Redemptive Inefficiency and Tea

Some friends of mine run a great non-profit in Austin, Texas, working with post-traditional students to earn a college degree. They wrote an article that’s been rattling around in my brain for a while now, not only because it so accurately describes them and the work they do, but especially because of this quote:

We get less done to be sure, but being redemptively inefficient is the sort of people we hope to be.

That phrase, redemptively inefficient, that’s what won’t leave me. and I was reminded of it last night when I ran across an op-ed from last November:

That’s what Socrates (or Thamus) means when he deprecates the written word: It gives us an out. It creates the illusion that we can remain informed, and connected, even as we are spared the burdens of attentiveness, presence of mind and memory. That may seem quaint today. But how many of our personal, professional or national problems might be solved if we desisted from depending on shortcuts?

Stephens is challenging the inherent goodness (or at least neutrality) we place on technology that makes us more connected, more effective, more efficient. But at what cost?

My days right now consist of mainly two things: books and coffees. Either I’m in the library reading (and writing), or I’m meeting up with people for chats over coffee. As an undergraduate student, I was always seeking the efficiency route. Could I split work between classmates, or read a summary of the book? I’d do it. I figured I would actually do my learning in the lectures, so any outside work is just a have-to-do activity. But in studying the Bible, I have found those shortcuts aren’t actually teaching me much. My preference might be for the a commentary or devotional that synthesizes things for me— and those can be helpful resources. But there’s something redemptively inefficient about taking a Bible without notes or aids and studying it on my own first. Plenty of those aids are written by very wise, godly people, some of who I have even had the chance to know personally. But they’re not the inspired Word of God— they’re words about the Word. It takes more time. It means I work on essays for twice as long as I potentially would have to if I went to the commentaries first. But in that inefficiency, I find God’s self-revelation, his redemptive plan for the world. And it’s worth the time I don’t want to spend.

Chats over coffee take up the majority of my outside-the-library time these days. When I meet up with students I look after at church, I have had to learn (the hard way!) that I usually can’t schedule them back-to-back. For some people, I think this works. They are good at sticking to a routinized schedule, spending 10 minutes chatting, 45 minutes in Scripture, and 5 minutes praying. An hour, in and out. Or, 10 minutes chat, 15 minutes describing their problem, 25 minutes working through the problem together, 10 minutes prayer. I used to schedule things like that. I’d order a flat white, and by the time I reached the bottom of it, it was pretty much times up. But what I’ve found more with the girls I meet with is that sometimes, inefficiency is what they need. They need someone to listen to them. People are people— we all crave being seen, known, and loved. And all those things are inefficient. So I’ve started to do something else: I order a pot of tea. Not only is it usually cheaper (always a win on a ministry budget), but it gives me time. You have to wait for the tea to actually brew once the pot is on your table. You have to wait for it to cool to a drinkable temperature. And once you finish a cup, you’ve got more to go.

It’s easy to like a person’s Facebook post or write “praying!!” in a text reply to a prayer request. It’s hard to sit with someone in their pain, knowing you can’t take it away. It’s quick to retweet a quote or article on Twitter that resonates with someone. It’s slow to spend weeks, months, years intentionally investing in relationships and getting to know someone’s heart. It’s efficient to send a heart emoji in reply to someone’s Instagram stories; it’s inefficient to demonstrate real love to someone day in, day out, especially when love ebbes and flows.

The harder thing is worth it. The additional time I spend wrestling with Scripture is worthwhile for my spiritual growth. Getting the pot of tea instead of a flat white is worth it with a girl who is wrestling with the issues of life and need someone to see and know and love her. Those things need nothing but time. Redemptively inefficient time. And usually a pot of tea.

Summer 2018 Update

  • I have just finished a refresh on my website-- I'd love to know what you think!
  • I am spending the summer in Houston, Texas, working on essays and fundraising to return to Oxford in the fall! 
  • I'll be working at St. Ebbe's, my local Oxford church, when I return, and I am so excited. Read more about it here
  • I've been doing a lot of art and updating my Etsy shop. 

Personality Tests and God

 
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I am grateful that God has placed many wonderful relationships in my life, throughout the years and around the world. Even though each new move has brought anxiety that, perhaps, this would be the time where I would be friendless. Thus far God has proved himself faithful in the midst of my faithlessness, and has always brought about friends in each new season and place. But There are certain friendships that still find themselves unparalleled in my life. My friend Lauren is one of these unparalleled people. We can (to both our benefit as well as detriment) share a quick look or facial expression and understand immediately the others' perception of the situation. We don't need a description when we send a screenshot or a quote because the other can usually quite accurately guess the intention behind it.

The other day, Lauren texted me and asked if I had read Fleming Rutledge's superb book, The Crucifixion. In a manner that has stopped seeming surprising to me because of its frequency, I told Lauren I had just mentioned that book to someone that day. She then sent over a quote from one of Rutledge's footnotes that I needed only respond with a resounding 'YES!' for her to confirm that we had the exact same feelings behind it. In it, she references that 'The suddenness of this change from social action and liberation theology to spirituality has been enormously confusing to faithful Christians who are served a smorgasbord of enneagrams, labyrinth-walking, and all things Celtic... Classical and biblical Christianity is lost in this unmoored environment.' (Rutledge, 52) A few days later, I sent Lauren a screenshot of a Christian blogger who was advertising speaking at a conference that claimed to "guide you on your journey to knowing your inner self". It was focused on a certain personality type system that seems to be all the rage these days (hint: Rutledge references it in the quote above).

Lauren didn't need my explanation to know how I felt about this post. Having dabbled in every personality system there is over the past few years, in Christian and non-Christian environments, I have come to the same conclusion: they're helpful until they're not. I have little patience for Christians especially who base their lives around their personality type-- whether it be an acronym, an animal, or a number. I don't dispute that they can be helpful tools in understanding motivation and action and others, to a point. But I get incredibly frustrated (as Lauren sensed) when it seems like these personality tests are viewed on an equal level of Scripture, or worse yet, more valuable than Scripture.

In order to know ourselves better, we don't need a test or system. What we need is to encounter and know God. In the fall, I wrote an essay on Isaiah 6, which is where Isaiah encounters the Lord on His throne, in His temple, and the study of it wrecked my life as much as it wrecks Isaiah's in the chapter. As he witnesses the seraphim praising God, he says “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” It is the encounter with the Lord Almighty that reveals his sinfulness and lack. Isaiah recognizes that when focusing on God, there is not room for our own egos. I worry that these personality systems are more 'ego systems' than revealing our uniqueness. We can become so obsessed with what these tests tell us that we let that drive the way in which we view the world, and the way we interact with others. We hold so firmly to these beliefs that we can believe that this is the truest truth that is. And let me tell you: that is a lie. 

I don't want to say there's not benefits to these things, to helping us understand others and ourselves. But the temptation to let these things replace letting God's Word help us understand these things, for if you believe that God is the creator of all people and the redeemer of your life, then why wouldn't you want to learn about yourself and about others through His Word? And the more we read God's Word and encounter him, the more our lives will be wrecked and transformed like Isaiah's, where our focus becomes less on knowing ourselves, and more on knowing God. For it is only when we know God that we can ever know ourselves, and know the way we fit into the world, and our purpose. God knows you better than any personality system. Let Him reveal that to you through His Word. 


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Costly Bravery: Thoughts on Charlottesville

When I first decided to apply to Wycliffe, I ordered myself a thin, rose gold band with five letters stamped into it: BRAVE. I wanted to remind myself that it was good to take this risk, to be brave and apply and maybe not get in, or move across the ocean not knowing a soul, sight-unseen. And I don't think I'm alone in wanting this bravery-- you can find fancily-lettered prints and coffee mugs and sweatshirts that state, "BE BRAVE", or "I AM BRAVE" or just simply declare "BRAVE". We all, it seems, want to be brave. 

