a little longer in places where the air thins out. But, when it comes down to it, humidity feels like home to me. I can’t imagine not having the feeling of walking out from our air-conditioned kitchen to the force of dense air on the front porch.

A couple of weeks ago at church, the definition of the word “blessed” was given, and it stuck with me: “God’s gracious favor to give one a happy and content (satisfied/fulfilled) soul that is not rooted in external or changing circumstances.”

It took me back to the difference between happiness and joy – where joy is also not dependent on your circumstances but an understanding of the truth of God despite your circumstances.

If you think about when you most often see those words used, though, it’s in connection with something good happening in someone’s life. To their credit, the person is usually trying to give the glory to God because of the happy thing or fortunate circumstance – they are stating that their life is good because of God’s hand of providence on them. And, if I am being honest, I do this a lot myself. I talk about the joy of something to recognize that God is the One Who has given me that friendship or the blessing of my relationship with Eric because He is the One Who makes my marriage strong.

But do we use those words when life isn’t going well? Can we recognize joy and blessing when there is confusion and even sorrow?

How do we experience a satisfied soul when life itself leaves much to be desired?

The older I get, the more I have opportunities both to celebrate and to grieve. And in the midst of the juxtaposition of the bitter and the sweet, I start to understand a little more that the satisfaction of the Christian life is never dependent on your circumstances.

David understood this. How often the Psalms portray the devastation of life but the constancy of God! How often David proclaims that his good is found in the Lord!

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? …But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. –Psalm 13:1, 5

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” –Psalm 16:2

Paul understood this. Despite how many times he had been jailed and beaten and taunted, he displayed an unshakeable confidence in his God and a consistent joy in the midst of persecution.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. –Philippians 1:21

…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. –Philippians 4:11-13

I think, for me to grow in my understanding of this, I have to continually grow in my knowledge and experience of God. The more I look to Him instead of my circumstances, the more I will be able to find joy and blessing even when life isn’t going the way I want. As I more consistently root myself in the truth of His character, the more consistently will my soul remain satisfied even when life is inconsistent.

The truth of His character – that He is intentional in His timing, especially in our transition from life in Fayetteville to a new season as we move to Conway. While we may not be able to see it right now, it’s no mistake that this move is coming right when Eric and I both thought we had our jobs and our community and our ministry figured out.

The reliability of His sovereignty – that He is in control, even when the future seems to have more question marks than plans.

The sweetness of His goodness – that He loves me and cares for me and is patient even as I freak out and question what He’s doing.

I have not only accepted that humidity is unavoidable in a Southern summer, but I have grown to appreciate it. It’s something I can count on each year as May turns to June. Since I can’t change it, I might as well learn to savor it.

And while I would prefer to not walk through pain or disappointment, I have learned to count myself blessed because of the nearness of God no matter the sorrow or celebration. There’s a certain joy in God’s certain character as we walk through an uncertain life.

the darkness, and the One Who is bigger

I’ve been rereading The Chronicles of Narnia this month. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the books, but each time I do, I learn something different about myself and about God. Different lines or phrases pull me closer to the heart of God, give me a deeper desire to know Him and to long for eternity.

“This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me [Aslan] here for a little, you may know me better there [in your own world].”

And the part of the saga that grasped my attention this week came from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Towards the end of the journey to the end of the world, Prince Caspian and the crew on the Dawn Treader (including Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace) are sailing towards a dark mass that they thought was land but turns out to be an overcoming darkness. While they are rowing through the darkness, they hear the voice of a crazed man begging them to take him on board, so they pull him up and he tells them to row away as fast as possible, for they have reached the Island where Dreams come true – not daydreams, but dreams. As the crew tries to change direction and row away as fast as possible, each man begins to experience different dreams coming to life: they hear noises, sense presences, and start to feel mad and desperate themselves – until, of course, Aslan.

How many times have I felt myself being pulled by “the dark,” the voice of fear and the creeping sensation of doubt taunting me in what I cannot see? Or how often do I give in to comparisons and self-pity, not realizing the tight grip they gain around me as I give them room to come near?

