Dear Sister: The Most Important Thing I Could Tell You About Marriage

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Dear Sister, 

In a month’s time, you will be a wife. Less than thirty days from now, you’ll put on a white dress and say yes to a forever that you’ve only ever dreamed about until now. And I’m sure you know by now that there are a lot of opinions out there about submission and egalitarian versus complementarianism and who should be making more money and how to have 72 orgasms in one night. But those aren’t the things that I want to share with you.

When your brother and I were engaged, we took inventories that served as spring boards for conversation in premarital counseling. In the moment, I thought I had my head on straight about this whole marriage thing. Naturally, I was ecstatically joyful, but I was also reverent of the holiness of the union I was about to enter into. On the outside, I appeared cool, calm, and collected. The results of the inventory, however, told a different story.

I saw marriage as the be-all and end-all. Once I walked down that aisle and said I do, I would finally, at long last, be content. Of course, I never would have admitted that three years ago. Perhaps I didn’t even realize at the time that I saw marriage as a savior. 

Maybe that’s the reason so many marriages are crumbling. We expect our spouse to provide the kind of completion and contentment that only Christ can, and when we finally realize that the person we married is, in fact, fallen, they become the enemy. We wonder if we made the wrong decision and begin to look for a way out.

My husband, your brother, cannot save me. I love him more than life itself, but he cannot do the work of saving my soul. And though he complements me better than anyone else, he cannot complete me. Your husband will not be able to do those things for you, either. The same goes for our completing and saving them. The truth is, marriage reveals weaknesses we never knew we had.

Because we are fallen and our flesh is weak, we are quick to become all of the things love isn’t. In our haste, we speak harsh words, demand our own way, and tally up all the little things that annoy us. This is our default. And the world will tell you that love is made up of magical feelings and grand gestures, but it isn’t. Rather, love is a decision that you have to make to keep choosing each other, minute by minute, regardless of what happened yesterday or what will happen today. And in the midst of those minute by minute decisions, sometimes there is magic. There will be times of laughing so hard you cry (and also crying so hard that you laugh). There will be times where everything feels right, just like John Hughes said it would.

The other side of the coin is that some days, you’ll feel like its just all going to hell. Some days, the very last thing you’ll want to choose is your husband, and you’ll feel like the very last choice he wants to make. A dear friend of mine experienced this very thing in the most tragic of ways this year, and it really could have all fallen apart. Where the world would see a crossroads and an easy way out, she looked ahead and saw a straight and narrow path, sure as the sun marks the day. A couple months ago, she shared something that absolutely rocked my world: though she was heartbroken, she did not look at her husband and see her enemy.

Remember this: we have a very real enemy. His name is Satan, and his mission is to steal and kill and destroy everything good. This includes our relationships. And he’ll use anything he can to bring about anguish. This is why we have to always be on our guard. The good news is that we have tools to combat his attacks. Also remember that when you feel like your marriage is coming under attack (which it will, if it is God-honoring) that our very real enemy has already been defeated by our very real savior. 

That is what I want you to know about marriage. Sure, there is a slew of other advice I could offer — advice about setting goals and always eating dinner together and the importance of serving one another, but so much more than that, I want to tell you: we serve a God who is faithful. He is Love. Perfect love.

And He is all you need.

The withering and the wild: a love letter to hunger.

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Honesty hour:

I have been trying to write this post for days. Probably even a couple of weeks at this point. But I’ve never felt fully satisfied with the words that showed up on the page. They felt awkward and forced and not necessarily true. The reality is that I am struggling, that I have struggled for years, with the performance trap. I want to write you a beautiful, flowing letter about a life lived wild and free, but the overwhelming majority of the time, I don’t feel wild and free. More often than not, I feel withered and trapped. What I can tell you for certain is this: I am hungry, and I am learning more than I ever anticipated I would when I started my journey with the word beloved


 

I wish I could tell you about the first time that I ever felt like too much or not enough, but the truth is, I can’t. Not because the memory is too painful, but because rather, it simply isn’t there to recall. Sometimes I wonder if I have just always been that way. I am the oldest child, a good girl through and through. My standards have always been high and I have held them with little regard to what other people might think. My entire life, I have tried to portray a stoic exterior. I wanted everyone around me to think that I was a finished product.

