this tornado loves you

I have to give credit to Neko. Her song "this tornado loves you" was the inspiration for all the surprise birthday party craziness. Well, her and Patrick's obsession with surprises. I wanted the whole night to feel like a tornado - the surprises, the plans, and the people. But, the best kind of tornado - the reason why Helen Hunt was one of those storm chasers in the movie Twister. Because there is something exciting about getting swept up in that spinning motion; there is something really thrilling about the energy in the air that can lift things off the ground.

That's the kind of feeling I wanted to create.

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The surprise-keeping was torture. Last night, after he walked in and looked like this:

photos courtesy of Chris!

...after that I started breathing again. Why was it so important for him to walk into a room full of people celebrating him unexpectedly? Because he loves surprises and I love him. 

All the weeks of knotted up insides and half-truth schemes and several versions of party themes... all of it was worth the look on his face when he realized his friends in this city will do crazy things to make him feel special.

He didn't make it easy, though. He wanted to come over yesterday to help me deep clean my apartment (from the terrarium party the week before). After I had hidden the morning's baked goods and refrigerated the first of many bacon treats and covered the rum bacon ice cream, I relented. He brought over fresh doughnuts and his Swiffer (the good kind that sprays) and immediately handy-manned a lamp we've been needing to fix. Then he spent a good 20 minutes beating my area rug on the fire escape before we cleaned all the floors. He almost insisted on carrying my laundry down, but I wiggled out of that one (because the laundry was a ruse to get him out for a few hours, but I legitimately need to do laundry desperately).

When he left, my party planners (and the best friends ever) arrived and we set the tornado in motion.

And then I changed our dinner plans so many times that he became very hangry. He got so frustrated (to be fair, we had planned to eat at 6:30 and I didn't tell him where to meet us until 7:30). Instead of being suspicious, he was just a really severe combination of hungry and angry. I can thank his stomach for helping to keep the surprise, I guess. But I felt horrible. When he opened the door and I was dressed up, he still didn't think anything of it. He was mostly still hangry.

But then he turned the corner and a room full of people sang to celebrate him. And that whole scene made me so happy!

People brought magnets (one of Patrick's random favorite things) and wrote memories down on tornado cards. There was bacon ice cream and bacon wrapped dates and candied bacon and nutty bacon chocolate bark and chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake. And there was laughter.

Midway through the party, Patrick read one of the tornado cards that said "this surprise has wheels." And everyone grabbed coats in time to make the B43 a party bus (the driver even said Happy Birthday, Pat over the microphone when we got off). We caught a sweet concert that our friend Rebecka rocked out, where we met more friends and ANOTHER surprise cake. From there we headed to one of our favorite spots to close out the night with some multi-colored disco lights and some of Pat's best dance moves. It was all so good, it almost felt like I  was the one unwrapping gifts all night.

But after all that, after all the party planning and party having and party traveling, my favorite part was this morning. It didn't have anything to do with the party last night, but it was the most special thing.

We were sitting in church with big grins across our faces. We greeted our friends we had seen just hours before and we passed the peace to friends we hadn't seen in awhile. We worshipped in song and through prayer and with full hearts as the sun reached through stain glass to warm the tops of our heads. And as we stood in line for communion, we heard "Jesus Paid It All" circling over our heads.

This was my favorite part. There is a bigger tornado of love that swallows up any we can create. It's heavy and light and mysterious and reckless. And it happened this morning when I heard about Jesus healing the paralytic.

As much as we love surprises - giving and receiving and sharing - God must love them most. He made us to have that face we have when we walk into a roomful of people who want to celebrate us. He made us with insides that knot together in nervous excitement when we don't want to spoil the story. He made us and we reflect Him. So He must love surprises. I wonder what face He wore when He surprised creation with His love.

I wonder what His delight looks like when we are surprised by His joy and grace every day.

the way we like to party

We arranged the tables lengthwise in the living room, similar to the Thanksgiving set up. Yeun brought all the supplies - the rocks and soil and sand and a beautiful spread of succulents. I reviewed several mental lists while we waited for the subway at Broadway Junction after work - chocolate chip cookie plans, decorations, and something for dinner. I was nervous about who would come and if they would bring food and if our preparations would flop. I rushed in like a tornado to the apartment. It's pretty standard, I guess. All the day's bottled up energy gets shoved into 1.5 hours leading up to party show time... and this party was especially wonderful because we were throwing it with our neighbor Yeun. Somehow, she tracked down supplies for 20+ people to make terrariums and then she taught us all how to be terrarium making professionals.

