In the Middle

I’m surrounded by extremes. My physical world is one where I can take one street to see desperate poverty and drive a bit further the other way to find luxurious homes. There are streets littered with trash and swarming with vendors, and then there are wide lanes immaculately landscaped with the occasional white (always white) Land Cruiser. Even the physical landscape around us is extreme: a mountain range to the northwest and an ocean to the east. We are in the middle. Halfway up the mountains from the sea.

Politically, we find ourselves in the middle. I am solidly of middle age now. For goodness sake, I am even a middle child.

Let’s just say this is a familiar place for me. At the same time, it can be a strange and unnerving place to be. It’s like taking a long road trip. At the beginning, there’s excitement to be setting out and beginning an adventure. But after several hours, when you find yourself between home and the place to which you’re heading, you would rather just be in one of those locations. Enjoying the journey is not easy to do for very long.

And yet, the longer I am in my thirties, or rather, as I grow older and (hopefully) wiser, I see that much life is lived in this middle space. Childhood is a foundation for the lives we will go on to lead, Lord-willing. By the time we grow into maturity enough to realize what our lives are about, we are already in the middle of them. And the end of life can look very scary and intimidating, even if we have confidence about what’s after death.

Even historically, from a biblical point of view, we may not be in the Middle Ages but we are most definitely still in the middle ages – between creation and complete restoration – we are living the middle redemption story, waiting patiently (most of the time) for when God will finally make all things right again. But it can seem a long way off, can’t it? There is too much brokenness, too much darkness, too much evil. When we will just arrive, Father? How much longer?

There’s this moment, whenever we travel from South Africa back to the States, when we have left our keys with our house sitter, and we’re suspended over the Atlantic ocean – this moment when I truly feel homeless, or if I’m in a better headspace, between homes. It’s disorienting, it’s frightening. And in that moment, every time, I feel held by God in the suspended middle. If this plane goes down, he’s got me. In my passport home which doesn’t feel like home, he’s got me. In my actual home which is not my childhood home, he’s got me. Any which way it can go, I can rest in him.

But I am also tired of this messy middle place. I am tired of the residual grief, the secondary guilt. I am weary of the in between – home there, home here, but really, home nowhere. Sharing the resources we can with our poor neighbors, but is it enough? Of grieving another loss, of praying for yet more mercy and peace to reign. Of making a fire in my home and feeling guilt that we have a warm home when others don’t.

And yet (again), isn’t this part of being awake to the world around us as Christians? Of being keenly aware of the kingdom breaking through the darkness, but of the darkness that has not yet left? Maybe this is why it is so vital to look for the light, maybe this is why we must turn our faces to look up, to focus our minds on Christ, because there is no peace in this messy middle without him.

There is no peace without him. Hasn’t he told his disciples (and now us), “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age?”

It will, no doubt, be glorious to arrive at our final destination in Christ. And many of us have some time in this messy middle before we arrive there. In the meantime, I can either wallow in the discomfort of sitting in this middle-place, yet again; or I can let it lead me to the heart of Christ. I can let it lead me into seeking wisdom from the Spirit for how to live well, in the middle of my extremes. Perhaps this is a holy discontent – the world is not yet as it should be. It’s not what you’ve promised, God! So we will wait for you, to make it new in your time.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

We Were Happy Once

“Write… we were happy once.” In the Little Women BBC miniseries, Mr. March tenderly looks into Jo’s eyes, those eyes filled with pain and despair and tears. How do I go on? those eyes plead, searching her father’s face for wisdom, guidance, help of any kind.

We were happy once. These words echo in my heart. Last week, during a warm autumn evening, I carried a tray of food outside to our veranda. At the step, I paused at the scene: my family, all five of them, around the table; sounds of laugher, of teasing, of shouting with childish freedom; the lights hanging, twinkling; the dusky view of the valley below, to this city that has become home. I so desperately wanted, in that moment, to feel fully happy; and I mostly was. But even on the most joyous of days, mundane or special, there will always be a part of me that is grief.

