cocoon

If I walk down a flight of stairs and knock on the door to the left, I reach my sister’s temporary home. Call it the landing pad, where she’s welcoming the meteorite that is her newborn son. Once she and her husband assimilate this astronomical change —

Is such a thing possible?

Once his paternity leave is over, they’ll go home.

Right now life is bewilderingly simple. They eat. They change diapers. Sometimes they sleep.

They’re in a cocoon.

If I walk up the stairs and take a right, I reach my room — the landing pad for the meteorite that is me, assimilating this astronomical change. Not to my surroundings: Jerusalem is one normal, and home is the other. No, I am the change. A migratory bird, without any clear migration on the horizon. An adventurer, with no visible adventures. The only thing that’s certain is that I certainly don’t know what’s next.

I’m in a cocoon.

I’m reading. I’m editing. I’m enjoying the gift of presence: of sitting in the same room as those I love.

I attended an eight-day Bible conference, studying the teachings of Jesus. While digging into the parable of the sower, one speaker read from a children’s book called Frog and Toad Together. (I love that book: so unassuming and so wise). In it, Toad plants a garden. He waits — scratch that, he does NOT wait. He leans over and yells into the furrowed earth, “Grow seeds, grow!”

He yells it more than once.

That Toad!

I’m Toad.

My relationships, my future, and myself: they will grow, if fueled by prayer. But I’m pretty sure that yelling (even in my thoughts) won’t work.

I’m almost desperate to see what these seeds will grow into…and what will burst out of this cocoon. But God gives the growth. And it’s good for me to be here.

In this quiet, dark spot.

With Him.

 

 

luxury

What?

(You may wonder.)

What would keep a writer from writing for an entire year?

  • Five months of rotating house-guests from home.
  • Gleeful historical research: into Israel’s canyons, or the Army camps of WWII.
  • Trading two beloved teammates for a succession of strangers.
  • Two months walking a lazy dog up a Switzerland-worthy switchbacked road.
  • Teaching two languages.
  • Editing three books.
  • The Home-going of three of my heroes, including my Grandma.
  • Four months of whacking a sticky space bar (a speech impediment for my fingers).
  • A five-day dust storm that holds the 70-year record.
  • Five months of violence on our streets.
  • Becoming just a little more Jason Bourne.
  • A harrowing, glorious miracle that isn’t mine to tell.
  • One heart on hold.
  • Two moves: one across town, and one across the world.
  • A two-week-old computer, still not fully set up. (I know I’m slow, but that’s a third move, my friends.)
  • The birth of one wee nephew, who lives next door for now. (I get to hold him all the time!)

Or perhaps something with far less melodrama: the simple belief that writing had become a luxury.

If this reentry fog is any indication, then I’ve been exactly wrong. For the last month, ever since I arrived at my American home, my internal GPS has been stuck on “recalibrating.”

So I think it’s (well past!) time to remember the gift God gave me: the way I weigh what’s going on.

With words.

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Plus: here you are! Hello, and welcome.

Most of all: There’s still so much of His love to tell.

I’m pretty sure that writing isn’t a luxury, after all.

Taming My Time

Once upon a time, I was nannying for two families, with a combined total of 15 children, while filling two more part-time roles.

It was almost as crazy as it sounds.

Sometimes singles are viewed as having more free time for helping others. As a twenty-something single, I thought I had plenty of time to help others! Then I ran smack into my own resentment, and learned a life-changing lesson about stewardship and my schedule.
taming time2Want to hear a beautiful thing? This article grew out of timely advice from one of the moms I nannied for. Her son and daughter, now adults and professionals, provided crucial encouragement and editing as I wrote. They are still my very dear friends, and I’m still reaping the fruit of those long-ago hectic months, when (it turns out) we invested in one another.

Taming My Time also grew out of a conversation with my newlywed friend, Sarah. A cheerful, always-giving single who filled many different roles, Sarah didn’t realize the vicious cycle she’d been living until she stepped into her husband’s slower pace of life. As he helped her remember simple things like drinking water, he also modeled a habit of monitoring her energy, rather than running herself ragged. As a result, her migraines stopped, and she began to bask in a sweeter relationship with the Lord.

