twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

praying in pencil

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october second, two thousand and thirteen

I am writing to You in pencil

Not because I don’t believe You are permanent

But perhaps

because I do not desire these thoughts to be



du großes Heimweh, das wir nicht bezwangen


And I am homesick for you

And for the times when I knew what it meant to follow You

And to invite others to join the journey



We used to ask questions


In laughter, tears, arguments, prayer, and LOVE


We used to ask questions

We sought your kingdom first

Hungering, thirsting



And you were found by us, behind and before


du Wald, aus dem wir nie hinausgegangen


Surrounding us, protecting us, providing for us

Even as our gaze shifted

From Your love

To our ability



Competency. Effectiveness. Structure

Restraint & Reserve & Moderation



Watchwords birthed in fear

that You are not what You said

what You have been

what we have known



But that instead You have called your minsters

to be lonely, to be apart

to follow rules & fulfill expectations

to doubt our sanity in seeing clearly



And that you have called your people

to safety and comfort and sameness

and that we don’t have to take You seriously

Because after all what is a minister for

and that we cannot hope for true community

Because haven’t we been hurt

And that we must. be. polite.



If we never see the oceans rage

How can we have faith in the One who walks on water?



If we never dare to dine with the 5,000

How will we marvel at the leftover bread?



And if we never engage deeply with Your word

How can we claim to act in your name?



We used to pray boldly


And the bigger we prayed, the more intimate

our awareness of Your answers became



And we became less afraid to think and say

and feel and do



We made mistakes

laughing and crying and praying

we made mistakes

portals for grace, channels for mercy

we finally. made. mistakes.



Our hearts let loose their silenced hymns

the joy we’d thought preposterous

the sadness we’d thought shameful



Brimming excess, pure emotion
Radiantly, blessedly incompetent


Our imagination’s thirst for adventure satisfied in bread and wine

Our timid hope for a distant future already coming to pass

Our sins of striving and self sufficiency overwhelmed by constancy of grace

Until



With fear and trembling and unbelief
We began to ask questions

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Written by Taylor Webster

October 5, 2013 at 9:28 am

carpenter’s gospel

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This is the story of a table. It was nearing the end of another summer week. And we had been building this table for probably, I don’t know, a week and a half.

And I was Done. D.O.N.E. DONE. When my boss pulled out the sander and asked me to go over it a third time, I just about gave up.

For context: The table was probably the  most complicated thing we built all summer. The top was 3′ x 8′, the legs and lid were each only 3″ thick, there were no center supports, and a person (possibly several) needed to be able to stand on it. It had to be a level surface on a raked stage. It needed to look like the entire thing was carved from a block of solid marble. And it had to be lightweight enough that a respectable team of human beings could move it into place. And somehow, this complicated carpentry project taught me about God’s love in a way that was pure, tangible, and real. This is the story of a table.


Our TD had designed a brilliant structure of interlocking supports, which was light and strong and took about three times as much prep and layout work as anything we usually build.  The skin was triple-glued in place, and instead of our usual RockHard wood putty, we filled all the staples with Bondo. Which. Is usually used to repair dents in automobiles. This is legit stuff. 

We are built strong. Our composition is no mere happenstance – we are the result of careful planning, and every part of us is designed to fit together perfectly. We are not haphazardly nailed together with the cheapest materials available. Each piece of us is lovingly prepared to serve as part of a greater whole. And with the greatest attention to detail, we are built to be strong enough to support much more than we would appear to be capable of.

No matter how tight and clean our carpentry is, we use staples to ensure the strength of  even on the most neatly interlocking pieces. In order to attach the pieces together, we used a pneumatic staple gun, which ensures a firm bond, but also leaves a tiny scar on the surface. We had a couple hundred staple indentations on the face of this table, and each one was covered with a small glob of a repair putty that is designed to dry strong as steel. 

Scars are part of our composition. The layout and carpentry can be modeled after a perfect and strong design, but the fasteners we use to hold ourselves together often leave scars we’d rather not acknowledge. Our souls are covered in tiny wounds where we have attempted in vain to attach ourselves back together. We are convinced that these marks are of no great significance, and that we can carry on just fine as we are. God takes a different approach. No matter how small the scar, He applies balm to our wounds. Using the strongest, most permanent reconstructive adhesives, He applies more than we need, providing abundance where we had only known deficiency.


And then comes the sanding. The first, roughest pass is simply to remove all of the lumps of Bondo that stand above the smooth surface. This can take several discs of 60 grit sandpaper, the kind designed for aggressive removal. For us, this part took the better part of an afternoon.

