what love looks like for us these days

The first time I said, “I love you,” the words felt foreign on my lips.

Eric had just asked me to marry him while we were standing on the overlook of Yellow Rock Trail at sunset. Candles flickered in Mason jars and my shirt clung to my skin in the sticky July air as I clung to the man putting a ring on my finger.

Even as I said those words, the moment felt surreal. While I had known for several months that I loved Eric, we had decided to wait to say that phrase until we were engaged. Of course, he had come up with other sneaky ways of expressing his affection for me. We must have watched the Princess Bride together (I don’t quite remember), but at some point he started responding to me with the phrase As you wish.

As we started planning a wedding and saying those words more often, it almost felt like some sort of made-up language. I knew that love was more than a strong attraction or a sexual desire. I was pretty sure part of love was the promise to stick by each other no matter what, but for as often as I said it, I didn’t fully grasp what it meant.

After five years of marriage–which has included job losses, single income seasons, support raising, two house purchases, rotten jobs, moving to a new city, and infertility–I now more confidently know what love is.

I might venture to say that even after just the past year, my understanding of love has deepened. We know that love is patient, kind, and unselfish. It is not proud or rude or a competitive scorekeeper. But what does that look like played out in everyday life?

As I looked across the table at Eric last night over dinner, my heart melted. It’s been seven years since we first met, and I still find him so handsome and attractive. However, the sensation under my skin was prompted by more than just his appearance. I had this rare instant of a flooding back of all that we have been through together over the past year. The test results, the interviews, the decision to move, the house selling and house hunting and house buying, the new friends, the doctor appointments, the financial uncertainty, the adjusting to newness–it all combined into this deep exhale in recognition of the life we have made together.

And, in that moment, I knew that our love for each other is stronger than it has ever been, because we now know how to love not just in a mental and emotional state, but as a way of life.

Love is choosing to listen and encourage, even when the complaining words coming out of someone’s mouth are the exact same words they have been saying for the past three weeks–or months.

Love is allowing yourself to be a mess in front of someone else, finding that they, too, are a mess; there’s no pressure to get it together and get over it.

Love is the ability to simply know what someone is thinking in a moment, because you have walked through pain together often enough to know each others’ triggers and hurts and needs.

Love is choosing to ask the questions that you know will be answered with what you don’t want to hear, but asking them anyway because the other person needs to feel known.

Love is holding hands and not phones, making the conscious decision to take a break from the influence of the world and focus on the person in front of you.

Love is being willing to walk away from something you treasure because you treasure that person more than your own personal gain.

Love is recognizing that despite the uncertainty of the future, you are certain about who you want by your side.

I’m not going to lie, the past year has been difficult for Eric and I individually. It has been exhausting for our marriage. But it has also been sweet as we have continued to grow together; trials and challenges have been the glue that cements us together. And as much as my understanding of love has grown in these early years of marriage, I am confident I will know it even more deeply in another five years.

disappointment as an act of love

It was 2004, just a couple of weeks after my sixteenth birthday. I had been playing in a volleyball tournament out of town, and a teammate’s mom was dropping me off at home. We pulled into the driveway and saw my grandpa’s car parked to the side. Grandpa Cecil lived in a rural town a little over an hour away, and he would often stop by unplanned. He drove a couple of different vehicles, but this was the 1985 silvery-blue Ford Thunderbird that was my grandmother’s primary driver before she passed away. I walked in the front door, dropped my gear bag on the floor, and greeted my mom.

“I guess Grandpa Cecil is here?” I asked.
“Actually, he’s not,” Mom replied.
“Then why is his car parked outside?”
“Well, he dropped it off and asked if you would wash it for him.”
A look of confusion came across my face. “Uh… why?”
“He said, after you wash it, it’s your car.”

My parents were both standing there, grinning, holding out the keys to me. And, if I were a respectful, grateful daughter, I would have started jumping up and down excitedly.

But I didn’t. I tried to fake some excitement, though apparently I wasn’t very good at hiding my disappointment, as my parents knew the truth right away.

