there is no master puppeteer

It happens to everyone's life. We think we've wrangled enough control away from the arms of fate to coordinate our own puppet strings. We convince ourselves we are more secure this way - directing our own destinies. If the pace gets too frantic, we say it is because we want it to be that way. If it is too slow, we say the same.

We are all trying to "make it" and none of us want to fail. That explains the mad wrangling to be master puppeteer. But that means somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter's whirlwind, we lift up our stringless arms like we've seen them for the first time. We realize there are no puppets and no Master Puppeteer. We realize the fate controlling position we have been desperate to maintain is not a position at all.

It doesn't matter if the ways we want to "make it" are worldly or heaven worthy. It doesn't matter if our aspirations are corporate ladders or non-profit puzzles. It doesn't matter whether or not we are clever. It doesn't even matter if we have felt success.

What matters is that somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter's whirlwind, we see that only God is sovereign.

Maybe in theory, we always knew. We read the verses and heard the sermons and listened to friends' humbled tales. We looked up at that great blue expanse and at the speckled night sky. We blinked eyes open in the morning and held joy in our hands. In theory, we always knew this world was too mysterious and painful and beauty-drenched to be contained by strings we could hold.

The devil in us convinced us it was possible and we believed.

But there's something about winter that unravels the belief that we can control anything. Maybe it is standing on a subway platform wondering if our ten toes are still in tact. Or maybe it is trudging miles every day against the wind to catch public transit so we can make it 3.7 miles across the borough. Maybe it is lugging laundry 3 blocks away in wintry snow/rain mix. Or maybe it is gaining weight and wearing layers like marshmallows.

And when winter does unravel this foolish belief that we can be the Master Puppeteer (and that there is such a thing at all), we collapse a little bit with a great sigh. We fold into relief that it doesn't depend on our performance or our planning. We re-read the words we've already memorized in Scripture and we nestle in to a future we cannot control.

"My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

"Let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." John 15:7

"In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full." John 16:23-24

"Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you." Mark 11:24

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Ephesians 1:3

"Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight." 1 John 3:22

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Corinthians 5:21

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." 2 Corinthians 5:17

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21

"God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed." 2 Corinthians 9:8

"Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation." Psalm 68:19

We bless the Lord who daily bears our burdens - not as a Puppeteer but as a Savior. We bless the Lord as we claim His control over the future and the past and the present. We bless the Lord as we live today believing He is able to make grace abound.

although we are weeping

[bandcamp width=100% height=142 album=2938636901 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small t=7] Mouths filled with laughter and tongues loosed with joy, that would be ideal. It's the kind of delight your lungs can't handle.

But, that kind of delight is not a constant state of emotion and maybe that's why I liked singing this song so much on Sunday during communion. It is a peaceful prayer that believes God is faithful. It is a prayer that believes God will keep His promises. It is a prayer that trudges through death and sorrow and ugliness, believing God can and will restore.

Psalm 126 (Our Mouths They Were Filled)

Our mouths they were filled, filled with laughter Our tongues they were loosed, loosed with joy Restore us, O Lord Restore us, O Lord

Although we are weeping Lord, help us keep sowing The seeds of Your Kingdom For the day You will reap them Your sheaves we will carry Lord, please do not tarry All those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy

The nations will say, “He has done great things!” The nations will sing songs of joy Restore us, O Lord Restore us, O Lord

This is a familiar heartbeat of mine that is hard to explain. It is the messy sadness I feel even while I am rooted in joy. It is hoping and believing when days are weighty and when words are flat. It is the joy of an eternal God who has promised restoration and will be faithful to deliver.

Although we are weeping Lord, help us keep sowing The seeds of Your kingdom For the day You will reap them Your sheaves we will carry Lord, please do not tarry All those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy

And this is the good, hard work of believing Him for who He is. When we are weeping, He is the help to sow the seeds of His kingdom. When we are weak and afraid and tired and lazy and distracted, He is the strength we need to live outwardly and love unselfishly.

He is building a kingdom and He is using the weepers. He is populating heaven and He has not just asked the bubbly ones to be recruiters.

I love that He is the strength and the help for those who obey through tears. This is a hard fought believing. This is a daily grind believing and future grace is the rhythm.

I believe He is able to restore and I believe He is able to redeem. And I believe He will.

when God says "you are mine"

Sometimes we sort out identity with "I" statements. We say things like, "I am a city dweller, I am a counselor, I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am a writer..." and all those other identifiers that are helpful in awkward, small talk conversations. And when we explain our identities, we are simultaneously reassuring ourselves that these statements are fact.

But every once in a while (and maybe often) the statements seem empty. We finish the small talk and say to ourselves, "Am I really?" We walk away feeling uncertain because the identity statements depend on a power bigger than my ability to possess.

I've been reading from Charles Spurgeon's "Morning and Evening Readings" and this morning, the verse was short and simple, from 1 Corinthians 3:23.

"You are Christ's."

It was an identity statement, but it spoke to a place my words can't reach. These are the statements spoken over the life of a believer - over all the fears and worries and hopes and dreams.