Today, in light of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Sharon Hodde Miller wrote:

Some days remind us more than others that what we are called to is not a cute kind of brave, but a brave that counts the cost.

Here's the truth: my version of brave is more often times than not in the cute category. True bravery that counts the cost is a brave that stands up for what's right, that calls out evil and lays down ones life for the sake of others. Bravery does not shy away from the uncomfortable, or stay silent in the face of sin.

The events in Charlottesville today were horrific. White supremacy, racism, the Alt-Right are all evil. Calling them out is not only the right thing to do, but the necessary thing to do as Christians. We cannot stay silent in the way that feels safe or comfortable or "polite", because the truth is that all these things are antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, who came to break down barriers and set the captives free and demonstrate to us all that we have nothing special or unique in us that makes us capable of saving ourselves from sin. 

The story from Genesis to Revelation is a story of redemption where all men and women are brought to equal footing at the base of the cross of Christ, equally sinners and equally incapable of escaping sin apart of the righteousness of Jesus. Any blessing throughout all of Scripture, and our own lives today, that God gives is a form of grace-- undeserved, but given nonetheless. We love, because He first loved us. Any bravery and courage we have is rooted in the truth that God is actually the one who makes it so.

In Scripture, bravery does not come from ourselves, or our own strength, but from the Lord:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” 7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
— Deuteronomy 31:6-8

We can be courageous and brave FOR "the Lord your God goes with you"... "and will be with you". And, brothers and sisters, now is the time for real bravery-- the bravery that relies on God's presence to go with us into the unknown. Bravery that speaks up when it's not personally advantageous, but sometimes quite costly. There is plenty of fear in this world; Charlottesville is only one of many examples in our world today. What the world needs now is gospel-bravery, courage that finds itself wiling to call out sin, to name it for what it is (evil and antithetical to the gospel of Jesus and God's story of redemption throughout Scripture), and seek to build bridges and pursue justice for and alongside brothers and sisters in Christ. 

He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
— Micah 6:8

Pray for the people of Charlottesville, mourn with those who mourn the loss of loved ones, lift up brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the ground ministering to a shaken up city, pray for the salvation of those in spiritual bondage to white supremacy that they make know that there is only One who can claim supremacy and He chose to give up His life for our sake. Don't go silently, but with that costly bravery that seeks to lift up Jesus above all.

An Unexpected Gift

I signed up to teach Sunday School three years ago for one main reason: I thought it was mandatory. Our church plant was in its initial stages, and a non-negotiable for our pastor was that children's ministry would be staffed by members, not hired help. He said it was one of the greatest opportunities we had to tangibly love visitors and newcomers, to show them that we took care for our children so seriously that no one but "us" would care for them, and at that point in the plant it would take all of "us" in order to make that happen. From the very first Sunday, we have had nearly as many children as adults. The pews teem with the cutest smocked dresses and oxford shirts tucked into embroidered belts that would make any mommy blogger jealous. I joke with my friends that if they want to see "the cutest kids in Houston", all they need to do is visit Apostles on a Sunday. 

The first time my sister and I team-taught Sunday School there, it was in a rented schoolhouse across the street from the "sanctuary": a Boy Scout hut we also rented. We were a bit overwhelmed at the thought of teaching 15ish 3-and-4-year-olds, but between the two of us we thought we would be able to survive an hour and a half of almost anything. The feeling of duty quickly subsided when we began to build lego castles and play restaurant and read Jesus Storybook Bible pages. The laughter and joy that escaped from the half-built walls of that first classroom was genuine and contagious. Kids that walked in with trepidation left giving tumble-you-over hugs and high-fives. Our pastor was onto something, I thought, as we packed up after it was over, but I think it's more than he let on: we are loving the kids, but perhaps more so-- they are loving us.

We didn't know many people when the church started, so the way we built many relationships was first through our Sunday School children. To be truthful, I would approach each Sunday with a trepidation unfamiliar to my Pastor's Kid self-- I was now The Outsider. But after a few months, I think both the children and I let down our guard. They no longer hid behind Mama's skirts or Daddy's pant legs. Having a multisyllabic name, I always smiled when they would yell out "Mamcy Page!", "Ancy Page!", or my favorite, "Fancy Page!" when they saw me. And I would enter Sunday services not nervous about sitting alone, but happy to see smiling, waving faces of kids who asked us to sit by them.

 

Fast forward three and a half years later, and I still teach Sunday School. I moved up with many of those early 3-and-4 year olds who now are 5, 6, and 7 year olds in my current class. I have watched them become big brothers and sisters, learn to read and write, and sprout in height. I have studied Scripture with them in Sunday School and with their parents in Bible study for almost 3 years. I have laughed alongside their moms at their hilarious antics and enjoyed spending time when them in their homes. I have watched them graduate to "big church", and sat near them as we worship. A lot has changed since those first days of Scout House Sunday School, but I think what has changed most of all has been in me, in my heart.

You see, I have never loved being single. I admitted to a friend as recently as last night, I have never once "thanked" God for my singleness. I cringe at the articles and sermons and well-meaning talks on the "gift" of singleness, because it's never felt like much of one to me. But last night, after a lively but very normal dinner with many of these kids and their parents and siblings, I found myself crying in the shower. Crying because I realized for the first time that while I still struggle with singleness as a gift by itself, the gift IN singleness has been, in part, these people. These kids and their parents who have burrowed a hole so deep in my heart, a place I don't know would be as accessible if I had my own family at this moment. The love I have for them is, as we sang in those early days,a "deep and wide, can't get around it, can't get through it" kind of love.

I think I love them so much because in many ways, they have healed me in places I didn't even know needed it. Their arms-wide acceptance, generous grace, and hilarious playfulness has made me acknowledge that I am worthy of a love I had forgotten and denied. I am not the same person I was three and a half years ago when I began to attend Apostles, and it's because of Jesus, but He's used these people (both big and small) to remind and teach me of who I am in Him. Last night, at dinner, they took a kids-only picture in front of the ice cream shop next door. Even though I'd been sweating in the Houston heat for over an hour and looking less than my best, I asked if I could jump in the photo with them-- My People. As I held a toddler whom I've prayed for and loved since before she was even born, that was the moment where I finally thanked God for the gift He has given me in these single years: these little people, and their big people. They are a gift I never knew I needed, and one I'll never forget. 

We Need Each Other in Worship: Why Sunday Attendance Matters

One Sunday, as the children filed into the sanctuary after Sunday School I looked to my right to see my five year old friend Sam. I have known Sam for 3 years now and watched him grow from a toddling two year old to a funny, kind, and sweet boy. I glanced back quickly at his mom, who gave me an approving nod that told me Sam was sitting with me by choice, not by force. We were both quiet as the offertory song began, when I realized Sam really wanted to sing along with the rest of the church, but couldn’t read the lyrics. I quickly tried to whisper the lyrics in his ear before each stanza so he could join the congregation in song, just like my mom used to do for me before I could read. We both only got about half the words in before it was time to hurry through the next verse. The act of worshipping is only in part about the lyrics, however. In that moment, Sam likely didn’t process every word he sung, and I hardly had time to break down the theological components of what we were singing in my head-- but it was still very much worship, for both of us. When it was time to say the Lord’s Prayer in unison, he proudly handed me back the program as he prayed with his eyes closed, demonstrating his memorization. We then walked up for communion, he crossed his arms to receive a blessing as I held mine out to receive the wafer.

I cannot tell you what the sermon was that morning, or the Scripture that was read-- but the twenty minutes Sam and I worshipped together gave me a small inkling of what Mary must have experienced in Luke 2:19,  “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” This Sunday, a very nondescript and all-around normal day, has become a cherished memory for me, because Sam helped me see just how important we are to each other in worship-- and just what we miss when we see church attendance as only about ourselves.