After he has healed the wounds on the surface, great and small, acknowledged and ignored, there is still work to be done. We cannot simply say “Well, the holes are filled, I’ll thank you for your time and leave it at that!” There are leftovers, pieces we no longer need, remnants from our healing that our now extraneous. No one leaves a bandage on a would that has been long healed – and yet, somehow we are tempted to hold on to these bandages as proof of our healing, rather than allow the roughness of the sandpaper to liberate us from the memories of our wounds.

I thought, “Well, that’s smooth enough. Dinner time!” But my boss smiled, pulled out the 100 grain sandpaper, and told me we were going to go over it again, for finishing’s sake. 

It is not enough to take the quickest, roughest approach. The minute we consider ourselves finished, we are choosing to distance ourselves from God’s work in our lives. We are far too often tempted to give up. To say that we have learned enough, that we have recieved enough love and grace, that we are healed enough, that we are close enough to that glorious marble table we’ve been built to become. In doing so we sell ourselves short, and rob God of his power in calling us into his family as new creations, healed and whole.

Even as I had reached the end of my rope and nearly worked through my patience, I patted myself on the back for completing the finishing. Well. I thought it was complete. Turns out, there are imperfections the first round of finish sanding doesn’t pick up. It then becomes necessary to go over the piece with a damp cloth to raise up the grain of the wood, and finish sand it again with an even finer grain of sandpaper. So I went over the table. Again

The metaphor came to me as I was nearing the end of the last round of sanding, and it was so beautiful I nearly burst into tears. I don’t often hear direct phrases from God. But this time, between passes with the disc sander, I heard quite clearly “Aren’t you glad this is how I have chosen to work on you?”

It’s true. It’s so, so true.  The prophet and savior who spent his formative years as a carpenter knew how to finish tables to the highest standard. And he is committed to going over us again and again, no matter how many times it takes, carefully raising the grain we didn’t even know was there, and gently sanding off the rougher bits, until we are left with a surface that  bears no blemish. Our deepest wounds, the places which required the most Bondo to fill, are now the strongest parts. 
The beauty of the sanding process is that whether you start off with a hunk of driftwood or a 2×4 from the lumberyard, both will require sanding to become smooth as marble. And whether we are a storm-tossed log or a nearly-finished piece of lumber, God will go over our hearts again, and again, and again until His work in us is complete. I asked a co-worker if it was really necessary to raise the grain and do a last pass with the sander. He said “Right now, you’ve got it pretty smooth. If you raise the grain and go over again, it’ll be like glass.” Here’s to never settling for pretty smooth, and to believing in the one that will make us shine like stars.

In the paint shop, several layers of patient faux marble treatment combined with a few good coats of glossy sealer finished off a table that, under stage lights, is indistinguishable from a smooth marble countertop. 

The final step of the transformation is one we were not able to affect without a bit of theatre magic. But I believe that in this story, though our highest ambition on Earth may indeed be to become a beautiful facsimile of a marble countertop, we will one day be pure and clean, finished and whole. We will know why we were built strong. We will see our imperfections fully healed. We will know why it was worth so much effort to continue the work of finishing us. And we will be perfect images of the One in whose image we are made. This may be the story of a table. But it is also the story of us.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Hallelujah. And Amen.

Written by Taylor Webster

August 28, 2013 at 8:44 pm

refrigerator art

with 3 comments

I make plans. I make lots and lots of plans. This summer I have come up with a five year (what?) plan for my life. That feels absolutely ridiculous. Especially because, if you had asked me five years ago where I’d be right now, the answer would be summed up in three letters. MFA. Goodness, how the times change. I was talking with some good friends about what a crazy concept it is to think I know where I’ll be in five years, and this is the analogy that came from it.

We work very hard on our plans. We draw them out as best as we are able, anticipating as many of the inconsistencies and irregularities as we can. We draw them out meticulously  and carefully and thoughtfully, genuinely trying to create a complete picture of something it is actually impossible for us to see or understand. And once we are finished drawing out our futures, we hand them off to God and ask for His blessing.

And I think God does something quite interesting with these flimsy pieces of paper we want to place so much confidence in. Some would assume he takes it as a check list and proceeds to honor each of our specific prayer requests. Others would say he laughs at our ignorance, takes the plan straight to the shredder, and proceeds to continue as though our input didn’t matter at all. I think he takes our plans and does something different with them all together. He puts them on the family refrigerator.