"You are His by donation - for the Father gave you to the Son. You are His by His bloody purchase - for He paid the price for your redemption. You are His by dedication - for you have consecrated yourself to Him. You are His by relation - for you are named by His name, and made one of His brethren and joint-heirs." - Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Readings

The life that God breathes into my bones, more than just holding me together as He holds the world (Colossians 1:17), are these precious words, "You are mine" (Isaiah 43:1).

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

I am a lot of things, depending on the day of the week and the amount of time my mind has to wander.

But I am always His, because He said so.

It has nothing to do with the way I small talk or my professional progress. It has nothing to do with my pedigree or and nothing to do with the words I choose to describe my identity. My identity begins and ends with the words securing my eternity: "you are mine." Spurgeon encourages the Christian to step into the identity Christ has declared,"Labor practically to show the world that you are the servant, the friend, the bride of Jesus." Later, He writes,

"When the cause of God invites you - give your goods and yourself away, for you are Christ's. Never belie your profession. Be ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven - that all who see you may know that you are the Savior's, recognizing in you His features of love and His countenance of holiness.

I want to be more productive at being the Lord's, better at accepting His invitation to give myself away. Because He is my identity, my life should have the look of heaven. My Monday night words and my middle-of-the-work-week thoughts and my small talk struggles should look like I believe the identity spoken over me.

This week, I will listen for God's voice saying, "You are mine."

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slow motion holiday

The moment I walked into my parents' sleepy farmhouse, I rattled off a long list of promises to my niece - about forts and decorated cookies and potato stamps and monkey games. I wanted to do everything wonderful and I wanted to do it all at once. Between the two of us, I'm not sure who was more like a 3 three year old, but at one point my mom said, "Honey, why don't you just choose one thing and do it all the way." That was yesterday.

This morning, in the Sunday rush and rumble to get ready for church, Natalie crawled on my lap and said, "I just need to snuggle for a little bit." There she goes again, stepping into the moments standing right in front of me without making lists about the moments that follow. Maybe my niece and my mom are in cahoots to get some slow motion in my life.

I'm breathing deeper now, breathing advent in slowly and letting the anticipation sink in deep. Because longing does not mean impatience and excitement does not mean busy plans. Looking for my Savior is something I can savor slowly, like Sunday morning snuggles and Saturday night fort building.

Slow seems to be a theme these days, especially as I reflect on advent.

This gift of a Savior baby - a miracle sent to meet all our messes - was not a rush job. God didn't wait until things got real bad, until Gotham was nearly a graveyard, before sending his superhero. No, He didn't send the Messiah out of fear that the world was caving in and evil was winning.

God conducted the world and everything in it like the perfect notes in an orchestra. He knew redemption was necessary the moment He set creation in motion. He knew how far we would fall from his plans and how busy we would make ourselves in making our own. He knew all this and still stayed with His salvation plan from the beginning.

This week, I've been thinking about Father, Son and Holy Spirit knowing what redemption would look like. Thousands of years of knowing that salvation would involve serious sacrifice. An eternity past of knowing that the Son would be sent to be the Savior of the world.

What a very long time.

Yet, the Lord was never anxious about His plans. He did not crowd or cram the calendar. Because He is sovereign, His plans are never foiled. He did not need to move fast.

There was enough time for celestial choirs and enough time for repeating the sounding joy. Repeat the sounding joy. Slowly.

joy to the world! the Savior reigns let men their songs employ! while fields and floods and hills and plains repeat the sounding joy!

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I'm spending this holiday in slow motion - savoring fully the invitation to come and adore Christ the Lord.

a different kind of Christmas song

I love the melodies of this season. You might even catch me singing out of church calendar order. "O Come, Let us Adore Thee" always feels appropriate probably because adoration is always appropriate. We are welcome to approach the throne of grace in every season and adoration seems the proper thing to sing. But, today there is a different melody ... one that isn't getting lost between The Christmas Song and Mariah Carey. The melody is not like the hallelujah chorus. It doesn't feel like the candlelight service. This melody is different.

I am singing sadness into this beautiful season and I don't know if that's altogether okay. I don't know if that emotion jives with the church calendar and with the anticipation of my Savior and when others are singing "repeat the sounding joy"?

Can I sing sadness at Christmas?

I think I am, regardless. This song is not all sad, but it is not all "tidings of comfort and joy," either.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/xgdNrppahI4]

Christ came down because we are wretched and wayward. He left glory and snuggled into a humble straw bed because we worship other gods. But, mostly He came down because in His great love He is exalted.

He came quietly, like a whisper in the winter.

And His life shook the universe while He held the universe together. He rubbed shoulders with brokenness, broke bread with sinners, and invited the lowly to dinner. He loved without exception, but He never apologized for the message of redemption - the message that creation is in desperate need of saving.

And if you give a good honest look at our desperate need, it might make you sad, too. Sad that He had to come the way He did, sad that we are so hardheaded and sad that we couldn't learn a different way. Sad that after a miracle birth and miracle resurrection we are still learning and still desperate.

