Who Else Wants to Find Hope in the Dark?

We drove through dusk on I-85 several nights ago, the sun sinking behind the trees next to the highway. The car faced mostly north, the moon rising higher out my passenger side window. I kept my eyes trained on the clouds ahead of me, knowing it was only a matter of time before the setting sun sent her purple reflection to the sky across the way.

who else wants to find hope in the dark?
From the backseat the kids noticed me snapping photos and began to look around to see what was the big deal. That’s when they saw the sun setting out the opposite side of the car, color closing eyes, leaving behind a trail of glory.

My daughter grabbed her iPad and started snapping pictures, the longing to hold on to the beauty too strong to ignore. I could tell none of those photos would turn out – too many trees, not enough sky. Blurry, grainy, too far away.

But still, she continued to snap. Every time I look at it, it’s different, she said.

And so it was.

I had to crane my neck to see it, but I can tell you the sunset that night was stunning, all neon orange and pink light. The kids loved it. I did, too.

Mostly, though, I kept my eyes trained straight ahead in the direction opposite of that sun show. I watched the more gentle, unassuming, quiet rise of the moon.

moonrise over carolina

Words from a Walter de la Mare poem came to mind like they always do, lines I memorized years ago:

      Slowly, silently now the moon
      walks the night in her silver shoon;
      This way, and that, she peers and sees
      Silver fruit upon silver trees.

As we drove beneath the invisible arc between them, sun sinking and moon rising, I thought about all the ways I tend to look for the brightest light. I want to capture it, hold on to it, keep it close when I sense it sinking away.

But the darkness can be a kind companion as well, comforting and still. The moon reminded me of that, how it’s important to find a way to live with both, to find a way to walk between them without only facing one or the other.

The brilliant purple reflection I was hoping for in the eastern sky? It never really came. In her place, a soft gray quietly descended. I realized I was satisfied with that.

Sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for until we find ourselves in the midst of it. And what we thought we wanted turns out to be not quite right.

Rejoice and lament, sacred shout and thoughtful silence. Hope and glory, all of it.

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The Rest of the Body // A Guest Post by Tara M. Owens

It’s my pleasure today to welcome my new friend, Tara Owens, to the blog. I met Tara in California back in January and felt instantly at ease in her presence. You’ll soon see why.

Since I recently had another birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes I’m noticing in my body, some I haven’t looked too kindly upon. Today, Tara’s words are, for me, a gentle invitation – one I think we all might need – to begin to listen to and embrace our bodies in a way we may not have done before. Let her words be a gift.

It’s the end of a long week. A week of appointments and disappointments, of driving here and there with my little one. A week of coughs and colds, and of deadlines whooshing by at top speed. It’s easy enough to say my soul is tired.

Embracing the Body by Tara M. Owens

Why is it so hard to say my body is, too?

It’s funny, I think, that as believers we’re allowed to be soul-weary before we’re allowed to be bone-weary. That we privilege our emotions and our thoughts over our aching feet and heavy-lidded eyes.

I know I come by that bias honestly. Ever since coming to Christ I’ve been aware of how important it is to renew my mind, to take every thought captive, to develop the fruit of the Spirit. These things matter, and they matter deeply in the life of faith. Romans 12 is foundational to my life with God, and learning the life of Christ has come from letting the truth of His Word seep into my soul.

That’s why I was so surprised that I’d never read, never really read, the beginning of that chapter.

Yes, Romans 12 talks about renewing my mind, being transformed. But at the very beginning, the place where Paul deeply beseeches us (as it says in the New King James Version), is a verse about our bodies, my body. About giving that body to God as a living sacrifice. It’s about being willing to let go of my control of my fingers and heart, my soft tummy and even my unruly hair. It’s about being willing to give complete dominion over to God, to let go of how I want to control how I look or how much I weigh or even how much sleep I get.

What surprised me even more, as I sat with that verse, is that God asks me to give myself to Him as a living sacrifice—something new and different. Every other sacrifice, Jesus included, was to be killed, blood spilled on the altar. But because of Jesus, a new type of sacrifice can be made to God.

This time, it’s a living one. A living, breathing, sweating, crying, laughing one.

