Dear American Church,

Dear Church Doors

“In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. Be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love… But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the church, it will lose it’s authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I type the following in love (and disappointment) to the American Church:

In the last few months, more than ever before, I have questioned whether I still belong to you and whether you still belong to me. As I type these words, tears are streaming down my face.

Church, you have been such an integral part of my life. As a pastor’s kid and at times, a pastor’s wife, there have been moments when it seemed you were my whole life. You have been my community, my foundation, my habit, my compass, my caretaker, and my safe place. You have also been a source of wounding, pain, and confusion. I have wrestled with the fact that we, the church, have used theology to justify wars, slavery, oppression, and segregation. I have wrestled with how we have historically and presently excluded female and LGBTQ congregants and disenfranchised those inside and outside of our community of faith.  I have wrestled with continuing to wrestle with so much but justified the continual struggle with the knowledge that I am human, you are human, and we are imperfectly trying to follow a perfect God. (And I’m not foolish enough to think that I can follow Jesus without a community of people to teach and support me in how to do that.)

But the last few months have shaken me to the core. This election season has felt like one continual wrestling match within my soul and amongst people I love.

Church, we claim to pray to the same God, in the name of the same Jesus, and yet some of us felt convicted to vote for one candidate, and others, the other, and very few others, the other. And afterward, some of us mourned and others of us rejoiced; deeply mourned and deeply rejoiced. I know that part of this mess is that Jesus was not an American, a Democrat, or a Republican, and we tend to forget that every 4 years. But for me, the wrestling goes deeper than blue and red and donkeys and elephants. The convictions behind our votes represent some significant divides in how we believe we should live.

If we claim to follow the same Jesus, how is it that our interpretation of following is so starkly different? If we are reading the same Bible, how is our comprehension so vastly different? I don’t believe that this election season has divided our country or the American church. I believe this election season has highlighted the divide that has long been there. But I also believe this election season is causing a lot of us to question how we can continue to be the church together when there is such a vast divide in our theology, interpretation, and praxis.

I don’t have answers, but I do know that I am not ready to give up on us, church. And here I am crying again.

I want desperately for this relationship to work because even though it’s so complicated, I still believe that we are good for each other. I want to belong to you and for you belong to me.

But I also want us to throw our doors wide open because I believe that Jesus is for all of us, not an elite bunch of us. This struggle I’m having with our relationship is bigger than just you and me.

I want us to be a people who are focused on welcoming others in, not keeping others out. I don’t want to practice fancy invitation-only pressed linen tablecloth dinner party hospitality. I want us to host radical, messy hospitality that look like the dining room table and the card table, and the tv trays are all set with mismatched dishes and chairs (including the camping chairs) because we ran out of room at the dinner table hospitality.

I want us to be people who champion the cause of people and not the cause of causes.

I want us to stop pretending that theology, life, and following Jesus is clear cut, black and white, and figure-out-able. I want us to be humble, to embrace the gray, and to hope for God to continually change our hearts so that with each year, we look more like Jesus.

I want us to see the image of God in every single person. And I want us to fight for others because we see the image of God in them, not because we deem them innocent or not. I don’t want us to be a voice for the voiceless; I want us to give up privilege so that those without a voice have the opportunity to speak for themselves. And then I want us to listen. I want us to be part of the liberation movement, not the condemnation movement.

I want us to do less service projects and do more listening projects. I want us to get out of our bubbles and learn from people who don’t look like, worship like, speak like, and vote like we do. And then I want us to question whether our theology applies to the people we just listened to. If our theology can’t be applied outside of our little church community, it isn’t God’s theology.

I want us to listen to the uncomfortable words from today’s prophetesses and prophets who are calling out forgetfulness, greed, and fixation with current culture. I want us to stop crying for peace and unity when there is no peace, and instead, embrace the tension that might lead us to the repentance we need.

I want us to turn over tables, like our Jesus did, when we see our fellow Christians becoming insular, uptight, and judgmental.

I want us to be known for our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

I want us to be cities on a hill. We are not called to spread fear and scarcity, but to spread hope and light and generosity.

I want us to commit to the hard, complicated, long-term work of making peace rather than the easier, unholy work of keeping peace (or if we’re being honest, keeping privilege – because there’s too much conflict in our nation and world to claim there was peace to begin with).

