Make America Christian again

If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be nation gone under.” – Ronald Reagan

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”– John Adams

The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”- George Washington

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.” John Adams

While there is debate on whether America was truly founded upon the Christian faith it does not take much digging up to find quotes and speeches like this that, at the least, point to the reality that some of our founding fathers and early presidents held to some sort of belief in God, faith, and morality. Many of which explicitly linking those roots in Christianity. Knowing that America, to at least some extent if not great extent, was shaped from Christian principles and standards, where does that leave us as Christians, today? What political party might that put us in? What does this mean for us as another election season approaches? What place do patriotism and nationalism hold in our lives? What kind of America should we be fighting for?

I am in no way equipped to give hard and fast answers to such complex and crucial questions. My hope in this blog is to simply let you in on some of what I continue to wrestle with as an American Christian. An “American Christian” who is seeking to be first a “Christian American”.

These thoughts are what I hope to be both solid and fluid at the same time. Wrought with the sort of conviction and critical thought that ever roots them yet changing with the softness of heart and openness of mind that ever grows them.

Why I fight for a “Christian America”

I think when it comes to laws and regulations those who are not Christians can become annoyed and resistant to Christians who are voting in such a way that “imposes their beliefs on us all.” I get that. It’s a tough balance, not neglecting someone else’s values while voting based off of your own.

In the end though, it seems as if we’re really all claiming that our convictions are what should shape the choices of other fellow citizens. At what point those decisions infringe upon personal freedom is a topic we should give thought to. Because some promotions or prohibitions bring into question rights or equalities or freedoms. But at some level, we are all fighting for our own idea of what is best for society. Derived from somewhere or someone. We are all fighting for the common good, whatever we deem good. Yet in some way or another that good is going to inevitably be at odds with someone else’s definition of good.

It may feel that Christians are just trying to impose onto others a set of regulations based on their own religious rule book that others don’t want play by. But the goal should be something else all together. If Christians believe what God says is genuinely best for not only us but everyone around us too, we must vote and act in a way that is in keeping with that.

We believe that there are general principles established by God, like many laid out in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, that give us rough guidelines for how to live in a way that will “go well” for us. We also believe there are more specific life-changing guidelines, known as commands, that God has laid out that will bring benefits when obeyed and consequences when disobeyed. Lastly, we believe there is a soul-changing gospel that gives us new hearts and is the motivation by which we obey God’s commands and welcome God’s rule in our life and nation.

I believe that the same God who knows how to make a dead heart come alive also knows the way a nation ought to function in order to thrive.

So as a Christian, I will vote as one. Not because of a check mark in a religious affiliation box but because of the deepest convictions that lie in my heart. The ones that have been shaped and informed by God’s Word. Not a Word that creates borders and boundaries for the purpose of withholding and imposing. But a Word that gives life and love for the purpose of protecting and blessing. It is out of both duty and delight I desire a nation that is “under God.”

Therefore we pray in a way that those purposes might be fulfilled and act in a way that those purposes may be accomplished.

While the church I am a part of by no means does this perfectly, I’m thankful that it seeks to do this faithfully in word and deed. One way this is lived out is by my pastor’s weekly prayer. He rotates which government official he is praying for, but there is not a week that goes by that a person placed in office does not get prayed for. It doesn’t matter who they are or what position they hold, he prays that they would realize their authority comes from God alone and that they would act for the good of the American people and not their own selfish gain. The Bible tells us to pray for our political leaders, and so as Christians, we should. And we should be involved in politics in a way that rightly reflects the prayers coming from our pulpits and pews.

Where we got it wrong

The sad reality is that while we trust God’s way is best for us and those around us, somewhere along the way we confused some of our forefathers values that were imparted upon us with God’s promise that was guaranteed to us. We were never promised to live in a comfortable nation, whether here or there, that caters to our Christianity. Maybe we have grown so used to being the majority that we thought anything other than that was a direct violation against our God given rights as Americans.

As an American, I believe it is noble to fight for the country we want to be in. And as a Christian, I believe it is noble to long for the country we know will be.

I think as American Christians we are all too quick to link blessing primarily to freedom of religion and less so to freedom from our sins. One is a beautiful gift we may be given for a time and the other is a powerful promise that can never be taken. We are too quick to seek rest in who we ourselves have seated in congress for a few years rather than who God has seated on the Throne for eternity.

Living life with an “overseas mentality”

If my husband and I moved our family to another country, which we consider doing someday, we would never send our kids to a public school there expecting for them to get a “Christian education.” We would not go with the ultimate aim of seeing a change in the laws of their country but rather to see a change in the hearts of our neighbors.  We would not go expecting for our family to be the majority, in really any sense of the word. We would go in just knowing that our race and our religion would likely not be the norm. The majority. We would be different. And that would be okay. It would be very expected.

Why is it that as Christians we can go overseas with the expectation of religious adversity and opposition, and we might even go there for that very reason; yet we can’t stand living with it when we’re in America.

 

Exiles and sojourners

While the majority of Christians will never experience the expectation that comes along with living overseas and being “foreigners,” is that not who we were told we would be? Even right here in the United States. Were we not told, along with our brothers and sisters around the rest of the world, that we were exiles and foreigners and sojourners? That we were only passing through?

There were many parts that I left out of my pastors weekly prayer mentioned above. One of them, following the request for America’s good as defined by God, is for America’s salvation as found in Jesus. He prays that our nation’s ultimate good would come not primarily by a Christian president enacting Christian laws but rather the Christian church proclaiming the Christian gospel. The gospel that brings hope as we walk through this foreign land and brings peace as we await our heavenly home. The gospel that glorifies the blood on a cross more than it glorifies the blood on a battle field.