So, I wondered, what would happen if I really, really believed that? If I wasn’t afraid of giving my body to God, worried about what He might do with it? What if I risked, trusted the heart of the Father enough to give Him what He was gently asking of me?

You know what He gave me?

He gave me rest.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, I know. It’s the first thing that Psalm 23 says is true of the Good Shepherd—He makes me lie down in green pastures.

But I’m so used to pushing and running and enslaving my body to things like productivity or performance, I didn’t expect God to tell me to pay attention to the aches. I didn’t expect God to tenderly take this worn and worried woman off the altar and show me that tension I’ve been carrying around in my shoulders were a message from Him I’m lifting burdens He’s meant to carry. I didn’t expect the God of the universe to tell me that giving those burdens to Him meant taking a nap when all I could see what my to-do list.

Here’s the thing: giving God my body, risking that with Him, freed me to listen to His murmurs through my muscles, His blessings through my bones.

What might it look like if you took that risk today, too? If you took a moment to give, really give, your body to Him—because it is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as it is—as a living sacrifice. If you risked it, what messages might you hear? What it’s an invitation to real rest, and to the rest of the body? The rest of God?

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Tara M. OwensTara M. Owens is the author of Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone published by InterVarsity Press in March 2015.

She’s a spiritual director and supervisor with Anam Cara Ministries, and the senior editor of Conversations Journal. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Bryan, their daughter, Seren, and their rescue dog, Hullabaloo.

She loves Dr. Who, red velvet cupcakes, and Jesus, not necessarily in that order.

This One’s for the Mothers

It’s May, what I like to call work-with-the-windows-open-in-my-office month. Now I can hear the community sounds as they rise up to greet me at my desk – the distant lawn mower, the mailman pulling up into the cul-de-sac, kids laughing from the trampoline, bark-gossip between neighboring dogs.

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Sometime during the past week or two, newborn baby cries have joined the neighborhood chorus.

Our backdoor neighbor paces their yard several times a day holding their newest member. Through the trees I can’t always tell if it’s the Mom or the Dad, but I always know it’s the baby – short wails and baby hiccups give her right away.

I think these sounds mixed with the arrival of Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge have me thinking back kindly on the early days of having a new baby.

But I’m no fool.

Motherhood is both miracle and madness.

And so here is a toast for all the mamas everywhere during this week before Mother’s Day. It’s not the first or the best ode to mothers on the internet, but the words came to mind this morning and so I offer them to you:

a toast for the mothers

Here’s to you, dear mama, with the tired eyes, the impossible schedule, and the sour milk smell all over your clothes.

Here’s to you with the PBS cartoons in the background, eating a handful of goldfish and calling it lunch, with the toddler who just learned the word mine and won’t stop secreting bodily fluids from all of their orifices.

Here’s to you who negotiates bedtimes and snack times with a special kind of finesse, the likes of which Wall Street and Washington have never seen.

Here’s to you who would gladly and without hesitation jump in front of a bus for your children but, for the love, cannot manage to find the energy to make one more PB & J.

Here’s to you leaving work early to pick up ginger ale and saltines for his upset tummy and digging through the trash for the accidentally discarded lovey.

Heres’s to you buying poster board at the only open drug store at 11 pm because someone forgot to mention that science fair project.

Here’s to you making the ten thousandth school lunch, driving them to practice, trying to remember the multiplication tables while you make the dinner they probably won’t eat.

Here’s to you asking for help, letting someone else do the laundry and take them to swim practice because you need a minute.

Here’s to you who fights off guilt, comparison, and shame.

Here’s to you who chooses love, laughter, and a light-heart every chance you get.

Here’s to you who is raising them up all by yourself, doing the job of two parents with the energy of only one.

Here’s to you praying for their friendships, playing in the backyard, buying shoes again.

Here’s to you who doesn’t always have the answers to the endless questions, the patience for their constant demands, or the words to communicate just how much you love them.

Here’s to you cringing in the passenger seat, staying up til curfew, making pizza for bottomless stomachs.

Here’s to you cheering on the sidelines, laughing at their humor, counting down the days.

Here’s to you straightening the bow tie, listening in doorways, braiding her hair.

Here’s to you making reservations, holding up a camera, waving from the driveway.