A lot has happened for us in the past month. We realized there was a good possibility Eric would get a job he had been interviewing for in Conway. Then he was offered the job and set July 1 as a start date. Then we worked like mad people one weekend and listed our house for sale by owner, just to see what kind of interest we got. Four showings and two offers happened in the first two business days on the market (and the other two showings were trying to work with their banks so they could put together official offers). So I quickly had to learn next steps for selling our house on our own when we accepted one of the offers. Then we drove to Louisville and back for a wedding of a dear friend. Two days later, I drove to Lawrence, KS and back for a quick 24 hour trip to visit more friends. The day after, we went house hunting in Conway.

The word I would use to describe the past month is exhausting: emotionally, mentally, physically, relationally. And it won’t stop for awhile, between wanting to see friends here and say goodbye, to potentially going down to Conway again for round two of looking for a house, to packing up our things, to my brother’s wedding at the end of this month, to my sister’s wedding at the end of the next month, to a third wedding for one of my college girls in which I am a bridesmaid…

Despite so many things on the calendar, there’s also a lot of uncertainty in the immediate future. We don’t know where we will live in Conway. We don’t know how long we will need a temporary housing option. We will be starting over to make friends. We have ideas of what my job will look like, but there are some other options out there and nothing is set in stone. Eric’s job is pretty much the only certainty at this point (that, and my parents’ excitement to have us in Conway), and even his job contains some unknowns when it comes to how to transition from a corporate workplace to a church staff.

So yes, the darkness, and the voices from what I can’t see taunting me? That’s very real for me right now. The panic that builds in my mind is paralyzing when I start to worry what will happen if we can’t find a house we want to buy, or – worse – if we buy a house that we don’t really like and we feel stuck. Or, for some reason, having to rent for a year feels like the end of the world. But panic is like that – it is irrational, and it takes over all common sense.

When we give in to worry, our current, momentary situation feels bigger than we can handle. Our present troubles outweigh our view of an eternal God.

“We shall never get out, never get out,” moaned the rowers. “He’s steering us wrong. We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out.”

When it comes down to it, I know that there’s always uncertainties in life. But there are some seasons where it is heightened more than others, and I am there now.

Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting-top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better. “After all, nothing has really happened to us yet,” she thought.

The what-ifs can drown out the reality of how “okay” you are right now – unless you re-fix your perspective from the darkness to the truth of God that is not dependent on circumstances. God is God no matter the presence of darkness or light. And just as Aslan whispered “Courage, dear heart,” to Lucy before they were out of the dark, God whispers “Courage, dear heart,” to you and to me, even if we still have to walk through a little more of the unknown.

Like Lucy, I need to fix my eyes on the One Who is bigger than all of those fears and concerns. Instead of allowing the darkness to overcome me, I want to look for the Light, no matter how small it may appear at first, and I want to fix my gaze there. Salvation lies in rowing straight for that light, not in looking around at the darkness and trying to visualize what’s hiding there.

All at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been… “I reckon we’ve made pretty good fools of ourselves,” said Rynelf.

There’s still lots of things that I am tempted to worry about – friends, finances, a place to live, a continued desire to start a family even in the midst of all of this – but when I find myself drifting toward the darkness again, I want to instead more quickly re-fix my eyes on the One Who is bigger than all of those questions and concerns – and the One Who is even sovereign over all things.

enough

Matthew 19 tells the story of the rich young man who wants to experience eternal life from God, so he boldly asks Jesus how to obtain it. He confirms that he has shaped his life in accordance with God’s rules. Jesus then tells him the last thing he needs to do is sell everything he owns and give the profits to the poor to follow Him. And the man goes away sorrowful, because he has to make a choice between Jesus and his possessions, and he can’t imagine giving up his wealth.

I don’t think this story is meant to make a literal statement about wealth, though it certainly can apply to materialism – I think it’s about what you treasure most. The commandments not mentioned in the list He gives are the first three about having no other gods before Him, no idols, no irreverance toward His name. Jesus wants us to treasure Him most. He wants us to choose Him when given the option, to be willing to let go of even the things He has blessed us with, to choose the Giver of gifts rather than the gifts themselves. He wants us to see Him as enough.