You see, I think he is glad to see that we’re genuinely seeking to engage in the planning process of our lives. We work so hard on these drawings, and we are so excited to show them to him, and he says “That’s wonderful! I’m so proud you worked so hard on that. Let’s take that and put it right up here where we can see it.” And then we’ve got some time to stand back and look at it. We see it every morning when we grab milk for our cereal, and we’re reminded that that’s the direction we want to be moving.

And in the time of seeing this plan on the fridge every day, God works with us through it. Sometimes we have drawn a house that is a triangle and four rectangles (roof, windows, door, house) and he shows us a deeper, more complete way to see things. So that when we revisit the drawing we still end up with a house, but all of a sudden it’s a log cabin with a firm foundation and a back porch and the drawing has a much more sophisticated sense of perspective.
Other times, he looks at the drawing and sees how we’ve been paying attention, delights at our growing understanding of perspective and contour and shading, sees how our gifts are developing, and challenges us to continue in a similar vein.
And sometimes, he allows us to see that for all the effort we’ve put into drawing houses, we’d really be much better at drawing people, and he asks us to create an entirely new plan.
But I’ll maintain, the process is important. It’s much more valuable to work through our plans in any of these ways than it is to focus so much on creating perfect art.

Another tricky thing about this drawing ending up on the family refrigerator – it’s not the only thing up there. Now, all of a sudden our carefully bordered drawing is sharing space with grocery lists, report cards, wedding invitations, emergency phone numbers, and, of course, many more drawings.  Sometimes it is frustrating to find that what we have worked so hard on is partially covered up or overshadowed by someone else’s celebration, joy, or clarity of plan.  The beauty comes when we see our art on the cluttered, messy refrigerator not as one of many things vying for attention and supremacy, but as part of a beautiful collage, a family album that reflects the heart and spirit of how much our Father loves us and how blessed we are to be making plans together.

So as hard as I may be working on formulating this plan, I’m ready to hand it off to God, ask him to put it on the refrigerator with the rest of the family mess, and spend the next five years seeing which parts are erased, which are refined, which are overshadowed, and which are brought to glorious fullness.

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.
Psalm 73

Written by Taylor Webster

August 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm

a week in four parts: roots, celebration, obedience, benediction

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I promised I’d write about last week. And so, before last week become two weeks ago, here are some ruminations on a week so thoroughly saturated with a restoration that I’d forgotten it’s important to ask for. I think, for the sake of touching on everything a bit, I’d like to chronicle that week in four particular movements. It’s really more like a journal entry than a blog for me, so that I don’t forget anything, but I’ve tried to highlight and refine the lessons I’m learning in hopes that they speak to your heart as well. If I were a good blogger I’d probably make this a series, publish each of the movements separately so that you don’t get overwhelmed and I don’t have to write anything else for the rest of the month, but this is my story, and i am evidently more of a novelist than a blogger, and somehow I think it all needs to be told together. so pull up a chair, brew some tea, and find the story that speaks to you. it was truly an incredible week.

movement I – remember your roots
“it’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only”

I am realizing more and more that there are two parts of my life that have been fundamentally shaping me for longer than I can remember. One of them is my deep-heart love of music. The other is my tumultuous journey to calling the Church my home and God’s people my family. Both have always been connected to a pursuit of beauty, truth, and community.

A lot of times, when I’m trying to encourage someone or to help them understand how I’m feeling, I’ll send them a song. There’s something about the emotional quality of music that transcends words or chord patterns or form or structure. Music is. That’s all there is to it. I’ve been aching for ages to see and hear songs rise up from the church that are written by musicians, not by praise bands with agendas or rockstars seeking performance highs, but the people who see the beauty and life and breath in music that is layered and complex and interesting and honest and through all of those things, deeply joyful. With the rise of sites like noisetrade, bandcamp, and kickstarter, this is finally coming to life. Music is no longer controlled by an industry – artists are able to connect directly with those who have ears to hear and create something together that brings joy to both of their hearts.

This last week, I was able to attend concerts of two artists who have a remarkable gift for calling me back to where I’m from. I’ve always had an uncanny love for live music, and these bands reminded me why that is a good. thing. (And why banjos are completely essential to any live performance.) These first guys, The Oh Hello’s ( their album is pay-what-you-can at http://theohhellos.com/ and you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice to not at least listen!) are intentionally independent and self produced. They do their own CD art, dye their own t-shirts, and are a beautiful model of radical community. Seeing this troupe of 11 young people playing a sold-out Bluebird show in their first-ever tour stop outside of their home state of Texas, the joy and love and passion were evident. They seemed so surprised and humbled that we were all so excited to see them, and their songs called us to worship with reverence and joy, honesty and love, in a chamber-folk style that far surpasses even the charms and talents of the famed Mumford quartet.
The second group, also playing their first shows outside of their home state this summer, are a trio of gents known as Judah and the Lion. We saw them for free at a church in Littleton, but they play with energy that rivals some of the best arena concerts I’ve seen. It’s Americana at it’s best, with banjo, mandolin, and guitar playfully intertwining, singing true, deep, and pure, straight to your soul as your foot can’t help but stomp and your hands can’t help but clap. Musicians like these, who are so willing to have a good chat with the audience after the show, who have the faith to put their music out for free on the internet, and who have the artistic integrity to create exactly as they are called to. These are the ones who give me hope, that someday our national imagination will be recaptured by the artists who understand how to sing to our souls.