Is this a lifestyle she could have practiced as a single? Yes! It comes when we pause to acknowledge our Heavenly Father’s plans for us, before we make our own. “God doesn’t want us to have a default,” Sarah says. “He wants us to have faith that listens.”

And sometimes, as we listen, God prompts to do more than we realize we can do. My friend Mary, the mother of seven, says, “I continually discover that the more I practice giving myself when I must trust God fully for the energy to do so, the more life He pours into me to use for others.”

The bad news, my friends? There’s no road map for determining exactly how you should navigate the many demands on your time. The good news? You’ve got the best Traveling Companion ever, who knows exactly which way to turn.

Whenever I’m considering a request, I need to know the truth so I can kindly, confidently say “yes” or “no.” . . . It helps whether I’m considering a romantic relationship or withstanding temptation within one. It helps me determine whether I succumb to being merely a buddy or build a healthy friendship; whether I pull my future spouse into a vortex of overcommitment or not; whether I reject married friends for not knowing my needs or teach (and learn) by sharing my life with them.

Read more in Taming My Time.

 

 

When I Fear the Future

new 010Last September, when I asked some folks for article ideas, one woman responded with a very raw question:

What if I’ve made marriage a priority in vain?

She knows God is trustworthy — and says so. She doesn’t really regret the choices she’s already made. But some courage, please? Some words for the days when fear paints her a long, lonely and poverty-stricken future?

If I were Carolyn McCulley, I could offer some practical advice, help point her towards what God sees as The Measure of Success. (Yes, that’s a book; I recommend it!)

If I could, I’d take her to visit Kim and Andrea: two truly lovely 30-something single sisters who live a Jane Austen life in their tiny house, proving that two is better than one. Though they could find more lucrative jobs, they work for a tiny Christian school that can’t afford to pay them well, considering these students to be their Kingdom work. Just knowing they exist gives me courage.

But that’s not what I was asked for, so I prayed, and pondered, and sat down to write. (Little did I know that her sacrifice of vulnerability was like the little boy’s lunch: transformed by Jesus into a full feast!)

What came out of my finger-tips and onto my keys in that first draft was a surprise:

Boldness. Confidence. Praise. A much more bracing kind of courage than I would naturally share:

Friends, lifelong singleness, if it comes, is not going to kill us. Lifelong poverty will not imprison us. Lifelong sufferings, whether they come in drips or waves, will not overwhelm us. We will be surprised by joy.

I’ve seen the soul-killing effects of isolation, up close and personal. That’s not the kind of singleness I’m advocating here. I’m saying that if we embrace the gift of hunger, allowing it to compel us into closer life with God’s family and with our Savior Himself, we will flourish.

Will there be pain? Undoubtedly.

About the time I wrote that draft, I had one of my prickliest days in a long time. I hurt, and hurt others. Yet on that day, God saw me. And in the generosity of others, I knew He did: I was given a copy of Every Bitter Thing is Sweet.

Now, it took another two months — and more — for that book to arrive. When the suitcase it was carried in got lost for 13 days, it felt like a metaphor for my life, that long, featureless delay for a simple, good desired thing. But it arrived right on time. I read it just two days ago, and saw that what God is teaching me in singleness, He taught Sara in barrenness and the chaos of adoptive motherhood. Her words are the perfect follow-up to what God gave me in today’s article. What she says is rich and practical. And best of all, it works.

How do we cope when we fear the future?

IMG_7050Practice. Practice the presence of God. Speak His works back to Him. Speak His character aloud. Go on: talk big. You can never overshoot or exaggerate when you are magnifying Him.

What do jet lag and prolonged singleness have in common? How about lost suitcases, and hoped-for children long deferred?

A gift.

The gift of hunger.

“Blessed!” Jesus says  “Are those who hunger and thirst.”

Why? Well…

“One who is full loathes honey,
but to one who is hungry
everything bitter is sweet.”

“Taste and see that He is good.”

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table

In the next 20 days, we’ll be bombarded with messages about the miracle of the Incarnation: Is it about glitz, gifts and impressing others? Is it about humility, redemption and reconciliation? Is it best celebrated with the fatted ox, or a dinner of herbs, where love is? How do we honor the King in the manger?