I don’t feel like God often makes me actually give up the gifts He has provided. I have noticed that He brings up the possibility of me having to let go of things, to see if I am willing to do so (kind of like Abraham being willing to give up Isaac but in the end God providing a ram). And not that He hasn’t asked me to let go of some things, and not that He won’t in the future. But it’s when those potential surrenders come up that I see the true holds on my heart.

And infertility has brought one up.

I have a hard time giving up being able to relate to others — I don’t want to feel left out or left behind.

I don’t want to be a cause for pity. I don’t particularly want to be singled out in a room full of women as the only one who doesn’t have kids. Those have been some of the most painful moments in this journey – the moments where I have felt isolated and alone. Like I am “falling behind” everyone else. And it’s not a reflection of insensitivity of people – on the contrary, my people have been constant and compassionate. It’s my own heart fears that isolate me.

But if Jesus is enough, like He wants the rich young man to understand, then I don’t need to fear being “incomplete” without a baby. If He is enough, then I do not have to live in hopelessness during infertility, no matter how long it lasts. I have to choose to see Him as enough and to rest in His sufficiency, even if it’s not an easy, tangible alternative.

And when that choice is hard to make, I bring myself back to the truth in Scripture to calm my weary and worried heart.

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will meet all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Matthew 7:11 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 – “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

I don’t know what it is for you, what object or relationship or status catches your breath as you think about God asking you to let go. It can be anything. But I believe we all have something. The woman who discipled me in college set such a beautiful example for me. She knew hers was materialism, and she would share with me how she was learning to identify the line between enjoying the things in her home and her closet versus when they would become an obsession, overshadowing her love for God. She confessed to me when she was struggling, and she modeled a constant awareness of the state of her heart.

I want to be continually re-evaluating the state of my heart. Am I clinging more to God, or to comparisons and desires to be “in it” with everyone else? Am I more focused on desiring pregnancy, or desiring God no matter what story He has for our future family?

What is it that keeps you from whole-heartedly, without abandon, following Jesus? What are you holding back? What are you afraid to lack?

No matter what it is, do you believe that, with or without it, He is enough?

my heart behind my vulnerability

Hushed tones accompany the topic. The one with the secret feels broken, and insecure, and hesitant to share in case the one listening will feel awkward.

We’re trying to get pregnant.

It’s a topic rarely spoken about publicly, similar to miscarriages. Understandably. And it’s easy to feel alone because of this reality.

I experience the tension between wanting to be vulnerable, but not wanting to share something so personal with someone who might not know me as well yet.
Or someone who might not want to go that deeply into my life.
Or someone who might then feel awkward around me or sorry for me.
Or even someone who might try to give me advice that is more hurtful than helpful.

Why do those of us with this story feel this way?

Well, it implies we are having sex regularly at intentional times each month. (EESH that’s personal.)

It implies we want something really badly, and at least I personally fear people will judge me, assuming I have made an idol out of this desire.

It means the possibility that something below the surface could be wrong – which no one wants to think could be then be true for them.

And it’s a reminder that it’s not easy – and maybe scary for those who aren’t at that place yet. It’s not something you can necessarily know ahead of time, but the more people you know with that issue, the more of a fear it can become.

But I have found such freedom in talking about it. Talking and writing helps me process and opens me up to the Lord speaking to me without me even realizing it until I read back over the words on the page or until I speak them out loud. It helps minimize the shame I feel at times in my grief. It reminds me that people love me and care about me and want to come around me in my sadness.

And one of the sweetest things in talking about a sensitive subject is that it opens my story up for others to see and relate to.

Before we started “trying” to get pregnant, I was praying that the Lord would bring women into my life whom I could walk through pregnancy with. All of the women in my community group were new moms, with babies born within the previous nine months, so I assumed that my pregnancy would come before they started trying for their second.

Then we didn’t get pregnant. I had all sorts of friends getting pregnant, so I kept thinking those friends were the answers to my prayers, and I would just be a couple of months behind them.

Then those friends had their babies. And I looked down at my flat stomach and empty arms and wondered what God was doing, how He was planning to answer my prayer for women to relate to and walk with.