My living room looked like a movie set for a miniature world, with inch-high boy scouts and bicyclists and tiny animals strewn about over the moss on the table. But it also looked like friends and strangers and neighbors bent over jars, vases, and fish bowls - getting dirt under their fingernails as they mastered the art of terrariums.

The apartment tours took 5 seconds and they always keep me humble. Yep, just the two rooms. Mmmhm, the walls are always this bare. Oh, this bench you are sitting on? That's a shelf system we found for free and then converted for seating.

But no one cared because the laughter was the right volume. There was a miniature lady crawling up a cactus wall and a miniature boy scout troop walking on a forest path. There were fresh baked cookies and homemade Reese's bars and the perfect new crowd of people huddled around tables making little worlds inside of glass.

I was tired and I won't pretend otherwise. I am hosting a dear friend from Honduras and juggling the normal transit struggle, fighting the NYC frown face and trying to make this giant city a little smaller.

But, I just love hosting other people's joy.

I love when people buzz my apartment and I love pushing the "door" button to let them inside. I love leaving my door open and I love when people walk through the entryway. I love when guests have to share a seat and I love when the joy pushes against the cold on the windows. I love when strangers are friends and when neighbors come over in slippers and I love when people can leave with something in their hands.

After we had tidied and rearranged when the last guest left, I sat down for the first time since 4:30 pm. It was probably after midnight and my feet were making me feel old. It was a tired satisfaction, but the whole night was kind of a blur.

I love hosting other people's joy, but I don't do it perfectly. I get stressed and snap and escape to the kitchen to wash dishes. Last night, before I settled into sleep, I read my evening devotional and this is what it said,

"See to it that sitting at the Savior's feet is not neglected, even though it is under the specious pretext of doing Him service. The first thing for our soul's health - the first thing for His glory - and the first thing for our own usefulness - is to keep ourselves in perpetual communion with the Lord Jesus, and to see that the vital spirituality of our piety, is maintained over and above everything else in the world." - Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Reflections

And my soul said, yes. Yes to parties and hosting and community and fellowship... but first yes to sitting at the Savior's feet. The formers are much more beautiful in proper submission to the latter.

terrarium party terrarium terrarium3

it happens on the regular

I don't like missing you, but it happens on the regular. Like yesterday, sitting next to an empty bench on the 2 train. A couple sat down across from me at the Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum stop, with slightly different but still matching berets covering their gray heads. They took turns leaning in to talk about plans and trains and their trip to the Brooklyn Museum. He wore the fluorescent wristband so casually, not caring if commuters called them tourists. Large, rosy sunglasses rested on her stately nose and a prominent cicada pin was attached to the center of her black beret. He wore round tortoise shell eyeglasses and a plaid scarf tucked up close to his scruffy, gray beard.

When they weren't talking, she just leaned against him with her gloved hands folded across her travelers bag. She slipped into a train induced doze and they looked good together, sitting there.

He took out a pamphlet and then a map and they considered the options for the rest of Sunday afternoon. Their friendship looked worn in, like their scuffed up casual shoes, even if they did look tired from adventures.

I had just seen you a couple hours before, but the train made me miss you. This gray haired couple with a worn-in friendship made me wish you were sitting on the empty bench beside me.

I don't like missing you, but it happens on the regular.

in the name of the One who is not ashamed of you

There are puddles outside, making funny reflections of this strange winter season. It was 50 degrees yesterday and today it is 48 in the Big Apple. These rainy days are making me want Spring to come, and soon. I'm getting hungry for buds and blooms and the kind of wet earth that makes things grow. I'm getting homesick for the time of year when things come alive, up out of the dead ground.

But right now, it is Epiphany season.

We flipped the church calendar after Christmas. After all the wrapping gets stuffed away and all the toys get shoved in corners and under beds. We move on and push forward and just get by until there is something new to celebrate by breaking our routine and budget once again.

But right now, it is Epiphany season.