Just like any other teenager who is about to turn sixteen, I had daydreamed about the type of car I wanted. I researched vehicles online and daily checked the classifieds in the newspaper. I knew we didn’t have a ton of money to spend on a vehicle, and to be honest I don’t think I knew what an appropriate amount of money might be for them to spend. But I was hopeful for a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Honda CR-V, or a Chevy Silverado, even if it were several years older.

So the twenty year old metallic blue granny car in the driveway was not what I expected and not what I wanted. It had over 200,000 miles on it and the A/C didn’t work. I learned how to check my oil level and transmission fluid right away, because both would often leak and need to be filled up weekly. Even if you floored the gas pedal, it took a good 10-Mississippi-seconds to get from 20mph to 40 mph.

Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. Our expectations aren’t always met. And if we aren’t careful, disappointment can jade us and break us and cause us to live a life resigned to just getting by.

I’ve struggled to understand what it means to have hope in discouraging circumstances. The job that didn’t work out the way I thought, the loneliness I can’t shake, the health situation that results in more questions than answers.

One definition of hope reads: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” I always want hope to feel like that thrill in the anticipation leading up to something big: the slow, intense moments just before a first kiss, the silence before a major announcement, the pretty presents wrapped under a Christmas tree. But when I walk through a discouraging season–the times I need hope more than ever­–resulting disappointment changes my perspective, and deciding to hope can feel like allowing someone to beat me in the shins with a baseball bat over and over. Hope can hurt.

I tend to assume I have done something wrong in the area of hope when it results in disappointment. Does disappointment mean my hope was misplaced? I know my hope should be in the Lord, which Romans 5:5 promises will never put us to shame or disappoint us. Then how do I hope that the Lord will work and answer prayer without risking that disappointment, if he chooses to act differently than I am asking him to?

I typically associate a sense of desperation with hope: I am hoping because I want something to change­­. That desperation combined with disappointment then leads to despair, an all-consuming, self-centered, miserable place to land. The fatalistic thoughts of what if this never gets better or I can’t imagine continuing to walk through life this way can distort my view of God and his sovereign hand in my life. And despair is the indicator that my hope is in actually in the gift (new job, pregnancy, friendships, healing, etc.) rather than the Giver.

Hope is hard. I want to see it as “worth it,” but in all honesty it is simpler at times to let go and not get my hopes up.

And in this thinking, my options are either devastation or apathy: I could hope for that change and risk it falling through, or I could stop hoping for things and thus stop trusting the Lord to work at all.

But I don’t want to settle for one of those options. Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And a few verses later, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” If hope describes God’s character, and if it’s something Paul prayed that the Romans would abound in, then I want it, too!

How can I abound in hope, not worrying about what happens if it falls through? How can I recognize that that even if I am disappointed, God’s love doesn’t change or fail?

Here’s what I have begun to see: perhaps accepting disappointment is the key to understanding hope.

It’s not a lack of God’s love or care for me. Rather, it’s a sign of his care for me. He allows for my disappointment in order to make way for his (better) plans.

With this realization, I am beginning to change the way I hope. I am feeling the depth of my need for God to work, but I am also recognizing the security I have in him, even if the result is disappointment. I am recognizing what it means that he is good with the whole picture in mind, not simply “good in my limited perspective” or “good in relation to my list of wants and wishes.”

While God is a God of hope, he’s not a genie, nor is he Santa Claus. He’s not telling me to hope in him so that I can have my best life now. God is able, and God is loving, but he is also omniscient. He knows what I don’t, so the things I am hoping for may not be for my big-picture good.

I want to know God’s love through disappointment, not equate disappointment with a lack of love.

When my parents gave me that Thunderbird (which I and my friends named Stella), I was disappointed, but I didn’t doubt their love for me. I knew it wasn’t a limitation of their love that kept them from giving me the car I wanted. While it was related to a limitation of finances (they paid my grandpa ten bucks for that car, simply to have an amount to put on the bill of sale), it was, in fact, a demonstration of their love that they didn’t go into debt or spend all of their savings on a vehicle for me. They were providing for the cumulative needs of our family. They had a long-term picture of how long I would drive my first car. They wanted to make me happy, but they were also practical. And, in the end, I got a job the next summer and bought my dad’s 1987 Ford Bronco, a much cooler vehicle in my opinion, and passed Stella on to my sister.