For all of the reasons mentioned above, I hesitated to share openly on my blog or with people I maybe didn’t know super well. But once I started sharing how I was seeing God work through this situation, I was encouraged to find people who were walking through a totally different type of waiting, yet still related to how God was at work in me.

Some of the most encouraging words in the human language, in my opinion, are “Me, too!” and I have gotten to hear that so often – whether the person responding is also walking through infertility or whether they are simply experiencing the same questions as they figure out where God is in their own personal struggle. It’s affirming that you’re normal and that, if God is at work in that person and their uphill struggle, then He can be at work as you walk uphill, too.

Then I had friends and acquaintances start reaching out to me as a result of what I shared. Women I hadn’t really talked to in several years told me that they, too, were walking through infertility, whether only a few months of trying or multiple years of heartache. I made a list of women to pray for who were specifically in the waiting for a baby, and I was overwhelmed with how many names were on the list.

God answered my prayer for women to walk through this season with, even if they aren’t people I see every day. I have friends I can message or call who will understand the overwhelming grief that rolls in one morning, only to be gone by the afternoon. I have friends who understand the heartbreak of starting a new monthly cycle, the disappointment and dreams and plans that come crashing to a halt.

All because of God’s hand at work in the midst of a painful season – and the strength He has given me to be vulnerable.

When it comes to vulnerability, though, the struggle is not just limited to infertility. Anxiety, depression, singleness, unhappiness at work, marital tension, fear of the future, the daily struggles of a young mom… the list goes on and on. We try to hide the areas in our lives where we feel we don’t “measure up” or have it all together. We each think for some reason that we should be able to handle life on our own, whatever it throws our way, so unhappiness or pain means there is weakness in us. Instead of letting others know that we need help or encouragement, we hide our struggle behind a smile and a vague comment referencing “life is hard but I am making it.”

There’s discretion in who we share our pain with, and I am by no means suggesting that the more public level of vulnerability God has challenged me to is the best way for everyone, but I have seen power in choosing to allow others in. It reminds me that I am not alone. That we are all fighting to see God in this broken but beautiful world. And it allows others to respond as tangible expressions of God’s love for me.

Last week, the South was hit with buckets of rain. Each day I left the house, I brought along a rain jacket and an umbrella and water-friendly shoes to prepare for the day’s dampness. But in the midst of the fast-moving clouds one morning before the downpour started, I caught glimpse of a faint rainbow. God’s promise to never flood the earth again – a promise that He has kept. Which reminds me that He will continue to keep all of His promises. He is a trustworthy God, and vulnerability for me has started with first being real with Him, opening myself to hear His voice even when I may not see His hand.

Just to note: I am starting a section in my blog to share more of the specifics in my story so far relating to infertility. I probably won’t be posting these on Facebook the way I do my regular posts, and I don’t want my blog to become only about infertility, but I would love for you to follow along or share my blog as a resource for any friends who are also walking through this type of wait. You can access it through the menu and by clicking “infertility” or through the link samanthacbarnes.com/infertility.

the risk of a fickle march

image1Hope is a risky thing.

The buds on the trees have been slowly developing over the past few weeks – so slowly that you might not have noticed them until now, when their colors start to fade into focus.

Last summer, we planted a “Jane Magnolia” tree – a tulip tree – and I have been eagerly anticipating spring when pink and white blooms would present themselves for the first time.

Last fall, we planted daffodils, and my insides have become giddy as the bulbs have recently bloomed to welcome spring. This is our first March in our new house; next month will make one year since we moved in, and I feel that our own daffodils blooming is the last piece of the puzzle to make this house our home. Daffodils have always been my favorite.

With a milder winter, I certainly haven’t complained about the lack of snow, but I have suspiciously resisted from calling it an early spring. March snows are always a possibility, and I fear for the state of the blossoms peeking out from under their covers. I don’t want to get my hopes up that winter really is over, because I fear being pounded with inches of snow and having to dig out my puffy coat again.

That has to be one of the worst feelings in the world – getting your hopes up for something, and really believing it will happen, only to be thoroughly disappointed and discouraged. It jades us, makes us cynics in a world that is increasingly more welcoming to the cynical and doubtful.

Hope can seem too risky, too naive.