There are a lot of people stuffed on to subway trains, with trees and shopping bags and too many tired faces. Christmas is work here, like a second or third job. It gets spelled out in wrinkles and reprimands and cumbersome boxes and Christmas is work.

Limbs start to feel like lead and the "Christmas spirit" is sly like a fox.

And maybe that's why I am sad. Because the world is still dark. Even though the light came as a miracle in a stable, but the world is still rushing in blind darkness - collecting toys and keeping up appearances and wishing happy holidays.

Sadness is an okay way to feel at Christmas, but it is never the end of the story. In my heart I know that Christ conquered the grave and with that death and darkness fell, too. I know that there is a standing invitation to dance in marvelous light - an invitation that I can extend to every Christmas-weary soul.

Christ came to give life, and life abundant. He came to walk out perfect obedience, to demonstrate perfect love. He came because He was the only One able to perfectly satisfy the payment a world of sin required. And in His coming and living, He showed us the way.

Sadness is an okay emotion, maybe, if it is a prayer. And that is what I am singing today - a prayer to be an instrument, to be a little bit like the miracle who came to redeem me out of a life of darkness.

This is the Christmas song I am singing today.

living slowly, breaking ground

Slow does not seem to happen anymore. Slow hangs like an abstract painting between more palatable pieces - between fast and lazy. This season is sick with fast and lazy, with running around shopping malls and with hiding under thick covers. Too much spending and too much rushing, too much pampering and too much justifying selfish pursuits. Too much. And the hustle is exhausting.

Somewhere along the way, we equated slow with "unproductive" and savor with "inefficient." We let ourselves slide into routines of excess that glorify our gluttony. We are either obsessing about productivity or obsessing about recuperating from productivity.

We forget to experience good things slowly.

Last week was an exception. Last week, twelve new and old friends gave beautiful meaning to the phrase, "reclining at table" when we lingered for hours over our Thanksgiving meal. Our hodgepodge living room was candlelit and crowded. The laughter reached all the empty corners where bare walls still meet bare floor. We passed our potluck food around three stretched tables and no one was rushing. We lingered. From appetizers to desserts, we lingered.

A week later, I am learning these lessons of slowly. I am learning to be selfless with a "list of things to do on my day off" when what I think I want is fast and lazy. No, everyday cannot be a day I host a thanksgiving feast in my apartment. But everyday can be about intentionally experiencing good things slowly, like conversations and thoughtful gift making.

Rush, buy, build, pamper, play. I can't keep up with the Joneses and I don't know who can. I'm going to be honest: are the Joneses even happy, whoever they are?

It isn't about doing less in life. Well, maybe it is. Maybe it is about choosing wisely so the good things we choose can be done slowly. I am tackling a "to do list" today, just like anyone would on a day free of 9-5 schedule. But, I want to tackle it slowly. I want my checkbook and my dayplanner to reflect a slow, savored, unselfish day.

And then, I guess I want that to be every day. It's an upstream swim here in NYC, but it is everywhere.

This song by Sara Watkins is on repeat, literally. The rhythm reminds me to breathe deeply and walk slowly when more important people are rushing around my shoulders. The words remind me that slow living is not less important, not less accomplished. Living slowly and savoring good things is still hard work with sweet reward.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/eLpBPiGt248]

Living slowly is about breaking ground for good things.

There is a reward inside our slow, hard work when it is done unselfishly. We are free to be unselfish because Christ gave Himself for us. We are not confident in our efficiency and neither do we trust our cleverness to complete what we've started in breaking ground. We do not revel in past accomplishments or dwell on past failures. As we build on broken ground, we are not hasty in construction or worried about completion because that has already been promised.

We savor good things when we work slowly for others, trusting God to complete and perfect the work. He will take our hodgepodge to-do lists and our hodgepodge gatherings and our hodgepodge 9-5 work days - He will take them all and make them productive. We are left to savor slowly the miracle of working and serving and loving at all.

I shall not want

It happened yesterday in Prospect Park - when I was rounding the bend down the slope, right after I stopped to take a picture of the lake. The Saturday children's soccer games were in the middle of playful competition on the fields, various groups clustered around pastel balloons for birthday parties, and there was a small gathering who had followed hand-painted wooden signs down a slight slope to celebrate a wedding. The colors were turning, but soft like a whisper. The sun was making warm paths of light to reach the turning leaves on the opposite side of the lake.

I got emotional.

I suppose that isn't surprising, given my emotional history and over-dramatization of most events, at least for story's sake. But it did surprise me and I had to close my eyes for a few paces to collect myself.

Have you ever stretched out your fingers into rays of sunlight? All the mystery of those rays reaching us, dancing on our fingertips, evading our capture - it normally makes me marvel. How is it that the light that warms our faces comes from a gigantic spherical furnace? How is it that it gets as far as earth and remains at the perfect distance to sustain life? How is it?

Normally, rays of light and soccer games and birthday parties and wedding celebrations make me marvel, but yesterday they made me emotional. I guess because I couldn't hold the light or be in the soccer game or sit with the ladies in lawn chairs or wave a flag at the wedding.

