"A Sliver Is Enough": Friday Morning Coffee #75

Happy Friday, everyone.

A couple months ago, we announced we were expecting our first baby. In that announcement, we shared briefly about our journey through infertility.

While we were in the trenches of it, I didn’t share much publicly. It was too soon, the pain too fresh and too raw. But I now feel ready to begin sharing more of our story with you.

Today, I am over at Elisabeth Klein’s blog in a guest post about the pain of infertility and a bit of what I learned about faith, hope, and joy in the process.

Head over to Elisabeth’s website to read “A Sliver is Enough.”

We were often told to “Just trust God’s timing.” Each time, the same response sprung to mind—and sometimes escaped my lips—What choice did I have? Like Peter, I asked, “Where else would I go?” …

All The Small Things - Everyday Disciple: Julianne

I’m excited to share Julianne’s thoughts as an Everyday Disciple with you this week.

Julianne is a writer-friend I met at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing this year. She loves people, loves words, and loves helping other people study the Bible and apply it to their lives. I know you’ll appreciate what she has to share. You can follow Julianne on her blog www.julianneelaineclayton.com. Enjoy!

“I’m just an administrative assistant at a local church.”

That used to be my answer whenever someone asked me what I do. For the longest time, I didn’t see anything wrong with that answer. After all, it was factual.

I spend my days at a desk, answering phones, sending emails, making copies. I maintain the church database, distribute the mail, and provide support to whomever might walk through the office door or sneak their way into my inbox. There is rarely a dull moment and I stay very busy, but sometimes my tasks seem, well, small.

I grew up under the impression that in order to be faithful, I needed to do something big and extraordinary with my life - move to a foreign country, compose the next big worship song, start a movement, write a best-seller, find a cure. The faithful were on stages, under spotlights, going viral. Living my best life for God meant I needed to measure up on a larger-than-life scale. That’s what I needed to pursue and work toward.

So being an administrative assistant didn't really seem like a step in the right direction. In fact, I often saw it as a setback. It certainly wasn’t “the dream.” But God has been using my time in this particular position to work on changing my heart, my perspective, and my definition of a faithful life.

As I write, my community is dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. While our city didn’t take the biggest hit, we took a hit nonetheless, and the most significant damage for us was caused by fallen trees. What’s interesting is that many of the trees that fell appeared to be big, tall, strong and sturdy before the storm. But a tree’s strength doesn't lie in what we see. A tree’s strength is determined by what’s below the surface, by the strength of its root system.


Some trees have very shallow, weak roots. A significant amount of rain or wind (i.e. a hurricane) will push them right over. However, a tree with a deep, resilient root system can withstand even the strongest combination of wind and rain. I see proof of this in the three well-rooted trees still standing in our front yard after the storm. The roots matter. And their strength develops in small, subtle stages.

I like to think of my job description as contributing to the church’s root system. The work that happens in a church office on Thursday might not be evident to most on Sunday, but it is important work nonetheless. The way I choose to talk to someone over the phone might not be heard around the world, but it certainly influences the individual on the other end of the line. These mundane tasks might not seem like much, but I’ve learned that they truly make a difference.

God is continually reminding me that what happens below the surface, in the often unseen or under-appreciated, matters. I’m learning that the Kingdom of God is often found in the small and unnoticed - in a mustard seed, a buried treasure, or a color copy. And maybe a faithful life is a regular, ordinary, well-rooted one. I’m finding that some of God’s most important work takes place behind-the-scenes and in the day-to-day routine. And that is good news for someone like me, who can sometimes view her work as less than.

In the movie Finding Neverland, there is a scene where Johnny Depp’s character discusses the word, “just.” He calls it a “horrible candle-snuffing word.” And I have to agree. When I use “just” to describe certain parts of my life - it’s just an email, just a database update, just sorting the mail - I downplay the Kingdom-sized work God can do through the tiniest of tasks. And I disqualify a life that is faithful even in the small, even in the seemingly insignificant, even when nobody is watching. It’s a small word that can make a big difference.