A year or so ago, I started to see a couple of my favorite bloggers writing posts to track their monthly goals. It was something that I had never thought to do in all of my years of writing in an online space. Really, I have never been much of a goal person, anyway. January 1st would come and go, and rarely would I give resolutions a second thought. The whole idea felt very optimistic and romantic, and while those things seem really attractive and positive, to me, they felt dangerous. Living a wild and free life, a life that was characterized by strength and dignity and laughter, well, that was for other people. I would rather stay safe and maintain my aura of finality rather than dare to share a bit of optimism with the world and then fall short.

Another writer shares about how she is finding her way through the woods. More than once, she calls it a process, and acknowledges that nothing worthwhile and beautiful happens overnight. She shares, post after post, month after month about how there is no map for this place. The woods don’t work that way. But I want them to, and I am often angry that they don’t abide by my own rules.

All this to say: I don’t know if I can actually say that I’ve hit rock bottom yet, because nothing has really changed. I’m hungry, but I have yet to actually begin to feed myself, because I’m too afraid to get messy. Wild and free still seems like something I’ll never be.

Except, of course, the truth is that I already am.

Wild is the nature that was given to me in the garden, my original state of being. There was no fear, no anxiety, no worrying about the numbers on the scale or the bank statement or the stats page. I knew my Father, and my Father knew me: the real me, the naked and messy and unashamed version. The one He said was good. 

Free is the identity given freely through the work of the cross. Freedom to return, freedom to run into the Father’s arms, even after all this time, even after I exchanged my wild nature for sin and decided to walk away. I am free to rest in His sufficiency, in spite of my own lack.

I feel like God is waving, pointing, jumping up and down to try to get my attention, and I’m the girl dressed in uncertainty who keeps looking around to make sure that it really is me that he’s looking at.

Who, me? 

Yes, you. 

What I’m learning in this space, slowly but surely, is that there’s really no magical equation. There’s not an elusive right answer, and the only wrong answer is to let fear be the boss and keep me from moving at all. What I’m learning is that when I am at my worst, my messiest and most vulnerable, God has things to say to me.

And perhaps for the first time, I am trying to listen.

 

A Prayer for the Hungry

Help us to admit our hunger and give us grace to not treat it with resentment. Help us to embrace our messy, especially when it is the very last thing we want to do. Help us to not dread small steps, small beginnings.

It is scary to ask that You would make a withered and trapped but seemingly safe life become uncomfortable, but it is what we’re here for. Inside, we desperately want to move. We know we need to move, even when we say we’re okay and everything is fine. We don’t want to settle for fine anymore.

Help us to make bold statements, to ask courageous questions, and not immediately want to take them back.

You never offered an easy way out. When we asked for bread, you gave us your body. When we asked for wine, you poured out your blood. Help us to take you at your word when you promise that you know exactly what we need before we ask for it. Give us the faith to ask for it anyway — to ask out loud in the car, in the grocery store check out aisle, in the shower, in our cubicles.

Help us to practice the discipline of no longer taking our cups to things and people that can never fill us up. And help us to have grace for ourselves when we slip up, because we will slip up.

Silence the voices that whisper the lie that we have to be a finished product in order to go out into the world. You made the world, and you made us, and you said everything was good. We want to believe that.

Help us to simply decide to walk wild and free, in this moment, and in the next, because sometimes we will have to choose it that frequently. We’re quick to forget.

We want to get well, but we’re afraid of what it might require of us. Remind us that your perfect love drives out all of our fear.

Take our hands, lead us in the way of the wild and free.


I was graciously given an advanced copy of Wild and Free as part of a launch team. I was not required to write a review, but I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan are two truly beautiful women who make me more hungry for Jesus every day, and this book is their love letter to you, an hope filled anthem for all the days when you feel like we are too much and not enough. 

Thoughts on Becoming Beautiful (#beautifulblogseries)

When Jennifer asked me to share some thoughts on beauty, I have to admit I was a bit nervous and entirely humbled. I have chosen silence on my own online journal over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been learning the hard way that writing in a public forum, no matter how faith filled, cannot be a substitute for prayer. Fellowship with friends and talking about dreams over chips and salsa cannot take the place of spending time with the Lord.

Perhaps from the outside looking in, I’m in the most exciting season of life. I’m going to be twenty-five this year. I’m married to a remarkable man who I deeply love and respect. I have a rewarding job as a social worker, an amazing friend group at our church, and a reasonably sized following for my blog. I’m wide open to the world and whatever the future holds. But on the inside, the view is a bit different. If I’m honest, I’m kind of terrified.

