for when Advent begins in the dark.

I’ve been reading a lot of Fleming Rutledge lately. Last Christmas, I bought her compilation of Advent sermons, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. Although we come from different traditions (Rutledge is an Episcopalian priest, and I’m a minister in a Baptist church), I’ve come to resonate with much of what she has to say, and twelve-year-old Amy would probably say something like, “I want to be like her when I grow up.”

Although I’ve had this compilation for almost a year, I didn’t pick it up until October. But the Lord knew what October, and November, and December would hold. And so, on the night my grandmother died, as my husband was at the church gathering things in my office, I asked him to grab Rutledge’s book, in case I had a few moments to read as I began to think about Advent preparations and finish our Advent devotional guide at the church.

The most striking sermon in the compilation, to me, is one entitled “Advent Begins in the Dark.” This year, Advent began in the dark. It began in the darkness of October, on a Saturday night when I was making soup in the Instant Pot and baking paleo blondies, with a call from my mother telling me my grandmother had died. I got the same kind of call on the same date last year, with news that my grandfather had passed. My grandmother had been very sick since June. We didn’t expect that she would make it out of ICU, but she did. We didn’t expect that she would make it out of the hospital, but she did. But she wasn’t well enough to go home, so for three months we watched and waited as she continued to decline in a nursing home after she had made a decision to pursue palliative care. After she died, I told Matt there was a bit of relief in some ways, because it was like I had been mourning her death every day since June 22, waiting for what was inevitable.

So we drove to North Carolina, and we grieved, and we remembered my grandmother’s life with her siblings and grandkids, and we made final arrangements, and we gathered the few personal possessions she had at the nursing home. We walked the streets of Forest City and saw the trees waiting with expectation for fall, to burst forth in color and light before they, too, would fall to the ground and die.

And we made our way back to Alabama, and we drove to the hospital for a second checkup, and the doctor couldn’t find the heartbeat that was beating so strongly two weeks prior, and she calmly sent us to the better ultrasound, to the more advanced machine, but I knew. I knew. And Advent began in the dark.

And we went home to watch and to wait for miscarriage to begin. And close friends came and brought food and flowers and fellowship, and they sat with us in the sadness and the sorrow. And the bleeding eventually started, and it was as if it would never stop. I hemorrhaged the loss of a grandmother, and the loss of a baby, and the loss of people moving. And it would be easy to say that there will be another child, but who could promise that except the Lord Himself, who seemed to be in the business of taking, and not giving in those days?

And we tried to find a new normal, after grief. Eventually, the bleeding stopped. Eventually, I made it through a day without sobbing. Eventually, our loss wasn’t the first thing I thought about when I woke up. Eventually, seeing pregnant women at Trader Joe’s didn’t take my breath away. And we made it through Thanksgiving, through the holiday when we would have known the gender, when we would have proudly proclaimed our pregnancy to the world. But there was no loud announcement, there was no reveal, there was no declaration of news bursting with joy. There were only four ultrasound pictures and several positive pregnancy tests and sympathy cards hidden in a drawer. There is no bump on my belly, just a necklace given as a gift by a dear friend in memory of the child who made his or her home there, and who is now at home in heaven.

And Advent began in the dark. Theologically speaking, Advent always begins in the dark. It is not a season in the church calendar where we prepare for Christmas, where we pretend as if Jesus never came to earth as the Bethlehem baby. No, Advent is the season of preparation for Christ to come again. It is the season where we wait with expectation and longing for Christ to come again and to make all that is wrong right. All of our life is lived in Advent waiting. In the weightiness of life, we wait for the day when, in the words of C.S. Lewis, it will be always Christmas and never winter. There is brokenness all around, and if you don’t feel the brokenness this year, chances are, you will feel it another year. And so Advent began in the dark.

Grief is a complicated thing. It is one thing to grieve the grandmother I knew so dearly. The woman who made potato pancakes, who taught me how to dry apples before eating dried fruit was trendy, who spent Thanksgiving at the beach with all of her grandkids while her husband went fishing day and night. The woman who worked at NSA before my mom was born, who we now joke was perhaps a spy and we never knew it. The woman who took me home from the hospital, with my mom. The woman who met me at the bus stop in the afternoons, who smelled like Snuggle fabric softener, who made the best omelets I’ve ever eaten. The woman I would call most mornings on my way to work. When I get in my car now, there is a still small sadness in the silence. Sometimes, I pick up my phone and just briefly forget that she is no longer living, but I remember quickly, and the grief comes crashing in.

It is another thing to grieve a child lost in the womb. A child I knew about for five weeks, a child we took (unknowingly) to see dear friends in Virginia, a child we took to a wedding and to my beloved hometown fair, a child who walked those streets of Forest City with us, a child who went with me to pick up groceries on Fridays and spent afternoons cleaning the house and putting up laundry and who even did some early Christmas shopping with me. A child who caused heartburn and nausea with every bite of food I would put into my body. A child I grew to love more and more every day, even without knowing a gender or a name. And now I hold other friends’ babies, and I read other kids stories, and I grieve that we will never experience that with this baby. Perhaps with another living child, but not that baby. And we know that, for this baby, it is far better for him or her to be in heaven, in the presence of the Lord. They are missing out on nothing in earth – to be in the presence of the Lord is far better for them. But we grieve because of the moments we will miss – ultrasounds and kicks and births and birthday celebrations and adding stockings to the mantle and baby’s first ornaments and reading books at night and playing catch.

I believe God is at work in the midst of the darkness. He broke into the world on a night of darkness, to a people groaning under Roman rule. He came to bring us out of the darkness. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. But Advent still begins in the darkness. It still begins in the seasons of crying out to the Lord, “How long?” How long will You wait? How long will You tarry? How long will You allow injustice and evil? How long will we grieve?

And in the midst of the darkness, there are no easy answers. There are no promises of other children, or promises that we will not have another miscarriage, or promises that another loved one will not leave this earth, or promises that the rest of life will be easy because of this particular suffering. Certainly there are the promises that God is working out everything according to His perfect plan, for His glory, and certainly that is a comfort, but it doesn’t mean that there is not sorrow and grief today. No, the promise that is whispered in the dark is the promise that God is with us in the dark. That God put in flesh and came to live in our darkness. That He took on humanity and knows what it is to grieve. That He knows the fragility of the womb because He Himself lived there.

