rhythm and chaos

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It has been one of my persistent struggles to understand my testimony and share it well. I get frustrated, because if anyone should know this story, it should be me; I’m the one who has lived it, who has benefited on a daily basis from the blessing of walking with Jesus since I was three years old. I should be able to bear witness to His work in my life. I should be able to see clearly, at least in hindsight, where He has done His greatest work in me.

In some ways, I can: I can look back and see the shifts and the weather patterns that have colored my years, and some of the purposes they’ve played out. I know these are all parts of the testimony God is writing in me, but whenever I try to sum it up in so many words, I’m frustrated by the attempt to “arrive” somewhere. I want to be able to draw a line clearly from the shift that happened one year ago, or eighteen months ago, or the day I got the phone call, or that undefined span of time as a newlywed, or on my wedding day, or when I moved to Bible school all the way to now and say, “This is it. This is exactly where God has brought me. Here’s how and here’s why.”

But I can’t.

Much as it sometimes feels like there must have been one moment in which everything changed, in which God ultimately revealed Himself and brought my testimony to its climax, the truth of the matter is that God works slowly. He works in processes, in moments, across years. He’s a farmer, not a magician.

I grew up watching (and sometimes helping) my dad farm, and I’m not sure anything has taught me as much about how God operates as that experience. Farming, a metaphor the Bible uses again and again to describe God’s work, is change and same, reward with disappointment; it’s past and now and future, all bound together somehow. There’s a rhythm in it, but also chaos - unpredictability. It is down-to-earth and touching heaven at the same time, in the most humbling possible way; a momentary glimpse of the Edenic vision in which God and Man and Creation coexist in harmonious relationship with each other.

And it doesn’t ever “arrive.” A year of abundant harvest is followed rhythmically by winter’s rest, only to try it all again when spring arrives. No two years will yield the very same, and the story is never over. There is progress and process, joy and frustration, years of fallow and change, but the work doesn’t reach an end-point or get wrapped up in a bow. The testimony is never quite complete.

Nor is mine. It can make for a frustrating story to tell, but also an exciting and comforting one. In moments and across years, in a way that will never be completed in this life, God is cultivating me. His work is hard, long, and emotional, but also calming, grounding, and restful. I can’t necessarily draw lines between the seasons and say “This is what, this is how, and this is why,” but I can point to the One who is constant through it all and say, “He is always near, and He is doing something in me.”

We are a culture that only puts the big, earth-shattering events on display. The trips to Europe, the births, the deaths; the times we audibly heard God’s voice or saw Him move in a tangible way. But I’m convicted that it’s in the in-between where the real work and growth is done. The mundane middle is what life is made of - the rhythm and the chaos, and the too-boring-to-be-documented. I don’t know if I’ll ever “get there,” or even know where “there” is in this life, but I know that if I’m walking with Jesus, it will be good.

starving, yet satisfied

My favorite part of everything I do is what I learn along the way. So it’s a little weird to me that it took me so long to realize that I’m not an entrepreneur… I’m not a blogger… I’m not an artist… I’m not even a writer or photographer.

I’m a student. And these other things I’ve dabbled in, pursued, or wildly loved have all been means to my favorite end, which is learning.

Maybe I didn’t notice this sooner because out of all my adult siblings, I have the least formal education. I have two brothers with four-year degrees and my sister is going for her PhD to be a mathematician. I, on the other hand, went to one year of Bible school and have half an associate’s degree. But I’ve never stopped learning, because the world is my classroom, and though I’m never going to be a rich CEO or a starving artist, I am always going to be a student of God and life.

One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The whole city holds so much to learn!

One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The whole city holds so much to learn!

When I went to Israel last month, I was reminded how much I hate the act of traveling. I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but I really don’t enjoy packing, flying, living out of a suitcase, getting on and off a bus, or sleeping in hotel beds. That stuff does not excite me - it stresses me out.

But I was also reminded how much I absolutely love to soak up the immense learning opportunity of being in a foreign land.