Church attendance matters for many reasons. Scripture tells us, “ And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This understanding of gathering together has very little to do with ourselves, but much to do with those who we are gathering with--We go to church, in part, to encourage one another. Sam and his brothers love to make silly faces at me and tell me funny stories before the service, but what they do without realizing is make me feel loved. Seen. Known. The fact that Sam feels comfortable sitting next to me, or that his brother will stop in the communion line to ask me an obscure question, or that they anticipate my hand held out for a high-five-- all these things help remind me why I am a part of this community. They demonstrate to me, without even realizing it, that it matters to acknowledge people. When we listen to sermons podcasts or livestream a service, we lose out on the opportunity to acknowledge, encourage, and love our fellow worshippers. You cannot share the peace with an iPhone screen. There’s no need to share your bulletin with a computer. There’s no one to say the Lord’s Prayer with alongside when you stay home.

I know there a circumstances where it isn’t always possible to make it to Sunday services. I’m in no way here to shame or guilt anyone into being in a pew. But I do think it’s important to recognize that when we substitute the digital version, we will inevitably miss out on something very good things. The crux of digital church “attendance” for most is to hear the sermon. Hear me when I say, the teaching and preaching of the Gospel is so important and vital to our lives. We should, with every effort, try to listen to sermons even when we cannot be in the service that Sunday. But if we view this an equivalent substitute to participating in corporate worship, then we fail to recognize that the corporateness of Sunday matters immensely. You can listen to a sermon alone, sure. You can even sometimes laugh along with those who were present as their laughter finds its way into the recording. But there is something about the tangible experience of sitting in church with others that cannot be replicated on your couch.

Congregational singing matters. Joining the chorus of off-key grandfathers and boisterous children is different than singing along with the radio in your car. Both can be forms of worship, and both can glorify the Lord. But when we join with others, when we raise our voices together, we get to add our imperfect pitch to the chorus of the saints, to experience a small taste of heavenly worship. In those moments, we are united across economic, racial, political differences when we join in song together. Outside of the church, how often do you get to join others in unison like that? A concert or 7th inning stretch maybe, but what a privilege to be able to do that weekly rather than on occasion-- and how few people around us ever get that experience if they do not attend church at all.

In a liturgical tradition, we have the opportunity to join others not only in song, but in prayer. Much of the liturgy we recite in unison consists of prayers that are said not only in our parish, but amongst Christians all over the world. Attending church gives us the opportunity to be a part of something not only bigger than ourselves, but bigger than our context. While our services may look much different from each other on Sunday mornings, the ability to pray and worship alongside Christians both locally and globally provides us a chance to let go of our self-centric culture that permeates the rest of our week. Our self-importance hopefully shrinks bit by bit as we recognize the vast company we keep with fellow worshippers.


Sunday worship services, even in the most scripted and structured, are always full of unknowns. We cannot predict which child will let out a shriek in the middle of corporate prayer, or what note the worship band might play off-key. We do not know who will show up in every pew, and we may not necessarily know every face that does. But God knows-- and God delights in our worship of Him (Psalm 92:4). The worship that occurs on Sundays cannot be fully replicated through a podcast or video sermon, and for good reason: we need each other to worship.

A Letter to My 18 and 1/2 Year Old Self: Part Four

Here we are again. Are you annoyed by these? You probably are only because you like to know everything all at once, as much information as someone is willing to give, and this is drawn out in weeks and frustrating to you to wait and be patient. Well let me tell you a secret: patience truly is a virtue. You will have a more peaceful spirit and a more enjoyable life if you can figure out what God's trying to teach you about patience. At 29 you're still lightyears from owning it, but God's working on you yet, girl. 

Don't forget you were a cute (and precocious and crazy) kid once yourself, too. You aren't too good for them.

Don't forget you were a cute (and precocious and crazy) kid once yourself, too. You aren't too good for them.

On Kids

At this point, you don't really have many thoughts on little kids. You have successfully avoided children's ministry up until this point, and you think you're out of the babysitting stage now (newsflash: you aren't. You will continue to have a complicated relationship with babysitting throughout the next decade...) Here's what I want you to know: kids will change your life, and they don't have to be yours to do it. They will teach you about the world: you'll get to see life through their eyes in ways you've never imagined, and their innocence and joy will renew something in you that you tried to suppress at such a young age. You didn't love being a kid, but you will learn the blessing of childlike faith by befriending families with kids. Don't feel like you're too good for it. Don't shy away from teaching Sunday School because they scare you. Kids are scary and wild and crazy-- but they're also way more grace-filled and kind that you are to yourself. Get to know them and learn a little more about what it means to give grace to others (and to you). 

On Friendships

Speaking of kids, it is the best thing in the world to become friends with families with kids. They will make you less self-absorbed, teach you so much about relationships and sacrifice and humility, and they will feed you food which is always a gift. But truly, befriending a whole family will change your life and it is so wonderful. One day there will be kids who share no blood or birthright with you, but by the grace of God, you look at them and know you are family, you will love them as your own. Build relationships with people of all life stages, because they have so much to teach and share with you, and you might just bring something to the table as well. People your age will always be self-absorbed in their own circumstances (at any age), so get out and see a broader perspective. Befriend people older and younger than you, with wild kids and silly dance parties and messy lives. You will be better for it.

I am putting this here to remind myself next week: we must discuss forks in your hair. 

I am putting this here to remind myself next week: we must discuss forks in your hair. 

On Worry

At 18.5 you have already perfected worry-- you could teach graduate-level courses on it. You worry about everything and walk around life as if landmines of your pre-conceived, anxious thoughts are around every corner. Girl, step out. Take some risks. Try things that you're petrified you might fail at-- sometimes you will. Do it anyway. You think that Jesus' command "do not be anxious" doesn't apply to you because you have clinical anxiety, but the truth is, it applies to you all the more. Your anxiety is a burden you bear, but it is the same as the thorn in Paul's side-- it is there that you might boast in Christ alone. God is so much better than you can ever perceive. Know that and chase after its truth with everything you have, because it will put the worry and anxiety in perspective. It is NOT easy-- like really, really, really not easy. Your worry and anxiety does not magically disappear. But don't let it become what holds you back from seeking God's kingdom. Listen to Jesus: 

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
— Matthew 6:25-33

On Seeking the Kingdom

Your biggest life fear at this point in life is that a) God will call you be a missionary in Africa living remotely and alone and away from everyone you love, or b) that God will call you into ministry. You'll fight it and reject it and make it clear to anyone who remotely asks that you never, ever want to be a pastor's wife. At 29, you are neither a missionary nor a pastor's wife, but you are slowly letting go of wrestling with God over His call on your life. You, sweet 18.5 year old, you would laugh and cringe with equal measure at your 29 year old self who wants nothing more than to spend your days serving the church and sharing the truth of Scripture with others. But here's what I would tell you: let go of the resistance sooner. God is persistent and He is faithful, and He figures out a way to your heart of stone, but oh that you could get one more day where you might see all of life as an opportunity to share the Gospel, the Good News of who Jesus is and what He has done and continues to do in your life. You will be awkward and imperfect and pressed by it all-- but it only allows God's grace to become more real and amazing to you. "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness". You will find a life you never wanted, and a joy you never conceived, and you'll never be the same.

Meeting God in the Restroom

If I ever were to write an autobiography, I think I'd title it, "Meeting God in the Public Restroom". Or perhaps more aptly, "Cowering from God in the Public Restroom", because most of my childhood experiences in those places center around me fervently praying that God would not show up and speak to me in some petrifying way like He did to Samuel in the temple. This was literally my biggest fear as a child, and because of that, also an example of His lavish kindness because if this was my biggest fear I had a pretty wonderful childhood (I did). 

The place I was most fearful of God speaking to me was the public restroom at church. Not the one stalled one, because it was connected by a door to the children's nursery and it was always noisy. There I felt safe (albeit worried that a small child might open the door at any moment). No, it was the multi-stall restroom at the back of the sanctuary that terrified me. If I walked in and it was empty, I would wrestle with how badly I had to go and therefore how much I was willing to risk a Samuel-style intervention. A call on my life I couldn't escape. A terrifying death sentence to my dreams and hopes and plans I began setting in place as a five year old. This was surely going to happen in a public restroom, and most likely the one at church.