Thirteen months after the loss of my nephew, and I cannot fathom a time when I will be truly, full of uninhibited joy this side of heaven. Could I before his death? I can’t remember. It was not that my life had been easy before, necessarily; but the difficulties and griefs that I had experienced were not of the same magnitude. The eyes of my heart were opened to a brokenness, a personal grief, deeper than I had know before. There is something about the death of a child that is so desperately, inherently wrong; there is much about this broken world that is so desperately, inherently wrong.


A friend recently asked me, in preparation for a meaningful time with her grandmother, “if there was something, anything you could ask your grandmother, what would it be?” There are many things I wish I could chat to her about; my mom’s mother, one of my closest friends until her death, left earth and entered heaven the year I was expecting my first child. While we had lived much of my short life together, talking about everything under the sun for those twentysome years, I had not asked her much about motherhood; some, but not all the deep questions I now have. Even more than those pressing ones, however, I want to ask her… how do you deal with the compounding brokenness of the world, both personal and cosmic, over the course of a life? How do you live joyfully to the full in the midst of so much sadness? And heaven knows she had seen sadness; more death and war and desperation than most of my American generation could imagine.

But when I imagine sitting with her, at her small apartment table in the little home she made for herself after my grandpa died, I see her shaking her head and saying, “I don’t know, Beth. We just did, one day at a time. It’s all we could do, you know?” And I imagine finding so much wisdom in those words; not a clear path forward, but a perspective of resilience, of perseverance, of faith.


Could there be meaning in this darkness? Is there safety in the truth of God’s sovereignty? I believe there is, but I wrestle still. Francis Fernandez wrote, “everything that happens each day in the little universe of our work and our family, in the circle of our friends and acquaintances, can and must help us find God’s providence. Fulfillment of the divine will and the knowledge that it is being done is a source of serenity and gratitude.” I remembered a dear friend who walked through the dark valley of losing her baby daughter, and her words that God’s sovereignty was her safe place. Without the theological conviction that God has willed and ordered this world and our lives, all can feel desperately meaningless. I most certainly will never know the mind of God, but I know enough of his heart to know that he is trustworthy, even in the brokenness of the world. And even in our loss, he had given my nephew the gift of heaven. It was our loss, truly, not his.

In the end, our happiness is not the goal, is it? I may never feel fully happy again on this earth, and truthfully, I am at peace with that. I have seen too much, I have known too much, I have lost too much. I can join arms with many others who have suffered, who have known deep grief, who have experienced and lived in brokenness. I can share my story of God’s faithfulness in the midst of deep waters, and my hope of heaven.

No, happiness is not the goal; faithfulness is. And faithfulness looks like this: gratitude for what God has given, contentment with what he has not; perseverance in the midst of hardship; hope in the shadows. For we know, the shadows will one day pass, and we who are in Christ will experience joy uninhibited, finally and forever.

On Perfectionism

I’ve never been a perfectionist; or so I thought.

When I think of perfectionism, I think of my sweet mother, who made certain her quilt’s corners were flawlessly square and cringed as I eye-balled all of mine; or, my brother adjusting every setting on his camera until the exact balance is achieved while I snap away, happy with any of my kids in focus; or, that writer who agonizes over every word while I write furiously in the cracks of my life and send it out to the world without (likely enough) scrutiny.

See? I am not a perfectionist. I have not cared for the externals of my life to be perfect, and I have been happy about that.

Recently though, at the age of 34, I was confronted with a woman I idolized. I loved how she patiently and gently mothered her children, the way she always looked beautiful, how she thoughtfully cared for her husband, how she cheerfully set the tone in her home daily, how her home was tidy and her children obedient, how much she could accomplish, and how calmly she handled the many stresses of her life. I could not get her out of my mind; her perfect life tormented me, and I felt I could not measure up.

It was the perfect version of myself; the version I can never quite seem to be. It was the woman I wished I was, and the one I measure myself against. Her existence is in some supernatural realm I never could quite access.

In Rising Strong, Brené Brown wrote something that undid me: “One of the greatest challenges of becoming myself has been acknowledging that I’m not who I thought I was supposed to be or who I always pictured myself being.”