And the promise whispered is that darkness will not have the last word, even if today, it feels like there will always only ever be darkness. That a day is coming when those in Christ will be with Him face to face, in a place where there is no more darkness, where there is no need for sun or moon because the Lord Himself will be all the light God’s people need. On that day, we will see our loved ones again. On that day, we will meet the child we longed to get to hold in this life. But better than that, on that day, we will behold God Himself in His glory, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

If you are feeling the weight of Advent waiting in this season, if you are experiencing the reality of darkness, know that you are not alone in your suffering as believers around you walk through all sorts of grief and troubles and tribulations – but more than that, know that God took on flesh in Jesus and came to us, to dwell with us in the darkness.

thirty from the twenties.

Last year, I gave up on my “thirty before thirty” list. It was for a number of reasons, really. First off, some of the things on that list were expensive and time-consuming – and time and money are both luxuries in my life right now – not commodities. It also became quickly apparent that some of the things on my list I’m just not going to do. I won’t get to see the Avett Brothers before I turn thirty, unless I run into an impromptu concert somewhere. And I’m never learning to knit or crochet because I tried it and I hated it, and I’ve learned that my craft is with the written word, not necessarily with needles and strings. I’m okay with that.

So I gave up on the list, and it was cathartic. Part of giving up on the list helped me to see that life goes on after I turn thirty. So what if I turn thirty and I’m still single? It doesn’t mean that life is over. Really, parts of life are just beginning. And even if there are things you are still waiting on when you are thirty, I’ve discovered that a lot of life happens in the midst of the waiting.

Last year, my friend Madoline turned thirty and she wrote this fabulous list of thirty joys from her twenties. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot – and wanting to wisely follow her example. As I’ve reflected, I’ve realized that there have been a lot of joys in my twenties, some of which I wouldn’t have experienced had all of the things on that thirty before thirty list been accomplished. Or had my life looked the way I thought it would by this point.

So, rather than a thirty before thirty, here’s a list of thirty “thoughts/joys/experiences/lessons” from my twenties:

  1. The Amy who rarely takes risks and struggles to be brave decided she didn’t want to be an education major and changed her degree on the day she turned twenty – and that changed everything.
  2. I served wherever I could, whenever I could. From working for the SC Baptist Convention as a summer missionary, to working camp, to Thursday backyard Bible clubs in the trailer park, to helping with D-Nows – the Lord taught me much about Himself and His people – and who He created me to be – through opportunities to serve.
  3. I had the opportunity to make deep, long-lasting, long distance friendships through camp and college. I got to know people I would have never met. I stayed in touch with some of them and learned what it means to be a good long-distance friend (and, I learned that sometimes, the people you stay in touch with are the ones you wouldn’t expect). 
  4. I bought all of the books in all of the world – for college and for seminary and for writing and for fun. 
  5. I went to Beeson – to the best divinity school in the world, with the best professors and the best students and the best faculty (in my humble, but correct opinion). 
  6. I survived Beeson and didn’t quit or transfer – because there were moments there where the Greek and the Hebrew and big words in English threatened to get the best of me, but I persevered (or rather, the Lord persevered and kept me there). I’m so glad I stayed.
  7. I decided I wasn’t going to live in fear of the future anymore. I’m still learning this lesson, but over the last year, I’ve been encouraged by the reminder that God holds time and knows all – and I don’t.
  8. I had the opportunity to do things that terrified me – and I did them. (Such as – serving as BCM president, lecturing for classes at Beeson, preaching at Beeson while I was a student, living with strangers for a summer on mission, going on first dates, having tough conversations where you “say what you need to say,” flying on airplanes, going to the top of tall buildings…)
  9. I moved. I moved a lot. If we count the summers of moving home or working at camp, I moved seventeen times in the last ten years. Moving taught me a lot. Namely, it taught me how we really need less things that we think. Every time I moved, it was an opportunity to cleanse – to get rid of the junk and the things I don’t wear and the clutter. Moving taught me to hold onto physical things a little more loosely. 
  10. I became a healthier person and learned to cook delicious things.
  11. I had the privilege to enter into my friends’ joys and sorrows – the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
  12. I walked through moments where it seemed like my life was going to fall apart – and I realized that it didn’t mean the world was going to end. 
  13. I learned how to survive work that felt meaningless (a part-time stint in customer service) and how to say goodbye to jobs I loved for new opportunities.
  14. I learned that the Lord can surprise you sometimes by setting the lonely in families. In my twenties, as a single woman, I got the chance to have friends who become like family, and to be Ames to my favorite kids. 
  15. I went on a lot of roadtrips to see people I love. Nothing stopped me from driving or flying hundreds of miles to see friends get married or to spend the weekend at a camp reunion. I invested money and time into deep relationships, with people who know me well and still love me, despite the knowing. 
  16. I learned what it is to grieve over the brokenness of the world, over sin and death. People I loved died. People I loved suffered in ways I never imagined, and I couldn’t fix it. I learned what it means to be broken over the brokenness of the world, over the ways that sin has tainted everything. 
  17. I also learned that counseling is invaluable for anyone. Maybe it’s a pastor or a professional counselor or a friend who sits across from you on Tuesday afternoons in your office…regardless of the type, engaging in counseling can be one of the best things anyone could ever do.
  18. I wrote all of the words – college papers and seminary papers and a thesis and articles for The Alabama Baptist and newsletters and website content and devotional guides
  19. I lived life with a lot of roommates – and I learned a lot about my own quirks and bad habits in the process. 
  20. Speaking of, I learned about myself and became comfortable in my skin. I don’t always want to go to a party on a Friday night. Too much people time wears me out. I need to recharge alone, where I don’t have to see anyone or interact with anyone. I cherish deep relationships and thrive on quality time. And, I really do like going to bed at 9pm.
  21. I saw parts of the world I never thought I would see.
  22. I began to learn what it means to let go of the dreams you hold so closely for yourself – and to drink deeply of the dreams the Lord might have for me. 
  23. I became friends with people who were older than me, and younger than me, and they provided healthy life perspective.
  24. I watched healthy ministry transitions happen successfully.
  25. I fell in love with good music and good books and good concerts. (In ten years, I think I will still listen to the Avett Brothers, Needtobreathe, Andrew Peterson, Ben Rector, and Josh Garrells. I’ll probably still be reading the books I’m reading now. I hope I’ll still get to go see Behold the Lamb of God at Christmas.)
  26. I fell in love with endorphins and running and being active.
  27. I fell in love with decaf coffee from Octane and the art of making the perfect french press.
  28. I walked with friends through singleness and engagement and marriage and pregnancy and having babies – and I learned that life isn’t perfect for anyone, anywhere, anytime.
  29. I [am learning] to take each day as it is – as a gift from the Lord – and not to borrow worry. Still in process 🙂
  30. I have found, again and again, that the Lord is sufficient for all things – that He is fatihful, even in the midst of my unfaithfulness. That He is enough.

for when you go on an adventure.