I have been thinking a good deal lately about the call on my life. I have found myself envious of people who seem so sure of their call, of their vocation, of what God would have them do with this wild and precious life they have. I had to laugh at the irony of my envy, when I've avoided God's call for so many years, to my bladder's detriment at times. But now I worry that I've missed my chance, that the call was there and waiting for me in those places I avoided for so long, so God must have moved on elsewhere.

For the past four years, I have been a part of a group of people who call themselves Church of the Apostles. We are a church, a place with pews and an altar and a playground and yes, public restrooms. But we are also a people who I have journeyed alongside, people who have invited me into their homes and their lives, children who I love as if they were my own, friends who have cried with me through jobs and relationships and mid-20s angst. I have been, for most of these four years, the odd one out: I am single and in my 20s, whereas everyone else is either a parent or grandparent, living into the trappings of family life. I had a dear friend visit with me once, and solemnly say afterwards, "Nancy-Page, do you ever want to be married? Because you'll never find someone at that church." And it's true, it is not the church to come to for a date (unless it's with a three year old to get donuts and in that case, I'm swimming in opportunity). From appearances, it is not a place where I would fit in. 

And yet. Today was one of the most difficult Sundays in our life as a church family. We found out our beloved pastor and his wife will be answering a call to go to a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I have cried off and on all weekend about it, gone to hold babies and eat fajitas with church friends just to be near them, to grieve together. And when I pulled up this morning to church, all I wanted to do was hug everyone. People I've never hugged. Every child that got within arm's length of me. Every grandfather-type who so much as looked my way was forced into an awkward embrace. I so believe that God is calling Terrell and Teresa to this new season, and I again found myself wondering, as Terrell spoke of this call today, what if anything God would ever call me to in this life. 

And then I looked around. 

My dear friend is right-- there is no reason for me to be at this church. There are plenty of places with more people my age, more social activities, more opportunities prospective dates. But with all the certainty my heart can muster I will say that the one call I have ever felt in my life was to this church. There have been many times over the past four years I have doubted it-- I have certainly considered what more attractive, comfortable options might exist elsewhere. But I cannot quit this place or these people, because it is my place, and they are my people. I have seen God work in ways that only He can move. I have felt His presence and experienced His goodness. I have known that this is where He has called me. 

As I looked around this morning, my eyes uncomfortably filling with tears, I felt a welling of gratitude and love for these faces and these people that would have burst open the Hoover Dam were it situated in my heart. And as I slipped into the restroom to grab a tissue, I looked around to find every stall empty. And I said, in a timid and teary voice, "thank you", to the One who called me here. 

A Letter to My 18 and 1/2 Year Old Self: Part Three

Hey girl, hey! (This is currently your favorite greeting circa 2006. You are still saying it 11 years later... although not as frequently.)

You've been on my mind a lot lately. I think God is working through a lot of things in my heart that I assumed was already healed, but really had just been dormant. It's hard! But I think that's part of sanctification-- the continual growth that God does in us to make us who we were created to be. 

Again with the silly photos. It oddly makes me happy to know you had such a free spiritedness about you. I don't remember that.

Again with the silly photos. It oddly makes me happy to know you had such a free spiritedness about you. I don't remember that.

On Growth

Speaking of growth-- you have this idea that one day you're going "make it". That one day, you'd stop growing, because you'd reach the point you'd been dreaming about. You have dreamed since you were 6 years old about being an adult. Your favorite game to play with your first grade best friend was "Married Hotel Owners", remember that? You'd both own joint hotels (for some reason I have always envisioned them in Las Vegas, although I don't think 6 year old us knew what Las Vegas even was), right next door to each other, with your husbands. What a strange game. Anyway, you know what I mean: all you've ever wanted was to be an adult. You'd finally get over the childish things that annoyed you about yourself and your peers, you'd have a life that was fun and exciting and fulfilling and full. You assumed this would come, if not instantaneously in college, then very shortly after. At age 25 at the latest. Well, guess what? 

You are still growing, and learning, and you don't own a Las Vegas hotel. And the longer you move through this life, the more you realize that God is probably never going to be done with you-- that it's this game of whack-a-mole, where just when you think God's finished working on something in you, something else pops up. It's frustrating and overwhelming and truthfully, the greatest gift God could give you. Each grimy, gross thing that God shows you about yourself, each sin buried deep in your heart, is another opportunity to rely on the Lord and not yourself. It is awful and beautiful and at the very core of life: God is always wanting to draw you closer to Himself. And He's after your sin, because it keeps you from Him.

On Creativity

You have no idea what is ahead, but the most surprising thing will probably be this: you will call yourself an artist one day. Sure, you are creative, and you love making crafts-- but that's as far as you'll go in describing what you are. But even now, you know how alive you feel when you're creating. You aren't sure where it's going, but let me tell you: God will use art to bring joy to you that you've never known. You will do it slowly and you'll wait years before you ever really pick up a paintbrush but let me tell you something: you will love it. Oh my goodness, you'll love it. And people will pay you for it, which will continue to blow your mind. For years, you have said that your mom and sisters were artists, but you weren't. Own that label sooner. It is one that is so deeply embedded in your bones, you'll wonder how it wasn't ever there. It is the biggest honor you can imagine, to be called an artist by other people. You'll learn more about God's creativity by tapping into your own. It's just the best.

On Friends

You have moved a lot as a child, and you have always made friends easily. This is still true in college, and today. You have wonderful friends and you cherish them, but it took a lot of learning to figure out how to do this. You're still learning how to be a god friend, but let me tell you one secret I have learned that has changed my relationships: be okay with apologizing. Don't let your pride keep you from admitting you were wrong. You are wrong-- a lot. You hurt people and mess up and when you don't own your actions, your risk your relationships, and it's just not worth it. Apologize, ask for forgiveness, and be in awe of the grace that is extended-- then turn around and extend it yourself. 

On Emails

You currently love writing lengthy, emotionally-charged emails filled with passion about everything under the sun. You're still very passionate. But for goodness sake, write shorter emails. Don't be so carried away with yourself that you feel like everyone wants to hear your thoughts (you know, like Letters to your 18.5 yr old self, haha). And consider not writing these treatises altogether. It'll all be okay, and any important thing worth saying is worth saying over the phone or in person to someone. You'll look back and cringe at the things you wrote, which is fun, but also terrifying to think that someone actually received it (and could also still read it haha). 

Talk soon,

np

On Not Listening to My Dad's Sermons

I have to confess something to you: I don't listen to my dad's sermons. I mean, I do-- if he texts me and tells me I need to for a work project or because he thinks it's especially important for me to, but otherwise...

I hate admitting that, because my dad is a great preacher. One of the most passionate ones I've ever heard. And I love getting to hear him preach in person-- it's just the thought of my dad's voice in my earbuds that weirds me out. 

But I want to say here: I'm sorry, Daddy, because I should listen more than I do. Because otherwise I wouldn't have heard the sermon you preached yesterday on Pride, where you laid bare your own pride while calling out mine, that my pride is really an intention of trying to be independent from God. 

I'm not going to give you the play-by-play of his sermon because it's worth the time to listen to it. Put it in your podcast queue and listen to it on a walk or a run or in traffic. 