I’m sharing some thoughts on beauty over at Jennifer Kostick’s place today. Keep reading here.

Here’s to missing turns, and a lifetime of unflashy love.

Dear Craig,

When we started on this journey so many years ago, I didn’t have the slightest idea that you would be the one who asked for my forever.

And now, here we are — two years into marriage, and every second still feels like magic. Every second was worth the wait and the fight it took to get here. 

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You did not propose on Valentine’s Day.

No — instead, you made me wait nine excruciating days after, and all the while, I felt like I was about to burst.

See, the February you proposed, I was smack in the middle of taking a class on counseling and marriage. We read a book about how a woman’s primary ministry should be to her husband, and yeah, it was conservative to say the least, and maybe the author had taken scripture out of context on more than one occasion. But as I was writing my paper on what it meant to be that kind of wife, the only thoughts I could muster were of how I didn’t just want to be a godly wife, I wanted to be your godly wife.

I still remember your boyish grin when we accidentally missed our turn, and how in the entire time I had known you, you had never missed a turn. And I remember how just enough of the day didn’t go according to plan for everything to be absolutely perfect.

There was no flash mob to some Hall and Oats song, no trail marked by rose petals. You didn’t even prepare a speech.

It was just you and me, and a few curious onlookers who had been walking through the park.

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And on our wedding day, instead of talking about all the things love is or isn’t, we chose to talk about what love does.

Love drives out fear.

Lord knows, I am fearful. But I am also learning what it means to bloom.

And I know over the next ninety-nine years, there will be a lot of missed turns. There will be mountains, but there will also be valleys. There will be sickness and health, plenty and want. There will be days when we just don’t feel like it. There will be days when we fight with each other, but there will be a lifetime of fighting for each other. 

Our first act as husband and wife was to take communion together.

For I had received from the Lord that which I have also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NASB)

Even in this, these final moments before the cross, Christ gave thanks. And there is no cross we could bear that He did not carry first on our behalf.

There is nothing flashy about this kind of love, the kind that bears burdens and makes the hard choice: the choice to serve and die a thousand deaths to self. But oh, the joy. Because at the end of the day — at the end of every day — there is no one else in the world that I would rather have beside me on this adventure.

On the truth and beauty of creating myself.

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I rise early because C and I are a one car couple, and he has to be at work before the sun comes up. The morning mist rests blurry on the windshield as I return home, and all I want to do is crawl back into bed. I hit snooze at least three times this morning, not wanting to leave the safety and peace of that space, warm from my body’s extended rest. I don’t feel prepared to face another Monday, having forgotten or neglected most of the things I had intended to accomplish over the weekend: finish the book I’m reading, organize the junk room, buy groceries for the next two weeks. And the to do list that awaits at the office can, on any given day, be summed up in two words: colossal and exhausting.

In the cool of the morning, I sense some peace beginning to creep into the crevices of my heart. The knowledge that Summer’s heat always gives way to Autumn’s cool offers assurance that this season of my life will not last forever, that in spite of the deceiving nature of flighty and admittedly irrational feelings, these angst-ridden days come to pass. But having this knowledge does not give me permission to sit idly by and fester. The wilderness was made for walking, made for movement, made to reveal His strength in light of my weakness. It is maddening, at times, to realize that God designed this life in such a way that the crosses we bear force us to daily rely on His grace alone.

Because at the end of the day, the pervasive truth of it all is that the person staring back at me from the mirror is weak. What’s more, she is endlessly self-involved, spending much of the time laying around like the paralytic on his smelly mat, making excuses. And then, out of the blue, Jesus stops and asks if I really want to get well. I’d like to get well, but there is no one to carry me into the pool. Like the song says, this is the real world, and I am on my own. I squirm, embarrassed by the thought of being zeroed in on by the Lord in such a way. He’s not looking around at anyone else. His eyes are meeting mine, and he is asking if want to get well. He can speak the words of healing, but I still bear the responsibility of getting up, of moving forward in faith. He makes the first move, but in the end, its really up to me.