January 1, 2017. It’s more than just the date of the new year. The first day of 2017 marks the year that I will turn thirty. Now, really, turning thirty isn’t all that more daunting than turning twenty-nine, or thirty-one for that matter. Yet for some reason, that particular age seems to stop me in my tracks. My life at almost-thirty looks very different than the life I had pictured for myself in this season. I’m single, and I don’t have kids, and I don’t own my own house or even live alone.

I think I have felt paralyzed in these last few years – paralyzed by how I thought life ought to look, and how it seems to look for others at my age. The fact is that my life is different. I don’t have dates on Valentine’s Day, or a significant other to take the perfect picture with on Christmas Eve in front of the Christmas tree. There are freedoms that come with singleness, but they come at a cost. I am free to make my own decisions, but I am without a partner in making them. My decisions only affect me, but it can be incredibly lonely to feel the weight of making all of the hard choices and knowing that it’s all up to you. I am free to do what I want on the weekends – but sometimes, all I want on the weekends is to have a reason to wake up early and fix bacon and eggs and fried plantains for others and not just me. I know it’s all a balancing act. The freedoms some take for granted others long for. Isn’t that always true? The grass is always greener on the other side.

When it comes to my singleness struggles, vacations have been a particular envy of mine. My family never had a lot of money growing up, so we didn’t go on tons of exotic trips. Most of my traveling has been through mission work, which is a great way to see the world, but it isn’t necessarily a restful vacation and retreat from the real world. Long ago, I imagined that I’d be married by now to some nerdy person who would also enjoy going to old cities with me and eating at fun restaurants and being tourists in another part of the world. But that isn’t the case yet, so every summer when people begin to take trips, my heart struggles with greed – wanting somewhere to go on an adventure and someone to adventure with me.

But this summer, an opportunity fell in my lap. My uncle offered me a chance to come visit him and my aunt in Abu Dhabi. It really would be the adventure of adventures. So while my friends went to the beach, I dreamed of another beach in January – the Palm Islands (yes, the largest man-made islands in the world!). And, last week I got to visit them! My friend Joy came with me and for a week we took in the sights, sounds, and smells of Abu Dhabi and Dubai (think: desert highways with sporadic oases of green, constant horns honking from bad driving, cloudless blue skies, shimmering seas, delicious foods from every tribe and tongue).

I could write forever about the week and all of the experiences. Tea time at the Grand Emirates Hotel. A weekend in Dubia, at the world’s fanciest (to me!) hotel, with dinner at the Japanese restaurant on the hotel’s rooftop. Al Ain from the top of the country’s highest peak, forested by trees in the middle of the desert. People from seemingly every tribe and nation and tongue gathered into one city together, where they all get along and seem to live peaceably with one another. As I was sitting on the plane getting ready to go to the Middle East, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. That was actually getting on a plane to travel halfway across the world to visit a new place. I am a person of routine. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day. I have a nighttime routine I follow pretty closely. I travel the same path to work. I rotate through the same four restaurants I love, and the same seven dishes I prefer to cook at home. I run the same route three to four mornings a week.

I’ve been thinking a lot about singleness, since I am turning thirty this year. I think I bought into the untruth that singleness means I can’t have adventures. I’ve gotten so stuck in my ways and routines that I forgot that it’s fun to take chances and to do new things. I don’t have to have kids or a husband to have new experiences. I started thinking about all of the fancy places in Birmingham that I’ve never eaten, because to me they seem like couples’ restaurants. Why couldn’t I initiate a girls’ night out at a nice place for dinner? I started thinking about all of the places I want to travel in the States. What’s wrong with finding a friend to go on that trip with me to DC or to all of the places in Alabama I want to see? Why not make plans to see them, to go places, to do new things, to try new restaurants, to buy the dishes or crockpot or pressure cooker or whatever it is that I want to buy, instead of waiting to maybe one day possibly potentially hopefully put it on a wedding registry? I know that’s a little extreme, but I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes life goes on while we’re waiting. Maybe it doesn’t look the way we pictured it. Maybe it requires more courage than we imagined.

This Christmas Eve, I put together gingerbread houses with the sweetest four and six-year-olds you’ve ever met. I sat with them in our Christmas Eve service and opened up presents with them and with their parents the next morning. Family may not look the way you picture it, but it’s still family. The Lord meets us in our broken places and gives us family, even in our singleness. And He gives us chances for adventures we could never imagine having. Life is for living now, even if there are things we are waiting for. And there’s sweetness in the waiting, if we take a moment to look around and recognize it.

Here’s to 2017, and to the year I turn thirty, and to all of the adventures ahead.

on advent and waiting.

We moved houses this year. We used to live in the red brick house at the top of the hill on 6th Court South. Now, we’re in the gray cottage with the red door at the end of 7th Avenue South, where the streets are flat and wide and the sidewalks are mostly even. But I’m grateful that moving doesn’t change traditions – especially Advent ones.

When I first moved into my house, my roommate introduced me to her tree-decorating tradition. Rather than putting all of the lights and ornaments and decorations on the tree the day after Thanksgiving, she used the time in between Thanksgiving and Christmas – the season known as Advent – to decorate the tree slowly. The first week, only lights adorn the tree (we use a lot of lights, though, so I would argue that we could have a tree with just lights and it would be beautiful). The second week, we add the gold balls. The third week, we add the silver ornaments. And the fourth week, we add the lace-cut angels and other small ornaments before filing the tree with our sentimental favorites on Christmas Adam (otherwise known as December 23).