Hope does not disappoint or put us to shame when it’s in the right thing–Christ alone. When our hope is in him, we see him as the one who satisfies our desires. When our hope is in him, we also understand that not all satisfaction will be experienced this side of heaven.

It takes faith to repeatedly believe that God could do “it” (whatever that “it” may be). It takes faith to believe that God even wants to answer my prayer. But if we never allow ourselves to hope in him, we will never experience the joy of dependence on him or the security of entrusting our desires to an all-powerful and always-loving God.

And when I find myself disappointed, I want to bring the disappointment to him, recognizing that I will experience his love in greater ways as I surrender my hopes to his sovereign hand.

“You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” –Psalm 145:16

God is not just a coworker.

Here’s my Saturday confession: I have been treating God like a coworker.

For the past several months, our conversations have been focused on questions like:
“God, what do you want me to do?”
“Father, what’s the purpose of this season?”
“How do I bring you glory with what’s in front of me?”
“God, please help me as I keep moving forward!”

These are not bad questions and concerns to bring to God. I want to live in an attitude of surrender, and these questions lean me toward his purposes instead of my own.

But I think I have been using them in my desire to prove my dedication to Lord, both to him and to others. I’ve been trying to lead my relationship with God and direct our conversations in the ways I want them to go, ignoring anything from him that didn’t line up with my meeting agenda. I’ve been striving, attempting to grasp at something tangible, looking for measures of “success” in a season of uncertainty.

I’ve been focused on the doing, but not the being.

It’s the classic issue of being a Mary vs. a Martha–but the focus is not limited to my lifestyle. Rather, it’s affecting the tone of my relationship with God.

Eric and I have what I consider a healthy marriage. We feel very blessed that, though we have encountered struggles, the majority exist outside of our marriage; we must make a decision about how struggles will affect us in our marriage, but the root of the problem has not been from within our relationship.

However, there are times when life has become busy or even just presented decisions for us to discuss, such as buying a new car or accepting a job offer and a relocation. And in these times, Eric and I have a tendency to stray from being husband and wife to being roommates and coworkers.

We still live together and share a bed. We sit down at the dinner table every night. We even go on a weekly date night. But all of our conversations revolve around resolving our finances or the pros and cons of the imminent decisions. Little triggers of stress start to widen the gap, and if we aren’t careful, deeper patterns begin.

Individually, we are too distracted to have quality time with the Lord. Together, we are too mentally tired to have intentional conversation, so we sit and watch Netflix instead. Then we fall asleep on the couch and have to force ourselves to turn off the TV, brush our teeth, and pull back the covers in our own bed. As a result, our moments of intimacy are fewer and further between.

It is important for us to communicate, making plans for the future and working through decisions (and I emphasize working through because Eric and I make decisions in very different ways and it’s a lot of work for us to do that together). We need to discuss who is paying the bills and whether or not we can afford a car payment.

But if our marriage is reduced to these issues, it’s not much of a marriage–at least, not a healthy one. There’s a balancing act in getting all of the to-do boxes checked off to be responsible in life but also in spending time together because we enjoy being with each other. Romance and intimacy and friendship and spiritual growth all play significant roles in the strengthening of our unity, and we aren’t going to last very long if we ignore those things.

Some aspects of the relationship might take precedence in different seasons, but in the big picture Eric and I have learned to keep a gauge on how we are doing as friends, financial managers, forward thinkers, lovers, and Christians.

Yet I often forget that my relationship with God can fall into lopsided patterns, as well. And that is where I have been.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why my Bible reading and morning journaling no longer stirred my heart or moved me into the presence of God. I was praying, but even those prayers seemed to be trying to bridge this great gap between God and myself. I know he is near and always with us, but he felt so far.

Then I met with a wonderfully wise woman who helped me identify that, just as to develop a healthy marriage Eric and I have to talk about more than decisions and bills and our day at work, God and I need to talk about more than just what I should do and how I wanted to plan.

God is more than a coworker or a career counselor.

