May It Be Light and Only Light

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It has been three months since I said farewell to social media, sans a quick break to introduce our sweet Charlotte to you.

Those three months-they have been enough. They have been enough to show me that I need more, which by writing you in simple words sounds selfish.

We want God to speak to us, so we become quiet. We wait until we hear whatever words we are supposed to hear. Sometimes those words are revealed quickly; often, they are shown to us letter by letter. And other times, the thing we hear is that we are to remain listening.

I returned to one of my favorite reads recently, Echoing Silence, by Merton. In this collection of letters and pages from his journals and books (collected and published posthumously), he walks through the tension of writing, his spirituality, suffering, ego, and vocation. Two passages in particular struck me:

“If the inspiration is helpless without a correspondingly effective technique, technique is barren without inspiration.” (October 24, 1958)

…and

“The best thing for me is a lucid silence that does not even imagine it speaks to anybody. A silence which I see no interlocutor, frame no message for anyone, formulate no word either for man or paper. There will still be plenty to say when the time comes to write, and what is written will be simpler and more fruitful.” (December 14, 1949)

I am grateful for Merton’s removing himself from distractions and entering into a time of soul-silence. I doubt he knew or even wished that within his silence, he was communicating a message stronger than the power any written word could possibly create: an example.

(To note: most of his writings about entering into silence were in autumn and winter; perhaps it is designed in our warm blood to hibernate for a while.)

A scattered few friends of mine are taking brief vows of Internet silence. For some, it is the first time. For many, it won’t be the last. I have debated if these seasons of silence are a giving into self-indulgent isolation. After time and examination, please believe me that is not the case.

During his time at the monastery in Kentucky, Merton wrote letters to friends and spiritual counselors, politicians, and artists near and far. He went to Mass, he worked alongside fellow monks, took Eucharist, and kept mostly to the hours.

In the same manner, I tend to my private world of family and friends and community. Letters are shared between kindred spirits, encouraging one another in good works and glory. My days disappear into nights–and back again to dawn…to dusk…and so on–as I feel the grit in my spirit searching for an unfamiliar worship in the quotidian mysteries that occupy my time as of late.

It is hard. It is good.

I will not renounce ever returning to this space, just as Merton “refused and had practically ceased to desire” writing again, God “gave [him] back the vocation that [he] had half-consciously given up, and He opened to [him] again the doors that had fallen shut.” (1976)

But for now, may the only message I give you be one that I cannot speak or write.

May it be light, and only light.

Silentium coelorum sit mihi lex: et vita mea imago luminis.
(Let the silence of heaven be my law: and my life an image of light. – Merton, 1952)

Let Your No Be Your Yes

Keep Going.

Photo Credit: Visionello, Flickr

Just because you may hear “no” a million times doesn’t mean that the biggest YES–the calling for you to change the world in whatever you way you are meant to change it–diminishes.

The “no” is water thrown next to the fire on the dirt.

It doesn’t touch the flame.

Keep going.

To All The Mothers Who Will Never Hold Their Babies on Mother’s Day

mothers-day-for-childless-anne-marie-miller

mothers-day-for-childless-anne-marie-miller

It’s really quite odd and blessed, the duality of joy and grief.

A few weeks ago, Tim and I experienced a new type of happiness for us…a new kind of joy. I woke up early on a Wednesday morning with the strong urge to take a pregnancy test, even though I wasn’t late for my cycle.

Five pregnancy tests later (I may be a little compulsive), we learned we were going to be parents.

Everything seemed complete and right. We fell in love with the poppy-seed-sized clump of baby whose DNA was being written with each passing day. We celebrated with our friends, our family, our students.

We met with our fertility doctor and some test results came back uncertain, but not concerning. I needed to start incorporating hormone therapy and that would increase my progesterone, giving the poppy seed a nice home in which to start growing. Within a few days, those levels went up to exactly what they needed to be. My HCG, however, wasn’t climbing as quickly as it should. We were told to watch for pain or symptoms that would indicate we needed to pay closer attention during these very sensitive first months.

