Day by day, line by line
My soul spills onto this lonely, empty page
Filling every space with the questions I embrace
My emotions like the ocean all consuming
My thoughts keep me locked yet undo me
The literature of my life being formed by heart and mind
I wonder what sort of story they’re creating...
Does my heart have enough spark to keep going without knowing
How the ending will turn out?
Because my mind is running circles with it’s doubts.
I confess that “happily ever after” doesn’t match the disaster
Or disappointment drenched chapter
That is the here and now.
Can I escape the here and now?
Is there enough grace in the here and now?
Do I have enough faith for the here and now?
I confess that this page being written is not one I want to sit in.
But I am willing to patiently learn the lesson
That the mess of today is not my life’s thesis
It’s just a sentence.
Day by day, line by line
There is a greater story being written deep inside of me
Day by day, line by line
It will surface and be repurposed for a greater glory
Winds of change, blow over this page
Come and rage upon me and my conflicted identity
Unearthing the parts of me that I’ve yet to see
The dormant dreams and the greater themes that stir so violently
So here and now
I call to my tired and unseen soul
Let your messy story unfold.
Beautifully unfinished. Perfectly in process.
Let your messy story unfold.
Day by day, line by line
Let your messy story unfold.
I gripped the banister railing to the apartment staircase with every ounce of strength I had left as a wave of grief washed over me. I was only three steps from the bottom of my ascent when wall of loneliness stood before me demanding me to confront it’s reality in my life. Though I wanted to run, I had to stop. I had to be still. I had to let this moment happen. And I had to let the fog inside of my soul pass.
I welcomed the sorrow and could no longer deny that it needed to do it’s work. My head sank into my chest, tears began to flow and I could feel my knees begin to buckle. Disappointments that I had held back for weeks now began flooding my heart. I stood there, head bowed, and felt them all.
Then, in the recesses of my heart, I heard the Lord whisper:
“I know this isn’t the life you expected…”
I felt the compassion in His voice. I felt His empathy and understanding. But mostly, I felt His presence with me. And I could finally rest. Even with the unresolved storm of mourning within me, I found a peace that the Lord was with me, that He saw me in that lonely hour.
And His presence with His gentle tone of understanding made this moment of heart wrenching pain more like a dose of medicine to the soul. Yes, it was a hard pill to swallow, but one that was for my benefit and my ultimate healing.
God can only meet us in reality. Denying our pain, our grief, our loss, our disappointments also denies us the opportunity to meet with the Lord who is waiting to comfort us there.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted”
- Matthew 5:4
Perhaps it is time to be willing to enter a season of grief. or mourning that we may make room for the comfort and joy that the Lord has for us. Can you sense His presence inviting you through the way of grief and hardship to find Him working all things for good? (Psalms 30:11, Romans 8:28)
Perhaps the Lord is asking us to be willing to walk through the valley that we may find that even there His presence and grace abound. Can you sense the Lord leading you on a journey through the shadows of life to discover that His goodness and mercy follow you even in the midst of darkness? (Psalms 23:4,6)
Friend, there is no grief too deep; there is no shadow too dark that the Lord cannot meet you there.
“Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”
- Psalms 139:12
The next whisper from the Lord felt a bit firmer :
“…do you still believe that I am faithful?”
My sunken head now raised in acknowledgement to His presence that had been with me in seasons past and was undoubtedly with me in that moment. I knew He would be with me in this coming season. As I took the next step up the stairs, my grip on the banister loosened as I realized that I had something better to hold on to, His faithfulness.
“Yes”, I cried, “You are still faithful.”
When I do not get what I want, He is still faithful. When life throws curveballs and disappointments, He is still faithful. When all I see are waves of unanswered questions, He is still faithful. When it all falls apart, He is still faithful.
And just like that, the Lord’s faithfulness was calling out for mine. Every step up that staircase was one of heart felt determination and quiet surrender to His ways that are higher than mine. Every step was an opportunity to reach out with faith and trust that the Lord would meet me in the middle of the valley. By the time I had finished my ascent, I had fully decided to live this coming season with utter reliance on the Lord’s goodness and His perfect care for me. And this decision couldn’t have come at a better time as the days that followed were full of hidden treasures of irritability, seemingly nonsensical tears, and one too many emotional outbursts. That’s the thing about grief. It doesn’t unleash itself in a single significant moment. It finds plenty of pathways to unleash it’s fury. Yet I still cling on to His goodness by the way of faith.
I don’t have a lot of answers to the questions that mourning brings up nor do I have a grid by which to navigate this valley. But I have peace in His presence with me. I trust that this is the way He has called me to walk for this season in time. And with every step, I grab ahold of God’s faithfulness with white knuckled faith.