Now, when someone asks me what I do, my answer is a bit different:

“I am an administrative assistant at a local church.” 

No qualifier is needed.  It’s a reminder that small, ordinary things can make a big impact when they are faithfully rooted in Christ.

Tiny Island of Home: Friday Morning Coffee #74

I shared this brief story a few weeks ago on Twitter for a project called StoryTweeting. Each week they host brief nonfiction stories based on a prompt. It’s an effort to flood Twitter with the beauty and empathy of stories and take a break from hot takes and news cycle reactions. If you’re on Twitter, you should consider joining!

What story would you share about a “table”? Share in the comments below.

It wasn't much to look at—cheap wood, simple stain. If you leaned on the edge, the top sprang loose, careening toward your chest. It was like everything else in the house—humans and objects alike—worse for wear but still standing.

It was rare to find the chairs around that table empty. Boards and nails kept quiet witness to dreams of bright futures and hopes of new beginnings. They kept secrets of tears and stories of heartbreak. We stared into fancy cups of American tea, with special sugar crystals that dissolved into swirling patterns of golden glitter.

They learned to sew at that table. I would peer over their shoulders as they carefully guided fabric under the needle. Each of them got a dress, and all but the littlest ones helped to make their own. How proud they were to show them off.

They started a little business at that table. The kitchen bustled with entrepreneurial activity. Cookies and cinnamon rolls baked by the dozens, carefully bagged in thin cellophane for selling. How excited they were to see the money trickle in, in profit of their hard work.

Every Saturday, a group of three or four came for dinner. It was an anchor to my week. I’d spend the day cooking and present them with a feast. They would arrive in their best clothes, clean and wet-haired from the shower.

It was a moment of normalcy, a bit of family life, to sit around the dinner table together. For a brief moment, they became my children, and I, their mother, and we talked about school and friends and life goals.

My kitchen was a tiny island of a home. It was a place nearly my own, when I wasn't sharing it with rats or scorpions. It was a place they could find a whiff of freedom in an institution, designed to lock out those who had hurt them, that sometimes became a prison.

The space around that table was my refuge, and I think, at least at times, theirs as well.

Steadfastness and a Changing Zip Code

In the last seven years, I have lived in six different apartments in six different towns and attended five different churches. I don’t mean to complain. I’ve had quite a few adventures, and I regret none of them. They’ve each been delightful in their own right. They’ve each born witness to me growing up.

I wrestled my way back into the light after my first deep season of depression in the tiny room of my college apartment.

I fell in love in my two-room Belizean apartment, over the crackle of a poor Skype connection and long-form emails.

I started graduate school and survived the piano-ragings of the angsty teenager who slept on the other side of my thin bedroom wall.

I got married and settled into a lofted apartment in a quaint New England seaside town. We hung more on those walls than I’ve ever done because the ancient grout between the bricks yielded willingly to the nails.

The cream house by the fire hydrant, with the porch in need of a bit of repair, saw the deepest sorrow and greatest joy. It bore witness to our tears and empty-armed sorrow. It was a cradle where I relearned hope. I danced on the creaky hardwood floors, strewn with sunlight, on the day I got my first book contract. Those rooms saw our joyful disbelief on the day we found out we were expecting our first child.


And now I sit perched in the house in which I will finish that book and into which we will welcome that child. It’s a gift, this house, with its windows flung open to the sun and the autumn leaves.

But it seems I’ve been in continuous transition for over half a decade—yet again on to a new home with a full awareness we won’t be there for long.

For some, this would be wonderful. Some, I know, have had it worse. But for this girl, whose parents and grandparents have lived in the same place their entire lives, who has “rootedness” etched on her soul, it feels achingly transitory.