The following Friday night around midnight, I awoke to pain. The pain that says, “Something isn’t right.” Being a classic hypochondriac (and at this moment, by the grace of God, a fairly reasonable one), I forced myself back to sleep telling myself, “It’s probably indigestion. Don’t worry. If you still feel this way in the morning, you can always get it checked out then.” I fell back asleep.

Saturday morning, the pain was worse. Tim said we needed to go to the hospital, and at this point, I knew something was wrong. However, I procrastinated. I told him, “The longer I just lie here in bed, everything is normal. The moment we get to the hospital, it could all be over.”

I wasn’t willing to accept this.

We arrived to the emergency room and said exactly what our fertility doctor said to say. A few blood tests later and the ER doctor walks in, sits down next to me, holds my hand and says, “At this point, it’s clear you have an ectopic pregnancy and you’re starting to miscarry. I’m sorry.”

He left, and Tim came over and reached around the bed rail, holding me. We both wept at the life inside me that was on its way to being born inside of heaven. We would not get to hold this baby in our arms or put this child to sleep in his or her crib. There would be no diaper blow outs, no baby showers, no ringing in the new year as a family of three.

The faith that came so easily was hard to grasp hold of as it floated away with our dream.

We went home, exhausted, making tearful calls to family and a few friends as we were unsure of the next steps. Hours later, our fertility doctor calls and says we need to meet her at the hospital at 7 pm. She needed to remove my left fallopian tube and the 200ccs of blood that drained into my abdomen from my tube’s slow rupture.

Returning to the emergency room, we saw familiar faces dressed in blue scrubs from that morning, each knowing what happened. With hugs and condolences from strangers, I was given some pain medication and wheeled back to the surgical holding area. Nobody else was having surgery Saturday night (they were probably eating and drinking and being merry), so it was only a matter of minutes before the anesthesiologists and nurses prepared me for my second reproductive surgery in the last year.

I drifted off into an hour-long sleep, waking up to kind words from a smiling nurse. Tim came in shortly after speaking to our doctor, confirming everything she suspected: the baby implanted in my left fallopian tube, caused it to start rupturing, and our doctor was able to safely remove my tube, and the blood, and I would be fine.

But define the word, “fine”… would you?

I stayed in the hospital overnight with Tim next to me. A first-rate medical team insured I was physically comfortable, and messages from friends and family helped ease the emotional pain.

In some drug-induced blur, I recalled how strange it was that I even took a pregnancy test that Wednesday morning. I had no reason to. I wasn’t late and I didn’t feel “pregnant” (whatever that means). However, if I wouldn’t have taken those tests and seen our fertility doctor, I likely would have written off the cramps I felt as normal cramps and the bleeding I had as a normal cycle.

I didn’t realize the severity of my symptoms and likely wouldn’t have until I lost so much blood I passed out. But because of that urge to take that first pregnancy test and the relationship we established with our fertility doctor, I was safe and healthy.

Even though our baby passed away and woke up on the other side of eternity, that doesn’t change the fact that Tim and I are still parents. Before the world was made, God knew this baby would exist. Somehow everything worked together perfectly and this baby formed.

We were able to be a mom and a dad to this little human for only a few weeks, and life is life, even when it finds itself removed from this earth.

The peace that wrapped us up before we knew anything was wrong still holds us, in spite of the grief we feel from the loss. Knowing that God knew this child since the beginning of time and knows each of us and has gone before us and sees the plan He has created for us gives us great cause to rejoice as we mourn.

It’s natural to feel as if two seemingly opposing forces can’t co-exist, like joyfulness and grief. But because they can, and they do, we know it is only because of His grace that miracles like this happen and we experience both joy and grief in their entirety, in chorus.

I never realized the tension of Mother’s Day when you’ve lost a child; I always heard it, but I didn’t understand. Now, in a poppy-seed-sized way, I do. So, if you are missing your own child, regardless of how or when he or she departed, know you are not alone, and I wish you the most honest of Mother’s Days. Nothing will ever change the fact that you are a mother.

Look What God Did

Dear 25 year old Anne,

It’s me. Anne. Today you…me…we…? turn 35.

Holy Moses, has it been a decade?

I wanted to tell you four words: “Look what God did.”