While he does have plans and purposes for my life, living the Christian life is not centered on the doing alone. The doing must first begin with the being. There’s rest involved as we fix our eyes on his character and his heart for us. As we deeply know and experience his love for us, a desire to surrender the doing parts of our life will follow.

I was challenged to stop asking What do you want me to do? and start asking Who do you want me to be?

Who does God want me to be–as I walk through infertility and its next steps, as I navigate friendships, as I learn to support my husband, as I consider my own job aspirations, and so on? What character traits should I be reflecting no matter my circumstances and no matter the decisions he leads me to down the road?

And when I spent some concentrated time asking God to show me who he is and who he wants me to be, my soul began to quiet.

The noise and the tension of not knowing what to do slowly faded, even as I had to intentionally redirect my thoughts to stop asking So what do you want me to do with all of this? The doing is rooted down deep in my responses, and it requires an active decision to continually redirect my thoughts away from this autopilot of purpose and planning and preparation.

I am learning the value of being with God and resting in who I am when I am with him. He’s not looking for progress reports or strategic plans or completed task lists. He isn’t asking me to prove my spiritual maturity to him before he will answer my prayers.

I am sitting in his presence, asking him to fill me with his love so that I can be patient, joyful, and satisfied. Those are the answers I heard from him as I asked who he wants me to be, and I realized that I have been none of those things, at least not lately.

Instead of the self-absorption that comes with a focus on my plans and my decisions, a focus on his character allows me to let go of my get-it-done patterns. And in this shift, I can rest in the being, trusting that the doing will happen as I follow his leadership and not my own.

grace in the wilderness

The sun rose purple this morning, though I was certainly awake before it made its appearance. One of the most difficult parts of winter for me is the sleepiness of the sun – its delay in rising and its early departure in the evenings. Even during the day, it seems to burrow itself under blankets of clouds, as if it, too, is waiting for winter to end.

I’ve been asking the Lord what he wants from me, how he wants to use me in this season of life. Two years ago, I thought my season was about to change, so I tried to soak up everything I could to make the most of where I was, even if was only for a few more months.

I can’t believe it’s been two years. I can’t believe every single other thing in my life has changed – yet the one thing I thought would change, hasn’t. In the past two years – well, really, the past six months – my job, my husband’s job, our city, our friends, our church, our house all became new. But the wilderness of infertility in our life has remained the same. Despite recent tests, even our findings have not changed; everything is normal.

I know that I am always grateful for trials in hindsight. It’s encouraging to see the growth the Lord worked in me and how he uses those struggles for his purposes. I have experienced the truth of Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4, and I am not doubting that suffering produces perseverance and maturity and character.

But in the middle of the desert, we all despair; none of us would choose to camp there for too long.

We tend to think that the wilderness would be easier to walk through if we had a timeline on it. If I just knew how much longer it would be before we got pregnant, or if you knew that you would not have to endure your miserable job in another six months, or if singleness had a cap – maybe then, you could be content with your present, knowing that it won’t last for forever.

However, God told the Israelites exactly how long they would be wandering in the desert, and that didn’t cheer them up or prevent them from doubting God. They still complained. They were still afraid.

So if knowing the length of time of our wandering is not the answer, what does it look like to endure the wilderness? How can we find purpose in each season of life, whether or not it’s been made clear to us? How do we trust God’s goodness when it seems removed from our line of vision?

In the middle of pain and confusion, the only thing I know to do is to continue going back to the Word, looking for answers, for encouragement, for anything that provides clarity of God’s character while I walk in the wilderness.

And I can’t get this verse out of my mind:

Thus says the Lord, “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:2-3

“Grace in the wilderness” is one of the most beautiful phrases to me.

It often seems like the wilderness is a time when God is distant, when for one reason or another I am confused by how I ended up here and why God isn’t more present to bring change.

Jeremiah was prophesying about the coming defeat and exile that Judah would face. Because they worshipped pagan gods and failed to keep God’s covenant, the Babylonians would soon conquer Jerusalem and take captives away. However, because of God’s love for his people, Jeremiah also promised that Jerusalem, along with His people, would be restored in time. And, in the middle of it, Jeremiah promises that God will be with them.