A Letter to My 18 and 1/2 Self: Part Two

Dear 18.5 year old NP,

It's me again, your older and (hopefully a little) wiser self. People have asked me why I chose this particular age in my life, 18 and 1/2, and the oddness of the age makes it a worthy question. Right now, at 18.5, you are in the most liminal space of your life, your gap year. You took a year off from school between high school and college, and you're just waiting. Sure, you have just finished the best experience of your life thus far-- an internship with the Senate Majority Leader inside the Capitol. And yes, you felt very grown up living on your own in DC, figuring out life and friendships and how to catch the Metro; you gave countless unqualified tours of the Capitol to unwitting families and school groups, laughed at Bono's platform shoes when he walked into your office, and grew a fondness for the state of Tennessee you never quite expected. You thought you were an adult at this point, and yet you had so much of life to experience. You were waiting to find out your future. So here I am, giving you a bit of a glimpse of it, and also what I wish you would have known then too.

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On Faith

At this point in your life, you've just started realizing that your faith is yours, and not your parents. When you lived in DC, you found and went to church for the first time without your family. You learned that church can happen in a movie theater or a train station, and it freed up something in your spirit. You will also find, in that freedom, a big of confusion and a desire to cling to structure that feels safe and comfortable. It's good to live in that tension between freedom and structure in your faith-- but you're a pendulum swinger, and you'll struggle with this. You will fear silly things like fraternity parties and isolate yourself in a way that shows you are held captive to untruths. In wanting to pursue what you believe to be true, you will sometimes choose morality over faith. Learn this truth sooner rather than later: It's easy to mistake a morally restrained heart for a spiritually changed heart. (Tim Keller)

You have no idea how much you will cherish your sisters. You are pretty ready to get a break from the yelling and fighting over clothes and pestering, but you will miss them more than you realize. 

You have no idea how much you will cherish your sisters. You are pretty ready to get a break from the yelling and fighting over clothes and pestering, but you will miss them more than you realize. 

On Black and White and Grey

You have always been comfortable in the black and white. Absolutes have felt safe and secure for 18.5 years. College will jolt you into a place where the colors become a lot more muddled, and you are completely unprepared for this. You will really struggle with the concept of grace, in a way that seems foreign to a child physically and spiritually raised in the church. As you learn more about God's grace, however, you will also increasingly learn of your desperate need for it. You will keep striving for a point where you're "okay", justified by your actions and your morality, where you can prove yourself worthy of God's goodness and blessing, and you'll send yourself into a tailspin. Learn to live in the tension. Learn to wrestle and debate and rest in the Truth that God is God, and you are not. It's something you'll never master, but the sooner you begin down that journey the more peace you'll find. 

You will never believe what happens, even if I told you, to the two of you. When she is your roommate down the road, you will wonder why it took you so long to really  know  your sister. 

You will never believe what happens, even if I told you, to the two of you. When she is your roommate down the road, you will wonder why it took you so long to really know your sister. 

On Appearance

Girl, I am not even sure where to start here. When you look in the mirror right now, a size 6 with pretty clear skin and little need for makeup, you see something wholly different. You see flaws and imperfections and undesirable attributes. You and I both can remember where it started: in the 6th grade locker room, where it seemed the "cool" thing to do to point out your flaws in hopes that others would correct you and give you praise. Except the praise didn't come (in hindsight-- who actually looks for praise from 6th grade girls?!), and we started believing all those awful things to be truth. I wish I could tell you things change drastically. I can see from here the waywardness of those warped thoughts, and yet they still plague me (you) today. I still wrestle with the mirror and the scale and outward perception. What I wish so badly for you is that you'd find a freedom that only comes from Christ in this area -- that you won't let it take you captive and occupy all your thoughts -- that you won't let yourself be a prisoner to perceived opinions of others (and sometimes worse, the opinion of yourself). 

There are storms ahead, you can be sure. Hold tightly to Jesus. He loves you more than you know, and in Him is the Way, the Truth, and real Life. More to come. 

Love,

np

A Letter to My 18 and 1/2 year old Self: Part One

I keep thinking about what I would say to my younger self, particularly my 18/19 year old self on the cusp of college and adulthood and figuring out faith for the first time on my own. But I've stopped myself from writing, because it feels like something that "needs" to be timely-- on the precipice of a birthday or significant milestone, and while I'm approaching 30, I still have several more months in my 20s. And then I looked at the calendar, and realized today is 6 months exactly from my 30th birthday, and thought, it's now or 6 months from now, if I'm looking for timeliness.

This letter is longer than I originally anticipated, so I think it'll be a series of sorts, leading up to my 30th birthday.


To my 18 1/2 year old self, 

I am writing you this letter, on my 29th and a 1/2 birthday, that you may "remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13). This next decade will fly by quickly and give you whiplash at moments, heartbreak at others, but know this: The Lord is good, and His mercies endure forever. And your life is included in that "forever". 

You will pop too many collars and wear pearls like Barbara Bush along with them.  It is what it is, I suppose... 

You will pop too many collars and wear pearls like Barbara Bush along with them. It is what it is, I suppose... 

On Regret and Shame and Worth

Right now, you are anxiously awaiting college acceptance letters. You're trying to act unperturbed, but you're checking the mail everyday with anticipation and anxiety. And the truth is, you're going to be utterly crushed by what comes. It's your first real, irreversible rejection, and it's going to hurt so badly. You're going to wrestle with worthiness, and it's going to take you a while to recover. You'll replay those application essays over and again in your head, and wish you had spent more time on them, be wrecked by the thought that you should have applied to more schools, and believe that your future is irrevocably ruined. You're going to feel shame in a way you've never experienced before, and you're going to wonder if it will ever go away.

In the regret and the shame and the lack of worth, know this to be true in the deepest part of yourself; say it and pray it and memorize it until it imprints on your heart:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly exult in my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

You are much less conscious about photos and seem to hate taking a normal picture. Don't take this for granted.

You are much less conscious about photos and seem to hate taking a normal picture. Don't take this for granted.

On Dating and Heartbreak and Marriage

The other thing that preoccupies a lot of your mind right now is boys and relationships. You always imagined, knew even, that you'd meet your future spouse in college and be whisked off your feet into marital bliss. First off: you aren't going to the right college if you're looking for a Ring by Spring, and I think deep down you know that, but it still doesn't stop you from wanting it. Dating in college will not look like anything you envisioned, and you'll be consistently disappointed that reality doesn't match your childhood dreams. As much as you can, try to live in the present, and not the "what-if" of the future. The future is where you feel most comfortable, but if you dwell there too much, there is a tipping point to where you don't appreciate the right now. God will use your singleness to sanctify you, and His persistence in pursuing is more precious than any man's pursuit will ever be.

You will continue to want marriage, and you'll wrestle with worth again in believing the lie that being single means being a lesser or incomplete person. You'll have your first few real relationships, and one of them will absolutely wreck you when it ends-- because you placed your faith in a man, and not in God. You let your worth rest on becoming someone's girlfriend and potential future spouse, and when that doesn't happen, you'll feel lost. You'll think there's no way you could be more sad than those initial college rejection letters, and yet this tears apart your heart in an entirely new and excruciating way that takes a lot of therapy and years and prayers to get over. In hindsight, I can't tell you I wish this never happened to you. God uses it for His glory and for your good, but girl, it is hard. Give it to the Lord sooner than you (really) do; let go of the white-knuckle grip of controlling your own future, and learn to trust God with the unknown and the difficult and the painful things. 

And another thing-- you definitely were not ready to be married out of college. You thought you were, and God can work all things for His good, but you were not cut out to be a child bride. Find gratitude and not distress in the fact that you graduate without a ring. The longing for marriage will not leave you-- at 29 and 1/2, you still desire this-- but don't let it define you. Let go of (most of) all those books you read on relationship from age 13-21. Please, stop believing that God is unhappy with you for something and that if you were a "better" Christian, you'd have a husband. Works-righteousness will be difficult for you to let go, but oh-so-freeing when you first see its chains around you. And read Paige Benton Brown's article sooner than later. Your increasingly-reformed heart will find comfort and truth in her words: 

I long to be married. My younger sister got married two months ago. She now has an adoring husband, a beautiful home, a whirlpool bathtub, and all-new Corningware. Is God being any less good to me than he is to her? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me because God cannot be less good to me. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to shortchange any of his children.