We want to outsmart the things we can’t control, so we hold back from believing in what is possible, suspect that things won’t ever really change, or refrain from making plans because we hate the idea that they won’t work out. We want to be able to say, “I told you so” to cover our disappointment and to pretend that we aren’t hurt.

But if I’m not careful, I will carry this attitude with me all through the month of March, claiming that spring is “too good to be true.” Then April will hit and I will realize that I missed the joy of the whole month – the early bloomers, the budding trees, the grass slowly turning green. The joy of the world preparing itself to reveal life after a bare, windy winter.

I will have missed delighting in the daffodils for fear that they will be killed by a late snow.

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla, with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.”

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, `Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.” –Anne of Green Gables

I don’t want to miss out on the fun of looking forward to what’s next.

Often, the anticipation of something is just as fun as actually getting it. Think about a child trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, or the planning and packing for a big trip, or the moments leading up to a bride walking down the aisle to her groom. Time seems to move so slowly when you want something to happen, but it’s a feeling that you can’t create unless you are in the situation. The better the thing you are waiting for, the harder the wait. The more you start to doubt that it won’t come. But the rush of emotion when it does come is better than the numbness of never believing it would come in the first place.

I want to live a life that is hopeful, not suspicious. I want to enjoy March for all it has to offer, even if it teeters on the possibility of early spring regressing to late winter. I want to take out my sandals and short sleeves without shame, without worry of what tomorrow might bring.

And I want to be present in my own life seasons of March.

In the waiting for a baby, it’s easy to let the months pile up as reasons to doubt that the future will change. Don’t they call insanity doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Yet that can pretty much feel like the journey to get pregnant. It’s discouraging, it’s uncontrollable, and it doesn’t seem to change.

Maybe you can relate in your own season of March, in the wait for a desire to be fulfilled. You start to feel ashamed each time that it doesn’t happen, you begin to quiet your sadness when talking to others, you want to outsmart your hope each month that something will be different. You harden yourself to hope, instead thinking it’s easier to just forget your desire and avoid the pain that comes each time you realize it’s not going to happen.

But I don’t want to live in ignorance of the buds which are starting to unfurl in this season. There’s beauty in those early stages. I don’t want to avoid disappointment at the cost of avoiding the experiences of life – both joy and pain. I want to be present each day in the month of March, not worrying about whether or not the temperature will drop in a week.

Because there is joy in anticipation and fun in the wait. There is something to be valued in the suspense of this beautiful yet unpredictable life, especially as we remember that we have a God Who is sovereign over those details. He tells the bulbs when to bloom and He reminds us that His hand is in every detail of March. We can hope not because it will guarantee a change in circumstances, but because our hope draws us closer to God. He alone holds the power to move us into spring or stay us in the winter, and His purpose in either season is greater than what we can understand.

I know the risk, but I am choosing to hope in the fickleness of March, bringing my hope to His presence no matter what happens next.

admitting when things are messy

I thought I had already picked a “word” for 2016. Something to anchor me to a purpose, a characteristic I wanted to develop, a place I planned to focus in growth.

And, while I still love the word rooted and all that it implies in my walk with God, I think He might be changing the word He wants me to focus on.

There’s this tool called Soularium that we use for ministry within Cru. It is a stack of photographs which you spread out on the table and use to start conversation, typically evangelistic in nature. It’s incredible how students will relate cards to where they wished they were in life, what they think God is like, and how they would describe their spiritual journey.

As someone who loves to think in metaphors, though, I enjoy using these cards to start conversations with others simply regarding where they are in life right now and even for personal reflection in my own story.

As I was using Solarium with a group of students a couple of weeks ago, I came across this card:

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My initial reaction noticed that it was blurry and messy. Maybe from a group of people who have finished dinner but have yet to clean up.

The word messy has come up for me a lot lately, and I first found myself hoping God wasn’t doing that on purpose.

When journaling and praying, I have repeated ideas that communicate feeling “all over the place” and wanting to be able to “get myself together.” I have felt a lack of consistency in so many internal areas and daily disciplines, when I typically feel like I am someone who is a little more leveled out. When sitting down with a counselor several weeks ago, it’s the word that kept coming out of my mouth to describe how I have felt and why I wanted to talk to her. Eric has told me he thinks I am the “even keel” one in our relationship, but I have begun to doubt that role over the past few months.