I felt very small and very disconnected - like knowing and being known here is too distant a thing to reach.

The faces I met - on bikes and in strollers and in road weary running shoes - I did not know, not a single one. Commotion is not hard to come by in this city and with it the potential that I am missing out on something beautiful. Festivals, neighborhood parties, service events, art openings - commotion and opportunity and all this potential for beautiful make me acutely aware when I am outside and unattached.

This is not my city, yet. And it took me a while to shake the feelings last night or to do more than resolve the feelings away. Sometimes it is good to feel what you feel - to step into it fully and make peace with the way it got tangled inside.

This morning, I have different eyes to see the shortness in my chest for what it was: fear.

Today I'll reach out and let the same sun dance on my fingertips, but I will choose to marvel because I have a God who keeps His promises. I know a God who is my Savior and who has promised to provide and protect and preserve these bones.

I shall not want.

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pray to the One I love

This Friday is passing without much ado about anything. I'm not sure if I'd prefer much ado about nothing. I think I'd prefer much ado, period. But, Fridays and Tuesdays and Sundays are not about preference as much as they are about presence. So, I'm streaming the new Civil Wars album while I write reports and smiling about the next three weeks that are about to unfold in front of my face. I'm just jamming to this beauty and loving the Lord who gave us song.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/btcGAAahSTs]

It feels like I just said yes to a hot air balloon ride without a destination - and now I will just enjoy the surprises with the scenery. Nothing makes sense and I am so glad I can laugh at that.

Well, I take that back.

One thing makes sense and that's all the sense I need.

God is good, all the time.

 

there is a record repeating

There is a record repeating inside your head. I don't know what your record sounds like, but I can tell you mine. While baking and biking and bantering with my dear friend this weekend, I leaned in to hear all the layers of God's grace. While running and laughing and backyard bonfiring, I tried to feel the beat of His provision for my soul.

Some things are too precious to pare down into typed phrases... the music rightly refuses to be smashed into lyrical lines. But as much as beauty transcends structure, it also acquiesces in a way that allows us to see and hear the glory.

Ok, enough of the abstract.

Today the words of Psalm 18:30-31 gave lyric to the melody I've been hearing for the past week. Deep inside the anxious moments full of questions - those moments that threaten to steal beauty's song (When will I move to NYC? Will I have a job? Am I stupid for relocating across the country? Is God's grace deep enough to reach me when I'm stupid? Money - do I have to make it?), God is there. Deep inside the moments where I don't know how to rightly enjoy all the gifts - when I am drowning in blessings and beauty and grace - God is there. As sure as Mt. Everest is rooted in the ground of China and Nepal, God is steady and faithful and sure. Always.

Steady, faithful, sure. Steady, faithful, sure.

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?—

There is no debate, no blessing, no disaster, no gift, no doubt or heartache that can alter His character. Who is like God? No one. Absolutely no one can say what God can say and be truthful.

This record repeating in my heart found words today in these verses. I have been singing them all day long, trusting and hoping and believing that the word of the Lord proves true.

And as I trust his way is perfect, his word is true, his shield is refuge - as I believe these things deep inside the tangled mess of beauty/grace/anxious/doubting moments - I claim His victory over death and His provision of life.

He is steady. He is faithful. He is sure.

What a beautiful record repeating in my soul. Now, that my heart would align with the song!

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this ain't no kind of religion

If it was, I'd be doomed. If this life is about religion, I'd be zonked, smothered, shriveled, beat up, dried out, and downcast. If yesterday was about measuring up and looking good and doing right, I failed.

I thought a run would cure my sour rhythm, but right before I left I opted for the rollerblades. I wanted to feel the wind faster in my face, I guess. Halfway around Gray's Lake, after picking up speed on the perfect slope, a very large and very deep pool of water stretched over the path. I made a last minute decision to go off-roading on the grass, which ended as quickly as it started - with me on my back.

I jumped up and blade ran (sideways with arms pumping) across the rest of the grass until the path was clear. I'm not really sure why I did this because blade running is not a thing. No one runs on rollerblades in the grass.

But when I picked up speed again on the other side of that pool of water, I thought about a conversation I had with a colleague recently. She said, "Yeah, I just get sick of some Christians in my life saying they want to do more Christian stuff. I'm like, 'Why don't you just stop talking about it and live it?' I mean, I'm not much into religion, but I do it 40 hours a week. It's my job."

This colleague is my favorite, but I couldn't make any sense of her statements. I think she was saying that she does what Christians talk about every work week - it's her day job. Apparently, there are "Christians" in her life who have less humanitarian jobs and they feel guilty about their efforts to better humanity. She's not a fan of religion, but she does it pretty well anyway.

In any case, I was thinking about this conversation when I was rollerblading (faster now to escape the humiliation of my fall) when night was settling on the city.

And I knew that every doomed day would stay doomed if it was about religion. Even if we all worked in the social services field all day, every day... even if we helped a thousand zillion people because of our efforts... even then we would be doomed if it was about religion.

THIS IS LOVE.