Friends, let us no longer deny the difficult and dark roads that the Lord asks us to take with Him. And in this season full of uncertainty, let’s cling all the more to the Lord with white knuckled faith.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,
for he who promised is faithful.”
- Hebrews 10:23
“I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”
This is such a hopeful passage of Scripture planted in between chapters upon chapters of dread, disobedience, and destruction. If you have read the book of Jeremiah, then you know that Jeremiah spends a good portion of his book warning the Israelites of the upcoming rebuke of the Lord brought on by their consistent rebellion. Inevitably, the correction comes for the Israelites and it comes at great costs as they become captives to the powerful Babylonian Empire.
However, tucked in the middle of all the prophecies of chaos and captivity, Jeremiah also speaks of the promises of the Lord towards the future generations that He will:
1. Gather His people from where they’ve been banished
2. Give them safety
3. Restore covenant
4. Give them singleness of heart to serve the Lord
5. Be good to His people and rejoice over this goodness
6. Plant them in the land once lost
7. Inspire obedience and faithfulness
What a promise! After reading chapters and chapters of what seemed like hopelessness, these Scriptures read like a breath of fresh air. Not to mention that the consistent theme of the Old Testament shines brighter than ever in these five verses that the Israelites are never without hope and neither are we.
Something else profound struck me while reading this passage that has transformed the way that I receive correction from the Lord: God’s rebuke in my life does not only reap benefits for myself, but for the lives of others. I don’t even have children yet, but after reading this passage I have come to practice asking myself: what if God is working out something in me today that will affect the generations that follow me? What if His rebukes to me today are for the benefit of my future children and their children?
We need to lengthen our understanding of how God works.
God will always have a wider and more pure perspective than us even in the small details of our life. Therefore, He knows exactly what events and actions in our day to day could become a blessing or a curse to our community and to the next generation. Nothing is hidden from Him, and He sees what we can't see.
God has ordered things to works in such a way that the past, present, and future affect each other. In fact, as I’ve read the Old Testament these last few months, it has become clear to me that time is somehow both linear and fluid (more on this some other time). Therefore, we need not disconnect the present with the past or the future.
So, let's trust God's correction and live in such a way today that the future generations will benefit from how well we live right now.
Dear single person,
What a gift you are to our community! You probably don’t hear that enough, but it’s true. As a single person, you bring value and joy to our world, and we acknowledge the courage it takes for you to live in your present season. Your heart is welcomed to the table with every other stage of life, and we desire to understand your heart more.
As you live in community with the world around you, there are some things that I would like to encourage from you when it comes to topic of marriage and singleness. While I am someone who is also in a season of singleness, there are some things that I think all of us in this stage of life could benefit from.
Summing it all up: learn contentment, keep your heart open, start celebrating your season, build your confidence, and lean into your faith. Go after the opportunities that lay before you for community, personal growth, and intimacy with the Lord. What a beautiful season you find yourself in. Go make the best of it.
Your single friend
Dear married person,
What a gift you are to our community! We probably don’t say that enough, but you are truly a treasure to us. We admire the courage you have in order to live in your present season, and we glean from your example.
As we live in community with you, there are some things that we would like to encourage from you when it comes to topic of marriage and singleness. Are you willing to hear us speak honestly? Well, here goes.
Summing it all up: we want to be known, we want to be celebrated, we want to be asked, and we want space at the table with you. Thank you for listening, for being there for us, and for learning to love us well. We look forward to hearing how we can know and understand YOU better.
Your single friends.
There is a huge culture shift happening in our generation. Have you noticed? I sure have. I need not look farther than my own friend circle to see the obvious (and sometimes awkward) cultural shift at work. Half of my young adult friends (in their twenties and thirties) are single while the other half are married. My generation of young adults are caught right in the middle of this cultural phenomena known as emerging adulthood.
The median age for marriage is climbing higher with each passing decade which also means the amount of single young adults has climbed and is climbing still. Being single in your twenties and thirties is no longer a rare occurrence. Instead, it is becoming a norm. My immediate community reflects this growing trend. Not to mention, I have firsthand watched a subtle divide develop in my community. I have had countless conversations with my married friends and my single friends who experience frustration with those in the reverse romantic situation.
While I am not here to speculate or deconstruct the causes of the emerging adulthood phenomena, I am wanting to start an open dialogue for marrieds and singles in an effort to bring a greater level of empathy and understanding.
Welcome to The Mediation.
The purpose of the next few blog posts is not to deepen the wedge that already exists between most singles and married people, but rather bring us together.