I don’t like for life to be messy. I like order, control, efficiency. Heck, I have a planner that breaks up my day by the hour so I can quickly see what gaps are in my schedule and how I can make the most of them. While my home is not spotless, it is generally well-organized and requires very little tidying up before guests arrive. (The clean aspect is what requires more effort, thanks to an incredibly sweet but ridiculously furry dog.)

But the Holy Spirit has been at work to show me how quickly I attach to those for security instead of to Christ.

Confessions about this season in my life: I find myself needing to cry once a week instead of my previous patterns of once every six to eight weeks or so. I can’t predict or control my days where I am fine and my days where I am overwhelmed with sadness. Today, for instance, I am totally fine with not being pregnant yet. In two days (or even two hours), that might change. Words are my thing, but I haven’t known how to put into words what I am walking through on the hard days. Then on days where I am feeling great about life, I feel separated from that struggle and can’t necessarily process the pain.

I kind of just feel all over the place, and that hasn’t been normal for me.

As I have recognized this messiness in my life, though, and as I have had courage to admit it, I have experienced a new sort of freedom. A weight off my shoulders. I have noticed that others don’t expect me to be perfect – they have grace for me and want me to share, not hide, my confusion. It was I who didn’t have grace for myself, and now admitting that I don’t have it all together releases a deep breath and relief.

But no one wants to be messy or needy, right?
Who would embrace that word to define their focus for the year?

As I continued in conversation with the group of college girls gathered over the table of pictures, another image caught my eye.

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It, too, is messy. But it’s beautiful – one of those that deserves to have some sort of inspirational quote dancing across in scrawls and swirls.

I began to ask myself what the differences were between the two pictures of messy situations.

The dinner table signifies a mess that needs to be cleaned immediately. Eric and I have a hard time being able to relax in the evening if the kitchen is still a wreck from dinner, so he graciously does the dishes right after we finish eating while I put away leftovers. That picture also signifies that the fun has already happened; no one looks forward to cleaning up after a wonderful meal. That means the evening has ended and the fun is over.

However, the tangle of teacups and paintbrushes and dirty water notes that something special is being created. The artist might still be in the midst of the process, but there’s beauty in the middle of that mess. There’s promise that something special is being created, so that even when it is time to clean up, there is tangible evidence to add purpose to the mess.

I want to embrace life being messy with the view that it is producing something. I might still be in the middle of the mess, and the painting may be far from done, but there is something lovely about the process. Being messy, for me, reminds me that I don’t have the ability to put it all back together, and it therefore brings me to my knees more quickly in my need for God.

I am seeing that I cannot always wrap my arms around life and wrangle it in to my understanding or my control. Sometimes it’s wild and unorganized and uncertain. But in those moments, I can lean on a constant God for stability, embracing exactly where He has put me, trusting that He is creating something purposeful and beautiful.

His grace keeps me close when all else threatens to unhinge me. His grace teaches me to stay sane in the midst of messy. So I will embrace a messy life that carries the hope of how my God is at work and the promise that “He Who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

I might still work to keep my home and my calendar pretty organized, though. Pretty sure that will help with sanity in the midst of life’s unpredictability.

if winter offers no answers

IMG_6099I lay down on the concrete, cat-like in finding the perfect spot for sunning in late January’s taste of spring. Ridley joins in as he perches beside me, scanning gaps between fence posts for signs of passerby activity.

My soul needed this weekend, as I am sure yours did, too.

In no time at all, the coats and gloves will stow away for the majority of the year. Tulips and daffodils will be the forerunners of Spring’s arrival, shooting through crunchy grass to trumpet her arrival.

After today, I expect Spring will hit the snooze button and fall back asleep for another six weeks, but her 65 degree stretch-and-yawn this weekend gives me just the hope I need – the reminder that winter doesn’t last for forever.

We all want that reassurance when we find ourselves in a season we would rather not remain in. Just a glimmer of what’s coming to give us strength to endure the winter for a little while more.