Here’s to you who prays in the darkness, longs for connection, hopes for the future, and always wants what’s best.

Here’s to you, dear mama, who no longer has children in your house but holds them always in your heart, who leaves backdoors open wide and arms open wider.

Here’s to you – sisters, aunties, grandmas and friends – who do the mother work as you listen, cheer, help, and walk with children in ways only you can do.

Here’s to you who longs for the children you don’t yet have or children you now only hold in your heart.

Here’s to your courage, creativity, and faith.

I raise my coffee mug to you.

And maybe a wine glass or two.

You are exquisite.

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What Happened After My Husband Quit His Job

God often gives a vision of things before they actually come to be. That’s been my experience anyway. The vision isn’t necessarily focused or clear. It doesn’t come with steps or money or sure-things.

my husband quit his job

But it does come with hope, and that’s what keeps you going in the fog.

For months I’ve been looking forward to writing this post. Back in March I shared it in e-letter form with my newsletter subscribers and now it’s time to share it here on the blog – what happened when John left his job as a youth pastor.

Almost two years ago, (in a post I wrote here called Why My Husband is Quitting His Job), I quoted these words from Ann Patchett:

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When I first shared this quote, John and I were living in our own what now? kind of moment, preparing to leave his position at our church of six years (after a total of twelve years in youth ministry) to . . . well, that’s just it.

We didn’t exactly know.

But we did see arrows, faint as they may have been. So we followed them and here is where they have led so far.

The Arrow of Grief 

After John’s Dad passed away during the summer of 2011, we knew things would never be the same for a lot of reasons, the main one being that John was broken open by grief.

After the funeral, John went back to work, back to routine, back to his regularly scheduled life. But his soul lingered with the grief. It wasn’t long before the disconnect between the pace of his life and the state of his soul began to show itself in the form of panic, sleepless nights, and intense fear.

That was Fall 2011.

He was unable to keep pace with the demands of his highly relational job as a youth pastor so the church gifted him a three month leave to catch his breath and to simply be human.

During those three months, he didn’t check his email, meet with students, co-workers, or parents. He completely disconnected from the demands of work. This, I know, is a rare gift. We are ever grateful to our former church for allowing him this time.

I promise this post will not be a recap of the last four years of our lives. I go back that far only to communicate that this transition has been slow, deep, and far-reaching. And it has been about more than simply quitting a job.

The Arrow of Desire

Long before his Dad got sick, John and I had many talks about the future.

After years in youth ministry, we began to notice the parts of the job that brought him life (relationships, small group discipleship, connecting with students on a soul level, teaching deeper life in Christ concepts) and the parts that wore him out (traveling, games, programs, hype).

I would try to initiate dream talk, you know the kind: If you could do anything regardless of income or location, what would it be?

While I was able to chatter away about moving to a big city or writing books together or traveling the country for a year with the kids, John was always more hesitant.

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Even in hypothetical conversation, he was unable to take pretend risk. His mind simply wouldn’t allow his heart to dream.

Logic and limits often get in the way of longing.

It’s important to be able to answer the question: What do you really want?

It can be scary, but it was only when John and I began to honestly explore the answer to that question in the presence of God that we started to get a hopeful vision for his vocation. But it didn’t come the way we thought it would.

The Arrow to Each Other

During those few months away from work, John traveled to Colorado Springs to participate in a week-long course in spiritual direction taught by author and psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb.

We both thought his time there might bring some kind of vocational clarity.

What actually happened surprised us both. God met John during that short time away, his Spirit traveled into the deepest parts of John’s soul and poked around, turned some things over, and woke some things up.

This awakening didn’t come like a glorious sunrise or a blooming flower. Instead, it arrived more like a summer storm: dark clouds, thick air, rolling thunder.

But here is where we learned that desire often lives next door to grief inside the soul. Access the grief, you wake up the longing as well.

As a result, John came home more alive as a husband and friend than I had ever seen him before. There was still a long road of healing ahead, but now he had a focus – he wanted to be fully available as a husband and father in ways he had been previously closed off. 

Looking back, I remember hearing myself telling people in the months following his return that it wasn’t so much that John had changed, more that he became more fully himself. 