The act of slowly decorating the tree has been a sweet practice for me, a reminder of preparing my heart for Christ’s coming. A reminder of the need to slow down and wait in this season of Advent. It’s quite antithetical to everything holiday-related, isn’t it? Slowing down and waiting. We’re hustling and bustling and busy and trying to check everything off of our to-do list. We want to have our entire house decorated the day after Christmas, with the gifts wrapped under the tree and the Christmas cards addressed. (To those who were expecting Christmas cards from me – this year, I’ve failed you. Please accept my sincerest apologies.) We really do want all of life to happen according to our timetables and our schedules, by our standards.

Rather than just rushing and decorating the tree all at once, we take a week to enjoy the beauty of each stage. The beauty of the evergreen tree with only lights. A reminder that He is the light of the world – in Him is life, and that life is the light of men. The gold and then the silver remind me of the priceless nature of Christ’s love for us, and point forward to the beauty of the new heaven and new earth, which will be designed with perfect jewels and priceless precious metals. After all, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. These glittering orbs are just a shadow of what is to come.

I think the practice of Advent has been helpful in teaching my heart to wait. I don’t do well waiting. In fact, I helped write and edit an Advent guide about waiting this year because I realized how much I struggle with waiting. I want everything to be fixed and better and well. I want life to happen according to my schedule. I want to skip past the mess and the muck and brokenness and pain and get to the beauty.

Christmas is an especially hard season if you are waiting for anything. For me, Christmas is always a struggle as I wait in my singleness. It seemed like my mailbox was flooded full of cards this year, full of joyful families. I wonder if I will ever be able to share Christmas pictures of my children. I wonder if I will ever have children at all. I wonder if I’ll ever have a plus one to invite to that party, or to go with me to that performance, or to sit with me at church when it seems like everyone is there with someone and I am alone. I know the rhetoric of the church being the body of Christ and the family of God – and I live it. That is my story in many ways. But the joy that brings doesn’t replace the longing to share life, and dreams, and hopes, and desires with a partner in ministry. It makes it easier, but it doesn’t take it away. And all of the sweet children who hug me each week – they are the testimony of spiritual mothers and spiritual children in the church. But the sweet child on my lap, asking me to color with her, doesn’t take away the longing for my own children either.

I am turning thirty in 2017. I can hardly believe it. I am partially shocked – because I once thought thirty was old! – but also a little scared. I thought my life would look so different at thirty. Certainly at twenty-five I thought I would be waiting for different things at thirty. Though my story looks so different now, those same threads are still woven throughout. If I could have it my way, I would have the waiting over. Actually, I would have had it over long ago. But that’s not the way life works, it is?

I’m sure this was true for Israel too. Hundreds of years passed between the prophetic promise of a Redeemer to come and the birth of Christ. Years of faithful Israelites waiting for their faith to be sight. Hebrews 11 tells us that some passed into the next life without yet receiving what was promised – but what was promised would still come to pass. In “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley describes it this way: “Late in time, behold Him come – offspring of the virgin’s womb.”

Late in time. The Israelites spent a lot of time too. It probably did seem like “late in time” in comparison to the history of God’s working. Why had he delayed? Why the waiting? Why did he choose to break into history and time and space in that moment, in the Bethlehem baby? I don’t know. I wish I could give you some theologically astute answer, but the best I have comes from Paul in Galatians, where he explains that Christ came “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4-7).

The picture of the tree fully decorated is the picture of “the fullness of time” for me. I may have been longing for it to be decorated and finished and complete all of Advent, but sitting and waiting and lingering in the incompletion teaches me to appreciate that so often, God works less through big showy displays of his power and more often through the quiet disciplines of everyday life, as scattered and imperfect as they are. He is working in the midst of the brokenness, in the unfinished nature of this life, even in our hearts as we wait. Because really, we aren’t waiting for husbands or kids or physical healing or better jobs or reconciliation with loved ones. Really, we are waiting for him – and all of these other things are lesser but good things, wrapped up in the hope of the One who came, and who promises He will come again, in His own timing. We wait for his second appearing with hope. And all of these other waitings are true but small echoes of that waiting.

It’s the third week and our tree is mostly decorated, but not quite yet. I’m sitting in the red chair in the living room. No one else is home and the house is quiet. I relish these moments sometimes, as an introvert. But sometimes I also long for a season where I am not single, where I am not alone. I sit here in the quiet of this rainy and cold afternoon and appreciate the unfinished nature of what God is doing, even in the waiting. Knowing that there’s no promise or guarantee for marriage period – or for a happy, lasting marriage with children as a byproduct of a fruitful relationship. So few things are promised to us, really.

But I wait in the quiet, looking at the almost, but not quite yet decorated tree, and I am reminded that eventually, all of our waiting will come to an end. We will see him face to face. That is what or hearts long for – whether we recognize it or not.  In the fullness of time, he will come again.

when it’s been seven years.

Seven years ago today, I packed up my little Ford Focus and headed west. Seven nights ago today, I unpacked an overnight bag and stayed in the yellow missionary house in the bedroom that would one day be a nursery for sweet Webb.

It’s kind of hard to believe that I’ve been here for seven years. Especially when I really thought I was just moving here for seminary and had no idea what would be next. But seven years later, I’ve stuck around. My roots go deep. Now some friends have left Birmingham, and others have moved to Birmingham. I’ve been in various life stages here. I went to school and worked in Birmingham, so I lived the life of a crazed caffeinated graduate student. I got my first full-time job here. I also quit my first full-time job here. I started a new job here and transitioned from worshipping with a body of believers to working on staff at that local church. I started really paying attention to what I eat and to how I treat my body here, so a lot has changed in terms of my physical make-up too. (Side note: if you ever think it’s appropriate to ask someone how much weight they’ve lost, let me just save you the embarrassment by telling you that it’s not. Just tell them they look nice and move on. And for heavens sake, don’t try to guess the number.)