So what do you do when you don’t sense that glimmer, when the cold and gray envelopes you with no promise of letting go?

How do you find hope when none is offered? How do you live in the tension of what you are trusting is next and the reality of where you are right now?

I’ve struggled to write about this because I honestly don’t have the answer.

I’ve pondered and processed how to fight with hope against the cynicism of “it’s never going to happen” or “this is the way life will always be,” while also surrendering my heart to “not my will but Yours be done.”

And the best answer I have come up with is that it’s not a black and white thing, which is hard for me to accept – but which I am noticing the Lord wants to remind me of more frequently these days.

I am a self-aware legalist, thriving on rule-following and clear-coated ethics and knowing without a doubt that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I am Nicodemus in John 3, asking the Christ for the 1-2-3’s on how to ensure my rightness with Him, finding the idea of “being born again” too odd and unattainable.

How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?

How can I trust You completely with my desires but protect against hurt? What is the secret to avoiding depression, grief, misplaced hope? How do I wholeheartedly follow You where I don’t think I want to go? How do I communicate honestly, tell You what I want, without being demanding or selfish or resistant to Your plan?

I am learning that my perspective, like Nicodemus’s, is wrong.

I so badly want to handle life “the right way” or “the way I should” that I miss the gift of God’s grace. I falsely think that spiritual maturity means growing to need God less and less the way we grow apart from our earthly parents – Look, Mom and Dad, I’m all grown up and filing my taxes without your help! However, I once heard someone say that spiritual maturity actually means that we grow to acknowledge our need for God more and more. It’s not about being able to stand on our own two feet but, instead, frequently falling in God’s arms and allowing Him to be our stable place, our rock.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:2)

I am not shaken because of Him, not because of what I in myself am capable of.

I find my assurance not in how well I follow a checklist but in how well I know Him and accept His love for me.

So back to having hope but not being devastated in getting my hopes up.
To living in the tension of God’s goodness but God’s unexplainable purposes.
To how I am “supposed to” handle this spiritual and emotional season of winter.

I am humbly recognizing my need to let go of looking for the answers to my questions and instead look to the truth of Who God is, regardless of my circumstances. Not that He isn’t a God with answers, but sometimes He asks us to trust without the explanation we are looking for.

And He wants us to acknowledge that we are a mess and that we need His help, because, the truth is, we don’t handle life the right way. While I am feeling lost right now, I am taking comfort that He is present as I sort through what I don’t understand. His grace covers my continual shortcomings, my frequently incorrect thinking. His grace covers my pain and my lack of faith.

I am so grateful for this weekend, but I know that Spring doesn’t always show herself in January. When she doesn’t, when she remains in hiding, it doesn’t mean that she is no longer coming. It simply means we must continue to faithfully wait, trusting a Creator Who sets purposes in motion even if they are first buried beneath the surface of a frosty ground.

when you can’t skim over life

As a writer, there are two hard things I have found to be true. The first is that I can’t just write here about something that sounds good and spiritual and meaningful – I have to actually live it first.

The second is that as I, just like you, live through my own lessons and learn (often the hard way), I personally cannot process what I am experiencing until I write about it. Eric can normally start to tell when I haven’t written in awhile, because I complain about feeling “off” but I don’t know why. The way God has seemed to wire me to process by writing is something I love, but it also requires courage. Writing something down makes it feel more real, exposing pain and unfinished stories in which I could feel overwhelmed but instead am challenged to respond with truth about Who God is.

Very rarely do we as humans willingly embrace pain. We love the short cut and the easy way and the smart-enough-to-plan-ahead.

But the more I read the Bible, and the more I read authors who help me to read the Bible differently, I see pain laced in-between so many of the narratives. Where I once focused on the miracle at hand and the way God showed up, I am now slowing down the happily-ever-after I so love to celebrate and instead identifying with the characters, recognizing their pain in ways I have previously just skimmed through.

It’s so much easier to summarize the past than it is to live in the process.