I have to stand up and take the first step and the next and the next, putting my flesh in its place and living in relentless pursuit of abundant life. Not the go more and do more and be more life that the world says I have to strive to attain, but the breathe more and rest more and live out my purpose more kind of life. What I’m learning is that each of those takes intention, and mine needs to be refocused. Because the world will tell you its all about more followers and fans and all those adoring likes and favorites and me me me, please. But the honest to goodness truth is that I’m sick and tired of myself — and I have this suspicious feeling that this is the starting line of it all. Walking, fearless and determined, into abundant life requires a lot of letting go of ourselves: our plans, our ideas, our intentions. But the catch is, walking fearless and determined into abundant life requires a lot of planning, consideration, and intention.

So I must ask myself, what do I want? What dreams has the Lord woven into the fabric of my being? Perhaps the most freeing realization of all is that this journey of creating myself is really a journey of co-creating. It is me stewarding who I was created to be: a temple house for glory, intimately known since before the dawn of time. 

———

My friend NJ has started publishing goals on her blog in order to have accountability. The idea of accountability is always uncomfortable for me, since this skin is so prone to take two steps forward and one step back, and to do that in public just leaves me an itchy mess. But in a spirit of vulnerability, here is what I have come up with for the month of September (better late than never?):

Goals for Life: make breakfast and coffee for C and I more often, look for a gym membership, stick to the cleaning schedule on the fridge, finish the books on the night stand, get my name changed on my social security card, apply to grad school (maybe that list seems ambitious, but when I look at it with the intention of living refocused, I see that I’m not in need of more time to do these things — I just have to better steward the time I already have).

Goals for Friendship: invite friends for a girls night at my house, go to lunch with Lindsey, go to dinner with Victoria, tell four friends I haven’t seen or talked to in awhile that I miss them.

Goals for Writing: post three times a week, remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful, write for Five Minute Friday.

Goals for Work: sit down with a calendar and plan all the visits for the month of September, prayerfully consider searching for another job.

 

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On Grieving and New Chapters.

Dearest Hannah,

You have graduated from college, and are now in the in between. And let’s be honest — while you have accomplished much, the in between hurts like hell. It feels like all your limbs are being pulled in opposite directions, and you are young and the world is so very big.

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The idea of the quarter-life crisis would never have caught on without people like us. We feel every ounce of the weight of our decisions, and we are young, the world is big, and we can do literally anything we want, but we want to live our one life well.

Blessedly, I had a wedding a month after my college graduation. I emptied myself of energy in preparation, not even allowing my mind to consider what had just happened. It was a cushion for the shock that came in the days after I walked across the stage. A putting off of the inevitable.  After the honeymoon was over and the dust settled on what had become my life, I grieved and grieved hard. If you hear nothing else, hear this: it is okay to grieve.

I spent five months at home before I found a job. Those five months were some of the most difficult, because much of my time was spent alone. My husband had a full time job, and we were in a town where we didn’t know anyone.

And then I met you. As much as two people can bump into each other via the internet nowadays, we did. I will always count our meeting among the gifts — tangible proof that the Lord knew just what I needed.

I had the pleasure of watching you transition to your final year of college, a year that I know has left its mark. You decided, as if out of the clear blue sky, to change your major. Senior year of college, and I know you must have been feeling like your life had been hijacked.

When we’re introduced to Abra(ha)m, scripture says “the LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.'” I think God is still in the business of calling us out of our comfort zones, plucking us from all familiarity and planting us smack dab in the middle of the unknown. 

There’s an old proverb that says the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I’ve learned that great leaps of faith are often disguised by these steps.

And I’ve learned that at the end of the day, God pulls us out of our comfort zones so we can experience the true meaning of comfort: that the Lord provides all things. I’ve learned that in the seasons of loneliness, His presence is near, and when we feel empty, He is only preparing to fill us.

I’ve learned that there are questions. Should I get married? Should I apply for a masters degree? Where should I live? Who am I? And I’ve learned that He holds the answers.

I’ve learned that He goes before us, and that everything is held together by His grace. When it seems like our comfort zone is so far out of sight, the Comforter is drawing us closer. When it seems like we’re faced with all the questions and none of the answers, we have unadulterated access to the Giver of all wisdom.

We simply have to take the first step. And the real secret? God told Gideon to go in the strength that he had. There’s no formula, no code, and blessedly, no scantron. We just move. We put one foot in front of the other, open our hands a little bit more, and a little bit more…

to grace.