America has never been our true home. Our final destination. But maybe part of the problem is that it has felt a little too much like what we thought of home and of heaven, that we have settled in here. That we are no longer pitching our tents on the portion of land that we are passing through but rather building our houses on the lot that we are devoting our lives to. What if we could still fight for justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God by the way we vote as Christians? What if we longed for society around us to get a better taste of what we believe eternity will be, and enacted policies that would promote that? But what if we continue to stand firm in these things while also finally knowing what it feels like to fall under the weight of a nation that is not ultimately our own. That doesn’t cater to us and comfort us in the same ways it used to.

What if we are at a unique, and needed, time in American Christian history where we get to say along with men and women of our faith “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek that city that is to come.” And what if we get to better identify with the man who is our faith who said, “my kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.”

Christian, let us fight for a good America while we long for better Jerusalem.

Adult friendships: are they worth the work and the weirdness?

Have you ever walked away feeling awkward and off after an oddly flowing conversation, even with someone you’ve known for a long time?

Have you ever laid in bed at night mulling over the same words that someone said that maybe you were reading too much into… or just maybe they meant something by? Or worrying about the words you said that someone else might have misunderstood?

Have you ever left a crowded event still feeling unknown and alone?

Have you ever felt like it’s high school all over again as you longingly watch the cool posse laugh and walk by?

Have you ever been nervous to put yourself out there and initiate a friendship, only to find that when you finally reach out you were met with rejection?

Have you ever felt yourself resenting the person who “just got to town” and already has more friends than you have made in the past 2 years since arriving?

Have you ever missed what you used to have with the same person you still see all the time and wonder why things had to change?

Have you ever spent years getting close to someone and in the end had to tell them good bye? And then you were left feeling like you had to start all over again with someone new?

Then you’ve made it.

We’ve made it.

Made it to the place they used to always talk about. The place where “life gets more complicated and relationships don’t come easy.” So here we are. Adult friendships.

These relationships that can be so noticeably clunky and complex. Full of tendencies that can annoy us. Personalities that can confuse us. Sins that can hurt us. Plans get cancelled. You always show up late. They always leave early. They expect too much. You give too little. They always forget what you said. You always make the drive. Work is busy. That struggle is isolating. Schedules don’t line up. The kids will have melt downs and they interrupt grown up conversation every other sentence. Actually, forget it, you’re just going to spend the majority of the time chasing them around anyway.

It can be plain hard.

And as a 27 year old mom of 2 my friendship challenges may look different than your friendship challenges. But at the end of the day we’re pretty much all out here saying that friendship is harder and weirder than we thought it might be. Even more so though, we’re all still saying that we want it. And need it. And it’s worth it.

We were made for relationships.

We become our stronger and softer selves, because of them. Community life, filled with sometimes funny-feeling friendships, has a way of growing us into our fuller potential. Of chipping away at our edges and filling in some of our gaps. Of teaching us a new kind of resilience and endurance. Of giving us greater understanding and deeper compassion. Of simply bringing us enjoyment and laughter.

So how do we fight for it? How can we dig deep roots of friendship that will eventually produce some of the sweetest and rarest of fruits?

I do not have all the answers. Obviously. But, I have studied the way other’s around me live life with one another. I have leaned an ear into the voice of those who do it well and sought to follow in their footsteps. I have taken tidbits (or ton-bits) of practical application from podcasts and nuggets of wisdom from break out sessions and books.

In my own words I’ve compiled (that’s a nicer word than stolen) a list. It’s been spoken and lived out mostly by others first.

7 ways to approach and walk in healthy adult friendships:

1. Keep pressing on

I’ve heard the phrase “failing forward.” I like it. To me it paints an accurate picture of what real life relationships look like. While it might sometimes feel like friendships are a constant dance of 1 step forward and 2 steps back, the good news is, you’re still going in the right direction.  Just because you’re stumbling, it doesn’t mean you’re not moving. One day we might just look a few steps ahead of our stumbling-selves and find that something pretty cool has been, and is being, built. So keep doing it. Keep texting first. Keep asking the questions. Keep pressing through uncomfortable pauses. Keep inviting them over even when your house isn’t perfect. Keep giving the benefit of the doubt. Keep accepting that you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And keep showing up as you. Where ever you said you would be, whenever you said you would be there. In all your Monday-morning messiness. Again and again and again.

2. Let go of your idealized version of friendship

Remember when you were a kid on the playground and making a friend meant swinging next to someone and saying hi? Or when you joined that club or team in High School and quickly found your niche? Or when you got to college and instantly became friends with a handful of people who were coming in and out of your dorm room on the daily?

Maybe your experiences of friendship haven’t been quite that easy or simple. But most likely we all have had at least one period of time in our lives that friendships were fluid and fun. Where they were just a given. And they lightened our load and rarely seemed to add to it. Or maybe your idealized version is something you’ve seen in a movie or read in a book or seen in other’s lives, but never quite experienced it yourself. Whatever your version may be, I believe it’s something we have to let go of. We have to realize 2:00 AM study dates are a season and a sort of friendship. They aren’t the prototype. And if we’re too busy waiting around for friendships to look that way or another, we may miss the unique ones that are right in front of us. In the words of Meg Tietz, stop waiting around for your best friend soulmate.

3. Allow friendships to be what they are

This is an idea that I heard recently shared in a podcast and I thought it was so enlightening and freeing. Don’t force something out of a friendship that it just isn’t going to give. Let it morph and grow and don’t box it in, but also just let it be. Don’t expect someone who never knows where their phone is to text you every day. Don’t expect someone who is quiet to shower you with all the words that you want to hear. Don’t go on a play date “for” your kids and expect it to actually be a mom date “for” you. We don’t have to put all of our friendship eggs in one basket. Actually, we shouldn’t. Because no one person can be everything we need them to be. They can not meet all of our friendship needs. And that’s a good thing. It allows us to have various friends who fill us in various ways and not have one friend who fulfills us in all the ways. Because they just can’t. This approach creates the room for us to make more friends and for those that are already our friends to make more of their own, too.

