these are the days: september

(This post is inspired by Emily P. Freeman and her recent podcast episode, “Point and Call”.)

It’s September, suddenly - one of my favorite months of the year, and I’m concerned that today is already day three. Ten percent of the month is already behind us. The days go so fast, in a blur, so I feel the need to mark time here before it gets away from me.

These are the days of long, hard shadows in morning light, angled across all my flowers and filtering through their petals like tiny stained-glass windows. These are the days of cold nights, as evidenced by the chill in the lake water when we spent last week together at the cabin, and sometimes even a layer of fog to mute the world on my way to work in the morning.

They are days of learning many random things I never thought I’d need to know: how to stack russet potatoes, the best way to rotate the new produce in with the old, a hundred four-digit PLU codes. All those little things that make a shelf look nice? Someone does them - they don’t just happen by magic. I guess I knew that, but it didn’t mean anything until I became the one turning milk cartons to face the right way in the cooler.

And they’re days of learning many deeper things - the kind that have to be learned again and again, day in and day out. Like learning to set my eyes on Jesus, who has already endured and overcome every heartbreak and struggle I face. Learning to take refuge in who He says I am, and remember that He alone (not my feelings, not my mistakes, not my perceptions, not another person) gets to name me. Learning that He doesn’t always disclose the destination, or even the goal, but He does faithfully take the next step forward with me.

Welcome, September; don’t go too soon. I want to enjoy these days with you.

summertime reflections

It’s mid-July already, and I find myself lost in a rather reflective mood. These long summer days have been sticky and temperamental, a shower here and a sunburst there; I strained my lower back doing too many burpees and so I’m relegated now to long daily walks and short core-strengthening sessions, and in a way, I’m glad - glad to have been pushed to enjoy the out-of-doors more intentionally while the weather is mild and the world is green. I love to go outside and say hello to my flowers and walk barefoot in the yard and pick raspberries and marionberries straight off the vines. I love to find new trails and routes to explore, places where I can feel small under the towering firs or the vast sky. Summer, somehow, always serves to jolt me out of step with the rest of the world’s clip and strip away the superfluous and remind me of who God says I am.

I am seen. “Then [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’” (Genesis 16:13a). I’ve joked before (all too seriously) that invisibility is my superpower. I’ve always been the kind of person to think carefully before I speak, and to speak only if I had something truly valuable to say - which is a trait quickly passed off as quietness or shyness, and makes it spectacularly easy to fly under the radar. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to do something worthy of notice with my life, but I am learning - slowly - that I am already seen. There is never a time when I am out of God’s sight - the recognition that I crave, He generously gives, and I need not do anything to gain or deserve it.

I am significant. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). The loudest voices tell us that significance can be quantified in numbers - the number of people reached, the number of dollars made, the number of successes won, etc. But the Bible says true significance is sourced from a much humbler place, because it is a gift, not an achievement. I try to imagine God, as He was creating the masterpiece we call the Universe, painstakingly writing every one of my life’s days into His script. Somehow, while He was placing stars into position and setting planets into orbit, the tiny detail of Hallie’s life on July 16, 2019 did not escape Him - nor did the 9,312 days before it, or the unknown number that may come after it. For some reason He wanted me here, now. For some reason I’m a piece of His story, called into His family. For some reason - known and quantifiable only by Him - I am significant.

I am cared for. “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable” (Isaiah 40:27-28). The same God who sees me and declares me significant proves these things true with His tireless love and care for me. Even when I’m complaining and blind to the work He’s doing, like the nation of Israel in this passage, God is not wearied in the pursuit of ultimate justice and goodness for the child He loves. I can rest in Him because He never rests; He keeps fighting for me, loving me, and winning the victory for me regardless of my failure, discouragement, or forgetfulness.

These are the truths He keeps reminding me of during these slow, but rapidly slipping, days of summer. Life is such a paradox - it’s small as well as important, simultaneously fleeting and everlasting. Like the flowers in my front garden, I may occupy only a small space for a short time, never to be celebrated by the masses, but I still have the opportunity to beautify the lives of a few passersby with the Truth for a moment. Perhaps that is enough.

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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.

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.