Christ breaks through every day that we fail to "do religion" perfectly (and that's every day). He sets us free from human measurements and standards. He invites us to dance unashamed because our freedom was purchased by His love.

In every way we fall short, His grace extends far enough.

Can you feel it? It's like rain, this love. It falls on the mighty and the weak, the smart and the simple, the famous and the obscure. His love falls on those who wrestle in doubt, cower in fear, and push back in anger. It's like a downpour, this love.

His love accepts our incomplete efforts because the only measurement is Christ. He accomplished everything so I could accomplish anything at all.

Thursday is a good day to get soaked.

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God said so (and I trust Him)

This morning was just a morning. The rest of the day followed in the same suit - the sunrise and the meetings and the reports and the visits were nothing magical. There were no moments where I caught a glimpse of the glorious inside the mundane of this Monday.

And I hated myself a little bit for it, because I know the glory is there. I hated that something in me didn't melt when the little boy's lips formed around the new word "moon" as he pointed to the sky. I want to see the glory always and I mostly write about when I do - the sunsets that raise my religious affections and the child's laugh that unleashes my own spirit of freedom.

But some days just feel like days - sometimes running paths and book chapters and dishes are just running paths and book chapters and dishes. And there is no epiphany to write about on facebook or capture on instagram.

Some days are just days.

And this is the day when what I know becomes very important. Absent affections, when days are just days and work is just work and the people on the running path are just people, what I know to be true is very important. This is what I know:

You are faithful, never-changing, age to age, You remain the same Your steadfast love endures forever

So, I close my eyelids and stare at that strange nothingness. I know the beauty and glory of creation is lit up on the other side of my sight, but not because it feels like more than just a day.

I know it is beautiful because it is beautiful. God said so and I trust Him.

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the Light by which I see anything lovely

This Saturday is perfect, down to the perfect timing of a perfect rain after a perfect rollerblade in the park. Too perfect? As we walked around the Farmer's Market this morning, my friend (and aunt) mentioned that she and her husband had noticed the rose-colored glasses I've been wearing on this blog lately. Apparently, my rosy shades make every post sound too perfect. Can e-v-er-y-thing make a smile stretch across my face?

She said something like, "I mean, you are always joyful... but this sounds different. We can tell."

My aunt and uncle are two of my most favorite people in the world. Their hammock chairs on the back porch have hosted some of my favorite conversations. They are also numbered in the very small army of people who suffer through this blog regularly. So, when they say they can tell my tone has changed, I listen.

As it turns out, twitterpated is a real thing. You know, from Bambi? I'm not sure it happened to me quite like this, but it might be why everything looks so rosy. Maybe.

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But, can I get personal? I don't do this often... or ever, I guess. I try to keep things at a healthy, ambiguous distance when it comes to life's precious details. I probably overshare about spiritual inspiration and my embarrassing escapades, but I tread more carefully when it comes to love.

Oh, I can write about singleness all day. It's been my life for - well, for most of 28 years and it is a beautiful place to be. Truly. And I am not just saying that to encourage my lady friends who get sick at the twitterpated spring season. I believe singleness is beautiful for the same reasons I believe being in love is beautiful. All beauty springs from the same well, which is maybe why it's hard to get specific.

all beauty springs from the same well

There is a story to tell, though. It's actually still being written, but I guess I'm wearing rose-colored glasses in this chapter and maybe you'll want to look through them, too...

When a certain young man from out of town showed up on my doorstep, I forgot I had known him for 16 years. I forgot that he knew my heart so well. I forgot how our laughter made so much sense together.

After a week wrapped in prayer and blessing, he said a lot of things, but this one thing was what really melted my heart. He said, "Care, I know that you will always love the Lord more than you love me. And that's what I love most about you."

Maybe that doesn't sound romantic, but it reached a place in my heart Hallmark will never find. Yesterday, I said that same thing about him, but to my boss as I explained why I would be moving to New York City soon (she assumed it was because he was so good looking).

Yes, love is a many splendored thing. It can make bad days and good days feel like heaven days. But, there is an anchor for my soul and it is not this many splendored thing called love. It is not this love that is chasing away my fear of the future and anxiety over unknowns. It is not this love that wakes the sun and illumines the moon.

This love that melts my insides is merely a reflection. A very wonderful reflection that does sometimes make me feel light as a feather, but is still a reflection of the greatest Love that is every bit of the security and joy and abundant life I seek. It is more than weak-in-the-knees and more than twitterpated seasons. This greatest Love teaches me how to love by way of brokenness and sacrifice. Jesus was broken, battered, and bleeding so that I might feel His greatest Love that brings me to repentance and restoration. Forever a sure and steadfast anchor of my soul.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19, ESV

I wish I could say I will always love the Lord more than I love Patrick. I wish I could say I'm not swayed by being weak in the knees. I wish I could know that I will never get swept away with my own ideas and expectations of this many splendored thing. I hope all these things will be true of me and true of our love.

But, then I remember how an anchor works. I remember that God is a promise keeper and my hope is secure in His promise to make me holy. He is my sure and steadfast anchor when my soul is silly in love and when my soul is drowning in heartache.