If you found your up-for-anything friend, have fun with them. If you found your honest friend, ask them the hard things you need to know the truth about. If you found your empathizing friend, cry to them. If you found your group friend, one on one time might not be your best bet with them. If you found your fix-it friend, call them when your pipe is leaking. Appreciate your friends for who they are and what they uniquely bring. And when maybe you get the chance to find a “freezer friend” (again shout out to Meg Tietz with Sorta Awesome) who knows every single thing in your freezer; aka knows every detail of your day and wants to… rejoice in the rarity and hold on tight to them. But acknowledge that this type of friendship is simply not everyone’s norm.

4. Share experiences

I recently heard someone say (once again, my written words and someone else’s ideas) that they realized about themselves that they rarely ever sat across the table from someone and felt an instant friendship-connection. They rarely “hit it off” with people. Rather they kept gathering around the same things at the same times, and formed something sweet. This can look like weekly coffee shop meets or biweekly play dates or monthly pizza nights or annual camping trips. Friendships can be forged and kept by the very things we mark on our calendars again and again. The routines that we build into our rhythms of life. Friendship isn’t confined to the spoken word only. It can be cultivated and kept by common interests and shared experiences. Turn up the music and make pizza together. Sit on the couch and cry at This Is Us together. Pant and sweat while you hike together. Be captivated by the flames of the campfire together.

Create together. Rest together. Play together. Watch together. Cheer together. Find the things that unite you, and keep capitalizing on those things and gathering around those things. They will be the very things you tell past stories about and create current memories in.

5. Sit in the sadness

I have found that, at least from my own personal experience, something that keeps me running from relationships is the fear of not knowing what to say. I’m afraid of walking through a situation with someone that I know absolutely nothing about. I’m afraid to say too much, offer too little, or flat out say the wrong thing. I’m afraid of the things that feel foreign to me and then I write myself off as having nothing to offer. Yet because we’re all human, pain and sorrow and suffering are no strangers to any of us. They may come in varying forms and degrees, but we are all acquainted with them. And so we can choose to be human with our friends. We can acknowledge that we have no idea what to say or no advice to give. But we can offer ourselves. We can give our quiet and caring and un-rushed presence. We can give the sacrificial gift of bearing one another’s burdens by simply sitting in them. We can take some of the tears by crying them too. We can take some of the sting by letting it pierce us too. Hearing the silence and feeling the pain might be all we have to offer, and it may be all they ever actually wanted us to give.

6. Have hands that help

I have never seen such a raw and beautiful picture of helping hands as when I joined a local church. This came to life to me when I covenanted to a body of believers. A group of people who saw themselves not only theologically but also practically as just that- a body. A body with moving and functioning and active parts. Doing their job. Imperfectly but faithfully. While my taste of this “hands on” friendship has been primarily in the context of my church, what new mom in your play group would pass up a meal being brought to her door? What car-less coworker wouldn’t want a ride to the office? What new house owner wouldn’t welcome able-bodies to help move some boxes? What single parent wouldn’t take you up on a night of free childcare?

Sometimes we can’t come up with the words to say. And sometimes we don’t have the chance to just sit and feel with them. But we can always say “I’m ordering” or “I’m doing” or “I’m bringing.” These soothing words and these kind actions have made me feel known and cared for in a way that almost nothing else ever has. Maybe it’s because we’re adults and we have so much on our plates that lightening our load is our new love language. Or maybe it’s because we’re human and we desperately need each other to make it through this thing that we’re all in together called life.

7.  Have lips that celebrate

Be a friend that mourns quietly and helps practically and cheers loudly. Throw their party. Buy their ice cream. Watch their kids. Send the text that says “good job!” Make the call that says “you did it!” True friends challenge us but they also cheer for us. See the good. Call out the growth. Emphasize the victories. Choose to be a friend that is quick to honor and root and uphold. The joy in your life will multiply as their celebrations become your celebrations, their wins become your wins, and their happy days become your happy days. Even in the midst of your own complaints and loses and sad days. Sometimes friendship is letting someone else ignore the brightness of their own day to sit in the darkness of your hard day. And other times friendship is choking back your sad tears to rejoice in someone else’s happy tears.

There are enough hard days and harsh voices. We all could use that friend, and be that friend, that celebrates proudly and embarrassingly and often. It’s not an expensive gift to give but it’s a priceless one to receive.

Take heart and keep fighting the friendship fight.

Embrace it in all of its weirdness and wonder and work. Oh, and don’t forget to look around and see that you’re among the 99% of people who are wanting the exact same thing as you.

A friend.

 

 

 

 

 

When your life isn’t what you thought

I have come to find that sometimes the hardest time to write about something can be when we’re smack dab in the middle of it. Often it feels safer to be a few steps ahead of something before sitting down to write about it. But God doesn’t just meet us in the aftermath. In the solutions. In the recoveries. He meets us right where we are at: in the thick and tangled up mess. In the processing. In the wrestling. He doesn’t always provide a boat for us to ride above the waters. Instead, He may keep us inside the turning currents but give us goggles to see some treasures while we’re there. And the best part of all is that He doesn’t just throw us the googles, He jumps into the waters with us.