I love to see unfamiliar sights, hear unfamiliar voices, smell unfamiliar scents. Travel, to me, is the most saturated and all-encompassing form of learning available. You can’t travel and not learn - that would be like plunging into a lake and not getting wet. The learning material is all around you. Every breath is a lesson. Your comfort zone, where you already know what you need to know and feel confident enough to get by, is miles and miles away.

Couple that with the fact that we chose a study tour of Israel rather than a “vacation” - consisting heavily of sound Bible teaching and incredible archaeological sites - and the trip felt, to me, like coming to a rich oasis of as much learning as I could consume, as quickly as I could take it in. Even now, weeks later, I still feel full and satisfied - and also, somehow, starving for more.

My sister took this picture of me editing the Bible study curriculum I’m currently working on. :)

My sister took this picture of me editing the Bible study curriculum I’m currently working on. :)

I think I’m finally coming to terms with the idea that for me, success (or perhaps a better word is “satisfaction”) is found in learning. For a good chunk of my life, success could only be measured by getting an A on a test or by making someone else happy (and I definitely still have residual perfectionism and people pleasing that I deal with on a daily basis); for a lot of the people around me, success seems to somehow relate to money, milestones, or prestige (and I’ve often fallen prey to thinking that’s where I need to find my satisfaction, too). But deep down I know that God made me a learner, and that when I’m learning (or helping others learn, which is a learning experience all its own) I’m becoming more like the person He intends me to be. That’s not very glamorous, and it doesn’t help me figure out an answer for my most-hated question (“So, what do you do?”), but it is good.

It’s why I still love photography, after thirteen years behind a camera. Every time I shoot, I learn something new about how to capture truth, how to find light, or how to express the beauty I’m seeing with my own creative eye.

It’s why I love to write and have never given up blogging, even when I could count my readership on two hands. Writing is how I process information so that I don’t just hear something new and then forget it - I learn something new and understand it.

And it’s why I chose Bible school instead of traditional college, and still love to study and teach the Bible. I know I’ll never close that Book and say, “Okay, I’m done. I’ve learned it all.” Ironically, I feel the most satisfied in this life when I’m hungriest for more than just this life. My God is a fathomless mystery, and I’m pretty delighted that I get an eternity to learn from Him.


Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

streams in the desert

Experiencing Israel in February versus May was like going to two different countries. The brilliant emerald green fields bejeweled with wildflowers bore no resemblance to the many shades of gold that characterized the entire landscape for my first visit. That time, whether we were in Galilee or the Negev, the color range was only as broad as warm beige to deep rust. I loved it, but the rainbow of color I got to see this time was simply beyond words.

But the wilderness around the Dead Sea looked just as I remembered: reddish-tinted rock mountains under a hazy-blue sky, reaching down to the crystalline edges of the Dead Sea. After several days in lush Galilee, this was an adjustment. I might even admit that I was underwhelmed.

But then I sat under the trees at Ein Gedi, an oasis in the middle of this wilderness - a place where the water runs crystal clear over a bed of smooth stones, cutting its way through the rough chalk mountains under the watchful eyes of many a cliffside cave. The birds were all but bursting with song over the sound of the humming brook.

And I thought of David, not yet crowned king, hiding there from jealous Saul. He was hated and hunted down for no legitimate reason, waiting for God to come through on His promise, afraid for his life.

So he wrote songs. Songs of pleading, lament, praise, and prayer.

The desert is a harsh place, and yet sometimes, hidden there in the rocks, God gives a lush abundance of Himself.

Galilee was beautiful, rich, familiar. But at the foot of the falls of Ein Gedi, I was reminded that God did transforming and eternal work there, too. I don’t have to restlessly search for the place that seems green and home-like because God is still working in the land that is lonely, monochrome, and difficult.

And the longer I spent in that wilderness, the more evident its loveliness became.


Psalm 57

For the choir director; set to Al-tashheth. A Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Selah.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breathe forth fire,
Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows
And their tongue a sharp sword.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.
They have prepared a net for my steps;
My soul is bowed down;
They dug a pit before me;
They themselves have fallen into the midst of it. Selah.

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens
And Your truth to the clouds.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

Comment

Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.