His love is the Light by which I see anything lovely.

And yes, this twitterpated season is very lovely. I smile more and giggle often and I do all the things I thought I was too rational and down-to-earth to do. But, all beauty springs from the same well, whether you've gone to fetch water for one or two. And I know that this beauty is about discovering another way the Lord is good to us.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/gIqjUukBFVw]

Love is what has brought us here with the courage to come near chase away our pride and our fears with the Light to carry on

when faith sees

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21)

What does it look like to be convinced that God is able to do what He promises? And what does it look like when what is promised is impossible?

What if someone told you that one day you would be the President or that you would be the Queen? And what if it wasn't just an offhand comment, but a promise. It would be an impossible promise (maybe not for you, in which case I'm very honored that you are reading my blog).

Abraham was promised something impossible, but He was convinced in God's faithfulness to keep His promises. There were a lot of details that didn't make sense - a lot of good practical reasons to doubt the Word of the Lord - but Abraham persevered in faith. God's grace allowed Abraham to believe and grow stronger in His belief that God would keep His promise.

This active believing was counted to Abraham as righteousness. God wrote out the storyline (Abraham would be the father of nations) and then by His grace Abraham lived out the impossible story by His belief that it was true.

Abraham had no idea of knowing what the promises would look like, but he knew what God's faithfulness looked like - steadfast, sure, steady, true.

Sometimes, we are consumed with figuring out what the promises will look like when they are fulfilled. How will God show Himself faithful in finding me a job? How will God's promise be fulfilled in my friendships? How can God be faithful to overcome the evil in the world and dispel the lies? How do I believe what He promises about eternity?

What will His fulfilled promises look like in my life - in those impossible things?

God's faithfulness to keep every promise He has ever made gives us a clear picture of the Promise Keeper. Sometimes we are not meant to see what those impossible promises look like, but we are always meant to see who holds the promises secure.

Our faith sees this Promise Keeper and actively believes in His faithfulness. 

Abraham could never have imagined what God was promising - what it would look like. He never would have expected that Christ would come as a result of God's promise and die to demonstrate His faithfulness and mercy. In Christ, God made a way for us and proved His ultimate promise keeping in the most impossible situation: satisfying the debt we owed and securing our place with Him for eternity.

Our faith sees this Promise Keeper and actively believes He will continue keeping promises, even if we have no idea what the promises will look like when they are kept.

I am not the fixer: a repeat lesson on grace and faith

No advice is ever new. It's all been said before and probably many times. When she was growing up, my mom jokingly numbered her dad's talks. He would sigh deep and launch into a lesson on life and she would say, "Oh, is this #642?" Because, of course, she'd heard them all (hasn't every teenager?). Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat. I don't know what number lesson it is, but it's the one I need almost every day and especially on this day. A couple cases were just stretching my heart to breaking. I found myself thinking up ways I could make things easier for the kids and for the parents and for the transitions. But, it's just all so messy.

Broken relationships, broken trust, broken love, broken houses. Brokenness can never stay as is without someone suffering payment.

When things break, someone has to pay.

I don't have to tell you about the brokenness. You see it, too. Your best friend, co-worker, dad, brother, cousin, neighbor, step-sister... you are familiar with brokenness and you know its high cost.

I had about an hour after a meeting yesterday and before my nightly rounds began. After work ended, I would have another very difficult personal conversation about brokenness. In the middle of work and personal messes, I needed to remember that messes are well beyond my power to fix them.

I am not the fixer.

The very best way I can respond when messes make their way to my door or crawl out of my own heart is to seek the Lord.

So, I sat with my computer in my lap and read this little devotional from Solid Joys on Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith." I needed to hear the lesson on faith because it rightly positions my heart to seek sufficiency where it can be found. It doesn't matter how many times I've heard it before, my heart needed to hear it again.

Because I am not the fixer. I don't have the tools or the expertise. I don't have the right words or the right timing. I don't have the power to mend brokenness or pay for its destruction. I don't have access to that kind of bounty.

Faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God. (John Piper, Future Grace p. 182-183)

Oh, but I love my Jesus!

In faith, I can believe that He is the same grace-giver today that He was yesterday, the same sufficient provider and the same bondage breaker. His resources never end. All the cost of brokenness that ever was does not exceed the payment of the cross. But He does not just make payment for all the ways we've been in wrong relationship with God and man, He restores us and renews us and revives us once again. The broken are mended and made new in Christ.

By His grace, we believe He is capable of this kind of miraculous mending. As often as I hear the lesson, I cling to the grace that allows my belief. Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat.

And do you know what He did?

As I made a mess of nightly rounds, a colleague asked me, "You seem different, peaceful. You kinda strike me as the tree-hugger type..."

I didn't really know what to do with that, but it felt like he was making a compliment. He backtracked and danced around political correctness (ah, government workers), but I kind of giggled, "Well, I'm not exactly a tree-hugger, but I do feel at peace."

And then I explained it was because of my faith that I could have any peace at all. I thought that might be the end of it. Nobody wants to hear about "religion" these days, so we're told. But, he did and he started asking questions. We were both a captive audience in that car and I knew the clock said I was late to my next two appointments, but I felt a very perfect calmness.