This is pretty long as it is, so for now, we'll stop. But remember this: God wants to be the definer of your worth, and the longer it takes you to realize this (hello, 29 year old self), the more days and years you'll miss out on the freedom that it brings. Let go sooner, if you can.

always,

np

The Odd One In

I texted a friend recently asking if she and her husband wanted to go to dinner, the three of us. She responded they'd love to do dinner, and invited me over for (really good) homemade pizza. It wasn't until halfway through laughter and pizza and a bottle of wine that I realized they had invited me into their date night. And it wasn't out of pity, because I know my friends. If they have set plans, they're honest. It was because they are kind and generous and thoughtful people who treat me as a whole person, with or without a boyfriend or spouse. We spent that night both laughing and discussing deep, important things, and I left with deep joy and gladness for friends who let me be their third wheel without ever making me feel like one.

 I love being the third wheel. Or the fifth wheel. Or even, sometimes, the seventh wheel with my friends. And it's not because I just adore being the odd one out, but conversely, because my friends never cause me to feel that way. Sure, I could easily create that type of feeling inside myself all on my own, but my friends are intentional at treating me as a whole member of the group, with or without a partner. We laugh and debate and tell stories and talk about things of value because we are all truly friends, and I love them both individually and as couples. We go on weekend trips and for drinks in odd numbered groups and I never feel like the odd one, because of their inclusivity and kindness. They let me be my crazy, blunt, all-over-the-place self in a way that shows me they don't spend time with me out of obligation or pity but because they love me, and I love them.

For the past six months, I lived with a wonderful family of 6 (4 of whom were under age 7). They let me into their lives in a tangible, enveloping way that made me not a tenant, but a member of the family. I spent afternoons doing crafts and babbling in baby talk not because of any arrangement, but because I loved it-- these are my people, and I am a part of their family. One of my favorite moments is when a neighbor child quizzically asked the six year old in front of me, "is this your babysitter?", as though I was a mute statue in the room. He quickly looked at him and said, "No! She's our friend!". My heart leapt in that moment, because I knew that he saw me as a friend and someone who loved him just because of who he was, not out of any monetary or contractual agreement. When I'm with them, even though I've now moved out, I never feel like an outsider or the hired help. I do the dishes after dinner not out of obligation, but because I love them (and I love to do dishes). I come over on Wednesdays and make piñatas and play dress up with the kids not to babysit, but to be their friend. And they challenge and encourage and love me with a fierce and free love that is for no other reason that that: they love me, and I love them.

So many times the disciples seem to have no idea what is going on in their interactions with Jesus until the aftermath. In John 13, with a sense of urgency Jesus tells them,

"A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

Perhaps we look odd out in public, three of us getting drinks on a Saturday night in an obvious date night spot, or me as an addition to a family of 6 out to dinner. But the optics never seem to bother my friends, and they give me some amusement, because I know the truth: These are my people. I love and am loved by them, and through them I learn to be a better disciple of Jesus each day. I am not the odd one out, but the odd one in. And I love it. 

Seasons of Waiting

I am not what you might call a "patient person". When I was a little girl, I remember as young as five my favorite thing to do was to daydream about my future and map it out on a mental timeline. I decided that I would get married at 23, have my children starting at 25, and become a famous broadway actress by 30. I could hardly wait for those days to begin. Everyday, I would ask my mother as soon as I woke up, "what are we doing today?", which always annoyed my free spirited, artist mother who didn't always have a play-by-play schedule for me. I am now an artist, and one of the most frustrating mediums for me is paint. I avoided it for years, in part because I was impatient at learning how to do it, and in another part because the literal waiting on paint to dry-- even the 10 minutes it takes sometimes-- is just too much for me. And the worst of all was Christmas. We we get home from a midnight Christmas Eve service, and I never quite understood why I had to go to bed if it was already technically Christmas day-- why did I have to wait hours more to see what Santa had brought? (The truth was that "Santa", who had just performed 4 Christmas Eve services, still had to put together all my toys... haha). I just hated the waiting.

Advent is known as a season of waiting, of anticipation and expectation of the coming of Christ. Perhaps that's why I am always a little uncomfortable with it. I do much better with Lent-- I can confess my sin and show acts of penitence all day-- but Advent, this waiting, it is hard. Americanized, Norman Rockwell Christmas looks perfectly content with this season. There are Christmas decorations up in October, with all its glitz and sparkle reminding you, like every sign in Hobby Lobby, "it's the most wonderful time of the year!". It's as if culture is telling us, "come December 1st (or the day after Thanksgiving, or whenever you decide to "put up Christmas" in your house), all will be right again".

And yet, you and I know, that just isn't the case. That magical date comes and goes, and our circumstances don't change. We might have more red and green around the house, to be sure, and hear a few more jingle bells and jolly songs on the radio, but our lives don't radically shift on that date. We don't transform into new people come the first day on our Advent calendars. The painful situations still exist. The losses still put a twinge of pain in our chest-- sometimes more so as the holidays draw nearer, because we know. We know we are waiting for something that is gone, or not yet, and maybe never.

If we look back to the story of Joseph, we know that Joseph was familiar with the waiting. At 17 he was sold into slavery, and for the next thirteen years, he either lived at Potiphar's house or was imprisoned, after Potiphar's wife falsely accused him. During that time in prison, he must have prayed desperately for God to take him out of this season of waiting. Perhaps he didn't even know what he was waiting on, besides freedom. Who knew what lay ahead for him once he got out apart from that. And then there are these two men who come in, and he interprets their dreams and surely he must have thought, "THIS is it! this is my sign, this is the end of my waiting!". And yet we know from where we ended the reading, that the chief cupbearer had not remembered Joseph, he forgot him. He was left waiting. 

We all find ourselves in seasons of waiting this Advent. Perhaps you're waiting on a new career move, or a renewed relationship, or waiting on God to answer some prayer deep in our hearts. Usually, the waiting is over something we have no control over, just as Joseph had no control over being rescued from false imprisonment. We are all waiting on something right now, in this season, and while it may or may not be as dire as Joseph's situation in prison, it can be lonely, and painful, and difficult. And so often in the waiting, it is easy to think that God is not near to us if our prayers have not yet been answered. Surely Joseph had moments of wondering himself, particularly after the situation with the cupbearer.

And when we read onto chapter 41, it begins "When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream". Two FULL years. Not two quick years. Not two holly, jolly years. Two full years. of waiting, in the prison. And yet, as we know, that after two full years, Pharaoh had a dream, and the cupbearer was reminded of Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. And when Joseph comes before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, their first interaction is this:

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

Five times in his interpretation he tells Pharaoh "here is what God is doing". His immediate, instantaneous reaction is to give all the credit and honor not to himself, but to God. And I think this profoundly tells us something about Joseph: that in his waiting, he always knew God was near. It's not For Joseph to go out of his way to give credit to God, when he could have been doing all that might to wriggle himself out of his waiting period in prison, tells us that Joseph had a deep, abiding sense that God was with him throughout all the waiting. 

Like I mentioned before, it can so often seem to us that God is absent in our seasons of waiting, and even in this Advent season it can almost be exacerbated, feeling as though we are the only ones waiting on God to reveal himself in some marvelous Santa Claus type fashion to rescue us from our waiting. First, I want to tell you, if you find yourself in a particularly hard season of waiting: you aren't alone. There are others, myself included, who wait alongside you. Remember my childhood plan for my twenties? I'm so far 0 for 3 on all my steps to happiness--although I am famous in my shower for broadway musical numbers. :) But even more than knowing that other people are with you, know that God is with you, and he is always working.

Joseph could have thought that the cupbearer forgetting him was a sure sign that God had also forgotten him. But God is not like man, thankfully, and he never forgets his people-- ever. His plans are also not like mans, which means that our goals and dreams don't always play out on the timelines we create. But he never forgets us, and he wants to be near to us, in the seasons of waiting, the seasons of Advent in our lives. 