God will remain faithful to his people. The wilderness may seem like a backwards move away from God’s goodness and God’s care, but that’s because they don’t understand God’s ways and God’s glory. His plan reaches far past the seventy years of captivity. God’s faithfulness continues in the wilderness. I believe that, and I am grateful he does not leave us to wander on our own. I believe that he is present, even when I don’t “feel” him.

But what it’s not just about seeing his grace while I am in the wilderness – what if the wilderness is actually part of his faithfulness? What if he is showing me grace by allowing me to remain in the wilderness?

What needs to change in my perspective to see infertility not just as a struggle to get through, but as a provision from God? How would this affect my joy, my hopes, my day-to-day life?

How does it shake your desperation to consider this desert as a place of experiencing God’s favor?

We will unfortunately not fully understand God’s ways on this side of heaven. It won’t make sense to us why life turns out the ways it does and why some desires go unfulfilled. But God is ultimately the One who wants to be the fulfillment of those desires, and as we wrestle in the wilderness, may we see that God’s grace goes before us and with us. He is faithful.

“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25

advent: hope in the darkness

This semester, I have been studying the book of Amos with the college girls I meet with at UCA. I really enjoy the Old Testament, so I was excited when they told me they wanted to pick one of the minor prophets for our discussions, since they were books they didn’t know much about.

I’m going to be honest, though. There were a couple of weeks where I was a little doubtful that this material was helpful for them. I mean, I 100% believe the entire Bible is inspired-by-God. I believe it is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). I believe that God’s Word does not return void – that it will accomplish His purposes for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11).

But, all that to say, maybe Amos was just a little too far removed from our everyday lives. I mean, Amos is full of accusations of Israel’s sin and God’s impending judgment. The nation of Israel has continually rejected God’s attempts to get their attention, with famines, with droughts, with pestilence… in the midst of all of these devastations, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6-11). God’s sovereignty is made known, but so is His wrath, and that’s a little uncomfortable (and not to mention depressing).

Things are dark for the nation of Israel in the first 8 and a half chapters… but that last half of chapter 9, the last few verses of the book, is the turning point of redemption and promise.

“Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the group, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord… “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:8, 14-15 emphasis mine).

When we sat down to discuss this passage this week, we all excitedly said the word FINALLY!

This promise of hope, which was partially fulfilled when the Israelites returned from exile and which will not fully be fulfilled until Jesus establishes His kingdom here on earth, snatches my breath away.

Hope shines most brightly in the darkness. By that, I mean that promises of coming redemption mean the most when you recognize your need for that redemption, when you have been waiting for something to change, when you need comfort that everything is going to be okay.

Hope is not something people generally talk about when everything in life is going fairly well – no one’s life is perfect, but in the seasons of calm, you can acknowledge that God has brought you to a place of rest; your hope feels fulfilled, and you aren’t looking towards what’s coming.

But when things are difficult, and you are tired of carrying your burdens, you need hope more than ever. You are desperate for the reassurance that God is still in control and God is still at work in your situation. You need something to cling to, a reminder that even if things are about to get darker, they will eventually get lighter again.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2-3, 6)Version 2

Advent is upon us, and I am reminded not simply that Jesus came, but Jesus came as the fulfillment of a promise. He was the hope that the nation of Israel was clinging to, even if they didn’t know exactly Who or how that hope would be fulfilled. He told them in the beginning that Someone would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15), that there would be victory, and Israel had to cling to the fact that God had not forgotten to be faithful.

The above passage in Isaiah is surrounded by prophecy of a coming invasion and the reasons the nation of Israel is facing judgment. Not even all of chapter 9 is a feel-good passage. But woven in-between the messages of the struggles ahead, God gives His people promise that He is still in control, and He is sending relief.

Hope becomes more valuable as you are immersed in desperate situations, places where your only option is to cling to God.

If you are walking in darkness (literally), you unconsciously strain your eyes in hopes of finding light. And as I walk through season of darkness metaphorically, I find I do the same thing, continually looking for something, anything that shows that there is purpose, or there is hope, or there is a relief ahead. I am eager to find that light.

This Advent season, I am reminded that Jesus is that light.