Since I am single myself, I will primarily be speaking from my perspective as a single person. However, I have reached out to several married people to gain a wider perspective.
Now for the hard questions.
Can we have some honest conversations? Can we address the vulnerable conversation about extended singleness with grace and transparency? Can we dive into some empathy and understanding for each other and drop our assumptions? And are you willing to make some adjustments in how you interact with others?
If you answered yes to these questions, I’m excited to explore and celebrate this space with you over the next few weeks! Check back in this Monday and Wednesday for more on this topic.
“Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever."
I have probably read this verse half a dozen times or so throughout my lifetime. But this week I decided to meditate on it and dig in for a deeper understanding. The word MYRTLE stuck out to me with a big question mark hanging in the air. “What in the world is myrtle?”. Wastelands and thorn bushes I understand, but what is the significance of myrtle?
Here’s what I found: Myrtle is a strong-smelling shrub found in the Middle East that is covered with white flowers and dark berries. It is the plant that is used to form our allspice. Myrtle illustrates life and fertility and the leaves cluster so densely that you can’t even see the branches. In the Bible specifically, myrtle isn’t mentioned until the time of Israel’s captivity where this plant is used to represent a recovery and establishment of God’s promises.
Once dead, useless briers are now becoming fragrant and fruitful myrtle. In the once empty places of life, a new garden grows so packed with promise and blessing that you can’t even see the roots. In the most unlikely of places, God’s promises can be recovered and established. This is what God does. This is who He is. This is what He spoke to Israel and this is what He speaks to us.
I grow tired of waiting for God’s promises, and I admit that the more time passes the more impossible it seems for those promises to be pulled off. Yet, as I run into scriptures like Isaiah 55:13, I know the Lord is sovereignly speaking, making the words that have grown stale in my heart become fresh again. So, I choose to hope today. Though every miracle seems miles away, I choose to believe He can work even here in the wasteland of my waiting.
What is the myrtle miracle God has placed on your heart for this season? What promise is God stirring up again that seems so far off, yet the one that you desperately long for?
Recall the promise. Dust off the dream.
Get your hopes up.
Four guys gather around an ordinary piano in small studio in Memphis, Tennessee. They begin to sing their way through several gospel classics including “Blessed Jesus (Hold My Hand)” and “Peace in the Valley”. Later they take on some pop and country hits where you can hear both finesse and flaw as this unpracticed quartet belts it out. Though this is a seemingly ordinary moment, it involves truly extraordinary players.
Perhaps you have heard of the four fellas that gathered around the ivory keys that day in 1957. Their names are Johnny Cash, Jerry lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley. That’s right. These four musical superstars from the 50s and 60s shared a rare moment of impromptu collaboration. Later dubbed the “Million-Dollar Quartet”, Cash, Lewis, Perkins, and Presley created a moment together that would go down in musical history.
I stumbled upon this sixty-two-year-old clip for the first time two weeks ago, and my jaw about hit the floor in utter shock. I am an avid fan of oldies music, but I did not know these recordings existed until I read Johnny Cash’s autobiography where he references the occasion. Just picturing these four guys standing in the same room was enough to wow me. But listening to them sing together for the love of music is another experience entirely.
I must confess, as I listened to these recordings, I couldn’t help but notice the unimpressive pieces of the moment since this was a regular old jam session among friends. This is what musicians do. And the process involves flaws. Not to mention, as a musician myself, I quickly recognize the lack of production power that fuels most artists these days. Yet, the beauty of this moment is leaking throughout the tapes with each passing song. The grit and greatness that these men possess as individuals takes on a new shape as they come together to form a moment so profound that it would move me to my core decades after the moment had passed. Even more mind blowing is that the men in these clips hadn’t even hit their prime yet.
Let’s take a moment to review the lineup for this star-studded event in history.
Now, here's a few reasons why these clips fascinate me.
I am very thankful that this moment was captured on tape and released to the public. These clips remind me of the value of embracing collaboration in my own life and to not be insecure in the process with others. I am also grateful to have these snapshot recordings of these superstars before they were superstars. It encourages me in my unimpressive and imperfect pursuits in music to keep chasing the dream and doing what I love. I hope it encourages YOU too.
Now, go make your day and listen to the Million Dollar Quartet in action.
I’ve had a hard time saying “yes” to things lately. I still carry the sting from seasons past when the word “yes” led me to an out of balance, people pleasing life that ran me ragged and wrung me dry. I was exhausted 100% of the time and had a plethora of migraines. Any off-time I had I spent numb from running my life away. I would often be a zombie on the couch binge watching Netflix often interrupted by my own tears due to my overly emotional exhausted state. (Has anyone else felt super numb and then super emotional 10 seconds later?)