Speaking of music. Last week I had the opportunity to worship with the body of Christ in five different communities. The youth camp outside of Colorado Springs, the hipster church in Denver, the student community gathering at the YMCA in Winter Park, the small and focused ministry of a sprawling megachurch in Highlands Ranch, and of course, my home church in Fort Collins. In the past I have attended such varied worship gatherings, but always with a critical eye. Were the people genuine, was the music well done, was the stage design attractive, did the speaker give me something to think about while I drove home? Such questions have their place, of course, but when you attend a family gathering, you shouldn’t be there to criticize your less-fashionable aunt or wonder why the sweet tea was brewed so much stronger than you like it. You should be rejoicing to simply be together again.

And so it was this last week. I saw things in these communities that I’d never seen before, glimpses of beauty and truth and the kingdom bursting forth. And while the differences in background culture, shape, and style were indeed visible, what was more striking were the similarities. Whether we were gathered in a basement, an aging chapel, a mountaintop tent, or a converted gymnasium, so many elements were the same. The call to sing out to our creator, the sense of sacred space even in the most ordinary location, the need for us to teach each other and share our stories, the desire to connect as a family, and all the love that is only possible when it is proclaimed in Jesus’ name. I was raised in churches that met in a good-sized suburban facility, a strip mall/movie theater/ a burgeoning megachurch campus, and a well-established community chapel. And for all the grief it’s given me, for all the heartache and questioning, there has also been more joy in these places than any earthly kingdom should allow. Wherever else I go, the North American church will always be my first home.

movement II – celebrate who you are.
“now i am a heart, with a head on my shoulders, and i’ll say that i’m a different child”

If you had told me one year ago that my heart would grow to be so stretchy, I would have laughed and told you it was time to get back to work. A year ago I was fighting to establish new, grow-up rhythms, and just barely beginning to concede the fact that the only rhythms that matter are the ones which stem from my identity as the beloved child, one of a multitude of beautifully created siblings.

Last week I had the opportunity to reunite both with my newly-formed heart family and with one of my dearest friends. As a bit of background, having a “best friend” has always been inordinately important to me. I have suffered from “Best Friend Envy”. I want to know that I matter to someone else as much as they matter to me, and the label has always seemed to be the surest way to guarantee continued closeness. And what I’ve been learning, most especially in the last year, is that I don’t need to cling to “best friends” any more.

Because I have been invited to join a family. A family who rejoices when someone new is invited in, whether it is a child, a spouse, a long-lost cousin, or a soul sister. Saying goodbye to a family member isn’t so scary, because you know how that no matter how many many miles or months, states or seasons come between you, you’ll always be at home when you’re together again. If you asked me today who my best friend is, I’d have to list probably more than a dozen women. (It’s probably good I won’t have to narrow these fantastic women down into a manageable wedding party anytime soon. But you ladies know who you are – and there’s no question in my heart you’d all be standing up there with me.)

So this heart family. These crazy undergrads who burst into my life unkempt and uninvited. The students I vowed I’d never live with. They have grown my heart exponentially. None of us make sense together – last year it was two sophomores, two juniors, and one recent graduate cohabiting this condo which has its own thoroughly awkward beauty. We represent the math, psychology, biology, hdfs (prepping to run a daycare facility), and theatre design departments of this university, and our personalities are as diverse as our disciplines.

But from these women, I have learned the beauty of seeking God together, cooking extravagant dinners with open invitations, holding hands and giving hugs when words are insufficient, embracing hospitality which calls us to truly love our (next door) neighbors, operating with an emotional range which allows for crying and laughing to occupy the same moment, seeking to love family and friends and those the world rejects with deep passion and a strong commitment, and daily choosing fierce love and friendship which claims family where there should be none. I am humbled and thankful and in no way deserving of how well they love me. The weekend reunion was our last time to all be together (we just shipped one off to Australia for a semester!) and our first instinct was to find a place to pray and simply give thanks. It’s the first time I’ve prayed with a group and heard the words flow so freely and without hesitation from every single person’s heart. What a beautiful, beautiful gift.