Now don’t let me mislead you, there are no storms of suffering surrounding me like they may be you. But there is a different kind of storm and it is going on inside of me. Side note, one embarrassing thing about writing in the midst of something is that our perspective is usually skewed. Everything looks and feels much bigger than reality. So we tend to be a bit dramatic. But, I digress. In my own little self-sized internal storm these big intimidating waves taunt me, “WHO ARE YOU EVEN? AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?” Yeah self… who are you?

3 years after the real life version of “getting a gift I did not desire” (ie having my daughter) I have come to further realize that my struggles were more than the initial news of an unexpected gift. I was aware of this, but as always, there is more going on inside of us than what is on the surface. The surface-level is an expression of what is below it. Often it takes some digging and unveiling. So here I am, 3 years later. And on this side of it, I can tell you two things. I can unashamedly proclaim that I love my kids in a way that has totally exploded my heart and life. I can also, more ashamedly, confess that I don’t always love being a mom. More seriously, I can still deeply resent it. Big deal, right? Who doesn’t feel that way from time to time. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that motherhood wasn’t, and still isn’t, just a threat to my own plans and timelines. It was a threat to my very own self-made identity.

So, maybe you’re reading this and you’re in a totally different place in life than me. Maybe you find yourself being depended on in ways you never expected. Maybe you’re dependent on someone else in ways you never imagined or wished for. Maybe you’re sitting at that same desk or pulling up to that same apartment or looking down at that same bare finger, all for years longer than expected. Maybe your life has been uprooted and replanted in a brand new place surrounded by brand new people. Maybe that degree, or job, or trip, is being put on hold. Maybe you are experiencing the excruciating pain of longing or loss. Or maybe it’s (whatever your it is) here and you weren’t expecting it to come when and how it did.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It wasn’t supposed to feel like this.

Who am I?

Wherever you find yourself in life, I hope my raw, flawed, zoomed in, goggle-sort-of-view of these things I’m learning brings some grace and understanding and truth to you.

“You aren’t alone”

As I have shared some of my personal wrestling with my own identity and worth, I have been met with empathy and a real sense of comradery. That’s a sweet gift you can receive and give to someone, y’all. It can be one of the most comforting things. But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say it can also be sobering. It’s comforting because we see that we aren’t left to deal with things on our own. It’s comforting because we aren’t strange for being the only one to go through something. But it’s sobering because we don’t get to throw ourselves an ongoing pity party. Because we don’t get to wear a badge for being the only one to struggle a certain way. You are one in a million, but you are also one of a million. So do yourself a humbling and helpful favor, and give people permission to tell you they have been there, or are there, too.

Stripped identities can be scary and sacred ground

The very things I was unknowingly clutching onto to form my identity did not only feel imposed upon by motherhood, they felt at odds with it. Where I wanted to be free spirited, I felt motherhood told me I must be restricted. Where I wanted to be adventurous, I thought motherhood meant I must be rigid. The list goes on. It felt like some painful sort of self death would have to happen in order for another life to be born in me. I deeply resented this death of self. But what I often fail to realize is that this sort of self death will be both beautifully true and foolishly false for the rest of my life. It is a constant and necessary losing of self and finding of self all at once.

When we realize our identities- be they a title, role, ability, relationship, desire, dream or so much more- are in some form being taken from us, it’s really terrifying. When the thing that we have let label us and define us for so long is somehow no longer a part of us, it can feel kind of like being exposed and having nothing to hide behind. It’s uncomfortable and scary. But don’t miss this, it’s also sacred and soft ground here. It’s an opportunity to be rebuilt, remade, and redefined. Or maybe just reminded of who we already are that we may have forgotten about.

Identify identity

The dictionary definition of identity is: “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” And while there could be many ways to define it biblically, I think Christian identity can be summed up in this verse found in Corinthians, “whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old has passed and the new has come.” Identity is a buzz word in many Christian circles. And while it may not be a specific word used outside of these circles, the idea of identity is a big deal to us all. I think this new world of self branding and self promotion through social media reveals our intrinsic identity-chase.

Now the tricky part I’ve found in this whole identifying our truest self thing is that identity is both fundamental and functional. Fundamentally, I believe myself to be a human being created in the image of God who has been recreated in Christ. But functionally I currently find myself flailing around in a perceived state of crises, instead of resting securely in the one who’s undeserved and totally willing self death birthed my new life. I find my identity-naked self being exposed, instead of hiding behind the rock of ages. So how do we bridge the fundamental to the functional? We preach the gospel to our very own heart and mind and soul. Until the day we die. The gospel wasn’t just a thing of the past, it is the very essence of who we are now and it is to permeate into all we think and do and say and are, today.

Breaking borders

There is a subtle yet major difference between contentment and settling. Settling says “this” is all I am, can be, or going to be. Settling suppresses God given passions and gifts and desires and dreams. Settling usually plants seeds of bitterness and self pity. Contentment gladly embraces what God has seen fit to give to us in His own good time. Contentment is not afraid to strive while also being deeply settled. Contentment usually breeds thankfulness and joy. We are whole beings who are capable of functioning in more ways than we often give ourselves credit for. We often sell ourselves short in claiming only our primary occupation as who we are. We let this thoroughly define us. Instead, carve into your calendar an enjoyable hobby, make space for that creative outlet, pursue your passions, and explore what makes you feel like, you.

Being you, right where you’re at

The potential danger in pursuing what may feel a little out of our borders is that in turn we might miss what is right in front of us. This has hit me like a ton of bricks in my discontentment lately. No, I’m not only a mom, but yes I am a mom. So instead of seeing my passions and personality and gifts and goals as something I must put into some sort of outside source, I should seek to channel these things into motherhood. If you’re creative, bring creativity into your work place. If you’re merciful, show mercy to your children. If you’re driven, be diligent in your studies. Bring your adventure and structure and knowledge and compassion and your craftsmanship into the very spheres you are already in, if you believe you are supposed to be there. It would be a shame if in the constant chase for something more, we waste what has already been given to us.