In less than an hour, mellow horns will sound all over Jerusalem. In one of the most casual cities on earth, folks will put on something with a little sparkle: a satin suit jacket or a velvet dress, perhaps. They’ll gather extended families around one groaning table. They’ll sit in candlelight and sing songs they’ve known since childhood. They’ll read stories from God’s book. It’s as if we have Christmas every week!

Like Christmas Eve, no one should be left alone on this night. If you stand at the Western Wall and look forlorn, you’re likely to be invited in by strangers. If you have a home, you’re likely to be racking your brain all week: Who will we have for Shabbat?

Here, for Christians too, the Sabbath is centered around the table. We don’t have to invent a sense of family as we share our table this way. Is it the fact that we’re in the minority here? I don’t know. But we simply enjoy a bond that’s already there: these folks are our brothers in Christ. And somehow, it’s natural to swap tales of God’s glorious work in our lives, which naturally leads to praise and prayer. It was only after I discovered the richness of this tradition that I remembered: The early believers broke bread from house to house. Sometimes, doing church meant a meal.

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Does that sound like too much work? I’ve had a month of exhaustingly beautiful hospitality, and I feel your pain. Oh friends, whether we’re celebrating Christ’s birth, or the Sabbath, I hope we escape the expectations and pressure, the fear and frustration that so easily besets us. The Christmas gift Jesus brought: His own self. The meal He sets out: His own self. A wilderness, five loaves, and two fish were festive enough for five thousand, when He was there.

It dawned on me, one Friday afternoon as I planned and cooked and cleaned for Sabbath, that we are the guests, and the table is God’s. The hospitality is His; the agenda is His; the fellowship comes from Him; He provides the meal for both stomach and heart. Remember the disciples at Emmaus? They recognized their risen Lord, not in His walk, not in His words, and not in some elaborate meal, but in the way He blessed the bread.

We celebrate, yes. We stop working, yes. In order to be with Him. Let’s simply give ourselves to each other, and to Him. Let’s wait and see what He will do.

Wishing you the simple joy of Immanuel – today, and in this Christmas season!

mercies

Oh, friends. Has the news lately exhausted you as much as it has me?

Let’s duck into an oasis for a little while, and I’ll mention some mercies. Because there have been many in the three months since I have written to you.

In May, I completed a ghost-writing project, in which I told the stories of 26 hymns. I’m not sure which was more satisfying:  chasing the stories, immersing myself in the content, or observing how adversity affected the creative process for many of these songs.

Did you know that despite her godly upbringing, hymn-writer Fanny Crosby still struggled with assurance about her spiritual condition at age 29?  Isaac Watts, a poet from the previous century, was chronically ill and unable to continue pastoring or to win the heart of the woman he loved, but he could — and did — write  words that made all the difference for Fanny: “Here, Lord, I give myself away; ’tis all that I can do.”

Did you know that 18th-century hymn-writer William Cowper was plagued with similar doubts? Suffering deeply from depression, and suicidal thoughts, he survived through the care of friends, and the incredible mercies of God.

In May, two dear friends came to explore the land I love so much.

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In June,  I boarded a home-bound plane. Why? Well, years’ worth of faith had coalesced into one great big, busy-making answer to prayer: my sister’s wedding.

How does it feel to marry off a second younger sister in the space of just ten months?

Like this:

bridesmaidGod’s great kindness, don’t you think? To have a front-row spot as the maid of honor and want to throw my sister’s bouquet in the air because whee! He did it!

On the afternoon of July 8, I was making a huge batch of hummus for the wedding when my social media lit up with news from Israel. Sirens were sounding in Jerusalem. It was after 10 pm, there, as my friends bundled their children out of bed, and rushed to shelters, where they chatted with their neighbors in their pajamas, waiting for the all-clear.

The next day, and for days after that, was more of the same: rockets falling on places where I never thought they’d fall. Places I know; places I’ve been. Sure, there’s a steady, deadly rain in the southern cities, closest to Gaza, where I’ve seen the concrete bus stops that double as bunkers. But shrapnel on the central bus station in Jerusalem? More rockets intercepted over Tel Aviv?

It’s like imagining it happening in Atlanta or Boston or New York.

Can I explain the feeling that took up residence in my stomach, in my heart? A hollowness. A twisting. An ache. A keening. “Dear Lord, how long?”

Can you blame me if I prayed, and dived back into the joy of my sister’s wedding? That I retreated, for weeks after that, into book after book?

Here in America we have the luxury of not understanding the complexity that is the Middle East. We have the luxury of feeling far away. In fact, a funny thing happens when I’m on this side of the Atlantic: the cries to “Wake up!” sound a little silly. A little conspiracy theory-ish, don’t you think? Even forty miles away from Gaza, in Jerusalem, it’s easy to believe: “Rockets will never rain down here.”

But God’s great (and terrifying) mercy to Israelis and Gazans ground under the heel of Hamas, to Christians in Syria and Iraq and Sudan and China and North Korea, to your own neighbors in trauma units and cancer wards is this: they are awake.

If they care to, they can see. They have front-row seats to it all: The breathtakingly ruthless face of evil. The mind-boggling brokenness of this earth. The JOY for which Jesus endured the cross. A joy which can be theirs as well.

I see mercies in Israel. Severe and tender mercies: three teenaged boys, captured in June, discovered dead 18 days later. One nation, forged in loving them. A hunt for kidnappers that culminates in the discovery of plans (and tunnels) in Gaza that have been years in the making, and meant for mass kidnappings and invasion — this September.

Listen, I’ve pulled my head out of the sand. I spent hours researching these things, and it was almost too much. I almost gave up on writing these things to you.

But for the mercies. Small ones that are huge. Like being able to help my youngest sister start a business, because I’m not on the other side of the ocean; I’m here. Like getting to know my three-year-old nephew: reading, building, splashing, or chasing him in nearly endless circles, because that’s what brings him joy.

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These things melt my heart. They are not just mercies — they are God’s tender mercies, personalized to me. I see them here, and I know they are across the ocean too.

Won’t you pray with me that we’ll all have eyes (and hearts) to see — severe or tender —  here or there — God’s many, many mercies?

heritage

This post is part of the GEN3 project. Learn more about it here!

When I think of God pursuing me, I think of my grandpa. Though he grew up in a non-religious household, he came to faith as a teen…simply by reading the Bible. When I imagine that dark-haired boy sitting in his room, poring over the thin pages of that fat book, I imagine God saying, “I choose you!”

By choosing my grandpa, He set the process in motion to choose me.

And for me to choose Him.

World War II found my grandfather in southern Holland, just over the border from Germany. It was a starving time, and he was homesick, so he combined the two needs into one and adopted a local orphanage. The children called him “Uncle.”

This athletic man (a college long-jumping champion), this word-lover who could read a French Bible aloud in English and who tried to learn Hebrew at home — I like to imagine him holding this battered Hebrew-English Psalm-book and scribbling his own poem in the back. “Come to Me, all that are wounded and weary of war,” he wrote, “and I will give you My Peace.”

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Though he didn’t know it, my grandpa was writing for me.  My cousin, a skilled conservationist, has washed these page and repaired them with Japanese paper, peeled blue cloth off the dilapidated cover, and glued it onto fresh binding. I’ve carried this resurrected book across the ocean many times — a reminder to remain at home in the mansion that is God’s word.

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It boggles my mind to think that someone so important to my life — is also someone I’ve never met. Though I was born in the year my grandpa would have turned seventy, he had already gone on Home on to heaven.

But in many ways, I’ve stepped into his shoes.

Not on purpose. No, I didn’t know all this about him when God tapped me on the shoulder as a teen. But (like my grandpa) I’m a little zany, and I love to learn. Words are my favorite, and I too study Hebrew at home. Like him, I’m still single in my thirties —  yet I talk about “my kids,” the children I’ve made a part of my life.

I know my grandfather was a man of prayer: often pacing back and forth by the creek, praying for the world, and for the five children God gave him late in life.  (I’m sure the results of those prayers have trickled down to me). If there’s anything I want to pass on to the next generation (anyone on whom God gives me influence), it’s this:

A heart-deep reliance on the One who does all things well.

Whether it sprouts out in prayer, or love, or words, what a good and beautiful heritage this is!

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,

so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”

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