And then to visit this dear, dear friend, who has walked closely with me through every twist and turn the last year has thrown my way. What a blessing to have a few hours in the midst of a hurried summer to simply be in the same place. To share stories of triumphs and challenges, to acknowledge frustration and hope, to be able to see clearly that we were both exactly where we most needed to be. To know each other enough to know what was cause for celebration, which circumstances would prove particularly obtuse, and how each other’s hearts would respond and what we needed most to hear. And to rejoice in God’s goodness weaving through all of it. It was a time for city-lovers to rest in the garden, to see the beauty of where we’re from before we rush headlong into where we’re going. (For more on gardens and cities, see Monday’s post at https://twentybydesign.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/garden-to-a-city-living-the-story/)

And so. I may seem to be a bit of a different child. But I am rejoicing at having found my family.

movement III – step. in.
“in the silence, i heard you calling out to me”


Have you ever been asked to do something which seems outrageous, so far outside of your comfort zone and what seems to make sense? In my experience there are two responses to this invitation. The first is to shake our heads, both at the foolishness of the asker in assuming we’d be capable, and to express our own thorough conviction that this is not what we were made to be. The other is to see the joy in the eyes of the asker, to trust that they have considered all of the possible pitfalls and still want you to join in, and to step in. Whether out of hesitant obedience or joyful compliance, step in.

Relatable Scenario A: When random internet browsing across the blog of a songwriter you’ve only recently discovered yields a book recommendation that intrigues you, step in. Don’t look up the book, delight in the first few chapters, but assume the $12 Amazon price tag won’t be worth it because, I don’t know, you were going to use that money for a cheeseburger and a milkshake or something. Get the book, not knowing entirely why, but knowing it’s going to be important. Devour it, letting the words and stories and experiences wash over you like a tidal wave. And then, respond. 

When I ordered Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor, I wasn’t expecting my heart to find a home there. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly realize that this book expresses, clarifies, and confirms so much of what has felt both called and disconnected in my own heart for so many seasons. As I wrote in a letter, attempting to describe this joy and confirmation:

“You know how it is once you admit something that you’ve been unsure of inside of yourself for a long time and all of a sudden it just seems to make sense? That’s what reading Eugene’s book was for me. Verbalized a lot of things I have discredited inside of myself because no one ever gave me words for them before
Outside of God, I can’t explain it, but I do know that whatever happens from here on out, and whatever form it takes, somehow there is nothing I am more deep-heart excited about than serving, loving, and growing with the Church. Nothing sounds more challenging. And nothing sounds more worth it.
I know I am young and I have so much to learn, and life experience has taught me not to get excited or have dreams or hope for things or ask for things. I am excited about this. I am hopeful about this. Learning to verbalize my dream is helping me to find a new joy in reading, praying, and living – and even to be challenged by the vastness of what I don’t know and seeing how growing as a disciple of Christ is going to be a series of small arrivals as He continues to stir up and turn over the rock-riddled soil in my heart.”

The steps of becoming that this book is inspiring in me have been beyond expectation. Writing that letter sparked a conversation which was more honest than any I’ve ever had about these dreams that I have. And in that conversation, my heart was encouraged and affirmed and given space to continue growing. I am beginning to take the first small steps of doing, when up until now thinking and understanding have always seemed more important. And the joy in finally doing what your heart and soul were made to do is so indescribably full. All I can do right now is stand in awe, feeling just as thoroughly unqualified as Jeremiah and David and Moses. Who, through their following, didn’t turn out so bad in the long run.

Relatable Scenario B: When a close friend asks you to pray for a friend of theirs who is facing a tough season, step in. Don’t stop at the “Yeah, of course I’ll pray for them, mmmm, that sounds so hard” response. Recognize that perhaps you are being asked to be part of the answer to that prayer. You have unique gifts and resources, and you are being asked to actually do something about the needs of this person who up to this point has been only a marginal acquaintance.