Bringing it (to your own) home

I’ve heard it said that good desires make bad masters. As do good callings make bad identities. So how do we know when our misplaced identity has turned into idolatry? How do we know where our true identity lies? I think one helpful gauge is by recognizing the way we respond when something is taken from us or given to us. Does the loss lead us to normal disappointment or to total despair? Does the gain lead us to a healthy sort of happiness or an awaited sense of wholeness? Does it have the power to make us or break us?

I will not soon forget the wise counselor who looked into my misty eyes and kindly urged me not to think that shifting my identity into motherhood is my new ticket to fulfillment. Instead, they said, being a Christian is your identity. It is at the center. Everything else for the rest of your life is just an avenue off of it.

So friend, our heavy ladened souls searching for worth and value can find rest in who we currently are and always will be, in Jesus. It’s settled and secure. No matter where we go or what we do or who we become, we are in Him. And it’s all from Him and for Him and to Him, forevermore.

Digging new roots and creating a new home

In 10 days it will have been 3 months since our mini van with smudged windows filled with dinosaur stickers and sticky cup holders rolled into town. Into Twin Falls, Idaho. A place my feet had never once walked before. And as the van doors opened, out fell stiff and sore and excited and frazzled and cranky and relieved new residents. Soon to be Idahoans whose Indianan license plate exposed just how far they’d come and just how foreign they were.

To jump right in I’ll just say our entry into town was far from perfect. My (saint of a) mom was driving and I was in the back seat seeking to console a “been over this driving thing for 3 days already” baby. It was like I barely blinked after hearing we made it to town, looked up, and we were at our new house. Wait, did we cross over that huge bridge already? Where was the canyon? What did our street look like? Oh, here we are. There’s our house. A house that did not give a very warm welcome. But it didn’t take long to realize that being on the brink of breakdown was about much more than just the house. Granted, it was a house that I had no earthly idea how it was ever going to feel like my own, but it really was just the tip of the iceberg. It was the culmination of a major life transition. Of leaving a life we had grown to love. It was the physical and emotional and mental fatigue all catching up with me. The disappointment (and the dirt) of a house exposed how much was stuffed inside me during the whirlwind of a 1,752 mile move.

Looking back at those first days I’m reminded of a couple things. One is that downplaying the initial struggles and emotions of life in a new place isn’t helpful or necessary. A newer friend who had also moved out here responded to my hesitation to the question “what did you think of your house?” with an “it’s okay to say you hated it.” He happened to say exactly what I needed to hear. It was okay to simply say that something was hard. Admitting the struggles didn’t mean I did not or would not like it here. And even more importantly, it didn’t mean we weren’t supposed to be here.

The other thing I’m reminded of is that first feelings aren’t everything. I think so often we give moments of life pass or fail grades based off of the expectation our mind had preassigned to it. We think these not-lived-up-to “grand moments” are either a sign that we took a wrong turn or an indicator that the rest of what follows is going to go a certain way. But initial instances aren’t always punishments for the past or predictors for the future. We can acknowledge the ugly parts and call them what they are without assigning to them the final say. Big moments that give birth to something new may not hold the immediate magic we hoped for. But, the millions of small moments that flow out of it just might bring a kind of beauty we never could have imagined. Here is a sort of recap of the moments-of-beauty that have followed. Of the struggles and the sweetness. Or the sweetness in the struggles. Or the struggles in the sweetness. However you look at it, as is often the case, they have been inextricably linked.

The struggles

Our first months here have been woven with sickness. Our very first Sunday was one of those built up “moments of magic.” It was a day to rightly be excited for. To finally meet everyone from the Bible study that would soon become our church, and we would even get to kick it all off by celebrating Easter Sunday with them. Instead, our family was sick in bed. From there it was like every bug known to mankind took us all (including our new community) out in ruthless rounds. It was non stop for weeks at a time. Then Mother’s Day weekend I was extremely sick with what I thought was the last bout of the bug but but ended up needing gallbladder surgery.

We were so ready to hit the ground running with house work and relationship building and town exploring, but it was as if every time our feet hit the ground another sickness stepped in and blocked our way. It felt like set back after set back in some senses.

But if I’m being honest these times of being sick over our new toilet (ew sorry) or hospitalized in our new town weren’t really the biggest struggles. As a wise friend put it, sometimes it can be easier to trace Gods hand in the big moments. And it was. Even in the midst of the accompanying weariness and exhaustion, we were able to really and deeply rest in God’s unshakable plans which flow out of His gentle and good heart. We were guarded in His peace and protection and aware of his very evident provision.

The harder place to trace His steady hand linked to His kind heart has actually been within the walls of our home. Not because of the house itself, but because of the hearts that now live within it. Changing physical location doesn’t actually change our inward station. No doubt it can be an opportunity to start fresh and establish new patterns. But our failing and fickle human hearts follow us wherever we go. So we are still battling the same daily struggles and sins. We are still figuring out how to function as a family of 5 and prioritize our marriage of 2. We are seeing how clunky it can feel to incorporate old traditions while also seeking to introduce new ones. We are relearning for the 100th time how disciplines don’t just wedge their way into our lives but how we wedge our lives around them. And we’re discovering how long it can take to find daily routines and rhythms and to settle into a new sense of normalcy.