For me, marriage and motherhood have been the avenues that have revealed the depths of my heart; both my capacity for deepest love and my innumerable shortcomings. My heart has broken many times over my own failures; I have tearfully repented, and continued to sit in my own self-condemnation, agonizing over my lack of all the things. This, friends, is not of Christ.

Looking through the virtual window into the world of another, and measuring myself against what I see there rarely leads me to greater godliness or contentment. Rather, I come away with a greater sense of inadequacy, a deeper sense of my lack, a stronger temptation toward discontent. We know that comparison is the thief of joy, and yet we do little to curb the thief. This, friends, is not of Christ.

If the gospel is the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for the redemption of my soul and for the restoration of the world, then self-condemnation, comparison, and perfectionism have little place for the gospel-clinging Christian.

Rather, the gospel-clinging Christian looks within herself, and rather than seeing all of her many inadequacies, she sees the adequacy of Christ.

Rather than focusing on her repeated failures, she rests in the gentle and persistent mercy of Christ.

Rather than sitting in self-condemnation, she fixes her gaze on Jesus, who is the author and perfector of faith.

Rather than imaging a perfect self, she clings to Christ, who is perfect already.

Rather than bearing the weight of her sin, she lays it aside, and runs with perseverance.

That woman I spoke of earlier? Her fictional self does not torment me anymore, at least, not on a regular basis. I have come to acknowledge that my inward expectation of myself was one of perfection, clouded with pride, and self-love, and far from godliness. I am more gentle with myself, reminded of Christ’s gentle and lowly heart, and his deep, unending love for me. I am remembering that I am doing my best, with the help of Christ, and slowly, slowly, being transformed into a greater likeness of him.

So, see? I am still not a perfectionist. 😉

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Reflections On A Decade+ of Marriage

“To open myself up to love feels like jumping off a cliff… without any sense of where I’ll land.” I expressed this early on in my relationship with Ben, in those blissful, naive days where looking deeply into his eyes made me blush and our hands were glued together, as we were glued together. I’d jumped off this cliff before, and found myself wounded, jaded, unsure of myself, unsure of love.

And yet, this friendship had grown, over miles run together, long bike rides, treks on Chicago’s “L”. We had talked for dozens of hours, about our families, our theologies, our dreams, if we should even dream. And as our friendship deepened, traces of love began to reveal themselves: a sideways glance, a deeper noticing, a gentler word, a borrowed sweatshirt. As the seasons turned in our city, the season was turning in our relationship – and I was bracing myself, because self-protection is instinctive.

“I’ve seen a lot of marriages end,” I said cautiously, the tea cup warming my hands in that frigid Chicago winter. He looked gently into my eyes, “I haven’t,” he said simply. We’d been dating several months, were madly in love, and were both inwardly contemplating if this person was going to be “my person.” I, however, was still unconvinced that this marriage idea was a good one, even though God had already said so. Wouldn’t marriage be a distraction from a life lived for God? How could I love God and love a husband, both well? Isn’t marriage… mostly hard? Did I really want that?

He convinced me I did. And I jumped off the cliff. Grace caught me.

Tears streamed down my face, as I sat rocking in the warm bath in our first apartment. We’d been married a month, and I wondered if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. We’d fought about… something… which at the time, felt huge. I couldn’t fathom how we’d gotten here, already, in such a short time. Knowing what I now know, as a 4 on the Enneagram, feelings can be extreme for me, and I was feeling the extreme. The urge to self-protect was overpowering, oppressive. But there was grace, and the gentle nudge that we’d committed ourselves to each other, and our marriage to God. I wrapped myself in a towel, and stepped out.

He kissed me on the forehead. “I didn’t know you were so upset,” he said. “Neither did I,” I admit. We sat together, holding hands, my heart opening in the restoration.