25 year old Anne, 2005 was the year you landed in the hospital so stressed out and so hurt from working at a church. You were 40 pounds overweight, working 90 hours a week, and glued to people-pleasing. You thought doing things for God was the same thing as being with Him.

But it wasn’t.

And over the next two years, as you resigned from that church and healed, you wrote about your journey. You helped others.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

A few years later, you had to do something terrifying. You had to open up to a group of strangers who were investigating the man who sexually abused you 12 years beforehand. Memories you buried so deep emerged and you even went into shock as you recalled them. You put words to the actions of what a grown man, a trusted youth pastor, did to a vulnerable high school girl who just barely had her driver’s license.

It was like watching a horror film in your mind on repeat. But God gave you the words and the strength and the right medication and friends to help. The man was finally caught. His sins finally came to light. And God healed you and the shame and gave you ways to share your pain and His healing with others.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

When you turned thirty, everything was in full bloom. Life. Was. Good. You just finished writing your second book and still had a contract for more. You rode your bicycle across the flipping United States. California to South Carolina. You made friends in those two months that forever changed you and shaped you. And then the tragedy of divorce fell into your path. Grief swept you away but friends held on to you for dear life. It was a long, quiet, tough road of healing. And God was good even when everything was going bad. You learned this about Him then.

A few years later, a strong and Godly man with a passion for truth and holiness and loving others and serving everybody who comes into his path humbly and out of the abundance God gave him met you in the most lovely Michigan town. He won your heart, even though you were still timid to give it, afraid of being hurt again. Then, when you were afraid, God met you in a living room on a cold night and music played singing “night must end.” God gave you this moment and said, “You can trust your heart to him.”

So you did and you married this man on a beach at sunrise because you and he wanted to raise an ebenezer to the fact that God’s mercies are new every time the sun rises.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

And now, here you…me…we? turn 35. You live in west Texas and you pretend you’re Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights and you’re minutes away from the church where you got baptized thirty years ago. Life has come in such a full and glorious circle. You’re surrounded by new friends, loving neighbors, and people who pray with you with babies on their hips and in the midst of toys in the kitchen floor. You sing praises to the God who took those messes and made them beautiful surrounded by the voices of others you call your church–your friends, your small group. Twice a week you get to see a few dozen teenagers who are uncovering the depth and breadth and faithfulness of God and it’s so exciting to watch your husband lead them and their eyes light up with every moment of new truth revealed to them through your Word.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

So, as another ten years passes and the wrinkles on your face grow deeper and gravity continues to pull you down, as people come in and out of your life and as you come in and out of theirs, even when those you love are dying or are sick, are broken and are hurt, know that God is good because God is good. He is not good only because He redeems; He is good because He allows things into our lives that need to be redeemed.

All this to say, and always say, and never stop saying to a world who always needs to hear it:

In everything, in every moment, God took it all and made it beautiful.

Look. What. God. Did.

Why the American Church is Not Going to Hell in a Hand Basket

I know what the statistics say about the future of the evangelical American church.

Our buildings are bigger, our lights are brighter, our programs are sleeker, our preachers are teaching, our pastors are shepherding and yet people are leaving out of the church in droves–especially my age (almost 35) and younger.

  • Some are leaving for good. God, the Church, religion…it’s just not part of our core anymore.
  • Some leave and plant other churches. We’re more entrepreneurial than ever so when we see something, in our opinion, that needs to be improved on, we know how to run a church. We’ve spent enough time within our well-oiled machines that we’ve been groomed to do it ourselves–just better, we think. More or less intimate. More or less community. More or less programs. More or less topical. More or less exegetical. More or less flash. More or less candles.
  • Some leave and go to the church down the road. And then to the other church farther down the road. We commit just long enough to wonder why we haven’t found community only to start all over again.

And herein lies a problem: the categories of people I just defined are people who are already inside the church–whether it be a church building or a gathering in a living room or a coffee shop.

We study, we plan, we program, we find scenic, peaceful pictures and slap encouraging Bible verses on them in hip fonts to post across social media. We create devotionals, printouts, and have a board or two on our Pinterest pages for quotes and for Jesus.

Let me say there is nothing inherently wrong with studying, planning, programming or encouraging. I’m guilty of all those things, Pinterest boards included.

However, if we fly out to 30,000 feet and take a look at the landscape, what do we see?

I think we’ve become a little bit gluttonous in regard to our faith.

At first, that statement sounds pretty innocuous. We’re to learn scripture, memorize it, encourage each other, and be faithful with the time and resources we’ve been given, right?

I agree.

At what point are we spilling out to others–to those who haven’t heard the truth and the power and the saving grace of the Gospel of the cross?

Having grown up in the church, worked in the church, served in the church, and now, being married to a pastor, I hear all the time how, with each generation, society is becoming more and more post-Christian. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Just look at what happened in Europe!”…

I’m a logical person. I love research and I love statistics. I geek out over spreadsheets and trends. Quantifying and qualifying things are one of my favorite hobbies.

Yet, in spite of all the science and stats, I really don’t believe that the American church is going to hell in a hand basket, so to speak.

Why not?

I believe in the power of prayer.

I believe God desires a true reviving of His church all over the world, including America.

I believe truth always wins, even in an age where truth has been redefined and recategorized as relative and subjective and personal.

I believe that the children and students of today are hungry for truth. I see it every week as they ask good and thoughtful questions about the Scripture they read. I see their struggle, and it’s a good struggle. 

I believe the power of Christ that is in one person who’s faithful to worshipping, obeying, and joyfully sharing the saving grace of Christ is more powerful than 10,000 people who attend a church out of routine or tradition.

And lastly, I believe there are enough people who believe like me–quietly hoping, seeking, praying, pleading, trusting and living out the Gospel that the numbers and statistics don’t matter.

We will not lose to the self-fulfilling prophecy that the church in America is dying.

Yes, the future of the church looks grim at times.

But we understand it’s not that we need to (or can) fix what’s broken.

We need to pray our faces off and be obedient so that what has been broken in the church can be made whole, made new, and made alive again.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us.

It’s time for us to take that power and let Him raise the dead through us.

Fight for Unity, or Don’t Fight at All: My Plea for Christians to Keep Your Opinions To Yourself

When I was sixteen, my dad left the ministry. He did nothing wrong, but it was an ugly church-wide meeting full of Southern obstinacy. I saw men in our small church yelling at each other, accusing each other, accusing my father, accusing my mother, accusing the youth pastor. Some claims were insidious, others plan incredulous.

I will never forget that Sunday in April. A fire rose inside me that rarely burns for much anymore. As shy as I am, as non-confrontational as I am, and – for that church – as female as I am, none of that mattered. I stood up, my whole body shaking and read verses upon verses out of the bible about unity. All those Bible drills came in handy. I flipped to Ephesians, to John, to Galatians.

What I was taught in church about loving each other and what I was shown by the church were diametrically opposed.

When I was through, I was met with cold stares telling me my input was not welcome. I rushed outside, up a fire escape, and wrote a letter to God I still have to this day.

Give me a way to bring unity to the church. Or else, I’m gone.

I didn’t hear an answer for a while, so I left. For five years, I went off on some dark roads which God has so graciously redeemed. I came back to His bride and found myself back in many situations where I would pray that same prayer (just without the “or else…”)

In recent years and more specifically, the recent month, everyone who has an Internet connection has been exposed to many an exposé on pastors and other church leaders. The scandals, the sins, the full-open-letters pasted for all the world to see. We are an age of opinionated school-yard bullies with platforms and reach and nobody is winning.

That fire is lit once more. I’m that sixteen year old girl again, shy and nervous of unwelcome stares, trembling with my Bible in hand…but I’m ready to fight.

Here’s the thing.

  • If you don’t know the person you’re dragging through the mud, you have no scriptural basis to bring what he or she is doing to a public forum where anyone can read.
  • If you do not have an accountable relationship with them, they are not accountable to you (or to your blog, or your Facebook rants).
  • That person isn’t going to read your blog, or your comments on a blog anyway.
  • If you find it humorous or rejoice when a man or woman of God has been removed from ministry or celebrate when they are publicly humiliated somehow, you should mourn. The Father is grieving. Even if what they did was both terrible and true, there is never a reason to celebrate. Never.

My bottom line request is this: If you’re not going to fight for unity, don’t fight at all. And don’t cause others to fight. Don’t bring people along with you in rejoicing (or making fun of, or condemning) for a fallen brother or sister. If you have a platform, use it to bring prayer for the church. Humble, pleading, grieving prayers. Don’t share the latest YouTube video of that person because “you just can’t believe it” and “it’s so wrong it’s ridiculous.” Move on. Sharing those things does not edify the body of Christ.

The same grace that covers you covers the worst of us.

Oh, and in that church service where my dad resigned? There was a girl there from my school who wasn’t a Christian. It was her second time visiting. As far as I know, she never returned. Heck, it took me five years for my faith in God and the church to recover from that situation.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:29-32

PS – I am turning comments off on this post. In the past, I have written similar posts on unity and have received comments that do not reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I don’t want this to be another one. If you truly need to comment on this, you can contact me privately using the contact form on my website.

Blogging Isn’t What it Used to Be…And that’s Okay.

Several times a week, I log into the dashboard of my blog and think I have something to write.

  • I could write about true freedom, and how that means willingly accepting my identity as a slave to Christ, which doesn’t bring oppression, but true joy.
  • I could write about how I think the voice of the peacemakers is being shut down because the voice of the cynics is so loud…and the peacemakers know there’s really no point in fighting a virtual battle of words.
  • I could write about all the new stuff I’m learning about anxiety disorders, OCD, trauma and grief or about the theology of subordinate & ultimate purposes in moral ethics.

But I don’t.

It’s not that I can’t; as if I have some writer’s block and I keep pressing delete and thinking my writing isn’t good enough.

It’s not because I’m scared of what people will think about what I write.

It’s not even that I don’t want to.

Or that I don’t have time.

None of those things are true.

Photo Credit: Thomas Lieser

Lately, I’m full of words and inspiration, most of which are being poured into the channels of a launching “Lean on Me” which comes out this October. Or into my other-new book that will come out next year. It flows into my husband as he goes through some exciting ministry changes, and into some friends over coffee or a glass of wine. I give these words to the trees and the sky when I go on walks with my dog, or sometimes they only rattle around in my head until they break into little digestible pieces I can stomach. These words fuel me as I straighten up our kitchen or hang up the laundry (who am I kidding? Tim so graciously does the laundry. I hate doing laundry.) 

A few years ago I would have wondered if you missed me.

Maybe I still do a tiny bit, but most days this blog is so far from any of my normative thinking. Only when I see the bookmark to my dashboard to log in, I log in. And that’s really just to delete any spam comments.

want to talk to you. I remember how, almost ten years ago, a small group of fifty or a hundred people would come here and listen about me putting up Christmas lights or running from tornadoes or wrestling through tithing as an automatic deduction from my church-staff paycheck. Then that number grew into the tens of thousands and the conversation changed and I began to love those numbers much more than I should have. And then, life changes pounced and left me wounded and I took everything off of the Internet for a couple of years and that huge audience I was so enamored with dwindled back down to a handful of people.

But that’s okay.

It’s taken a year or so of being truly back “online” for me to accept the new Web 2.0. Or is it 3.0 now? It’s not even about the Internet, is it? Whatever it is – whatever this is – I’m okay with it.

I’m not saying goodbye to blogging, and I’m certainly not bidding adieu to writing. I’m embracing how different it is now, both externally in how social networking has changed in the last decade and internally, how I’ve changed in the last decade.

I’m giving myself permission to keep things close, as Mary did, pondering them in her heart. 

My heart used to be online, but now it’s found in quiet moments with trusted friends, in solitude, and in quietness and trust.

That is where I find rest.

That is where I find Him.

 

Grace in the Mundane

When you feel longing creep in as you pull your feet through the mud of the daily, command your spirit to rejoice. If the rocks cry out, imagine the will it takes to get a defeated soul to move. Command it anyway. Rejoice anyway. You are a child of the One who has loved you in the past for eons and will love you into forever for infinity. A man died in your place, painting you pure and lovely and nothing can steal this away from you.