I have witnessed yet again that this is where God meets us. Not just in the dire moments laying in the hospital bed (which I’m so glad He meets us here too!) but in the tantrums (toddler ones or our own) and the nights of tossing and turning and the body aches no one else can see and the marital tension that know one else knows you both feel and the “not so sure this too shall pass” phase that your child is going through. He breaks into the moments where the meal was thankless and the milk was spilt. Again. He dwells in the highest heights yet reaches into the lowest lows. He led us here and will not leave us here. He goes before us and He will stay beside us. Come what may this is what we can bank our lives on- our deeply established or totally uprooted- lives. He stoops low to dwell among us.

The sweetness

The point of following after Jesus isn’t to get the good. Well, we are promised that all things will work out for our true good, but that good can look so far from our human idea of it that we might not recognize it at all. Obedience does not always, or maybe often, result in ease. Walking in faith does not guarantee momentary satisfaction. Not physical health and wealth and not even relational or emotional health and wealth. So while walking in faith led us to Twin Falls, we knew the promise wasn’t that we’d just “love it here” or that it would “be the best fit for us.”But oh how we really do and oh how it really has been. The sweetness has undeniably shown through these months. It has shined so brightly.

We saw it in the familiar faces of friends that had been waiting for us to join them here. In their comforting hugs and their warm house to sleep in that felt like home. We saw it in the hands that were reaching out to meet us for the first time and the same hands that turned around to unload our truckload of moving boxes. We saw it in the soup and flowers and saltines and sprites left at our door step. We saw it in our kids secure smiles and excited eyes. We saw it when we drove around town and it instantly somehow all just made sense for our family. We saw it on our first hike when we breathed in fresh air and breathed out sighs of relief. We saw it from the bottom of the canyon and the top of the waterfall. We saw it, I mean really saw it, in the hospital stay and recovery days. In our genuinely caring nurses. In a really nice and new facility. In pain meds. In amazing surgeons. In our new pastor who came to pray with me in my hospital bed. In text messages checking on us and meals being brought to us and childcare being provided for us. In relationships that were founded uniquely on the opportunity for others to help and us to be helped. We’ve seen it by how naturally we love this place, but mostly by how quickly we feel a part of these people. These people who are both seeking and creating a really special community.

We have seen it in the sweetness of a baby church. A brand new, 16 member, was a Bible study now a constituted and covenanted, church. And by sweetness I don’t mean in an “oh how cute” kind of way but a “wow how powerful” kind of way. Because a church is a church no matter how small. This little church we get to be a part of is an earthly embassy of a heavenly kingdom. A beautiful bride. A bound together, blood bought, body learning to function together as one. A people bearing up each other’s burdens, cheering on each other’s celebrations, and endeavoring together to live and love and share the gospel. An unlikely group gathered around the same Savior, sitting under the same Word, and living in the same Spirit.

All in all, we have seen the sweetness of Christ building His own church. It’s His church and not any of our own. And it’s been sweet, so very sweet, to see it being built from the ground up. Witnessing the church’s very first baptism, partaking of the church’s very first Lords Supper, and reciting our covenant to one another for the very first time.

In both the struggles and the sweetness we are confident that we are right where we’re supposed to be.

Saying goodbye to the church I’ve grown to love

Eight and a half years ago I moved to Louisville KY as a bright eyed college student ready to find the church of my own choosing. I hadn’t thought about the specifics, but I knew I wanted something fresh. I was leery of what I thought “traditional” meant: stale and cold and rote. To put it plainly and honestly, I set out to find a really “cool” church. But as God would have it, I walked in the doors of Third Avenue Baptist Church.

At the time the carpet was red and the baptistery had matching curtains. There were pews and suits and lots of ESV Bibles. There was standing up and sitting down. There were hymns. There was somberness. There were 4 singers lined up off to the side of the stage and hidden behind them was instruments and their players. Everyone, including those singers up front, were looking down at the words of their bulletins as they sang. The pastor wore a suit and a tie. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the rockin’ church I expected. I wasn’t blown away. I wasn’t immediately wowed. It wasn’t love at first sight. But for some reason, I kept going back. And at the time I couldn’t even tell you why; especially when my 3am Saturday night paper writing self kept nodding off during the longest sermons I had ever sat through in my life.

But now I see it more clearly. It wasn’t about stylistic preferences or aesthetics or the fuzzy feelings I left with. I think ever so slowly and subtly it was the people. They are what kept bringing me back. The people who saw the invisible line I was drawing between me and the exit door and who stood in the middle of it. The people who held out a hand and introduced themselves. The people who invited me to Sunday lunch down the road. The people whose lives were so clearly intertwined with one another already, yet still welcomed me, a mere stranger. They were like a family. But not the closed off kind. So as cliche as it sounds, their love won me over. And I wanted in on it. So I kept going back.

And now, hundreds of introductions and invites and (wakeful) sermons later, I am saying goodbye as my family and I move out of state. And in the bittersweet process of leaving I’m reflecting on what this place, no really these people, have forever impressed upon my understanding of what a healthy church is.

Intentionality doesn’t have to mean originality

While the family like feel of this church slowly started to warm my heart, the evident intentionality behind why they did what they did quickly eased my mind. It also corrected it. It exposed the equation my mind had made that repetition and liturgy meant disingenuous. I quickly saw that nothing at Third Avenue was done a certain way just because “it’s the way it’s always been.” Everything, from the singers on the side of the stage to the timing of each pause between transitions, was done with a purpose. Actions that were born out of purposes and purposes that were born out core values and commitments and covenants. Overall, it was all done in order to lift up feeble and weary and longing eyes to the reigning King of Kings.