He'd been brought up Baptist, but then he got "curious" and frustrated with a God who required punitive damages - the exchange of hellbound consequences for actions didn't seem consistent with forgiveness and mercy.

I'm almost positive he did not take a direct route to our destination and the part of me that was antsy about the time was won over by the part of me that was excited about his questions. We talked about sin requiring payment (from somebody) and the mercy God showed in giving the payment on our behalf. In our line of work, we are familiar with brokenness and payment required... but the miracle of salvation is that a third party steps in to pay AND to mend. And God is the only one with the power and authority to do so.

I prayed for him and his family all the way to my next appointment - that they would soon be numbered as sons and daughters of the King. And I breathed deep the grace that gave me faith to believe it is possible - for him and for me. This is a lesson I need on repeat.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

cast your deadly "doing" down

Complete has a faster footspeed than my best race pace. I've chased it enough to know it's always just beyond my reach. A quiet morning is sometimes the best backdrop to be still and let truth sink in. That's where I am this morning - sitting while white hot Truth is sinking in deep. And the word complete makes sense at this speed.

Some days, I chase wholeness with diet soda and frenzied activity. Other days I chase it curled up with books and blankets. All the chasing and the doing feels like the fastest way to accomplish completeness. It feels productive and shrewd and mature to be busy with all the right things.

But complete has a faster footspeed than my best race pace, and the only way I've ever caught up to feel the fullness of it is to just be still. This stanza from the hymn "It is Finished" by James Proctor captures the beauty of completeness in just the way this morning needs.

Cast your deadly “doing” down— Down at Jesus’ feet; Stand in Him, in Him alone, Gloriously complete.

Yes, often my "doing" is deadly and must be cast at Jesus' feet. It's strange how tightly I can hold something that kills me - how firmly I can grip something that eats away completeness from the inside. How foolish I am to cling to the very thing that prevents wholeness (in an effort to make myself whole). It sounds dreadful.

I praise God for Truth in the stillness on Wednesday mornings, when the birds and the neighbors and the buzz of traffic accompany my reverie. I praise God for inviting me to cast my deadly "doing" down at His feet (time and time again). I praise God for His sufficiency that makes me whole. I praise God for the work of Christ, where I am complete.

There is nothing I can do that will get me closer to what's been done.

I am complete - gloriously complete and that is sealed by the finished work of Christ on the cross. No amount of doing or chasing or wishing or wasting can come close to accomplishing what Christ did. So, the best thing to do in the stillness of a Wednesday morning is praise. I will praise today with my feet planted firmly in Him alone.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_dAswUDjpE]

the good kind of dizzy - reflections on Pentecost

I knew the pews would creak to announce our tardiness into the sanctuary, but no one seemed to mind. The rows were old like the building, but not unfamiliar. Worshippers sat spaced out, in clusters and alone, and they all seemed to be taking a collective sabbath sigh as the liturgy began.

And we spoke together, slowly.

I sank into the collective sabbath sigh and let the quiet rest my soul. The pace inside the church did not match the streets outside; it savored the words and the melodies and the notes of praise coming from the ensemble in the corner. And somewhere in the standing and sitting and reading and singing and praying, the pastor preached on Pentecost in the present tense - the now of God's Holy Spirit provision that we wouldn't be orphans.

I mangled my notes with doodles and arrows and bold letters. The beauty of Jesus promising that even better things would be achieved in this provision than He achieved while on earth is astounding.

 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you,sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:5-7

sermon notes

Though the air was quiet and my soul full of Sabbath rest, my mind rushed to gather insight from the Word. Bread for the soul is the best way to understand the way the Word nourishes our spiritual bones. And it is this hunger that spun my mind's wheels on that creaky pew.

The Spirit lives (in the present tense) and gives (in the present tense) peace and fights (in the present tense) for my sanctification.

When Jesus left, we were not abandoned. In fact, the Holy Spirit expanded the reach of Jesus beyond a locality and beyond the limit of a lifetime. The Holy Spirit ensured my rescue from abandonment and God's faithfulness to His promise to sanctify the chosen.

He is daily, joyfully, continuously, and graciously rescuing me from orphanhood. His promise-keeping secures my place in His family, forever.

I don't mean to say there is a danger He would not, but the beauty of being awed by His doing so re-positions my worship. Hm. I can't quite tame the wild realizations of my heart or find words to make sense of my joy. The moment I think I've grasped an intelligible way of relating these discoveries, I've lost it. But I know it was something wonderful because the surge in my soul was electric.

I am rescued from orphanhood and my rescue is present tense as much as it is past. At the end of the sermon while I was caught in my doodles, the pastor said something and I can't tell you what it was. But while he said it I wrote this down,

"Our good works are the evidence of God's promise-keeping."

God sent the Spirit to be active in the present tense to reach beyond the locality and lifespan of Jesus and reach people like me. God is daily keeping His promise to be faithful, to provide, to delight, to redeem, to rescue, and to reveal His glory.