Take Hannah’s story, for example. 1 Samuel 1 tells us, “Elkanah had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.” How much life is actually built into that blunt statement! We know the whole story – that God is going to show up and provide a son who will be instrumental in the shaping of Israel’s history. Knowing the whole story can cause us to keep reading to get to the good stuff: the angel’s promise, the answered prayers, the boy who would later audibly hear God’s call. But Hannah didn’t have that advantage. Day in, day out, Hannah lived through this harsh and constant comparison, uncertain of her future and of her God’s plan.

The death of Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, is another happy ending we can gloss over too quickly. The whole story is in John 11 but basically Mary and Martha send a messenger to Jesus to ask Him to come heal their brother, who is sick. Jesus somewhat cryptically responds, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He then waits before going to visit this family, and by that time it is seemingly too late. Mary and Martha have been mourning their brother’s death for four days. What do you think those four days were like for Mary and Martha? If you have had a loved one pass away, what were the first few days like for you?

When Jesus finally shows up, Martha runs out to greet him, but Mary doesn’t leave the house. When someone comes to tell her that Jesus is calling for her, she runs to Him, falls at His feet, and wails, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

We know Jesus is about to do something great. But for the past four days, I bet Mary was lost in grief. She knew Jesus’ authority and power, yet she and Martha waited and waited and He didn’t show up.

We don’t get to read ahead in the story of our lives to see how God is going to act or what He is doing ultimately for His praise from our lives. We have to live each day in uncertainty of the future, certain only that life doesn’t always go the way we hope it will. There is an ultimate happily ever after when Jesus comes back for good, but until then we are surrounded by brokenness.

The sweet thing I am noticing in the midst of the pain is the way that pain draws a person into deeper intimacy with God – and, in my recent studies, especially in examples of women in Scripture. We don’t read a lot from the perspective of women in the Bible, but often in the times that we do, there’s a desperation present in their need for God to show up. We get to see Hannah praying so intensely that the priest Eli thinks she is drunk. We see Mary fall at Jesus’ feet and audibly question what He is doing. At the end of Genesis 29 we are privy to Leah’s heart as she names her sons to reflect her own pain of being unloved – and as they reflect her transition over the years from craving her husband’s affirmation to being able to praise God despite her marriage reality.

It’s a beautiful picture of the Gospel, our desperate need for God and His grace to meet us in our lack.

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In When Life and Beliefs Collide, Carolyn Custis James writes (referencing Mary’s interaction with Jesus after Lazarus’s death):

Jesus does not stand above or outside of Mary’s pain, much less urge her to snap out of it. He is neither philosophical nor patronizing… He acknowledges her sorrow and validates her suffering by entering himself into the full measure of her distress without reserve. Surely Jesus’ behavior should prevent us from ever thinking good theology makes us impervious to our pain or indifferent to the suffering of others… Good theology ­– in Jesus and in us – coexists with broken hearts, shattered lives, and unimaginable pain.

Jesus is with us in pain. He doesn’t chide us for being overwhelmed with sadness as we walk through the hard seasons of life. Faith in Him doesn’t mean that we are able to endure trials personally unaffected by what’s happening; faith is experiencing the grit of life and crying out against it yet still choosing to cling to Him in the midst of the unexplained.

In another book, The Gospel of Ruth, James comments, “God uses suffering to open our eyes to see more of him than we would under rosier conditions.” How my heart longs for my own eyes to be opened in such a way – to not skim over pain in hopes that it will be over soon, but to walk each step looking to see more of God through my sadness than maybe I could if everything went the way I wanted it to.

One of the blessings as I am walking through the unmet desire of pregnancy and a baby has been the reality that I can’t share my story or even how I am doing right now in that skimmed-over fashion I might normally use. It’s easy to tell others how God has worked in my life in the past now that I can connect the dots and see what He was doing. In this moment, though, I don’t see the full picture. I don’t have the promise of a pretty bow to tie it all together. What I do have is the confidence that He is present, even in the midst of sorrow, and I am grateful for a platform that allows me to put what I believe about God to work. I pray that the way I am daily living in this season, though imperfect, is an encouragement to others who will one day – or who, even now – walk through their own trials and broken places.

This unavoidable brokenness is a reality that we live in the process, but we can and must cling to truth in the midst of the day to day: He is with me. He is for my good. He is for His glory. And those truths are worth more than just being skimmed over.