When I sent the message I knew I had been asked to send, I knew I couldn’t control how it would be received or anticipate what it would mean. But this simple act of obedience has become a wellspring of blessing. I have since had the opportunity to meet with this incredible young woman. I was able see firsthand her passion and vision for the work God is calling her to do, and to be encouraged by her affirmations of what He’s been doing in my own heart, and to feel thoroughly blessed and humbled by the opportunity to partner with her in the next steps of her journey.
I’m learning that the absolute best kind of generosity is the relational kind. As much as I wanted obedience to look like writing a facebook message and sending a gift from the comfort of my own home, the beauty of generosity is the way that it calls us into each other’s circumstances as we begin bearing one another’s burdens and learning to walk the road together. Give as freely as you have received, all the while praising God from whom all blessings flow.

movement IV – benediction
“whatever may pass. whatever lies before me. let me be singing when the evening comes”

there are no clean endings or conclusions to these stories. all that is left is to continue living, to continue sharing our stories, and to remember. there is always a reason to sing.

i will sing, sing, sing to my God, my King
for all else fades away
and i will love, love, love, with this heart You’ve made
for You’ve been good always

garden to a city – living the story

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last night i was driving down the highway after spending a night giving praise with a group of people who have committed themselves to walking the road to recovery. context is everything – you haven’t really felt “brokenness aside” or “beautiful things” until you’ve heard them bookended by stories of radical recovery, transformation, and healing.
i’ve spent probably twenty hours on the road this week, and for most of them i’ve had the lyrics and melodies of others as my traveling companion. on this drive, i was prompted to let the silence have it’s day. and, to quote the oh hellos, “in the silence, i heard You calling out to me.” lyrics began to flow from my lips that i’d never sung or composed before, and i was swept up in the beauty of a story that was at once both deeply my own and thoroughly belonging to all of us.

this is the only phrase i can still remember upon waking this morning.

“you called me child, you called me shepherd, you called me out from elder son
though you knew the depths and agonies of all the wrong i’d done
and no, i’ll never understand the way you love the ones who roam
but i’m your child, they’re my brothers, and i’ll welcome them back home”

this is my story. much more specifically, it is the story of this past year. i am blessed to find myself at the end of a week that was saturated with joyful reflection, reconnection, and restoration. and in this time of pause from the rush of daily life, i was able to see just how far this weary traveler has come this year. what a wonderful thing to begin to learn how to live into this story. i’m going to do a follow-up post in the next couple days reflecting on all the beauty of this year’s journey, but for today, it is enough to breathe deep and give thanks before plunging headlong into another year.

here’s one of my favorite anecdotes this week, which sets the tone for upcoming reflections. in the midst of a conversation with a city-loving friend about how she is learning to cultivate a love for the colorado mountains which have always seemed to speak so clearly to her peers, i had this realization (an offshoot of a seed that’s been planted in my church community). “well, the story of creation is a journey from a garden to a city. and so we love the garden, because it reminds us where we’re from. but we love the city because it reminds us where we’re going.”

this week, i was in the garden. that place of beauty and peace and simplicity, where our hearts will always ache to return. i was reminded of where the seeds in my heart were planted, and given time and space to water what is just beginning to blossom. and now, i’m returning to my city. this place of chaos and collision and complexity. here i will be about my father’s business in declaring the coming of a new kingdom as heaven and earth collide. what a wonderful place to be.

Written by Taylor Webster

July 8, 2013 at 8:32 am

reckless, scandalous, and out of control

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“Do not worry, because God is in control. He has a plan and a purpose for you. “

I have heard these words (or similar expressions) many times before. I have seen them written on home decorating products and facebook walls and internet ads. I have heard them come from the mouths of people I love, respect, and admire. And when I heard them spoken over a worship gathering I attended recently, I was hit with an overwhelming, essential realization. I wasn’t trying to find fault or be contrary, but the assurance came out of nowhere and hit me squarely in the heart.

I don’t believe God is in control. 

Ok. That is a statement. Breathe in and out with me for a bit. Come on in and sit a while. After that, blow up the comments, debate, engage, encounter, seek. But first, let’s walk through a few steps together.

Here is how I think we (middle and upper class USA culture) understand control. At the center of control is immense power. When we seek to control some aspect of our lives, we are often primarily seeking to exert power over it. We schedule our days to the hilt, seeking power over time and space and people. We plan our futures in month or year or 5-year increments, seeking power over spans of time that contain unforseeable mountains and valleys, praying that we will never “spin out of control.” We organize our relationships in rigid categories and strict expectations, seeking to control our friends, family, and neighbors rather than love them. We look down on those in our lives who have “lost control” or are “out of control” , assuming that their inability to align with our proscribed structures indicates a basic human failure. But our lawn is pristine, our house is in order, our shirts are ironed, our retirement is planned, our property is insured. We. Are. In. Control.

So when we say that God is in control, it is comforting to us. We want to know that there is plan, purpose, and meaning, and that God (like we so desire to be) has all of his ducks in a row and that nothing happens outside of his will. We want a King who is powerful, authoritative, and majestic. We want him to have all the answers, make all the decisions, fight all the battles, and always, always win. But our concept of control is a poor choice to frame our understanding of a God who is love.