This powerfully translates into our completing the good works that were planned for us to do (Ephesians 2). When we are effective for the kingdom, it is not because we were faithful to answer the call or maintain the resolve or finish the race.

We are effective because He is faithful to keep His promises.

We are being made holy because He is faithful. We are humbled because He is faithful. We are successful because He is faithful. We mourn with the grieving because He is faithful. We live in community because He is faithful. We serve our neighbors because He is faithful. We love the downtrodden because He is faithful. We release the captive because He is faithful.

His promise-keeping enables us to do good works and those good works return glory to the One whose faithfulness empowered them.

Oh, what a mess. I've made no sense and much sense and many circles. Sometimes the circles spin my heart with delight and I give in. I don't mind if delighting in the Lord makes me dizzy.

I got the good kind of dizzy on Sunday, spinning around in circles to understand the mysterious faithfulness of our gracious God.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the glory of radiance - hidden and revealed

"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light." from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, p. 280

It is raining today, so describing Creation as a poor gray ember seems fitting. The rain brings the clouds into the streets and muddles the footsteps of the city. Robinson's character John Ames preached the words above in a Pentecost sermon and remembers them in a letter to his son. He follows the quote by reflecting on his words,

"But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see."

In the middle of spitting and dreary rain it is hard to be hopeful. It is hard to see beyond the poor gray ember or believe it is capable of burning something bright. The way we slide into the gray and adjust to the dullness makes hope a very courageous endeavor. To believe God waits to blow radiance from gray embers is a crazy notion, a grace given to courageous eyes.

We do not believe hope into being true, but instead believe our eyes into seeing that hope is truth.

As Ames reflected on his pentecost words, he qualified his statement by saying God has given us grace to see the radiance that always shines. There is beauty in the mystery of glory hidden and beauty in the mystery of glory revealed. And the radiance always looks like the glory of God.

There is a radiance that always shines and God gives grace for us to open our eyes.

raced the river

Last night, I raced the river (chasing the current like I thought I could catch up) with a silly smile across my face. The trees had shaken off the snow from the mysterious Spring storm and I shared the path with bikers, runners, dogs, and the most adorable lady with a walker. I threw my smile at all of them, giggling at the children who roamed unaware of the etiquette I assume is standard on any city path (don't walk directly towards someone running in your direction). I raced the river and caught several times on the breeze what C.S. Lewis would describe as "joy." It was an excitement that fluttered with a "heaven-like longing" that cannot be fully satisfied on earth, but even the presence of the longing overflowed in delight.

Dr. Jerry Root explains one of the central themes in Lewis's writing, heavily influenced from his own experiences with Joy. He spoke reverently in "Surprised by Joy," his autobiography, about the brief passing moments where he experienced an unexplainable bliss and then was left to figure out how to experience it again.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/36670868]

Well, anyway... as I raced the river last night I knew I wouldn't catch it. I knew I could not really take in the beauty of the cool early evening in the way I wanted to, the way the evening wanted me to. I think that was part of the blissful moment - knowing there was too much beauty to take in, even if I drank in every scene as I ran on the path.

So, my joy bubbled out because it couldn't be contained. The river, the overcast sky, the families, the bikers, the little old lady with her walker, and the children wandering out into the middle of the action - all these very simple and mundane threads in the fabric of a Sunday night, but every bit a reason to smile.

Sunday evenings are great medicine for Monday mornings, yes? The scenes are different, but there is joy hidden in this day - the sunshine, the birds, and that crazy owl that is trying to tell me a story. I'm on my way to a staff meeting, but I'll first be dropping off these little love bundles for "every day in May" creative challenge.

blessings, stamped and ready for sending

 

conductor and composer

The birds are singing again this morning. I'm not sure where they hid when weary winter came for a surprising May visit. I saw many of them fluttering about in confusion, but this morning they are singing again. And I know who is sustaining them.

I know the One who is holding things together so the birds can sing their song to heaven for a morning audience. I know Him.

The birds are singing and how can I not sing with them? I get overwhelmed at the song creation sings because I know there is always a place for me in the choir. As God does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3), He is pleased to hold things together (Colossians 1:17) and invite us into His joy.

The birds do not sing to say thank you as God holds them together and writes the music for their song. They do not sing to exchange beauty for beauty.

The birds sing because God gave them a song.

Who has given a gift to God that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. (Romans 11:35–36)

The birds sing because God receives glory when creation steps into His joy and He wrote the music for just such a celebration. He is the conductor as much as He is the composer of creation's song and there is a part for me to sing today.

May God be praised as I sing the song hidden in my heart in praise of His glorious grace!

[youtube=http://youtu.be/ckTrJi-bKGQ]

I sing because

Today, I will rest on His goodness - in my doubting and in my fears. And inside my resting I will sing freedom and joy into the blowing, Friday sunshine. I will sing to remember His constant friendship, His faithful refuge, and His future grace. 

I will wake up my affections at morning and noonday and evening to throw my heart's melodies at the skies because this is what my heart is most at home to do.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/gfSI3mnZaqQ]

let LOVE fly like cRaZy