When Jesus came as a baby, his life was not as short as a birth. His presence was not an event, simply celebrated inside paid holidays. He slept and awoke and ate and drank and loved and walked and served and ... well, he lived. His presence spanned from his first breath to his last gasp - and all the physical life lived in the flatlands in between.

That is what we are celebrating in Epiphany: Christ came and lived with us - next to us in a real house, in a real city, on the real ground of this world.

And it is Epiphany season in the flatlands.

The good news of God's presence is that He was not surprised at the weight of the incarnation. He didn't plan for an early exit once He realized just how bad things had gotten down on earth. His days were marked with human chronology. His heart beat with human rhythm.

In the middle of a wayward world, Christ was not ashamed to know and be known by the neighbors, the neglected, the friends, and the frightened ones. He was present.

What crazy news we carry around with us in the flatlands! Christ chose [and chooses] to be present inside human chronology and present inside human rhythm. He is not ashamed to call us His children, not ashamed to rescue the lost. He is not ashamed to reach down and mend the ways we've been broken and the ways we break others. He is not ashamed to say, "You are mine." The God of the universe was not ashamed to claim my eternity for heaven on the cross and He is not ashamed to cover my life with His presence on earth.

We have the most supreme delight in a gift that is never completely unwrapped, never completely old news, never completely discovered.

We have this delight in the presence of Jesus at our breakfast table and in our daily commute and at the laundromat and at pancake Mondays and at the Saturday night party. Sometimes the delight feels like a fight and other times it feels like free tickets to our favorite destination. But, all the time Jesus is present and all the time His presence never runs out.

I'm learning to practice presence.

I am learning to be present, in the name of the One who is not ashamed of me. That's what I read on Sunday night in my evening reflection and it was fitting because I needed a lesson on presence before Pancake Mondays could get filled with anxiety. Spurgeon wrote,

"Seek in the name of Him who was not ashamed of you - to do some little violence to your feelings, and tell to others what Christ has told to you. If you cannot speak with trumpet tongue, use the still small voice. If the pulpit must not be your tribune, if the press may not carry your words on its wings - yet say with Peter and John, "Silver and gold have I none - but such as I have, I give you.""

It sounds dramatic to do violence to my feelings, but it really is necessary sometimes. Christ's presence is a fact that changes everything, no matter what the colors of my current emotional state. When my anxiety and fears and insecurities are pushed aside, I am free to live like Christ's presence is a game changer for my identity and the most important gift I can give to every person in my day. This is how we celebrate Christ's presence - not like an elephant in the room, but more like a chocolate fountain. It is what excites us, thrills us, animates us, and motivates us to delight.

I've rambled enough for a post-work/pre-evening post. Go out and get present with someone tonight - get kindred and conversational with someone. Neglected and/or neighbor, friend and/or frightened - go out and get present.

Go out and get present because Christ is not ashamed to be present with you.

winter weight

Patrick is back in town and that means less time traipsing about solo and less time writing and less time sleeping and definitely more time smiling and laughing and feeling loved in this city. I don't resent the trade off, but it makes keeping a consistent schedule a little difficult. It's a good thing I love smiling and laughing and feeling loved. And it's a good thing that winter weight is not forever. I mean the cushion that forms from gingersnaps and pumpkin bread and sweet potato casserole, but I also mean the heaviness we drag around as we rush from event to party to celebration to gift exchange. Bake the cookies, make the cards, sing the songs, and tote the midnight-baked sweet potato casserole around on subways and to offices (where it rested while we ribbon cutted and grand ceremonied) and then finally to the party where I put it in the oven for the third time.

That was the day when I felt the holiday heaviest this week. I changed my shoes for the fourth time in a little cafe on a slushy street and the barista heard more than is New York appropriate - about my day and my work and my crazy New York life.

But I'm not special - everyone has a crazy life here.

Anyway... Before I changed shoes in that little cafe, I read the advent devotional for the day. It happened to be a reflection on Luke 1:38 and it happened to hit exactly where all my winter weight had settled.

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

Identity.

I was reading with a tangled hot mess of a heart - tired and frustrated and ready to be done being a trooper. In the middle of my heart's tangled hot mess, I heard the kind of words that don't change with winter.