We thought we needed clarity, a good next step, a vision for whether or not John should stay in his current job as a youth pastor or move on to something else. Instead, all God offered was an arrow pointing from John to me and from me to John.

We wanted to know the way and instead, he showed us each other. 

For the first time in our marriage, we began to cultivate a respectful curiosity for our mutual desire as a couple. And the only thing we knew for sure is we were to move toward one another. And that was it.

john and emily freeman

The Arrow to Nowhere

After many months of conversation, prayer, and counsel from trusted mentors, we finally knew it was time to move on from youth ministry even though we didn’t know what was next.

The first six months after he left his job were dedicated to rest, recovery, and home. It was during those six months that my book A Million Little Ways released so the timing was nice. He maintained our home rhythms while I worked, traveled some for the book, and began preliminary work on my next book.

We started to attend a small church, quietly getting to know a new community, re-adjusting to our new rhythm, re-learning how to sit together on Sunday morning (!!) as well as how to relate in a church where he wasn’t a pastor. 

Those six months turned into nearly a year before we actually had any clear indication of what the second half of John’s career and ministry would look like. We walked through some hard days, some hopeless what-are-we-even-doing kind of days where it seemed like the arrows led nowhere.

But we kept coming back to the promise of God, knowing he wouldn’t leave us alone.

We also often revisited what we knew for sure, that John’s desire was to somehow serve our local community, to enter intentionally into relationships, to do small group discipleship, to connect with people on a soul level, and to teach about how the Gospel intersects with our daily life.

The Arrow to Community

After a time of listening, waiting, and resting, we decided to gather a small group of people together who we called our “Co-Listeners.” 

We invited them into our living room, fed them dessert and coffee, and were grateful as they listened to John’s desire and our fears and then helped to discern what might be next.

It was during that meeting that long-time friend and mentor, Mike Moses, spoke up.

“John, you know I’ve had a non-profit ministry for a long time here in Greensboro.”

In fact we did know. Mike’s ministry had a huge impact on John’s life and the life of our extended family many years ago. He’s been a fixed point in our Greensboro community for years, a trusted voice that always points to Jesus.

“And you know I’ve retired . . . “

Yes we knew this too.

“I haven’t used the non-profit for several years now. It has no money, no place, and no director. It’s basically vacant. But I’ve kept the name active with the IRS because Carol and I have been praying, asking God to bring someone along who might take it over.”

This we didn’t know. 

This was interesting.

And though it would be many months before all the legal and administrative details were taken care of, I knew in my spirit that very night as I sipped my coffee and ate my cake that this might be the next step in the journey.

And in fact, it was.

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John is now the director of Grace Discipleship, a 501c3 non-profit ministry here in Greensboro that exists to connect weary souls with the Gospel of grace.

What does that look like?

You can find out more about his ministry here.

I know I could have simply given you a link to John’s ministry website and sent you straight over, but I wanted to give you this background stuff for a few reasons.

First, many of you have prayed, sent emails and notes asking about John’s transition. This was so meaningful to us.

Second, I know a lot of you are in the midst of your own transitions, looking for arrows in your own life. I wanted to share what it has looked like for us to believe God often gives a vision of things before they actually come to be.

We still have lots of questions, new kinds of fears and hesitations. But we’re thankful his work now has a name, a shape, and even an office space!

Sometimes it looks like you’re going nowhere, or that you’re headed in the wrong direction. But maybe none of that is the point.

Grace Discipleship Greensboro

I’m convinced God is less interested in where we end up as he is in who we are becoming.

Whether we’re employed or unemployed, encouraged or discouraged, filled with vision or fumbling in the fog, more than anything, our Father just wants to be with us.

He loves us, wants to walk with us, and as we follow the arrows, they’ll always lead us close to his heart.

If you’re in a What now? kind of place these days, maybe it will help to remember Ann Patchett’s words, that “what now? can also be our joy.”

May it be so for all of us.

Learn more about John’s new ministry Grace Discipleship here or learn a little more about who John is here. He’s pretty much my favorite. You can sign up at his website to receive monthly updates directly from John.

If you would like to read more personal stories from me like this one, I tend to share those in my monthly newsletter – you can sign up here to get those each month in your inbox, as well as first-word news, my current reading list, and more encouragement to help your soul breathe.