I want us to care for the widow, the fatherless, and the orphan. I want us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner. I want us to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly.

I want us to be kingdom people, church. I want to be in this with you. Is there hope for us?

Sowing Sunflowers

I’ve seen a lot of people adding the words #LoveWins to comments about the recent violent atrocities in the United States. But as I read the headlines every day about more violence, more injustice, and more oppression in this country and world, I’m unconvinced. It doesn’t seem that love is winning at all; it seems that hatred is winning.

This week, as I read the headlines from North Miami (and Munich and Kabul and Baghdad and the Ukraine), I couldn’t think of any words to write other than #HateWins. I tried to pray but I couldn’t find any words for that either, so I went to the only place where everything feels right in the world; my garden. And as I watered and weeded and breathed in the smells and sights of creation, I was reminded of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

The line, “where there is hatred, let me sow love” was on repeat in my spirit, and as I gave pause to that phrase, I looked over at our newly bloomed sunflowers spotlighted by the setting sun.

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This year, I planted a row of sunflowers behind our garden beds. I read the instructions on the back of the packet, before digging my little trowel into the hard, weedy, soil of our backyard and sowing 12 tiny seeds. I regularly watered the ground where I had sowed the seeds and I watched and waited. It took weeks to be able to distinguish the sunflower seedlings from the abundant weeds that grow in our backyard, and months for them to show any signs of flowers blooming. Now, the plants are 4 feet high and the flowers that have bloomed are gorgeous. But it took time and work for the seeds I had sown to bear any fruit.

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This week, as I gaped at the golden blooms, I thought about what it means to sow love in this world where hatred has such deep roots. I thought about how fast the weeds grow in my garden, and how long it takes for the good things to bloom. And I thought about how gardening requires regular tending, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and learning.

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I’ve been gardening for four years, but I still have so much to learn. Each year, I kill some plants, prune some too harshly, miss warning signs of mold and harmful insects until it’s too late, and sometimes, there are conditions outside of my control that make growing challenging. But I keep gardening, because it’s worthwhile work. I know the same is true about me planting love (and I’ll add hope and justice) amidst hate. This is a messy, complicated, nuanced conversation and I know still have so much to learn. I don’t always go about this work in the best way, I don’t always say the right words, I miss opportunities, and I still have so many biases to uncover. But I will keep planting these seeds and learning from my mistakes, because the world, my country, and my city are not as they should be.

I believe that sowing love amidst hate in our world is going to take work – not the flashy, wordsmithy, often publicly recognized kind of work – I think it’s going to take a lot of quiet, small, humble, routine work – well, a lot of quiet, humble work for those of us in dominant culture. And I think the work will look different for each of us. Every gardener I know has their own methods and practices and yet they help things grow.

For me, sowing seeds of love currently looks like:

  1. Tilling up the soil in my own heart: Doing a deep dive into unpacking the privilege that I have as a white, middle class, straight, cisgendered, Christian person. I’m slowly rooting out my white fragility and unearthing the ways that white dominant culture has benefitted me. I believe that this ongoing self-education piece is critical for those of us who want to be about the work of justice and equity, especially for white people.
  2. Consulting master gardeners: Listening to experts at sowing seeds of love and justice – being sure that I’m listening to people of color as the experts, not just white people who like to talk about this. There’s room for a lot of expertise in the libraries of my heart and home (I’ve linked to a few white authors in this post), but I’m being extra mindful of who I’m listening to and reading these days – being mindful of who is telling whose stories. (Some of my favorite writers: Ta-Nehisi Coats, Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Christena Cleveland, and Austin Channing)
  3. Planting seeds of love in my everyday life: Because of the continued violence, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in marches and vigils and lectures. But in addition to joining in these large demonstrations, I want to be intentional to continue this work in my everyday life so that this work becomes as habitual as watering my garden everyday. Currently, this looks like calling out bias, discrimination, and privilege when I hear it among friends and family and inviting them to do the same when they hear it from me, convening a book club in which I can read and unpack some of the feels that come with understanding white privilege and white dominant culture, and incorporating these dialogues more deeply into my work with teachers.

Each season, I learn better, more effective methods to grow and sustain my garden plants. I hope the same is true about my learning to plant love amidst hate. I’m not a master gardener; I don’t think I will ever be, not with vegetables, and certainly not with fighting for equity.

But I’m going to keep gardening. I’m going to keep tilling up the soil in my heart, uprooting deep and unconscious, big and small biases, I’m going to keep listening to master gardeners about what this work is and how I can join, and I’m going to keep planting seeds in my everyday life. Because this isn’t a social justice hobby garden. This is urgent – it’s literally life and death. I have friends who are fearful for their own and for the children’s lives. If I’m honest, I’m afraid for them, too. Love won’t win on its own.There will be more #Hate Wins, more Orlandos, Altons and Philandos and Dallases and Baton Rouges and Charles if nothing changes. I want love to win and I know that won’t happen unless we all pick up our trowels and dig in.

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One Word for 2016

For the last four Januarys, I’ve picked one word to hang as a banner over my year; one word to proclaim my hopes and dreams and resolutions for the three-hundred ish days to come. Most years, my words have come easily – birthed out of need for change or desire for growth. This year, however, I’ve wrestled with my word. I’ve wrestled because I’ve simultaneously given up on the idea that I can predict what a year will hold and I want this year to be a lot of things.

As I slowly emerge out of my husband’s dark cancer cave and my eyes adjust to the uncomfortably bright light of possibilities on the other side of survival, I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’m taking in colors and shapes and sounds that didn’t exist in the deep of the cave. I stare at my friend’s kiddos who I barely recognize after our extended friend-absence. I sit around full dinner tables and welcome chatter and laughter as a blissful reunion. I mount the spin bike at the gym as if I were reengaging with an estranged friend.

As I stare at normal life from a cautious distance, even still, while my senses adjust to fresh open air, I know that I want to reenter to normal life. The problem is that I’m afraid I won’t ever be “normal” again. Brene Brown writes, “Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to the moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to.” And so I’m readjusting my expectations of normalcy and starting the process of reconciling what of pre-cancer life I get to keep and what I have to let go of. I think this is all part of recovery.

I recognize that the discomfort of healing is a gift – one that I assure you we don’t take for granted but one who’s emotional weight we couldn’t have predicted. As I wade through cancer-trauma rubble, I find myself getting more and more curious about what redemption and renewal and rebuilding will look like – in Adam’s life, in my life, and in our joint life.

In the last month, as I have pondered “my word” for 2016, I landed on a few that resonated; all of them starting with re: . Even as I wrote this post, so many re: words tumbled out. I toyed for a few weeks with picking a prefix for my word. But as a compulsive rule-follower, I just couldn’t go through with it.

So I waited and ran my favorite re: words through my brain; let them dance on my tongue until one stuck out enough to declare it “my word”. I think it’s the re: word that encompasses all of the other words that I was mulling over and one that encapsulates my hopes and longings for this fresh air year: Restore.

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I know that there is no going back to life just as it was before cancer, and honestly, I don’t think I really want that anyway. But I do long for restoration –of new normalcy, of holistic health, and of my soul. So, this is me nailing up my banner with hopes and prayers this this year is a restoring year.

Did anyone else pick one word for their year? I’d love to hear about it!

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Dark Night in the Woods

Sometime during the course of late night conversations sophomore year of college (which no doubt took place over greasy Dominoes pizza or handfuls of microwave popcorn), my girlfriends discovered that I had never been camping before.

That’s not entirely true. I had been sort of camping once before. My non-outdoorsy parents agreed to embark on a camping trip with family friends one summer but we bailed when the tents started buckling during a torrential downpour and we landed at a hotel.

IMG_9339So back to college: My gals decided that we should go on a fall camping trip to give me a proper first camping experience. The idea of camping didn’t seem awesome but the idea of missing out on time with my friends seemed less awesome, so I conceded. A few of the camping experts set to planning out supplies, meals, route, and campground while I took to planning my most outdoorsy-looking outfits (nailed it, right?).

Camping 2012One Friday after class, when the trip was planned out, we loaded up our old college cars and shipped off to The Gorge. I don’t remember what caused the delay; maybe someone couldn’t skip her last Friday class or we took too long packing (or posing for pictures of packing) or there was a traffic delay, but somehow we got to our parking site later than our resident camping experts had hoped and we were almost out of daylight. We loaded up our backs with big supply packs and set out on the long hike down into the gorge to our campground.

IMG_9338We had fewer headlamps than campers so the expert campwomen geared up, and us rookies lined up every other headlamp and kept close. Very shortly into our descent, we were in total darkness except for the light of the few headlamps. I was told to keep close, to not veer too far to the right or left (because of a drop off), and to trust my friends.

Two of the girls had grown up exploring and camping in the very woods we were slogging. They knew the path even in the dark. They wouldn’t let me and our other pals get hurt.

I trusted but I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t in control; I had no idea where I was, what was around me, and what was ahead of me. I didn’t even have charge over what I could see.

I trusted but I was fearful. No doubt my anxiety (i.e the ability to conjure up the grimmest of all possible scenarios) played out ugly scenes in my mind as we hiked in lightless silence.

I was reminded of this trip as I was reading treasured words of Amy Carmichael this week: “There can be no difficulty of travel that he does not understand. We are never alone as we penetrate the unknown. We cannot be lost there… He knoweth the way that I take… There is no darkness where He cannot find us.”

I’m feeling a lot these days like I did that dark night in the woods. I trust God, but I am uncomfortable with how little control I have. I trust God, but I am still fearful. My steps feel unsteady and I have little idea what is beside me or in front of me. I would really, really like to know what the woods look like. Walking in the dark is exhausting.

But I take solace in the knowledge that there is no darkness where He cannot find us and even more solace in the knowledge that He can see even when I cannot.

“Even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:12)

IMG_9340We made it safely into the gorge that night and had a delicious dinner of steak and nearly raw potatoes. (Fire-roasted dinner takes time and hunger doesn’t breed patience). We set up our tents, roasted something sweet over the fire, learned how to pee in the woods, told ourselves that no bears or scary mountain people would attack us until we finally fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning and emerged from my tent to the smell of pancakes over the fire, I couldn’t believe the view. We were deep in the heart of a beautiful valley, with autumn-toned trees decorating the canopy above. I looked up at the narrow, steep path we had trudged in the dark and thought that perhaps it was better that I hadn’t been able to see where I was walking. I thought perhaps the scary walk in the dark made the morning all the more beautiful.

Maybe one day, when this dark cancer trip ends, I will feel the same way.


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Snow and Silence before Spring

My husband was diagnosed with cancer in early October just before the weather cooled. He began intense chemotherapy treatments as frost began to make intricate designs on car windows in the dark hours of early mornings. Cold days were a perfect backdrop for the chemo days. Internally things felt cool, slow, and painful, just as they did outdoors.

During the first few weeks of treatment, as my partner’s body struggled to process all the chemicals being imported into his veins, I struggled to find words. I struggled to find words in my own head, I struggled to find words with friends, and I struggled to find words for God. After awhile, I was able to surrender the notion that I needed to say things to God and I found a quiet comfort in silence.

But after days of silence, maybe even weeks, I started to wonder why God was being so incredibly silent. I knew why I was being silent, but I expected that He could find words. I’ve been taught over the years “The number one reason that we can’t hear God is that we aren’t listening.” But there was plenty of silence, plenty of listening, plenty of wanting to hear God speak. Of all the seasons in my life that I thought I needed to hear from God, this was paramount.

Yet God remained so incredibly quiet: Present, but quiet.

One day, when I found a few words, I asked God, “Why are you being so quiet?

And an answer came. “I’m here, I’m just being silent with you. You don’t need any more noise, so I’m sitting in quiet with you. You know who I am and what I am capable of – I don’t need to remind you – so I’ll just sit here with you, instead.”

God with me, Immanuel: This revelation left me speechless in a totally different sort of wordlessness.

This winter was rather severe for the south. We had cold, ice, and snow that rivaled records. Southerners are good at hibernating in the winter but this year, we were all especially reclusive. Our bustling town was shut down for several weeks for unsavory road conditions, and all was quiet.

A quiet city was a good backdrop for my quieted prayer life. As God sat with me in mostly silence, there was a deepening trust, a deepening strength, and a deepening peace. Good things were happening deep in the soil of my soul in quiet and waiting.

“The snow-time is full of quiet secrets, too, for we are carefully keeping secrets with God about the growing things under the snow… There is no dancing with the daffodils. That comes afterwards. But there is trust.”– Amy Carmichael, Gold by Moonlight

I don’t suspect the breaking of silence had anything to do with the breaking of winter. But the timing is serendipitous. Somewhere in the ICU in the dark of night, I found my words again. Just as the daffodils are breaking through the callous soil and birds are finding their songs again, I have words for my thoughts and feels and longings and I am quite enjoying conversing with God again. Perhaps the conversations wouldn’t be so sweet had it not been for the long and quiet winter.

“Sometimes there are beautiful things that would not have been if there had not been snow.” – A.C., Gold by Moonlight

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“O Thou beloved child of my desire,

Whether I lead thee through green valleys,

By still waters,

Or though fire,

Or lay thee down in silence under snow,

Though ay weather, and whatever

Cloud may gather

Wind may blow –

Wilt thou love Me? trust me? praise me?”

A.C., Gold by Moonlight

Fears and Darkness and Maybe a Little Bravery

For most of the childhood years I can remember, I lived in a little white cape cod parsonage that bordered the property of the church my dad pastored. There were loads of windows in that home and bright light streamed into almost every room – except for the basement. I know that most basements are scary, but believe me when I say that this one was especially eery. Perhaps it was the dark wood paneling that accentuated the lack of natural light, or the damp basement smell that permeated the space, or the narrow poorly-lit hall that led to a haunted-house-esque closet, or perhaps it was just all the centipedes (shudder).

I don’t think I ever knew exactly what I was afraid of in that basement, I’m not sure I even let my mind wander to all of the possibilities that I was worried actually existed there. But I was, undoubtedly, afraid of that place.

As much as possible, I avoided descending into the basement by my lonesome, but avoidance was inescapable on Saturday mornings. Saturday mornings were cleaning day at the Shuey Shack and vacuuming stairs happened to be on my chore list. I have incredibly distinct memories of getting out the trusty dust-buster and trudging to the top of the basement stairs. I remember my heart rate increasing as I inched further and further down the stairs, further into the darkness, further in to the scary possibilities that I couldn’t hear sneaking up behind me because I was using a noisy vacuum.

I’m not sure when it started, but at some point during the Fear-Fest-Vacuum-Sessions, I started singing a Scripture song my mom had taught me (to the tune of row, row, row your boat so you can get the full picture) “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee, Psa-a-a-alm 56:3“.  I wore that song out on those stairs.

You know, I’m not sure that I ever got less scared to go in the basement. I don’t think the song made the dark any less scary. The song/Scripture was a reminder that God is trustworthy even when the dark is scary.

Through basement avoidance, cancer wards, and other hard places in-between, I have learned that trusting God doesn’t automatically turn dark places into light places.

As Adam heads into his 5th surgery this morning, I find myself again in the juxtaposition of faith and fear. Some Christians might argue that there is no fear in faith, and maybe that’s true. It’s not true for me. I trust God and I am afraid.

Nearly every day in February, I read Psalm 34 and as the words became more and more familiar, different themes emerged. One of those themes was that there are 2 kinds of fear:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

(Psalm 34:4-7)

I am afraid of cancer and surgical complications and scans and future unknowns. And I’m also afraid at times of a God whose ways are higher than mine, Who doesn’t always answer prayers the way I wish, Who isn’t a puppet manipulated by my directions, Who allows cancer and healing and death and life.

I trust God, and I fear God.

I have (what I think are) healthy fears and I have (what I know are) unhealthy fears. I entertain worst-case-scenarios and I battle anxiety and I fight panic – not just about, but definitely including, cancer.

For those unhealthy fears, I am seeking the LORD and waiting to one-day say, “I was delivered from all my fears.” I don’t imagine healing from anxiety will happen like a flashy disappearing magic act, instead, I think it’s happening in small moments, as I choose to trust in the dark places. I imagine healing from fear will feel something like an interaction I just read about in CS Lewis’ Prince Caspian. The interaction occurs between Aslan and Susan, when Susan was feeling afraid:

“You have listened to fears, Child,” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Little by little I am being delivered from fears. Maybe deliverance from fear will turn into Holy fear? For now, deliverance looks like moments of trusting God’s goodness even in the dark, scary places. For now, deliverance from fears looks like God breathing bravery into my weary soul.

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On Lamenting and Rejoicing

I’ve been camped out in the Psalms during the last few months. The Psalms are gritty, honest, and confusing, which resonates well with my current headspace on this cancer journey. During this Psalms Campout, I keep circling back to the 34th chapter. Because I keep returning to this chapter, I decided to read it every day this month, and every few days, a line gets stuck in my head that inevitably gets me thinking.

I will extol the Lord at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt His name together.

Over the last few days, I’ve been turning the phrase “let the afflicted hear and rejoice” over and over in my head.

The concept of rejoicing in the midst of trials isn’t new to me cognitively. I was a Christian kid in the late 90’s who sang with a passion that I would trade my sorrows for the joy of the Lord. I’ve heard a lot of sermons throughout my decades as a Christ-follower about praising through pain. I’ve seen bumper stickers and Pinterest prints reminding me to “Choose Joy”.

But, as I’ve said before, cancer has tested all the varied theology I’ve been taught over the years, and this week, I’ve been asking myself “What does ‘rejoice’ really mean?” Which is probably getting at the deeper question: “Am I actually rejoicing in this [affliction] cancer?” Which then tugs at another question: “Can lamenting and rejoicing coexist?”

As I’ve mulled over the word ‘rejoice’ I recalled some verses I memorized as a child:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Rejoice always. His praise will always be on my lips. Always – in every moment? Always – in every situation? Always – in every season?

I’ve been very intentional over the last 4 months to be honest about the awful. From the beginning of Adam’s diagnosis, I resolved to express anger, sadness, and fear without sugarcoating my feelings, or wrapping them up with a pretty faith-bow, which is part of why I’ve loved reading the Psalms so much. David, the author of most of the Psalms, was called “a man after God’s heart”, and he wrote some really honest, angry, vengeful stuff. David curses and David praises. David laments and David rejoices.

Some days, even now, rejoicing comes easy. Some days, in spite of an awful diagnosis and terrifying unknown, I remember God’s character, promises, and goodness and my soul [rather inexplicably] rejoices.

But some days, I hardly have the energy to roll out of bed, let alone set my heart on rejoicing. Some days, I don’t have words to pray, I can’t stop crying, and I’m anxious about everything. Some days, I don’t think my soul has the capacity to rejoice.

This week, as I’ve continued to ruminate over this concept of the afflicted rejoicing, I came across a new idea from Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 34: “It is well when the soul feels its own inability adequately to glorify the LORD, and therefore, stirs up others to the gracious work.”

Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.

So rejoicing is a communal effort?

As I think about this, another verse I’ve committed to memory comes to mind, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

Mourning and rejoicing are tribal efforts… I like that.

I was raised in a Christian era that taught a lot about individual faith. We were taught to have “individual quiet times” and to cultivate our “personal relationships with Jesus.” We didn’t learn a lot about communal faith. With each year that passes, I become increasingly aware of the importance of and the need for communal relationships with Jesus. These past few months have been further evidence to me of the importance of that.

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It’s probably no coincidence that often on my lowest days, I receive reminders of God’s faithfulness on the doorstep, or in the mailbox, or through a text. On those days, when I can’t seem to rejoice, community often reminds me of reasons to rejoice. And when I don’t have my own reasons to rejoice, community has reminded me that life, goodness, and growth are happening all around me. Our people are welcoming children into their lives, falling in love, finding healing, and creating beautiful things.

And some days, community just sits and cries with me, and acknowledges the general crappiness of things, and that’s ok, too. Even in the mist of our own pain, community has reminded me that death, sickness, and sadness are happening all around me. Our people are saying goodbye to loved ones, struggling in relationships, battling disease, and searching for purpose.

I’m thankful for the stories of others, that intersect my own, that give me reasons to rejoice, when my own storyline is sad. And I’m grateful for the stories of others, that intersect my own, that offer perspective that my sad plot twist isn’t the only sad plot twist. I’m glad to be part of a community – a great cloud of witnesses – who remind me of the faithfulness of God in every season. Lamenting and rejoicing can coexist. Perhaps they coexist best in community.