All that to say, a lot has happened (and changed!) in my life over these last years. Today as I was having lunch with a dear friend, she asked me what the Lord has taught me in these seven years in Birmingham. It’s kind of a loaded question, but I’m grateful to have the kind of friend who asks hard questions and who wants to dig deeply into how faith and life intertwine. I’ve been thinking about her question all afternoon and I can think of three really big lessons I’ve learned from (and, probably more importantly) about the Lord

1. He is faithful.

The Lord has been a faithful provider in these years in Birmingham. It’s hard for me to believe that I moved here without a job – even as a graduate student. I can’t imagine just moving to a city with no employment in my current stage of life, but I did it. I didn’t really understand why, except for this call to go to Beeson. But the Lord provided and showed himself so faithful through giving me part-time jobs along the way, scholarship assistance, babysitting gigs, and, probably more importantly, community and friendship and a great place to study his word. God has been so faithful to me in every season – and now I can recognize this clearly. I think my season in Birmingham has taught me to look for those brushstrokes of faithfulness and to count the ways he has provided…which are now so clear.

2. …but, his plans are not our own.

We always think we know how life will end up, and we’re usually really wrong. God has been such a faithful Father to me in these years – really, all twenty-nine of them! But in these last seven years, I’ve also started to learn that our plans are not His plans. These have been the years of dying to self and dying of dreams and loosening my grip on the things I told myself God would provide. He’s a faithful Father and keeps his promises, yes, but there are some promises he hasn’t made to any of us. There are no promises that life will be easy or painless or carefree – in fact, we know this isn’t the case because of the Fall. Everything is broken by sin.

My plan, when I was in seminary, was to graduate and work for some sort of Christian non-profit. I could never see myself working full-time in the local church. And yet now that is where my heart is planted so deeply – in the fellowship of the saints, in a local congregation. In those respects, I can see that the Lord’s plans were so much bigger and better than my own. Even in thinking about transitioning to serve at MBBC, I can honestly say that, a year ago, I had no idea that this might even be an opportunity. I’m grateful for dear friends who thought highly enough of me to consider bringing me on staff. I’m also grateful for the Lord’s providence in our callings, and how he brings us to specific places for specific times and seasons.

I also think that, that day when I packed up my car and moved to Birmingham, I probably thought that, by twenty-nine, I’d be married. Maybe I’d even have kids. I actually just took the idea for granted. Most of my friends from high school and college were getting married. It seemed like what happens for everyone – they get married and have kids and grow old. But it hasn’t happened for me. And these last seven years, if they’ve been a testimony to anything, they’ve been a testimony to the fact that, just because we think things should happen a certain way doesn’t mean they will. Some people wait a lifetime for marriage. Some people wait a lifetime to have children. Some people get sick when they’re young, and die, and leave behind a bereaved spouse before they’ve celebrated twenty or ten or even five years of marriage.

I guess it seems like kind of a depressing thing to learn, but I am grateful for the lesson that the Lord is faithful to keep the promises he has made, that he sustains us, and that he is sovereign. His plans are better than ours. Even when ours are God-honoring and good plans. And maybe sometimes we can see that his plans are better than our own from our earthly perspective, but in some instances, I think it is only in heaven that we’ll really understand what the Lord was doing. Now our perspective is dim and blurry, but one day, it will be crystal clear in the light of eternity.

3. He puts the lonely in families.

On the basis of the second thought, I’ve also struggled with loneliness – maybe not just in these seven years but probably for a long time. Being an introvert who craves relationship is hard. I want relationships – a few close, intimate ones. I remember that, when I was in Columbia, more than anything I really longed to be known and loved. And right when I was settling into community there, it was time to put on a cap and grown and sing “We Hail Thee Carolina” and leave that place behind.

Moving to Birmingham was hard. I was so homesick for Columbia and even for home. For the foothills and for mountains and Gamecocks and a different world. I’ve wrestled a lot with the idea of home over this season. I’ve been so thankful to come to a place where I have realized that home is a longing we all have in our hearts, and that it’s a longing that points us to Jesus. One day, we really will be at home in him. Our earthly homes fail us because they’re only a shadow of what’s come, a brief glimmer of the joy set before us when we are able to dwell in the presence of God, among his people, in his city, illuminated by his glory.

Even if that’s the case, if you are lonely, you still need community. Thankfully, Birmingham has been a place for me to find true, deep, lasting community. I am grateful to have deep roots in this city. I am grateful that I get to see familiar faces in the grocery store, and work with my best friends, and have keys to friend’s houses (and vice versa). I’m also grateful that, as a single person, I’m able to enter into community with families here. Our western church is so focused on the nuclear family that I think we neglect the role of the spiritual household. For those who are in Christ, there are no orphans. The blood of Jesus makes us family in a way that even biological blood can’t match. And so friends and families have taken me in, and opened their lives and homes and worlds to me, and for that, I am so grateful.


So here’s to seven years in a city that has become home. Who knows how many more years this city will hold for me? I don’t, but the Lord does – and he’s proven himself so faithful in these days and months and years in a place that has become so dear and special to me.

further reflections on Genesis 15.

I’m finishing up a writing project for work this week. We’re writing on Genesis as a part of our fall churchwide Bible reading plan called Project 119. I assigned the Scriptures, so you could say I got my pick of passages – but there are hairy passages all over Genesis. I assumed it would be difficult for me to write about the flood, and it was. But I thought that my last passage for the devotional, based on a reading from Genesis 15, would be one of those “softball passages” – where the words would easily flow from such an accessible, familiar text. That wasn’t the case.

I think Genesis 15 has a lot to say about singleness. And that’s why it was hard to know how to put words to the faithfulness of God – in that passage in particular. Now, I know at first when you read Genesis 15, it’s all about God’s promise to Abram, to make him a great nation and to give him a land and a people to possess for his own. And it’s about a bigger plan too – about how the nations will be blessed because of the faithfulness of Abram and the faithfulness of Abram’s God.

Trust is at the center of Genesis 15. Walter Brueggemann says that Genesis 15 attempts to answer two questions – “Can Abram trust?” and “Can God be trusted?” The specific inquiry for trust, in this situation, relates to progeny. Abram has been promised a child but he and Sarai are old and childless – and she is barren. Will God provide what he has promised? Can Abram trust that, despite the evidence he sees, God is faithful?