After Pharaoh heard Joseph's interpretation, he put him in the role of overseer of all of Egypt. Not only did he escape from the pit, but was risen to the highest office possible. But it wasn't as if God was suddenly present again after a 13 year absence. No, God had been present all along, working in and through Joseph's life, cultivating a faithfulness in him that perhaps only could have come from those great seasons of waiting. As we enter into this second week of Advent, the hustle and bustle of the holidays swirling at a greater pace with each day, perhaps the pang of our own waiting beats heavier in our hearts as we draw towards Christmas. Wendell Berry once said, "“It gets darker and darker and darker, and then Jesus is born.” Let us hold onto the hope that is brought by Advent, even in our darkest seasons of waiting, because we know that we are ultimately waiting for Jesus to return. A return that will right all the wrongs, rescue all the imprisoned, and end our waiting forever.

Why You Shouldn't Dread Thanksgiving Conversations

I've seen it on every social media site and read articles about real anxiety and heard it around many Friendsgiving tables: "I don't want to see my relatives who voted for X during the election... UGH." And I get it-- believe me, I do. Those tense conversations over platefuls of turkey and carbs with people you only see annually but have read their posts of anger, jubilation, or worry over the past 18 months seem dreadful. I cried the first time I heard someone thanking God in gratitude for the results of the election while I felt the exact opposite. It may be hard to even consider smiling warmly at a relative we feel so strongly different from, much less having 6 hours of conversation together. It's no wonder SNL spoofed these fears last weekend with their skit "The Bubble" which is as hilarious as it is real: we really would like to live in a world where people who we cannot relate to do not exist. But the fact is, we do, they do, and we need to figure out a way to get beyond the dread. 

In Romans 15, Paul speaks to a division that has arisen in the early church between Jews and Gentiles: 

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. — Ro 15:1-7

Paul exhorts them to "bear with the failings of the weak", to "not please ourselves", to "please our neighbors for their good", and to "accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you". There is a  humbling we as Christians are called to observe, to put others before ourselves, even when it is difficult and painful to do so-- just as Jesus did. It isn't merely platitudes or pleasantries that Paul asks for, but to see others as Christ sees us-- through the eyes of grace. Charles Spurgeon wrote,

"Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because he could see no fault in us, or because he hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, he welcomed us to his heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another."

As some of you know, I've spent the last 5ish months living with a family of 6. It has been hands down the highlight of my year, and I've learned more lessons from them and their kids (ages 6, 5, 3, 1) than I can count. The 5 year old (actually, she would like me to tell you that she's 4 and three-quarters, thankyouverymuch) has a special place in my heart. She can't help but tell the truth, and she wears her emotions on her face (I can relate!). Some days we are bffs, and other days, well... she would rather I not bother her-- and I get that, because those are literally the emotions I wrestle with on a daily basis, haha! But the other day as I tucked her into bed, she said to me, "Nancy Page, did you know that my heart changed so that I love you now?" 

I pretty much melted right there on her bed, fighting tears and trying to figure out in real-time what the best way to react was to that sweet and honest sentiment. 

I tell you that story to say, our hearts can change towards the people that we struggle to love, too. We can choose to see them not for their flaws, faults, or differences, but for who they are through who Christ is for us, and for them. I'm not saying to fake it, or to be silent tomorrow. I'm not even saying you need to avoid politics. It's real and important and on top of mind for many Americans. But I do think there's a way, through the eyes of grace, to see those people with love and compassion that only comes from Jesus.

If Jesus can come to earth and not only put up with ignorance, fear, and cruelty but love the people who showed Him it-- you can love those relatives at the table tomorrow. 

What's Missing, and Who is There

I am an Enneagram Four. At the most crude, basic level, to me this means that I have emotions-- and a LOT of them. (If you know me this likely does not surprise you). And for me, part of being a Four entails a frequent wrestling with not wanting to be labeled, to feeling unique and individualistic and desperate to be seen and known while fearing the opposite. These past few years have honestly been healing to me in many ways, because as I've stepped out and shared my feelings and thoughts and emotions through social media, I have realized that in many ways I am not alone. 

I have found myself feeling incredibly emotional lately. I had a heaving, ugly cry the night after the election, and the day later, too. I went to a wedding and felt so incredibly happy for my sweet friends while at the same time acutely feeling the loneliness of not having a partner. I do not just have feelings-- sometimes I AM my feelings. And part of being a Four is always seeing what is missing, so it's not surprising, but it doesn't make it easier. I can daily mourn the things that I don't have, to my personal detriment.

In the past few weeks especially, I have come again and again to this idea that both joy and sadness, fullness and lack, beauty and pain, can exist in the same space-- and oftentimes do. I joke that I can have 15 different emotions in the range of five minutes, and I am equally swayed by all of them. And I could let myself (and do, in my low moments) drown in the unending depths of feelings that I have. But the thing that I am learning more and more that there is a way to both be who I am, and live in a wide range of emotions, but not be swayed by them unnecessarily. And that way is through Jesus.

Fours live their life looking for what's missing. And I can rattle off a lot of things that feel missing in my life: a relationship, money, success, popularity... And yet I am learning, in fits and spurts, in difficult seasons particularly, what it means to see God's love for me as the fulfillment of what's missing. I write a lot about how we should act if we really believed that God loved us so deeply and immeasurably. I think most days, I don't really believe it. An article that went to my core recently is entitled "Loving the Life You Never Wanted". I immediately clicked and read, because in many ways I find myself in the life I never wanted. And I was most challenged by this thought:

The reality is that all of us can imagine something better for ourselves than our circumstances today. The greater reality is that, if you love and follow Jesus, God always writes a better story for you than you would write for yourself. The “better” is based on this: God himself is the best, most satisfying thing you could ever have or experience, and, therefore, fullness of life is ultimately found not in any earthly success or relationship or accomplishment, but in your proximity to God through faith.
— http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/love-the-life-you-never-wanted

I want to know God in a way that He truly is the most satisfying thing I could ever have, and to know a fullness of life that extends beyond the barriers of what I feel I do not have. I want to trust that God's story is better than the grand story I've written in my head since childhood. And I don't know about you, but I feel like that is something I will actively adamantly have to seek out every day of my life in order to know it-- because I will always see what's missing, I will always see my pain as excruciating, and I will always want something outside of what I have. I see what's missing, and oftentimes overlook what  But I desperately want to pursue that, because in the end, I want to want God more than anything else. Do you? 

Words, Just Words

"It's just words, folks. It's just words."

My dad used to say "'just' is the biggest word in the English language". It's one of my strongest memories, him saying this, usually when we would say, "oh, just five more minutes of TV! It's just washable marker!" When we say, "just", we insinuate that whatever comes after it is minimal. We mean to say that whatever it is doesn't really matter, in the scheme of things. So when I heard this phrase spoken in the presidential debate last night, I immediately thought about my dad's token phrase. But here's the thing: I believe that words DO matter. My faith is rooted in the belief of a God whose words actually speak things into existence. "

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
— Isaiah 55:11

Words aren't just words; words have power-- for good, and for evil. Just last week, I witnessed friends speak words of covenant and commitment to one another, that bound themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. Words above water fountains and restaurant entryways saying "WHITES ONLY" had power to separate and degrade human beings from one another in our own country, not very long ago. And words stick with us; when I think back on particularly difficult situations in my life, it is not the setting I remember most vividly, but the actual words that were spoken to me; in most circumstances, the healing I have needed was not physical, but the mental and emotional harm that words caused.  

Senior year of high school, one of the final things we did in my English class was watch a recording of the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. If you haven't read or watched it, it's a post-modern play that takes place in and around the story of Hamlet. But the phrase that stung my ears and still echoes frequently from the play is this: "Words, words, they're all we have to go on." Words matter, because they make up the majority of our interactions. Words are how we interact with others, how we learn more about people, how we grow in our knowledge. 