There is one who seeks complete control at all times, because he does not understand love. Satan, the fallen angel who sought power over God in heaven and continues to seek power over God on earth, approaches people with a desire for control that is unsurpassed. All of the sins that have plagued the world, lies, fear, addictions – they are all fighting for control of our hearts. And why do we give in to them?

In our fallen nature, we believe we would rather be controlled than loved. We would rather be given a simple, understandable set of rules about the way the world works, and, falling victim to the lie that through understanding the rules we will gain control over the system, instead fall prey to the lie of control and it’s immense power over us. We worship control, praising our own ability to order the universe as we see fit, and every grab for power builds the illusion that we are able, of our own accord, to hold everything together. And when the cracks begin to show and our attempts at perfection fall short, we are left with a gaping awareness that in our thirst we have allowed control to supplant the role of love in our lives.

Love is bigger than control. Love is more powerful than control.

Our lives are spent in a vicious spiral of control seeking – beating our head against the wall and screaming “Why isn’t this going my way!” At times, we feel we have succeeded – we are happy, successful, achieving, well off. In. Control. At other times we feel lost, alone, afraid, and as though everything we held power over has slipped from our grasp. And there are only two exit gates from this spiral. One is the aforementioned way of the Controller. To claim control as our right, power as our inheritance, and ultimately fall slave to the power which seeks to control us.

But there is another way. This way is the way of love. And this way is the way of surrender.

God did not choose to control the world. He chose to love it. In a radical departure from the way any ancient or present culture has or does understand what it means to be God. He made us, completely, from the ground up. He should have been able to claim what artists call “creative control” over his creation, the right to oversee how it is used, what it becomes, who can influence it, and how far it can stray from the original vision.

And then, in love, He set us free, desiring only that our response to this freedom would be to choose to love Him back.

In the absolutely crucial, most pivotal moment of our faith, Jesus could have rewritten the story we know so well. He could have claimed control as King, ruler, sovereign, authority. He could have broken the whips and shattered the cross, taken revenge on the men who sought to do him harm, taken the seat of the empire and seated his disciples in positions of power. That would have been a picture of a God in control. None would have been able to stand against him, and everything would have proceeded in exact accordance with his specific will.

But instead, Jesus chose to surrender. He surrendered his right to control his circumstance. He allowed himself to be consumed by the will of God, to be instrumental in communicating God’s great love for his people, and redeemed a relationship fractured by our desire for control. (In eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve sought equality with God, greater control over their circumstance, and power that was only meant to be held by God. This deeply fractured their love relationship with him, their ability to live fully in his presence and to walk in his ways. God has been calling his people back to himself ever since.) 

In surrendering control, Jesus gained a power that control-seekers could never imagine or understand. Jesus is the only human who has ever managed to perfectly exchange control for love. Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” And what a glorious deluge he unleashed. 

Because when we begin to understand God’s love, our response becomes so much greater than a simple acquiescence to a higher power’s control. Yes, God is the god who makes order from chaos, life out of destruction, bringer of peace, hope, and healing. And he wants us to choose to be part of his story. To choose to accept a love that refines, cleanses, purifies, makes whole. We love because He first loved us. And through his love, we are able to join him in the work of redeeming his creation.

So we cannot hold the freedom, the choice, the love that he lavishes on us and wishes to express through us in one hand, and tell others to “Relax, God’s in control” in the other. God’s power is so great, his sovereignty so vast, that he can choose to exert his power through love rather than through control – and it is through this love that He is calling us to come home to Him.

In summary. God created us. God loves us. God has immense power and is fully able to alter any circumstance, change any heart, fulfill any dream. But God does not control us. In him we live, and move, and have our being. We acknowledge and fall prostrate before God, from whom all blessings flow. But not because he has bent our necks. Because his love has broken our hearts. His reckless, scandalous, completely nonsensical and entirely out of control love. And no matter how strong the temptation to be controlled by the world may be, we who have known what it is to live in God’s love will constantly be searching to follow His light home, and to invite as many as we can to join the journey with us.

I feel as though I could write for days on this topic, and maybe I will someday. This is an attempt to follow the grace I’ve been given, to start a dialogue, to scratch the surface. Please, engage with me in the parts that  speak love to your heart, the parts that are poorly constructed , the parts that are jarring, the parts that wrestle and debate. How have you experienced God’s love? How has that shaped your concept of God ‘being in control’? 