Well, we know the answer to this question is yes, because, well, we know the rest of the story. We know that Isaac will be born. We know that the rest of the Old Testament is in fact about how God is faithful to keep his promises to Abram and to Abram’s descendants, even when they remain faithless. And even in the rest of Genesis 15, we’re shown that God can be trusted by the sign he gives. He makes a covenant with Abram, that what he has promised will come to pass. The animals are cut in half, and it is as if God says, “If I fail to keep my promises, on my own head be it.” But we know that God keeps his promises and that he keeps his covenant-love regardless. His love is unconditional.

So what does this have to do with singleness? It may not seem like a lot at first. But what I have been thinking about, over and over, is that we can trust in a God who keeps the promises He makes. For Abram and Sarai, he promised them progeny. That they would have a child. He promised them hope in spite of the hopelessness they felt. Paul records in Romans 4 that Abram’s body was as good as dead. Medically, this promise seemed impossible – but Abram and Sarai trusted in the God who gives life to what is dead – even wombs. They trusted that God would keep the promise he made.

God has not promised a spouse to me, or biological children, or a well-paying job, or a home, or a life of ease, or whatever it is that we long for so deeply in the quiet places of our hearts. This promise to Abram was unique. But what’s not unique about Abram is the call to believe and trust despite the evidence. Isn’t it the call for us all? To believe and trust and hold fast to a God who says he is good? To a God who has a bigger and a better plan in mind? To a God who promises to be faithful, even when every situation we see looks anything like faithfulness from our blurry perspective? We see dimly, but his vision is eternal.

You see, Genesis 15 is a hard and beautiful and truthful passage for me because it is a reminder that God keeps the promises he makes, and even if he did not promise all of those things I wish he did promise, he has promised something better, and that is himself. He promises that he will never leave or never forsake us. He promises that all of the promises of God are yes in Christ. He promises that there is coming a  day when everything sad will come untrue. He promises that he is enough for today and for tomorrow and for every day ahead, whether those days are marked by relationships and wedding dresses and marriages and children or singleness or funerals or pain or disease or brokenness.

I think about how hard it must have been for Abram and Sarai to pack up their belongings and leave for an unknown land. To hear that God was promising all of these extravagant things, and yet to see little fruit of his faithfulness. Andrew Peterson’s “Canaan Bound” is the perfect expression of the waiting for me. And yet Hebrews 11 says that, even though Abram may have received a child and was the father of the nations, he and the other saints of the Old Testament didn’t receive all they were promised, because they were waiting on something better – or, rather, someone better. At the revelation of Christ, all of the promises of God are kept. The cross is the “signed, sealed, delivered” stamp of God’s love for us in Jesus. The picture of how far he would go to show his love to his children.

This, this is a God we can trust, for whatever days are ahead.


another birthday blog.

It’s hard to believe that twenty-eight years have come and almost gone. I feel like I was celebrating sixteen, and twenty-one, and even twenty-five just a few months ago. As I get older, time seems to slip by faster. But, I am also grateful that, even as time seems to slip by more quickly, I seem more comfortable in time. I spend less of my time rushing to the next thing or thinking about the next milestone in my life – partially because I have realized we don’t always know what is ahead. I feel more comfortable in my skin as an introvert, which is why I’ve allowed myself to sit on the couch all afternoon and catch up on Downton Abbey and read and listen to good music and drink good coffee and think.

So, what would the Amy who is twenty-eight but almost twenty-nine and more comfortable in her skin ask for this year? Since you asked…

universal, mandated usage of the oxford comma.
I feel like it should be a sin not to use it. There, I’ve said it. It’s my grammatical pet peeve.

new paleo cookbooks.
I’ve asked my mom for some this year, but I’m always looking for something new to cook and something different to try. I’ve had my eye on Juli Bauer’s new cookbook and on the Performance Paleo cookbook for a while…

new books in general.
But, if you’re asking for specifics – Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship, Carolyn Custis James’s Half the Church, Sammy Rhodes’s This is Awkward, and Betsy Childs Howard’s forthcoming Seasons of Waiting are all on my “to read” list. Well, along with the other half shelf of books I have on my “to read” list. But I just love words. All of the words.

a trip to harry potter world.
I just want to go. so. bad. Also, perhaps a trip to London to make it really real.

I love prints of things I love. Harry Potter (see above, obviously – perhaps one goal should be to see how many times I can reference Harry Potter in one blog). I also fell in love with the quote from Ella’s mother in the new Cinderalla move – “Have courage and be kind.” What a beautiful statement.

I need the motivation to get up and run three/four days a week – which I have, but it just means getting up earlier since I go to work at 8am now. So, if you could gift me motivation, that would be awesome. And maybe one of those awesome running belts that are really fanny packs, but people call them running belts to make them sound more cool. (But really, they’re fanny packs).

a trip to a fancy restaurant.
By fancy, clearly, I mean under $20. You gotta remember that you’re talking to a girl who came from a place that considered dinner at Ryan’s followed by shopping at Wal-Mart a “Saturday night on the town.” I wish I was making that up. Maybe a trip to Taco Mama is more like it…

James Avery giftcards.
Because I’ve decided that, after a year, I should probably just get a new (smaller) ring instead of wearing (and continually losing) ring re-sizers. I love my ring. I want the same one…just in a smaller size.

clothing giftcards.
See above. Having stuff that fits has become a struggle – nothing to complain about, though! I could probably use some more work-out tank tops, too.

for my toenail to grow back before summer.
Please, please, please. Oh running woes…

A Stitchfix gift certificate.
I don’t think I would actually ever buy anything from it, but I’ve always been so intrigued by the idea of it…then again, I’m also the person who pays next to nothing for their clothes (sometimes even Target is overpriced for me!) but the idea of getting clothes sent and picked out to you interests me.

people and places.
Have you ever heard the song “Every Minute” by Sara Groves? There’s a line that always makes my heart happy and sad at the same time – “And I wish all the people I love the most could gather in one place, and know each other and love each other well.” Part of the joy and the sadness of calling multiple places home is that you leave your heart with lots of people in lots of places. Sometimes I wish it was easier to see the people we love – that we really could gather them all up in one place and celebrate together. I think that’s part of the hope of heaven – that we’ll be in a place that is home, with people who are home, and at home in Jesus. It’s not really a birthday wish as much as a hope and guarantee of what we trust is ahead for those who find home in Jesus.


from smallest seeds (and smallest years).