But now I am finding in an effort to avoid to that dry place in life at all costs, a switch has developed where “no” is far more easily accessible than “yes”. However, I have found that this sort of self-protective teeter tottering from “yes” to “no” has left me a little too distant from life, and I’m looking for a way back in.
A few weeks ago, I felt the Lord whisper to my worrisome heart these four simple words “you will not wither”. That whisper arrested my spirit and challenged the fear I had been carrying from that burnt out season years ago. It freed me from having to protect myself from burn out and helped me recognize that the Lord can be intimately involved in my schedule. And that whisper gave me the permission to enter back into the struggle of finding balance in life. No, I will not get it right all of the time. Yes, I can struggle in the day to day. And you can too.
What I have experienced thus far is that the key to not withering is consistent rest, and the key to balance is knowing that it will never be perfect.
Sometimes I think we treat those two things differently. We think balance should be a set it and forget it part of life while rest should only happen on whim when we really need it.
However, rest and sabbath aren’t simply a suggestion in the Bible; they are a command. And it’s a consistent discipline meant to be a weekly part of our schedule rather than an every now and then experience.
Also, balance isn’t something we arrive at. There is always tension, a consistent need to adjust and readjust and readjust again. There is no formula to life that will allow everything to perfectly and neatly fall into place. Balance is messy and we need to give ourselves the freedom to not be perfect in this area of our lives.
Rest enables me to not wither. And understanding that balance will never be perfect is helping me get back into the “yes” game. My encouragement for you and I is to give ourselves the permission to rest, the grace we so desperately need for the complexity of balance in our lives, and the space to let God speak into our schedules. With His intimate involvement into our lives, we will not wither.
Last month I began my ambitious goal to read a book about every US president, starting with a book about my favorite president: Abraham Lincoln.
While reading about Lincoln’s life, I got some really great insight into the behind the scenes of wartime. Since my elementary years, I’ve always known the outcome of the Civil War, but I never really knew the struggle Lincoln experienced on the road to victory. One of the surprising challenges he faced during the first few years of the Civil War were generals who approached war and their enemy cautiously.
Why would a war general be cautious with the enemy? Confidence seems like the better method. However, Lincolns first few rounds of general seemed to have a cowardly approach to war. Off the battlefield, they were very vocal about their confidence to fight and win. But on the battlefield, they consistently ran in the opposite direction of the fight.
The most infamous general for the cowardly “avoid the fight” strategy during the civil war was General McClellan who was, to no one’s surprise, replaced by Lincoln with General Pope.
Pope, like McClellan was cocky. The difference was that Pope backed up his confident and smudge words with action. He fought the enemy. When Pope took over the Army of Virginia from McClellan, he attempted to arouse courage out of a cowardly bunch with this inspiring speech:
"I have come to you from the west where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense…I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy"
- Union General Pope
The truth is, the Army of Virginia kept experiencing defeat even with an aggressive new general. They were just too ingrained in their cautious and cowardly ways. But after I spent chapter upon chapter reading about cowardly generals, the sentiments Pope gave to “seek the adversary and beat him when found” jumped off pages. Something was stirred in me.
I let those words “we have always seen the backs of our enemies” roll around in my head for a few weeks, and a desire began to be wound up in me: I don’t want to run anymore.
Then I began to notice in my devotional reading’s day after day Scriptures like this:
Doesn’t it seem like the Lord is giving me my own Pope-like speech? These scriptures have been like water to the dry grounds of my heart. They are changing something within me.
I’ve ran from far too many battles. I’ve perfected the art of avoiding every enemy of my soul. I’ve worried myself away from the battles that would bring victory in my life. But God is leading me into the fight with words of promise and an invitation to trust .
He is developing a NEW desire in me. I don’t want to run. I want to pursue the victories and blessings in my life. I want a new view: my enemy’s back.
This newfound desire coupled with the words of Scripture are helping my heart pivot from a hesitant spirit towards a “lean in” attitude when it comes to the fight. And I am learning in the art of war that opposition isn’t a stopping point; it’s an opportunity for courage.
Caution will no longer be my approach to challenges. C O N F I D E N C E is my new strategy. And friends, confidence is a practice, not a personality trait. We can practice confidence even when we don’t feel it. It something that needs to grow and develop in us.
So, this is your and my friendly reminder not to hesitate to enter the fight. With God we can “advance against a troop”. We can even “scale a wall”. And with the confidence of Christ, we can embrace a new view: the enemy’s back.
Jen is a pastor, worship leader, writer, and songwriter living in Napa, California.