The children were bouncing, literally, on and off of the air mattress in our rented home. It had been an intense last few years, with us both in master’s programs, just scraping by with our part-time jobs, and having three babies. The squeals and screams escalated, and he caught my eye. Before there was this, he seemed to say, there was us. Do you remember that? The days of us? It’s easy to lose sight of, amidst the changing diapers, the night feeds, the battles of will, the tiny bodies currently flying in the air. I smile back, yes, us. Look at what’s come from us – look at this beautiful grace. It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful.

Ten and a half years into marriage, and we were driving up California’s Hwy 1 on a long-anticipated getaway, just us. With the Pacific constant on our left, and miles of vegetable and fruit fields on our right, we talked about the deepest parts of our souls, bared our hearts, feeling scared and vulnerable, but held and hopeful. We pulled off at a beach – again – to walk in the sand, watch the waves, breath the salty air as we considered the enormity of a life spent together. I reflected on our ten years, and my grandparents sixty. I long for sixty years. I reflect on the strength it must take to live a life with someone for sixty years. I rest in the grace I know God has provided, and will keep providing.

We spread ourselves and our now four children over two rows on the massive airplane, finally flying home after a long delay across an ocean. Our excessive luggage containing our life of the past eight months was hopefully residing in the belly beneath us, but it’s hard to be sure. Each child has her pillow, check, her blanket, check, her headphones, check. My stomach lurched with the turbulence, my heart ached with fresh goodbyes and yet anticipated the joyous peace of home. I met his eyes over the seats, the children, the ocean and continents below. Those eyes that drew me in long ago, that have held me when I’ve been broken, that have borne my deepest secrets, that have known my truest love. Here we are, suspended between oceans, suspended in time, held in love, held by grace. My heart swells; I cannot imagine another life, could not have imagined the goodness of God in this gift, in these gifts. Hard? Yes. But so good.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

james 1:17

A Quiet Life

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life…

1 Thessalonians 4:11

What kind of reaction do these words create in you? For me, the opposite of quiet is noise, and in these times, we could describe our human experience as very noisy, no? If it isn’t the election news calling for my attention, it’s COVID news; if it isn’t news, it’s social media; if it isn’t social media, it’s my WhatsApp and email inboxes; if it’s not on my phone or computer, it’s my home, and believe me, my home is noisy!

All of this noise – for now, we can say neither good nor bad, just noise – is overwhelming, right? Is it just me? My days can feel chaotic, my mind a war zone, my attention so divided that no one entity gets what it needs, particularly those who need it most. While in decades and centuries past, it may have been more natural to lead quiet lives, it is anything but natural now. To lead a quiet life takes determination, intention, and even work.

And yet, as the noise increases each year, my desire for a quiet life increases along with it. We all talk of COVID fatigue, of election fatigue, of social media fatigue, and then there’s just normal physical and emotional fatigue. Truly, I don’t think our capacity as image bearers of God is to carry so much noise in our hearts, minds, and bodies. And, I wonder, does it not impact our ability to “love one another”? To “win the respect of outsiders”? To “not be dependent on anybody, or as other versions say, “not be in any need”?

It’s difficult to “not be in any need” when your inbox is flooded with curated advertisements highlighting your very interests, when we see dozens of commercials each week, when we follow many small and large businesses or influencers on social media pointing our attention toward How often do we pause and consider, “do I actually need this?” Likely, if we did, the answer would be obviously, no. We have so much already that we need to read books on how to get rid of it; minimalism, which was once how most people lived, is now a trend; truly, when we slow down and consider deeply, there is very little we need. But it takes quiet to realize this.

It’s likewise difficult to “win the respect of outsiders” when our lives are so full that we rarely even talk with them; when Facebook or other platforms have become the medium for important conversations but rarely an effective one; when all outsiders are being portrayed to us as the enemies of our freedoms or values and we’ve forgotten that Jesus even said to love our enemies. What has happened to Christian witness in our times? It’s been slowly, methodically destroyed as we show the world how we can compromise, how we can be selfish, and how we can continually fail to love. But it takes quiet to see this.

And though it is wildly unpopular, I deeply trust that God’s way of life is far better than that of the world.