The body is broken and beautiful

It didn’t take long for me to become proud to call this church my own. The intentionality, the solid teaching, the intellectual depth, the out-working of love for each other and for neighbors and for the nations. But it took many years for me to see that I was still referring to this church in terms of “they” and not so much in terms of “we.” I felt a little more like an admirer from afar and not a family member from within. But then. It was then that I decided to dig in deep. To be close enough to really find out and really be found out. To know and be known. Turns out, this really extraordinary place was made up of pretty ordinary people. Flawed and quirky and struggling and sinful human beings all fumbling to the cross, together. But it was more beautiful than I ever could have seen from staying on the outside. The exterior was polished and pretty but the interior was full of a kind of beauty and wonder that was other-worldly. It was rich and messy and hard, and so very glorious.

Worship isn’t only personal

Something seemingly very strange that stood out to me from the beginning was that if people were not looking down at their bulletins while singing, they were looking around at one another. I came to find out that these people weren’t looking around because they were distracted or because they were trying to find the person who they were saving a seat for or because they were just plain strange. They were looking around as if to say “come on church, sing it with me.” As if to declare that we are in the waiting and working and worshipping, together. As if to scan the room and catch a glorious glimpse and tiny taste of the kind of diversity that will all be gathered around the throne some day with unhindered voices. I’ve grown in understanding that while the Christian life is intimately personal it is also intensely corporate. Whether on a Sunday morning gathered or a weekday evening scattered, we sing songs loudly and we fight sin seriously and we pursue spiritual disciplines gladly, both with one another and for one another. Because one single ligament affects the whole body.

The Word speaks for itself

Matt Smethurst says “I don’t remember 99% of the meals I’ve eaten, but they’ve kept me alive. God uses faithful, forgettable sermons to beautify his bride.” While so many of pastor Greg’s abrupt motions and rich realities and simple sub points will not be easily forgotten, this statement by Matt expresses so well what I believe has happened inside of me as I’ve sat under the preached Word of God. What may have been momentarily forgettable in my mind has made an eternal impact in my soul. In my most unbiased opinion, Greg Gilbert is an exceptionally gifted preacher. But my time at Third hasn’t left me more reliant on him. It’s left me more reliant on Gods Word. Because that’s all he’s done time and time and time again: open up ancient and active Words and let them do their job. The job of convicting and comforting and saving and sustaining. I’ve witnessed how the gospel being preached from the pulpit brings a dead heart to life. My pastors haven’t done anything fancy but they’ve done something that is faithful. And by the grace of God, I have once again been a recipient of this powerful and precious thing called faithful preaching. And I will never be the same because of it.

Unity is a gift that is graciously given and fiercely fought for

I will not quickly forget the picture my pastor once laid out about the enemy planting grumbling and gossiping bombs all around us and among us. All it takes is a slanderous whisper, a biting comeback, an unchecked assumption, or an intentionally exclusive invite for little explosions to lie in wait. Slowly cracking and corroding and corrupting Jesus’ blood bought unity. So we pray for God to grant it and we work hard to protect it. I’ve witnessed firsthand how unity doesn’t mean we check all the same political or theological or life station boxes but it means that we all set aside our preferences and differences to bow down before the cross of Christ. And it is there, at the foot of the cross, that our unity is created and found and kept.

Serving is not for me

My once needed-and-noticed pastors daughter self sat in a Third Avenue members interview being asked if I, along with all other men and women in the church, would volunteer in the nursery and join a home group. Uhh. That’s it? That’s your serving opportunities? Yet it was through this process I learned the valuable distinction between being important and being indispensable. I learned that I could freely love those in my circle while also knowing that the whole of my church would carry on without a slight hinge when I left it. I became painfully aware that far too often I wanted to give with the subtle desire to gain. Be it public recognition or personal satisfaction. This drove me to see the beauty in serving quietly and averagely and ordinarily in a church that didn’t really “need” me. At least not in all the ways I wanted to be needed. Because the reality is that where there are people, there are needs. There are kids to be watched and meals to be delivered and houses to practice hospitality in and sufferers to sit with. It was so very good for me to learn how to serve in the shadows by simply showing up.

Love welcomes in and sends out

When I joined Third Avenue eight years ago I had no intention of sticking around for so long. Yet many years later when we settled in and started raising a family I had no idea we would leave so quickly. So much has happened in these eight years yet it feels like we’ve just barely gotten started. We never thought we’d stay, but once we stayed, we never really thought we’d leave. And now here we are. Along with so many others in this uniquely transient church. In a church where people are stayers longer than planned and goers more quickly than expected. Along with missionaries and pastors and planters being flung out all around the globe. Along with those moving back to be closer to family. Along with those joining up with other churches. It can be hard to love by letting people in. It can be even harder to love by letting them leave. This church, my church, has taught me how to embrace the coming and the going. How to latch on and how to let go.

And now, the hands that brought us in gently are the same hands that send us out gladly. So we go. With this piece of Third Avenue DNA that we will always carry with us. That we will always seek to insert and implant where we can.

Not because she is a flawless bride but because she clings to a faithful Christ.

6 years, 6 lessons

1. Protect each other’s limits

Something Kyle and I have been learning over the years is that we have different limits than others, including one another. This year particularly we have grown in applying that knowledge of each other’s limits. In not only acknowledging them but moving into an acceptance of them and then acting in a way that promotes and protects them. In letting our spouse draw their own boundaries and then helping to keep them.

More personally, for me to lovingly respect Kyle’s limits often means gladly and graciously cutting off a show to make sure he gets the sleep he needs. Or recognizing his signs of word fatigue and being willing to cut off a conversation and pick it up again later. For Kyle to loving respect my limits it often means gladly and graciously cutting work hours to make sure I get the rest and reprieve I need from home life. Or recognizing my signs of social fatigue and being willing to say no to a get together with friends and planning one for another time. We all have different capacities. And they matter. We have grown in seeing how failing to respect and protect those capacities can produce burn out and break down. Yet on the other hand, how fighting to respect and protect those capacities can produce health and wholeness.