Her virgin womb; her predictable life; her settled next steps—no longer hers to hold.  Maybe this would shake her??  Surely, there would be a crack in the commitment, in the promises, in the certainty, in the simplistic claim to be a follower—no, not merely a follower—but a bondslave, of the Most High.   This servitude is going too far . . .

What was never at stake for her was her identity:  she was, and always would be, the Lord’s servant.  Nothing had changed though everything had changed.  Even a visit from an angel could not shake this foundation.

All that was normal and known and safe may be shattered; but, her eye of the storm was this crazy certainty of her identity as the Lord’s servant." - Shelly Cunningham, Director of Instructional Development (from The Advent Project)

If there ever was a reason to doubt your purpose or reputation or life trajectory, it would be the reality of an unbelievable pregnancy at the age of 14. Forget all those other plans and hopes and dreams. Forget all the regular stuff that happens at 15, 16, and 17. Forget the holiday parties and feasts. Mary's identity got altered in many ways when that angel gave the news, but in one very particular way it never changed.

Mary identified herself as the Lord's servant - before, during, and after the events that altered her existence.

Not a single slushy winter day can alter something that is carved in the Book of Life. Not a heap of tired bones or a string of sleepless days or a week packed too tightly can change a fact that is rooted in the soil of eternity.

God's words are heavier than winter.

He speaks an identity over us that cannot be shattered or shaken. And that's good because there are better people with more important problems and I need to know this about their identities, too. I need to know that the Lord listens and looks out for the hurting and broken and least of these.

The hurting and broken and 'least of these' are just exactly those who are looking for a Savior. And that kind of anticipation is what advent is all about.

find us faithful and find us ready

Simple prayers are the best because my words get in the way. No one has ever accused me of being a woman of few words, though I have tried to be a woman of less. Maybe sometimes - no definitely sometimes - I complicate prayers  with too much vocabulary. I get flustered and the words fumble out sounding impressive or hollow or planned.

This advent season, my shoulders have a humble slump and it is making me appreciate simple prayers and spelled out liturgies. Because my words aren't anything special, nothing revolutionary or new is streaming from my cyber pen. I am one in a million breaking winter silence with thoughts from my fickle, foolish heart. I join a history as old as the sun - a history of people who speak and explain and write and ponder. And we have many, many words to evidence our legitimacy... as word lovers.

I always wonder if we can come about true humility by way of humiliation. Can a person be truly humble as a result of feeling truly humiliated? No one loves humiliation. I try to stay away from it and all the rosy cheeked aftermath, but it still sneaks up on me with regular rhythm. I am always saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and both at all the wrong times. I know being awkward is all the hipster craze these days, but (let's be honest) no one enjoys being humiliated.

And so my slumped shoulders find me meditating on the Messiah, knowing I am a little drummer boy with a pen and paper - standing at the entrance to the stable of my King.

I don't have much to bring and even my words are weightless and wilty sometimes. What I do have to offer is sometimes the very thing that humiliates me. I am walking with those ancient wise men, following the miracle star to meet my Messiah, so that the Messiah can meet all my messes.

I lit the third advent candle today with slumped shoulders and a thankful heart, because I am not impressive and I do not have to be. The Lord was gracious to send a Savior, One who could handle all the words in the world - all the things we think we have to offer. I am thankful today to pray a simple prayer, believing God is the something special about advent and Christmas and salvation and redemption.

Christ is what makes this season glorious.

And my words cannot make more or less of that. So, I pray a simple prayer with slumped shoulders knowing the Lord cares tenderly for His children. He is gracious to invite me to worship at the stable and at the cross with my slumped shoulders, with my pen and paper.

Lord, find us faithful and find us ready. Amen.

when the cold creeps in your bones

The cold wind is sneaky in this city.  It crawls underneath and in between your layers. It wiggles under your collar and hugs your winter knees. The cold wind is sneaky and I've become a chain tea drinker as a result. Unfortunately, the wind always wins and now I'm pretty sure I have a fever. Obviously, the remedy is a big bowl of bean/carrot/garbanzo soup with rosemary, thyme, and cilantro. That and tea and the classic White Christmas. Obviously.

mmm soup

I kind of want to be done. Done with winter and done with commuting and done with the cold that creeps in my bones. Honestly, the best remedy for that "done" feeling is not soup or tea or seasonal movies indoors. The best remedy for any kind of mood is truth and that's exactly what my friend reminded me about when I got this email today, perfectly timed and perfectly spoken. This is the kind of encouragement that reminds me there are bigger things, more beautiful things than what is making me "kind of want to be done."