Written by Taylor Webster

June 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm

teach my song to rise to you

with 3 comments

I write best what I most need to hear. This posting does not come from a place of confidence and authority, but from a place of humility in constantly receiving the grace to keep fighting.

The chronology of Jesus’ life story often deserves more attention than we give it. Because before the resurrection. Before the last supper. Before the feeding of five thousand. Jesus was tempted. 40 days in the wilderness. 40 days where all of the first-class demons assaulted every desire, longing, inclination towards brokenness, fear, and potential for weakness that comprised his fully-human nature. And yet, despite this vicious assault, he lived a life that was perfect. Spotless. Free from any sin. His knowledge of scripture and his identity as the beloved son of his Father gave him the power to fight off sin, but it’s impossible to imagine that this made the fight easy.
He was offered bread after fasting 40 days. He was offered a miracle which would have erased the need for subtlety in claiming his identity. And he was offered power as a man over all the kingdoms of the earth, which would have seemed easier than the work he was about to begin in building a new kingdom. When I was younger, I looked at this story and said “Well, of course he ‘did the right thing and said no’ because he’s Jesus. God. That wouldn’t have been hard at all.” My understanding of Jesus’ divinity was well-founded. Problem was, I was missing his humanity. And for a man to face such temptation. That would have been ages beyond hard.

So here’s the thing. Guys, this probably shouldn’t have been as revolutionary to me as it has been. But hang with me for a second, because the most foundational truths are often the simplest.

Temptation isn’t inherently wrong. It isn’t our fault, not in the way that temptation itself should bring us guilt. Our God does not define us in terms of our weakness, but in terms of His strength.

Whoa. What. No. No. Because we’re supposed to not ever want to make that cutting remark, eat that fifth slice of pizza, navigate the darkest corners of the internet, fudge the numbers on that tax report, hold on too tight, let go too soon, cut someone off in traffic, ignore a cry for help, or even be unkind to ourselves. Right? But we do. Oh, how often we do.

Looking at the world with longing , desire, misdirected hopes, weakly formed identities, we are tempted by every thing that promises to satisfy the ache. And how do we support each other in this? Well, we’ve created some sort of culture where we can’t even talk about the fact that we want those things (and many, many more) – so how will we ever be able to confess when we give in to temptation?

The temptation I face so often feels as though I should surrender to it. And surrendering would mean exactly that. Giving up the fight. Looking the darkness in the face and saying “Alright, you win. I’ll do things your way.” And at times that seems so simple.

But I have not chosen to surrender. I have chosen to fight. Fighting means approaching the battle knowing full well the strengths of your enemy, but also knowing the glorious power of the One who is on your side.

Dear friends, temptation does not define you. The strength of the temptation you may be facing does not invalidate you as a person, as I have so long been convinced. C.S. Lewis’ comments on the subject are particularly apt.

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”

Mmmmhmm. I’ve been spending a lot of time by myself this week. Reading a lot. Researching a lot. It’s what I tend to do when there are things in my life that don’t make sense to me. And here’s the deal. Reading and researching can take you a fair ways. I can think of countless times where the words of others, packaged and processed, have lent clarity to a troubled or clouded state of mind.

But there’s a downside to reading a whole book at once. The process which took the author months or years or decades to evolve through, you can devour in a couple of hours. And after the book is finished, you will feel as though you will never be able to grow as they have, to learn as they have, to love as they have.

Because you can’t force a lifetime’s worth of growth into a weekend. You just. Simply. Can’t.

So sometimes, before you can answer the question, you have to live the question. Before you can fight the temptation, you have to feel it. Yeah. Feelings. Feelings aren’t wrong. They’re human. Let it get all up inside of you and claw at your heart and try desperately to  build a foothold, to force action, to remake you in its own image. Wrestle it – a form of fighting that disallows the impersonal distance of a firearm; grab it by the arms and pin it down and look it in the eye. Get to know your temptation.

And then. Fight. Back.

Not because you are strong. Not because you are capable. And most definitely not so that you can adhere to a prescribed timeline, measuring healing or standards of success. Fight instead because the one who has conquered the world’s greatest temptations is on your side, fighting for you and fighting with you. Fight on the assumption that whether you choose to fight just might be more important than whether you are able to win. Fight because temptation, when confronted, will cease to define you and will instead become part of the furnace that shapes you.

The book of James says it best:

” Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

So to all facing temptation. To each and every broken, lost, hurting, and guilty soul out there. Persevere. Hold fast. Wrestle. Join hands with the One who knows your heart. And together we will fight, not because we know the night to be so very dark, but because we have already seen the dawn and believe in the promise of a glorious sunrise.

Written by Taylor Webster

June 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm