The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Psalm 23 is so short and sweet and familiar that for many of us the words tumble off our lips without a thought. But it’s no wonder that so many have clung to it over the ages, repeated its promises in the darkest hours and been comforted by its imagery in the depths of despair. Its simplicity and eloquence are timeless and poignant.
And yet, there’s more to it than comfort and consolation. There are practical assurances that we will walk through dark valleys in this life despite our faith, that we will encounter enemies, and that these hardships are not mutually exclusive from goodness and mercy.
These past few weeks I’ve been a little overwhelmed by the busy-ness of my life: childcare and feedings crammed between preparing for classes, editing my dissertation, and applying to jobs. And since I’m so averse to busy-ness, somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that framing that stress and pressure not as busy-ness but as fullness allow me to better see and experience the wash of blessings, difficulties included, in my life.
There is so much comfort for me in sleepless nights and rushed days to trust and believe that this season is not simply busy, but wonderously full. Full of hard work and deep joy, full of hard decisions and deep love, and full of uncertainty, but filled with grace. I take heart and solace in the fullness of life and the promise that goodness and mercy are not fleeting, but that I shall forever dwell in the house of the Lord.
I’ve been such a delinquent blogger because of it all, and while most of the busy-ness is good (I’ve completed 2 fellowship applications out of 4, my class is going great, the dissertation is coming along, and I’m heading to a conference in a few weeks and off to spend Thanksgiving with dear friends and family…oh, and there’s the whole every-growing belly thing), sometimes I find it difficult to rise above the stress and anxiety of the season.
I’m blessed to be a pretty low-stress, low-fuss individual, and so I’m often the one others come to to vent, emote, and share. And I love listening and being as much comfort as possible to those around me.
But I’m discovering lately that my empathy supply isn’t endless, nor is my energy, and what it means to be me is to remain rooted in God’s calling on my life, to worship, to take time in silence, and to pray. I love my colleagues in the Anthropology Department, but sometimes I need to step away to remember why I’m working so hard on this dissertation and this dream.
For instance, the other night, I skipped the third dissertation defense in two weeks at the university to attend a gathering for church communities who want to try to be more inclusive toward people of all abilities. We visited and got to know one another over a meal and then had a simple worship service in which we prayed with and for one another. And this amazing thing happened–it wasn’t the people with the more apparent disabilities that needed care and prayer, but the supposedly able people at the table. And the friends with disabilities stepped in, naturally and full of confidence, to offer care and support.
And as tears came to my eyes and chills wafted over me, I took a deep breath and knew so clearly, this is where I need to be. This is where I’m meant to be, with all the other broken people, the imperfect people, with the children of God. And that experience reminds me why I write this dissertation, because the story I’m telling about foster parents and disabled children in China is so much larger than me, anthropology, or the job I may or may not get. It’s a story about God’s transforming love, and I feel simply humbled to have been a witness to it.
So no offense to academia in this season–I’ll keep writing and applying and teaching, but I’m not going to stress out about it. I’m going to spend the time with the people who remind me who God is and who I am, and they may not be the most likely people, but they’re some of the best around. Today I’m praising God for God’s church, all God’s children, and the perspective that finds me when I’ve lost myself somehow.
Thank you God, for showing me, time and again, where I’m meant to be.
I remember that moment in my college studies when it was pointed out to me that history was hardly static and that periodization, the act of splicing history into reasonable, succinct bites, necessarily altered the meaning of those events it sought to contain.
The stories of our own lives, our own journeys, are told and retold. We re-imagine the significance of certain events in light of others, and every once in awhile we feel blessed to look back and see what we believe to be the hand of God. That type of perspective is other-worldly, not because God only blessed us with bite-sized intelligence, but because God and life only lends each moment with bite-sized grace.
If you’re like me, you try to gobble grace in bigger bites. You get really gluttonous and really greedy, and you think you could live life a bit better, certainly more faithfully, if God would just give you that kind of landscape, big-picture, historic panorama vision. I feel like this most of the time.
And then there are the days when I sit in silence and listen for God, and I know, fully and with great freedom, that these seasons that supposedly lie in between that we all feel, these days of waiting, these are God’s, too.
I know this because other faithful people around me confirm it and live it, and they struggle, too.
I read a line on facebook the other morning that said, “Perspective: Abraham waited 25 years, Joseph 13 years, Moses 40 years, Jesus 30 years. If you’re in a waiting season, you’re in good company.”
What a comfort to know that we’re not the only ones who wait and wonder and…stumble.
Just the other day I mentioned to a professor that a paper I’d written and been proud of had become a stumbling block toward developing my dissertation. The realization of the fact was freeing–perhaps I could now move forward. She responded differently, jubilantly, with a line I’ve never heard or thought I would, “Oh that’s good, stumbling blocks are good!” she purred.
We can’t really learn anything if we don’t stumble, but we’re also remiss if we think we’re bound for a life where we stumble no more. This morning a friend of mine told me that after a loved one died, she was told there’d be suffering, followed by healing, followed by victory.
We began to muse together that, what if while we’re stumbling, while we’re waiting, there is also resurrecting? What if what’s in between is victory? What if this moment isn’t between what’s next, what’s holy, and what’s God’s, but this moment accepted, embraced, and faithfully swallowed is grace incarnate?
But all the while you’ll have been looking to the horizon, to the mountains, onward and forward, when God was right beside you offering a hand, a shoulder, and rest for your weary head. Friends, look around–you’re in good company, you’re already victorious, you’re being offered a sliver of grace.
So don’t miss the resurrecting in the waiting, the stumbling, in the seasons between.
It was a peculiar morning here in Princeton, punctuated by torrential downpours and now engulfed in a balmy, saturated wind that makes one question entirely any rhyme or reason to the seasons.
But the slightly ominous weather didn’t keep me from taking joy in my old haunts.
This is the first morning I’ve really stepped foot on the Princeton Seminary campus since we’ve returned from China, the first morning that I’ve stumbled upon professors’ familiar faces, students, and felt the enthusiasm regarding the course I’m to teaching in the spring on families and culture and ministry (something I probably would have told you about if we’d really been able to have coffee a few days ago like I’d suggested).
The professor who I gabbed with said the seminary culture makes her feel young, and I couldn’t agree more that the bustle and hustle of universities in the fall and the silver lining of stress and naivete and wide-eyedness is that when it really sticks (into your thirties in my case) it continues to awaken the mind, the senses, the spirit.
That’s what I’m feeling on this dreary morning: anticipation, not unlike the expectation, of which I wrote, and the thrill of being back in a couple places, the seminary and the university here, that do, finally, feel like home.