I’ve been thinking a lot about death and seeds and growth and rebirth these past few weeks. Perhaps it is because the fall has come, and for a few weeks – the world has been alive with color. Isn’t it a peculiar thing that trees are at their most beautiful when they are dying? On the brink of decay, the leaves in Birmingham are on fire – bright reds and yellows and oranges – and tomorrow, they will die and fall to the ground, crunching under our boots as the skies turn grey and the winter comes (although winter really is a relative term for us in Alabama).

There, in the dead of winter, in the seeming absence of life, seeds that have been planted wait for rebirth. They await for the spring, and the return of warmth, and for rain – they wait for the day when they will burst out of the ground, proclaiming that winter is over and that life abounds – even when it seemed like all had died.

I’m not a farmer, but I come from good gardener-type people. My fondest memories of my childhood involve harvesting crab apples from the crab apple tree in front of my house. My granny and I would slice the apples and lay them out to dry in the hot summer sun. One time, my grandfather and I tried to grown an orange tree (we’re from North Carolina, so obviously it didn’t work). And while I have a black thumb when it comes to gardening (I did murder a succulent earlier this year), I know that growth doesn’t happen overnight. Seeds are placed in the ground, and water comes, and storms, and sunlight…and, there’s lots of waiting.

Waiting is hard. It can be excruciating. Especially when you aren’t really sure if what you have planted will take root. Will the seed spring from the ground as the plant it was purposed to be? Or, will it die underneath the darkness of the soil, all alone, as only the dream of a hope of what it could be?

Perhaps, here, I am talking less of physical seeds and more of spiritual things. Of our own hopes and dreams and ambitions. Even of the hopes that God has planted in our hearts, that we have yet to see come to fruition.

These years have been the years of small things. I’ve been waiting all of my life, it seems, for the big things. For the proposals and marriages and children and buying houses and families and perfect ministry positions.

And, in response, these past few years, God has allowed to be the years of small things.

Now, granted – there have been big things that have happened in these years. And I can see God transforming my heart and working in my life and shaping my character in big ways. But oh, it has been through small things. The routine of life and work and ministry and making a home while you are waiting. And through heartbreak and loss and longing and wondering if I can rejoice with one more friend, as I weep for myself and for the absence of the big things in my own life.

Scripture incorporates the picture of planting and sowing and waiting. Sometimes, I wish waiting weren’t such a prevalent theme woven throughout the Bible. But, it is. Women like Sarah and Hannah and Elizabeth waiting for motherhood. David waiting for the kingdom to be handed to him. The Israelites waiting to be delivered – first from the desert, and then from exiles, and (probably most significantly) from themselves. Crying out for a Redeemer to enter into time and space and history and save them.

And God heard their cries. That’s perhaps one of the most beautiful lines out of the book of Exodus. God hears our cries, and he knows. And he responds in deliverance…in his timing. In timing that we cannot always understand, that might not be on our timetable. He comes and enters into our pain. He brings birth. He gives life. He hands over kingdoms. He restores and redeems and rebuilds, for his glory and for his people’s good – in his timing.

Sometimes I wonder if God waits because the small things are what form our character. It’s the daily routine of work and ministry – sometimes a routine that seems exhausting and other times seems mundane – that has taught me the importance of rest and health and eating well and exercising. It is in obedience to the small things that the Lord is slowing prying my hands off of my own life and desires and dreams and reminding me that he holds all things together.

Two of my current favorite songs help express this picture. In Andrew Peterson’s “The Rain Keeps Falling,” Peterson paints the picture of a man struggling with depression, praying to be released. One verse personifies the struggle as an agricultural act:

My daughter and I put the seeds in the dirt
And every day now we’ve been watching the earth
For a sign that this death will give way to a birth
And the rain keeps falling

Down on the soil where the sorrow is laid
And the secret of life is igniting the grave
And I’m dying to live but I’m learning to wait
And the rain keeps falling

I’m dying to live, but I’m learning to wait. That’s how I feel in these days that seem full of small and insignificant things. Trusting that the Lord is growing something deep within me – obedience – and that from the seeds, growth will spring up, in his timing.

Sandra McCracken’s “From Smallest Seed” pictures that day –

From smallest seed – abundant field
From broken earth, a way revealed
Despite the weeds, the drought, the storm
The sun returns, the earth reborn
The sun returns, the earth reborn 

With empty hands, with nothing great
We enter in, and then we wait
Despite the fear, the heart forlorn
The sun returns, the earth reborn

My heart sometimes feels forlorn. Sometimes, it seems like the metaphorical (and physical) rain will never end. In these days of small things that seem unending, where I struggle with the belief that life will always be like this, and nothing new will ever break through the monotony…we trust that the sun will return…despite the weeds, droughts, and storms. That God is faithful. And that he is working in the small things, for his glory and for our good.

So, in the midst of the watching, and the waiting. The holding of breaths and the sighing when the plant hasn’t yet broken through the earth. The wondering if the seeds took root. The fears that death abounds, and that perhaps this seed too is a yet another victim of such death. The doubt that maybe God doesn’t hear our cries…in the midst of all these things, we know and we trust that he is at work.

We know and we trust that sometimes, it just takes a lot of water and sun and waiting for plants to take root and to break through the deep soil.

And we know and trust that, often, God is using the small things – much more than the big things – to shape us and to make us more like him.

We wait, with empty hands, waiting on smallest seeds in the midst of what seem to be the smallest years. The sun will return.

a holy discontentment.

As of late, I have been struggling with discontentment. I don’t know when it began to creep up and rob my soul of joy, but it has. And, there’s not one area I can put my finger on, not one problem I can point to, as if to say, “Yes, this! This is the source of the unhappiness, the leech sucking joy out of my life!”