2. Push each other’s limits

While we have seen the necessity of protecting limits we have also seen the benefit of pushing them. Like in all of marriage, promoting and protecting can create the kind of trust that is required for pushing. We are more likely to allow those who selflessly serve us to also stretch us. Serving does not shove. It does not obtrude or insist. It sees what is good for the other and it gently nudges and urges towards that end. It even reaches out a hand and walks to it together. We are finding, often by failure, that there is a way to serve your spouse based off the knowledge of how they are naturally wired to be yet also a way to push them based off who you know they can be and are still becoming.

Practically put, based off of my above examples, I sometimes stay at things longer than I want to and Kyle sometimes sleeps less than he prefers to. I’m in go-go mode more than is comfortable and he listens for longer than is natural. Sometimes we ask this limit pushing of one another with our words and other times we require it of one another with our actions. This kind of stretching and strengthening is being produced in us slowly and subtly. It is kindly and carefully pushing the line of our limit outward. It is increasing our capacity. It is helping us to flex a weak muscle. It is changing us and challenging us in ways we wouldn’t have been. And we are better because of it.

3. Don’t forget to look

I wrote a whole blog on this a few years ago so I’m just going to quote a part of it because after this year with more work hours, more commitments, and more kids this has never been more pertinent —

“There are three words that have the potential and power to bring some meaning in the mundane and some calm in the chaos. And mostly they have a way of re-connecting two people who are already one, but may feel miles apart… I see you. Behind the work clothes you put on every morning and behind that spit up filled t-shirt. I see you. Underneath loads of laundry and stacked up dishes. I see you. With a greeting at the door after a long day. I see you. When you watch with pride or cower in fear. I see you. Having a dance party in the kitchen or disciplining in the back room. I see you. With tired or tear filled eyes. With stretched or scarred skin. With a heavy or happy heart. I see you. Not just the ways you give and the things you do. But you. A person. My person.”

We are ever learning that marriage is about making the choice to re-see each other again and again and again.

4. Put it plainly

Even after many years with a person, it can feel uncomfortable to point blank say what we want. To quite literally spell it out. As in “I really want to spend intentional time with you tonight,” or “it would mean a lot if you would comment on my appearance more” or “it seems like you’re not pulling your weight around the house as much.” I may or may not have been known to even say “THE NOTE (you know that theoretical one that will be real some day) CAN LITERALLY SAY ‘I LOVE YOU, HAVE A GOOD DAY.’ THATS IT. THATS ALL.”

Sometimes spelling it out makes us feel pathetic. Pathetic that we care so much about seven actual words being written to us on a page and left before work but also pathetic that at this point I might as well have just done it for you and pretended it was from you. But the truth is that sometimes the best way to get from where we are to where we want to be is just to lay out the path plainly. Vague hint dropping doesn’t tend to build the best bridges. That doesn’t mean our spouse didn’t care enough to see what was on the other side, it just might mean that they didn’t quite know how to get you there on their own. Prompting and planning do not have to make things disingenuous. Therefore we can still gratefully and graciously receive them for what they are.

5. Schedule the things that matter

Kyle and I both tend to balk at the idea of being planners. As if being described as one is somehow an insult. But we’ve learned the hard way that whether it’s a date night out or a game night in, life doesn’t tend to do us the courtesy of interrupting itself to present a magical moment of deep marital connection. Moments, ones of investing and enjoying and resting, mostly seem to come from carving out time and then committing to it. From sinking calendars together and setting reminders. This boring and rigid thing called planning actually ends up producing an eager anticipation for the weekly routines and the monthly rhythms and the yearly traditions. For the late Friday nights and the slow Saturday mornings. For the folding of laundry together and the texts that say “let’s sit down tonight and check in with each other.” This year particularly it has looked like sitting down every Sunday night to talk about each day of the upcoming week. To try and pencil plans in according to priorities. And oh how I’ve come to look forward to those beautifully boring Sunday nights of planning and praying with my husband.

I think overall what I’m trying to say is that we’re still learning that relationships are just not as glamorous or spontaneous or romanticized as we like to think they are or should be. That it really takes ordinary people doing ordinary things. It’s mundane and adultish and slightly disappointing. But maybe extraordinary marriages are really just made up of lots of little ordinaries through the years. The little ordinaries that become extra ordinaries.

6. Time really is a good teacher

Recently a quote was shared with Kyle that says, “in marriage there are good years and bad years. This was a very good year.” As I’ve been thinking about the tension of time, particularly as it collides with marriage, I thought there really wasn’t an easier or better way to state it. Marriage is up and down, back and forth, round and round. It is not so much a steady climb or upward trajectory. After all, nothing in life is always and only moving in one set direction.

Yet I think there is another element to time that comes into play. It’s the reality that, in general, time really does change things. And us. I’ve always found it a bit disheartening when people offer advice and encouragement in the form of “it just takes time.” But I get. Because it’s true. Time does have its own unique way of helping and healing and strengthening. Time takes… time. We cannot speed it up. But on our 6th Anniversary I can say that Kyle and I have already been married for long enough to at least begin seeing that life together is full of reoccurrences. Reoccurrences that allow us to keep revising and keep messing up and then keep trying again.

Whether it’s painting a room, hosting a guest, having a baby, or planning for a birthday party… the more times we do something the easier it typically becomes. The twentieth time may not seem as exhilarating as the first, but it usually seems to feel richer and go smoother. Because time teaches some tricks of the trade. It allows us to see where we can bend and where they might break. It shows us how to come out next time and play better as a team. It reminds us what really matters. It allows us to step back and see how much we’ve grown and how far we’ve come. And then it gives us hope for how far we have yet to go.

Because time really does change things.