Not a relief from daily struggles. Not an answer to the uncertainty ahead. Not a change from unmet expectations. But Jesus Himself – He is the light in the midst of the darkness, and the more willing I am to acknowledge my desperate need, the more beautiful it is that He is the answer to that need.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

when you don’t feel like it

“I haven’t read my Bible in awhile.”

In a student center on campus, this college girl was updating me on her life, and in response to my question about her walk with the Lord, she confessed her lack of initiative and continued, “But I don’t want to be legalistic about it, so I am just going to wait until I have a desire to open up the Word.”

I am going to be honest, I don’t remember who this girl was, because I have had this conversation numerous times. In fact, I am sure I felt this way at a similar stage in my own life. As someone who loves the checklist and thrives with clear expectations, I found myself often viewing my faith through the lens of what all I needed to do, and it became a legalism in which I thought my good-girl-following-the-rules position was what God wanted most. I worried that He was disappointed in me when I skipped a quiet time or got distracted in church. The thing is, I so badly wanted to please God that I used my list of rules to measure whether or not I was doing “well” spiritually – and while this did help me evaluate whether or not I was prioritizing Him, it was a constant burden that kept me from experiencing joy and freedom in Him.

. . . . . . . . . .

Gnats in the dusk light of a November evening have always reminded me of fairy dust.

It’s the magic hour, that 4:30 slot when the sun slants low enough to catch my shape, shifting the shadows across the pavement so that a slow and easy jog looks like I am chasing my own form.

I’m not a runner. I wish I were one. I used to be, in high school, before the foot surgeries and the complacency of no longer needing to be in shape for year-round sports. But I am trying to start a new habit of running around 4:00 a couple of afternoons each week.

Once I am out on the paved trail that winds through town, I enjoy it. Our border collie pup Ridley typically accompanies me, and together we crunch over leaves, and he wags his tail at every passer-by who comments on how pretty he is. Somehow, he knows what they are saying, and he eats it up. We only run about a mile and a half to two miles, so don’t get any ideas that I am training for a distance race, but it’s enough to increase my heart rate and soak in the crisp autumn air.

I have been trying to develop this discipline since we moved into our new house three months ago – we are across the street from the town bike path, which makes it almost too easy to get out and go. But the times I have gone for a run have been few and far between, which makes it difficult to establish a habit, or to increase my distance I can run.

Disciplines take time to build, and they aren’t necessarily easy or enjoyable in the beginning. I get out and run not because I am excited to, but because I am chasing that feeling I get when I finally slow to a walk at the end – the tingly skin and tight muscles and deep breaths. And I often find that one healthy decision, like a run, leads to another, like eating an apple instead of the candy corn I still have stashed away from Halloween.

. . . . . . . . . .

The nation of Israel regularly found themselves in a period of decline and distance from the Lord, despite their attempts to rigidly keep the law. Often the issue came when they were incorporating the customs and religions of neighboring nations, continuing to “serve the Lord” but also serving their selfish desires and pagan gods. As you can imagine, this did not go over well with a Holy God who demands full allegiance to Himself alone.

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” (Isaiah 1:11)

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals I will not look upon them.” (Amos 5:22)

God is not simply after our rituals and our religion. The sacrificial system and the law were put into place as a continual reminder of the peoples’ need for God, and their inability to live in the way He commanded pointed them to their need for a Savior. Romans 4:20 tells us that “through the law comes knowledge of sin” – not “through the law comes our ability to be saved.”

“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

I was talking about this yesterday with a couple of girls. When you stop to think about it, how incredible is it that God doesn’t just care about us going through the motions? He wants our hearts! He wants a relationship with us. He’s not after us being able to keep the rules. In fact, He knows we can’t keep the rules, and He loves us even in our mistakes and our shortcomings.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

God is after a relationship with us, and we have to remember that as we seek to live a life pleasing to Him. It’s not just about following the rules. We cannot accomplish salvation or maintain our deserving of it through our own abilities.

However, if we believe the truth that we are all broken, and none of us have a right heart, we will find that we don’t always want to live the way He commands.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

The point of spiritual disciplines (prayer, reading the Bible, worship, confession, etc.) is not to give us a list of rules to follow. They are designed to help us connect with God and deepen our relationship with Him. Similar to a friendship in which you talk and hang out and do fun things together to help you grow closer, spiritual disciplines help us grow closer to God.