 

When You’re Not Sure what You Have to Offer: an (in)RL Story

I’ve spent the past few months wondering what it is I have to offer. There have been many days spent ugly crying, days spent pretending and vainly attempting to make myself appear more attractive, and days just spent in silence. I’ve wrestled with my story, struggling to find the words to say to you and to myself.

Almost a month ago, the twentysomethings gathered in our pastor’s house and were issued a challenge to come up with a mission statement for our lives. I was already struggling with feeling unqualified, especially among a group of worship leaders, children’s ministry leaders, the color-coded spreadsheet maker. It seemed like everyone else’s stories were so fluid and inevitably better than my own. I wondered in those moments why I argued with my husband about going to this gathering in the first place, and now, I’m expected to map out the trajectory of my life in a paragraph? I shrunk into my chair, my heart sinking back into the hole it had dared to crawl out of.

I wonder if my story has a place. Sometimes, I wonder if it even has a plot. And I want it to be wrapped up in a curled bow if and when I do offer it to you.

But really, would a story neatly wrapped up with a perfectly curled bow do anyone any good? {Click to Tweet}

Perhaps it all came to a gruesome head over Easter weekend. Saturday morning was spent with a foster child who revealed secret abuse, and then in the afternoon, a family member’s words cut deep. How much of the world have you really seen, she asked, and I think sometimes maybe the devil can squeeze himself in between the syllables. And in the midst of it all, I sent out a plea for prayer. People rallied from all over the internet, most without even known what to pray for.

Then, at the end of April, I stayed up late on a Friday to watch the stories of beautiful women unfold on a screen. The entire  hour and a half was spent in a cadence of tears and laughter, sensing the presence of the Lord as I hear the hearts of so many beautiful women over at (in)courage. The next day, I drove an hour and a half down the road to Dawn’s house and met with a few of those women. I wondered, would my struggle to be accepted and to belong be the elephant in the room? Would it be painfully obvious that I was trying to overcompensate for what I thought I was lacking? This meet up was all about being real about our stories, and for months, I haven’t known how to write the first word. Not to mention how I’ve struggled with the byline, wrestling God for the upper hand, for the right to control how my life’s plot unfolds.

A church sign scrolls on my half hour commute from the office to the comfort of home: does your spiritual house need a spring cleaning? And sometimes it’s the small things that grab hold of your attention, tears threatening to dive off your cheeks as your tires pound the pavement at sixty-five. I wonder, in all the noise — the hiss heard in between the syllables of her retort, the whistle of the bombs falling in the war of comparing myself — have I forgotten my passion?

I sit like this until a Tuesday morning conversation over breakfast. She was, for all intents and purposes, a stranger to me at the time. Our work occasionally brought us together with a quaint “how are you,” but there was never any more than that. But we ended up talking for the better part of an hour. On the surface, our words bounced back and forth on the topic of what we could do for the foster child from weeks before. But beneath the surface? Our words were fueled by passion for the power of stories.

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony. — Revelation 12:11a

This is how we overcome, by looking back and seeing how God had redeemed our stories. By telling the devil that his head was crushed and in no manner will he be the victor over our lives {Click to Tweet}.

Recently, I’ve been going through an old sermon series from college, in which our campus pastor talks about God reaching into our weakest, most tender places — the dark spaces that bring us shame and lead us to believe that we could never house glory — and transforming them in His power. It is the crux of scripture: His strength being made perfect in our weakness. {Click to Tweet.}

Not to say that the Lord needs me. Grace says He chooses me.

Dear heart, when you are at what seems like the end of your rope — the end of your hope — He is calling. When you feel like there is nothing good about who you are, remember that tiny three word declaration: it is good.

There are days and weeks where it feels like my well is all but dried up. My heart, devoid of inspiration. My heart, empty. And in the middle of it all, I shrink into the oblivion of feeling unqualified.

I forget that’s the kind of person God wants. 

At twenty-three years old, I can literally do just about anything I want. And what I want, more than anything else, is for my one life, my one story, to make His name great.

If you have prayed for me over the past few weeks, I can only offer my humble thanks, and ask that you would continue praying. Pray for wisdom, pray for increased sensitivity to His voice. Pray for divine appointments and confirmation. Pray that my faith would exceed my doubt, and in the midst of it all, I would know His presence.

And I will pray the same for you.