I’ve walked the line between settling in with a vengeance and being on the move. I’ve repacked, unpacked, reshelved, reorganized our possessions, finding everything its place and surrounding us with as much beauty and peace as I can muster. I’ve catapulted myself into friendships, knowing that most won’t last the strain of distance or the inconvenience of the loss of proximity—but that the ones that do survive will be sweet and fierce and full of life. I have ridden the waves of loneliness.

I’m starting to wonder if this season is life’s schooling ground. Perhaps even when I can go more than two years at a time without changing my address on bank statements or needing Google Maps to find the post office, I will find myself still in transition, even if more subtle. Perhaps I will always find the ground shifting beneath my feet, even if my zip code stays the same.

And perhaps these lessons will be for then as well. To learn what abides when my world shifts. To learn the strength of the anchor of faith. To learn the profound gift of true friendship. To learn to be rooted while transitory, to be “not at home” while making one. To learn to be steadfast.

Praying Lament Psalms (and How to Write Your Own)

You’re sitting at Bible study. It’s time for prayer. The middle-aged woman beside you has been wrongfully let go from her job. She is the main source of income for the family and cares for her mother, who suffers from dementia. Her resume lends her few job prospects, and she doesn’t know how she’ll make ends meet. She was a hard worker and was pushed to the side—legally but wrongfully—in favor of a younger employee. She starts to pray: “Lord, they are so evil and think they can get away with this. Break their arms and chase them down until they are destroyed.”

You can hear the shuffling in the room. Someone delicately clears her throat. You shift uncomfortably in your seat and squint your eyes open to see if she’ll continue.

Does this woman have an anger problem? Does the Bible study group need to do a lesson on forgiveness or on joy in suffering?

Or has she been reading the Psalms?

Prayer For Pain: Rage Belongs Before God

At some point, many of us developed a “prayer voice.” In my experience this wasn’t the result of explicit instruction—though perhaps it was for you. I can remember times my pen would pause as I wrote in my prayer journal. My mind was blazing with what I felt. The words were there, banging against the door, waiting for the flow of ink to let them onto the page. But a sense of decorum made me reword my prayer into something more “proper.”

We feel we need to clean up our language and tidy our emotions. We stifle our grief, our rage, our questions to present composed prayers, polite prayers, dignified prayers. We do it in the name of respect, as if we will offend God’s sensibilities, as if He has not heard our thoughts already. We do it in the name of submission, as if our spirits will calm if we simply do not acknowledge the way our bruised and bloodied hearts wrestle for faith.

Where, then, are we to work through our outrage? Where do we take our smothering sorrow? Who will hear our doubts when we don’t know how to believe? What do we do with raw, open-wounded pain? If we cannot take these emotions, these moments to the God we call Father, where else will we go?

Thankfully, the Psalms give us permission to bring our fiercest, untamed thoughts and emotions to God. They teach us, as Miroslav Volf says, that our rage belongs before Him. They also offer us a model for how to do this.

Psalms of Lament: Patterns for Prayer

Psalms of Lament are the most common type of psalm in the Bible. (Just a side note: Rarely hearing these read in corporate worship is a part of our implicit “instruction” about how and what we pray.) Some of these lament psalms are shocking, particularly if you reword them into modern language.

The psalmists pray in vivid terms about their anger and grief. They bring complaints to God about their situation and freely say, “God, I don’t like this. Why aren’t you doing something?”


But the lament psalms aren’t about letting emotions go wild. They are a means of bringing these wild emotions to God Himself.

When the psalmists voice their complaints, they aren’t grumbling about what God is doing “behind His back” (as if this were possible). They bring their complaints directly to Him. When they express anger, they aren’t plotting a time to break their enemies’ arms (think of the prayer above). They’re bringing these vindictive feelings to God and asking Him to intervene. When they question God’s actions and wonder if He’s abandoned them, they are still speaking to Him. The act of bringing these emotions, desires, or doubts to God is itself an act of faith.