And while He doesn’t want our numb routines, I’m not sure that the answer when we don’t feel like it is to wait until we feel like it. Because, if our hearts are broken and sinful, we aren’t going to always “want” it.

Rather, spiritual disciplines are more like working out. I don’t always want to run, and I don’t always want to read my Bible. But the more often I get out and run, the more I find enjoyment in various aspects of it, such as experiencing the angle of the sunlight and the crunch of leaves beneath my feet and the chance to clear my head from the day. The more often I run, the more easily I can breathe through the pounding of feet on pavement. It will (hopefully) become something I crave, something routine but something good for me that is producing results in my life, physically and mentally.

And the more often I open my Bible, even when I don’t “feel like it,” the more I will find enjoyment in the experience of quieting my heart, holding thick leather and heavy pages, searching for truth about God, and allowing Him to speak to me. Sometimes He does, and it’s joyous and convicting. Sometimes, it’s just sitting there, sacrificing that time for Him and trusting that He is present even if silent.

It’s a discipline, and while I don’t do it just for the sake of checking it off a list, I read the Word daily and trust that through it God is producing something in my life.

Even if I can’t see it yet.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

accepting an unwanted storyline

These days, I am trying to form a new habit of looking for redemption despite a lack of resolution.

We live in a less-than-perfect world, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It’s not hard to find disappointment or discouragement, both in the world as a whole and in our own worlds, the day-to-day realities we individually face.

In my story, the brokenness I am facing is infertility. For you, it might be unhappiness in a job, or a rocky marriage, or recent loss of a loved one, or a difficult move to a new city, or the weighty uncertainty of what the future holds.

And, perhaps even more difficult, these struggles reveal our lack of control in our lives. The inability to work hard and, as a result, make things okay is frustrating, especially in a society which communicates that hard work typically equals success – anything from a promotion in your job to a cleaner house to a skinnier version of yourself. There are so many tangible things that are successful as a direct result of our effort and our skills. But when it comes to the big life issues, it doesn’t work the same way.

So what do we do, then?

How do we deal with the dissatisfaction we face in life? How do we live in the middle of brokenness and find contentment in what we cannot change? How do we trust a God Who is able to cause change, but Who often doesn’t meet our expectations, since His ways are not ours and His thoughts are not ours?

If we really believe He is working all things together for good, but if we accept that we won’t understand His methods of bringing about that good, how can we find peace while still in the middle of the story?

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. –John 12:24

This paradox has grasped my attention. Death is not the end – death produces life. And not only does it produce life, but it has the potential to multiply life.

In this season of infertility, how can I see it as fruitful, yielding life despite the lack of such within my womb?

How can you reshape your perspective to see not just the trial in front of you, but what it is producing in you? How could this be part of God’s story, even if it’s not the storyline you hoped for?

And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4

Suffering and affliction is the beginning of the route to hope. Crapdangit.

Our God uses pain to produce hope, and as much as I kind of hate this process, I am learning that it is necessary. Without pain, why would we need a hope to cling to? If the world worked the way we wanted, would we long for the Lord? But as it is, we falter and faint until we lean on the Lord’s strength, finding our needs met in Him even when (especially when) they aren’t met by our tangible reality.

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Joel 2:25-27

The locust has eaten the years – but the locusts were first sent by God. He gives locusts, then He gives relief and He gives life. How do we handle that He is the One Who both sends the locust and Who rescues us?

As of now, I am perhaps left with more questions than answers. But I have been pondering this concept for the past several months, and I want to find the life in the midst of death, the fruit in the midst of barrenness, and the hope that pain is producing in me.

It’s a beautiful absurdity, that God takes such an unlikely path, and while I confess being over the pain and the confusion, I am grateful that the brokenness doesn’t mean hopelessness. In fact, the more I find myself despairing over life circumstances, the more I am grasping for hope that deliverance is soon.

And in that grasping, I am gripping onto God instead of a change in my circumstances, as I more fully recognize His control and my lack thereof.