There is not one big thing. Instead, there are a thousand small things. Memories of friendships that have faded away, that I wish were different. Ministry goals and hopes and aspirations left unachieved. Living hundreds of miles away from family, in a community full of people to call my own…and yet missing those foothills and fall leaves and that family like no other. Loving where the Lord has placed me, but also wanting…more. To be able to use my gifts more. To not feel so stretched, all the time. Working full-time and doing ministry full-time in my “spare time” sometimes feels like drowning. There is no stopping place. There is no space to breathe.

And singleness. Realizing that singleness is a gift and a joy and a provision from the Lord for today – for this season, and for this place, in which I have no room for dating or a husband or children. But it is hard to celebrate with friends my age when they welcome another child into the world, as I wonder if I will ever be granted the same privilege. It is hard to watch girls much younger than me enter into engagement and marriage, and wonder if I will ever have that season in my life. It is not that I don’t want to celebrate with them, or that I don’t rejoice with them, because I do. Just, after so many celebrations and so many rejoicings for others, you begin to wonder if that time will ever come around for you.

And adulthood is not always what it seemed. I fear that I will never have the income to own my own house (in my singleness). Trying to save for emergencies feels like a treadmill – once I get the hang of the current speed, someone increases the speed setting and I fall on my face while I have to deal with something like a cracked windshield or my car insurance. The security that I always hoped for simply isn’t there.

But then again – security never was there.

I am thankful for this season of holy discontentment, these moments of wrestling and searching and doubt and pain and fear, because, in my longings, I am reminded that all I really have is the Lord. Perhaps that would be more difficult if I did have more money, or had family close by, or was married and had children. Perhaps I would look to those things to identify and fulfill me, when it is not the gift that gives meaning to life but rather the Giver of all good gifts.

So I am thankful for the ache and the longings and the dying hopes, because they remind me that the only thing permanent, the only thing that is sure – the only hope we stand in is the hope of Christ, the redeemer of our broken souls. Oh, how he is a redeemer to my broken soul.

On this fall day, far from home, far from where I thought I would be five years ago, and sometimes – feeling far from knowing what is next, and knowing why things happen the way they do – I trust in the sovereignty of our Father – that he brings holy discontentment to remind us of our need for him. That the only balm for the ache in my heart is the lordship of Jesus Christ, ruling and reigning. That the ache for home and security and family and a people point us ahead to what is coming – when we will be at home with the One who made us, in the place he is preparing for us, among his people, forever secure in him, in homes we will not buy and clothes we will not make, for eternity.

when we need community.

I think, all of my life, I have been longing for community. I think there are some desires that God gives us – because he knows those are things that can shape us for good, and for his glory. And maybe community is one of them.

In kindergarten, I remember asking all of the boys on the playground if they would marry me. I’m not really sure why I thought I should do that. The twenty-eight year old me sarcastically laughs as I remember the story. Some days I feel like that kid on the playground, and like everyone else on the playground is taken or not interested. But – that’s another post for another day.

But – maybe it’s not.

I’ve seen marriage at its worst. Now, in my adult life, I’ve also seen it at its best. Not to be glorified, or put on a pedestal, or made into an idol. I’ve seen the covenant made between two sinner-saints, to love and honor and cherish all the days of their lives. It’s a covenant that I’ve seen broken. One that I have not only seen broken, but one that I’ve watched the breaking happen, and I walked in the cracks and tried to help pick up the pieces of the brokenness. Even twelve years later, it still feels like we’re patching holes sometimes, and adding tape, and trying to heal from what seems like it will never not hurt.

But, I have also seen marriage at its best. And at its best, marriage is a picture of the gospel – in that you are fully known (or perhaps, as known as you might be by another human being) and fully loved, despite being fully known. The person you are married to knows your flaws and deepest fears. They know the sin that lurks so deeply, which you can hide from everyone else. And yet…you are loved. Despite knowing the ugliness and the sin and the depravity, another person has made a covenant with you, to love and to cherish you…even in the face of that brokenness. What a picture of the cross – that in our deepest sin, Christ knows us, and loves us. Despite all the mess, he finds us broken and beautiful.

I think this is what I long for in marriage. I want to have a family, and a home, and kids. Oh, but I also want to be known. It is a hard thing to go throughout the day and come home at night and feel like it’s only ever you inside your head, and to feel like there is no one else. My deepest fear is probably living in a world where I am alone. Where I am known only on the surface, and spoken to in passing, and left to sit in the silence at a house where I wish to hear the sound of kids playing and water running in the bathtub and the screams of a child who just stubbed his toe.

And this, this, is the beauty of Christian community. You see, while all of my life, maybe I thought I was looking for marriage (even from the playground days!)…but really, I think I have been looking for community. I even think that maybe God creates us for community. After all we see community displayed in the Trinity – the loving, giving eternality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And so, Birmingham will always be many things. But to me, when I think back on this city and this time, I will think about community. About being known and being loved. You see, to be known is one thing. To be known and loved is a much deeper thing. In these years (especially the last two years), I have begun to understand what it means to be known and to be loved, despite the knowing. To be honest and transparent with people who care for you deeply. To show them the hard and broken places. To confess sin – and call it sin – and have a dear friend push you back to the cross. To have people who know my story and know the hurt and feel the pain – but who also can point me forward to the day coming when there will be no more pain, because my story is only a tiny part of a much larger Story.

And this is where I have to preach – if there’s room for me to do that – and to say that community is important for single people for this reason, and it’s important for married people. Married friends – let your single friends into your lives. Let them see the chaos and beauty and pandemonium of trying to put a toddler in bed while cleaning the kitchen, finishing the laundry, and packing lunches. And single friends – have friends who are single and who are married. Who are older than you and younger than you. I think we learn so much from each other when we are in different stages of life. And I think it helps tame the monster of envy when we see the gift of marriage (or singleness) and are able to see the hard parts alongside the good ones. For some married people, singleness might seem like a position you could envy (because no one ever talks about the nights they binge-watched Netflix on their couch by themselves, feeling totally alone). We learn from each other. We preach the gospel to one another in all kinds of ways, at all different stages. We all need each other.

And as for me, what I really needed all along was community. It took me a while to figure that out. (Although, if there was ever a boy who loved Jesus and theology and Harry Potter and the Avett Brothers, I wouldn’t say no to the marital type of community either. But yet again, that’s another blog post for another day…).