This is where we see the true answer to the question of submission or reverence, when they stifle our prayers. Submission doesn’t come in not feeling. It comes in taking our natural feelings and reactions in faith to God. Reverence doesn’t come in treating God like an old Victorian aunt. It comes in recognizing Him as the source of justice, healing, and comfort. Submission and reverence come as we take our broken reality and place it with limping, dependent faith at God’s feet.

Lament Psalms follow a typical pattern that teaches us how to put this into practice:

  • Protest: Tell God what is wrong.

  • Petition: Tell God what you want Him to do about it.

  • Praise: Expression of trust in God today, based in His character and His action in the past, even if you can’t yet see the outcome.

(For some examples, take a look at Psalm 6, 10, 13, 17, 22, 25, 30, 31, 69, 73, 86, 88, 102.)

Lament psalms teach us to bring our raw emotion and desires to God—with no filter or polishing—and how to release those emotions and desires to His care. Even before our situation has resolved, we can find comfort. We come needy and desperate, and we sit expectantly with the solid truth of who He is.

The Practice of Lament: How to Write Your Own Lament Psalm

Using the pattern of the lament psalms and the freedom they offer in prayer, we can incorporate lament into our own spiritual disciplines practice. I have found this to be formative and a source of great comfort in painful seasons of life. It has provided me with words when I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t know what to pray.

You can incorporate the lament psalms in several ways. You can choose a lament psalm from the Bible and simply read it in prayer to the Lord. The book of Psalms is a prayer book, so we should feel free to use it in this way.

You could then take a lament psalm and reword it based on your current circumstances. Perhaps the “enemies” you’re crying out to God about aren’t human beings but are cancer or depression. Adapt the psalmist’s words to reflect your situation.

You could also write a lament psalm completely on your own. You don’t need to be a poet to do this. It’s for your own benefit. Simply follow the pattern. In your own words, tell God what is wrong. Then, in your own words, tell Him what you’d like Him to do about it. Then offer an expression of trust or a reminder of who He is. I have found it to be helpful to think of a character attribute of God or an example of how He has acted in the past, either in your own life or in the Bible, that applies to the situation.

For the woman in the prayer group above, a prayer of lament may read like this:

God, I don’t know what to do.
In spite of my hard work and diligence, I’ve been treated unjustly.
It’s not fair. Why did you let this happen?
I don’t know how I will make ends meet.
The rent check is due, and so is Mom’s medical bill. But there’s no money.
I don’t see any way out of this. It feels like my prayers are bouncing against a wall.

God, do something about this.
Bring me justice and punish the people who’ve done this to line their pockets with more money.
God, do something about this.
Provide for my family and be our helper.
Hear my prayers and make a way that I can’t yet see.

I will praise you, God, because you are a God of justice and you see right and wrong.
God, I won’t forget how you provided when my husband died.
I won’t forget how you gave me this job when I was unemployed.
I praise you because you are a Provider and a Helper and you see us.

The Fruit of Lament

We are formed as we pray using the Bible’s pattern of lament. We find a God who meets us in the lowest places. We enter into the sacred place where our emotions, pain, and circumstances collide with the character of God.

Sometimes we see answers to the prayers we’ve prayed. We see provision or healing or justice.

But often the “answers” we receive are surprising. They come to prayers we didn’t know to pray. Our lament bears fruit, and we see the change within our own hearts. As we bring our pain to God, we are slowly transformed.

We are reminded of His faithfulness, and we learn trust. We are reminded of His justice, and we release our desires for revenge. We are reminded of His grace towards us, and we learn to forgive. We are met with His comfort, and we learn a new shape of joy.

We find Him. Not in fancy words or composed phrases, but in the humble, simple faith of a child. And in His presence, our lament slowly becomes a place of hope.

Have you incorporated lament into your own spiritual life? How have you found it to be helpful or meaningful? I’d love to hear about it.