And it’s difficult to “love one another” when we haven’t a spare moment to give to each other; when we can’t set our phones down long enough to look our children or spouse in the eyes; when we haven’t noticed the needs of those in our neighborhood or church because we weren’t really looking. It takes quiet to do this.

More than ever, this appeal to a quiet life calls to me. Not only because as a human being, I realize I am not made to sustain the kind of noise the world is creating, but also because I realize I need it in order to live the kind of life to which God has called me. And though it is wildly unpopular, I deeply trust that God’s way of life is far better than that of the world.

When You Are Weary

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

There’s much this year that’s wearying, isn’t there? 2020 is one of those years that we will talk about with our kids and grandkids for the next several decades – but we’re still in the middle of it. What’s particularly unique about this year is that we are all experiencing versions of the same struggles. No one is exempt. The upside of this is that we are all in it together. I don’t know about you, but I find this comforting.

Throughout the last few months, I have heard most people in my life at some point share that they’ve had enough; it’s getting to them; they are fed up/worn out/weary of the hardships of this year. Because of the ongoing nature of the pandemic, of the racial tension, of the politicization, we are hitting this point more than once, perhaps. I know I have.

If you’re in this place now, what does it look like to “throw off everything that hinders”? How do we “fix our eyes on Jesus” so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart”? Here are a few ideas:

+ put away media // The balance between being informed and being overwhelmed by media these days is one very fine line. It may be healthy to resist the urge to check the news daily for a period of time. If anything major happens, ask your spouse or friend to share it with you. Otherwise, the mental space you’ll gain from a media break is worth the short-term ignorance, particularly if you’re feeling weary.

+ get outside // Could you spend one whole hour outside today? Maybe two or three? Take the kids to a nature preserve, pack a picnic, and leave your phone at home. Walk a long trail, pick flowers, lay on your back and look up at the shades of blue in the sky. Nature is healing. Seeing God’s handiwork with intention is healing.

+ confess sin // Has it been awhile since you brought your worries, your fears, your open heart to God? Since you’ve asked him to reveal the ugly attitudes, the prevalent discontent, the deep-seated selfishness? Taking a few moments to sort out our hearts before Christ and to confess the sin found there is an act of obedience and restorative to our souls.

+ look for beauty // When the world is looking ugly and bleak, look up. Look out. Look at the moon, the stars. Look at the variety of trees, at the birds, at your children, the color of their eyes. Look in a good book, look in Scripture. Look in your relationships, look in your church. Look in your food – how many colors are there? Open your eyes wider to the beauty in your everyday world.

+ put away technology // We are brilliant multitaskers, aren’t we? We can cook dinner, listen to a podcast, check Instagram, mhmm to our children, and respond to a text all in a minute’s time. This isn’t the best for a myriad of reasons, but for now, can you identify how you feel in the midst of that? Is there a twitchiness? A elevated stress level? What if you put the phone away for a few hours, for a whole day? What if you aimed to get your screen time to under an hour a day? Not only for the sake of your home, your children, and your spouse, but for you? I guarantee that with reduced technology use your mind will clear a bit; the fogginess will lift slightly, your eyes become more trained to see beauty. And it’s glorious.

+ focus your eyes on Christ // In my experience, a lack of peace, a world weariness is directly correlated with where my eyes and heart are focused. Not surprising, is it? When my days are filled with social media, with the news, with multitasking, my mind is a busy space, a restless space, flitting from thought to thought, to new ideas, to old memories, and there is little peace or rest. But once we’ve put away the news, and the technology, we use those pauses, those little captured moments to look to Christ – in nature, while on a walk, in our kids’ hearts, while washing the dishes. We read the Scriptures well placed throughout the house, we reflect on the morning’s devotions, we commune with Christ in prayer, and our souls are refreshed.

Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:3

A friend articulated recently that what is particularly hard about this year is that we don’t know when these struggles are going to end – how long do we have to “hang in there” for? It’s a long haul, but we can shake off the weariness with intention, looking collectively for the beauty, encouraging each other to fix our eyes on Christ. We’ll get through this.