I am currently doing a study on friendship, and if studying friendship from a spiritual perspective has taught me anything, it's that I have a long way to go in being a better friend-- and the majority of the places that need change are centered in communication. Words are not the whole of our relationships, but if I never spoke to friends or family, our relationship would be significantly different. 

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.
— Proverbs 18:21

As a child, the majority of the redirection and consequences I received were in relation to things I said. Whether it was to my sisters (mainly), or other people, if I said something inappropriate, or rude, or hurtful, my parents were quick to call me out on it. Whether serious or silly, how many times have you said (or heard someone say), "oh honey, we don't say that"? As children we learn at an early age that words have power because we are taught what is appropriate and inappropriate to say. So when a presidential candidate says, "it's just words", as though it doesn't count because it isn't proof of action, I have to wonder-- would we treat children with the same indifference if they criticized people for their race, or made sweeping assumptions about people based on their zip code, or threatened them with harm?

Jesus was intentional about everything he said. He lived with an incredibly focused mission, and ensured that what he said matched how he lived. Words and actions do work closely in tandem and we cannot separate one from the other. But to say that "it's just words" is to assert that words don't have power, and it's just not true. If we aspire to be Christ-like, to live as disciples of Jesus who try to emulate him, then we have to believe in our core that our words have the power of life and death. Jesus healed the sick and raised people from the dead with only his words. Our goal as Christians should be that our words so match our actions that everything we speak is filled with truth and life. I am a far way from this, but I want to live as though my words matter-- because they do, and they're too important to call them "just words". 

Hello, old friend (plus a little announcement)

Hi friend,

I have been gone from this space for a while (over two months!), but that does not mean that it has left me. I frequently think of things I'd like to write about, questions I want to pose to you, and  I want to share, but I also have tried to spend the past couple of months being P R E S E N T with people, which has been good for my soul. 

Yesterday was my 29th birthday, which when I'm honest, was not a day I was looking forward to-- but it was wonderful. Wonderful in ways I could never have expected. I felt more loved, valued, and cared for than I ever could have imagined. When people go out of their way to do things they don't have to, or buy things they shouldn't, or share words they mean with all their person, it means something. It fills up places you don't even know were depleted. It restores something you never knew needed restoring. So today, my first real day of 29, all I can feel is exceedingly grateful for every acknowledgement, encouragement, gift, moment of yesterday.

So, I've spent these months being present, being with people, and it has made me realize over, and over, and over the importance of relationships. It takes intentionality and generosity in order to be a friend. It requires selflessness beyond what I always can muster in myself-- and yet I have watched my friends do it for me so many times, yesterday being just another example of their immense kindness.

My friend NG, who is every ounce of four and a half years old, drew a beautiful sign to put on her front door so that all her "neighbor friends will know that this is her house, and they are welcome here!" This small but huge gesture has lingered in my mind: how often do I intentionally close my proverbial door and pretend to hide in the dark so that my friends don't know I'm available? How frequently do I offer the minimum of my time or my words, opting to guard myself from giving much of anything away? I try to keep myself safe and unaffected, because I'm afraid of being hurt or depleted or having my life be interfered with in any way. 

I want to be more like NG, willing to put a sign outside my life that openly lets others know, "I'm here". I want to stop holding people at a distance, to let people in, to willingly invite people to interfere with my plans and wreck my personal space and time. Of course I believe in healthy boundaries-- but I also think I have set up unhealthy guards that do more to turn people away than love them, and in the end, I think that's where I am: I want to learn to love people well, again. 

The Bible has a lot to say about friendships. There are friends "who stick closer than a brother", and I want to learn how to be that kind of friend. So I'm inviting you to join me, starting October 10th, for a study on friendship. I will share more details next week, include the name and the ideas I have to make it both a digital + tangible study, but in the meantime, will you consider joining me if you, too, could benefit from learning how to be a better friend to others? 

Memorize the Word is going to start up again in October, and there are a few other art announcements I have coming in the new couple of weeks as well, so look out for more posts + sneak peaks!

Love,

NP

A Letter to the Church

To the Church: 

I feel like we need a team huddle. I'm pretty much the farthest thing from an athlete, and I never was on a sports team that did a huddle, but I keep having this vision of a Christian huddle. One where we'd gather around each other, arm in arm, and try to figure out what the needs are, where some of us are weak and hurting, and where others of us can step in and carry the weight for a while. So I'm asking you, gather around for a few moments so we can talk. 

I come to you as your sister in Christ, a white sister who sees the pain of my black brothers and sisters and cannot stay silent any longer. I come to you from a place of humility, and trepidation, and sadness, and anger. The melting pot of emotions our country is feeling right now seems to have settled in my heart and is stirring something I cannot ignore. 

Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
— Isaiah 1:17

If you know me, you know that I express myself through words and through art. When I study a passage of Scripture I love or really want to put to memory or heart, the first thing that I do is grab a pen and paper and begin to draw it. Isaiah 1:17 is one of those verses that I would not hesitate to letter. It fits all my qualifications for an ideal piece: it has short phrases, punchy verbs that can be emphasized, and is less than 20 words. In short-- it's catchy. Micah 6:8 is similar, and a verse I have lettered many times: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 

But I have to tell you, this morning, I could not pick up my pen. I could not make these words into an attempt at beauty, because not only are they already beautiful without my lettering-- they are commands, to us. Friends, brothers, sisters, I am pleading with you: these verses are not sweet phrases we stick over our children's beds or set as phone background screens. They are the words of our God, a God who commands, not suggests, us to seek justice. Who commands that we defend and plead for those who need our help, that we lay down our privilege for the lives of others in the fashion that Jesus taught us to do. 

We need to take this to the Lord in prayer. We have got to take it to Him in prayer. As I have been studying what it means to pray like I really mean it through my Devoted study, I realize daily how much I desperately need prayer. I need God so desperately. We need God so desperately. Our country, our world needs God so desperately. If you don't have the words to pray, start simply by answering these questions: 

  • What do you know to be true about God? 
  • What are you asking God to do? 
  • How do you know that God can do it? 

God hears the cries of His people. We have got to approach Him as though He is our only hope, because He IS our only hope. Pray alone, pray together, pray always and without ceasing. Praise God for who He is, for being a God to hears His people. Pray for reconciliation, for healing, for justice, for peace. Pray for those you know, and those you don't. Pray for a heart that breaks over what His heart breaks. Proclaim God's power and might, who is capable of far more than we could ask or imagine. 

If you're white, and you don't know what to do besides pray-- now's the chance to learn. Let's be proactive, seeking out our brothers and sisters who are hurting, and listen. Listen to their stories, their experiences, their fears. Let's approach this from the posture of students: we have got to learn what the needs are of the individuals in our lives, and where we can step in and use the privilege we have to do good in the name of Jesus. We need to stand in our pulpits and address the uncomfortable pain. We need to open our doors to those who need to be heard, and hear them. We need to take a hard observation of the places where we, as individuals and as churches, have privilege, and see where we can break down that privilege and repurpose it for the sake of the Kingdom. 

Ya'll, I drove around with an expired tag and broken tail light on my car for almost three years. THREE YEARS. (Daddy, I'm sorry!) Did I live in fear of being pulled over? Yes. But in reality, my white girl self was only ever afraid of getting a ticket, or in my worst case scenario situation, a revoked license. Never in my life have I feared that being pulled over would mean losing my life. That's privilege, and I can do something with it. 

We need to pray. We have to pray. And we also have to act, with our minds, our voices, our votes, our hands and feet. Scripture commands us to seek and do justice-- God Almighty commands us to not be silent. It is going to be hard, and it is going to be work, and it is going to be uncomfortable. This is okay. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:13) We need to lay down our lives, our privilege, our safety, our comfort, for our brothers and sisters who are hurting. We need to mourn with those who mourn. We need to ask that God's kingdom would come, that His will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

On three, break.