Read, friends and be encouraged by someone else's words.

First of all, I would love to come to Pancake Monday. What a great idea!

Second-thank you. I was just flippin through your blog and came across a post from Feb of this year "saying no to things we like in favor of things He loves."  I have been struggling mucho with this lately! It seems that I fit really well into this world.

Like I fit easily into the clothes of the world and I am rewarded for it by people who are deemed important by worldly standards. It's easy for me to be admired for my looks and funny things I say. I learned early on that to make people laugh is a gift, but it is easily used incorrectly and for selfish gain. This isn't bragging, it's honestly a struggle. It's a struggle because I know the truth that all these things that are so easily admired are nothing, and momentary. Yet in the moment the instant gratification is intoxicating.

The weight of it becomes fraudulent as if people are going to find out that I am a liar. Well, I am. And a sinner, and selfish and a long list of other things. And how it seems terrifying to be found out, but in reality there is freedom in that truth.  I have been wrestling in the legalism of "acting right" vs "acting wrong" and it drives me crazy.

But your post helped me to put down my judges gavel for myself and realize that to be obedient shouldn't feel heavy. And if it is that I need to give it away. The price has been paid. To remember that to treasure Christ is worth more than momentary popularity. There is joy in the messiness and imperfection and that I am wonderfully made. That taking up my cross may seem heavy but that I'm not doing it alone.

The best part is that as I was struggling through this this morning I was honest and told God that I was having a hard time believing that he is better and asked to make my heart believe. Then I read that post and, if only for this moment, I am renewed. How amazing that He consistently and constantly pursues my heart and leads me back to his grace over and over again.

Yes, anticipation sometimes looks like work, but it is never without reward. Christ came. The One we anticipate came and is coming again. Our anticipation is never without reward because God keeps his promises.

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.

to be a better thinker / Q & A

My cousin Vince started the email with "Carolina!" He wanted to ask a few questions for a project he is doing at Baylor. Questions are kind of my jam, and for this guy I'd do about anything. He is a really amazing picture of what it looks like to battle in the trenches of the faith while serving the people around him. Every time we talk, I learn more about how I can better live out my faith.

Here is the little Q and A.

Why did you first start blogging? I attended a conference called Faith and International Development at Calvin College while a junior at the rival liberal arts school Hope College in Holland, Michigan. At the conference, many of the things that had been bubbling up in my spirit collided and I needed an outlet. At the time (ahem, 2006), blogs were the newest and coolest way to give life to creative expression. Although I didn't consider myself new or cool, the feeling of pushing publish was especially satisfying creatively and I've been doing it ever since.

What is the hardest thing about maintaining a blog? Writing.

I never pretended that my blog was going to be about pictures or quotes or anything especially clever. Well, maybe I considered all of those for a hot second, but I never felt as much pleasure doing anything other than just writing.

I write because I love to write in a Eric Liddell kind of way - in the way that I feel God's pleasure when I do it. But, writing is also the hardest thing about maintaining a blog. It means writing when you don't feel like it and writing when you think you have nothing to say. It means starting a sentence when you think it sounds stupid. It means thinking of writing ideas when you are at the park and starting a blog while you are getting your hair cut or while you are riding the subway or while you are putting in your 9-5.

Writing is also the hardest because it is easy to be scared. I am afraid of what I write being less than good - that it will not be as interesting or as alive as it feels when it comes out of my fingertips. Sometimes that keeps me from writing. And if I don't write, I don't have a blog.

Would you say that blogging provides an outlet for you to express your thoughts and emotions? How? Yes, I would say that exactly.

Sometimes, I think blogging pulls out of me what I didn't know was inside. There are times when I stop myself in mid-conversation because I know the words will sound garbled until I've blogged them out first. It's like therapy, I guess. But it's also like exercise. It's exercise for my creative spirit and my soul because I can stretch muscles in my imagination and in my intellect that don't get used anywhere else in my life.

It's like a playground where I my mind can run around, climb jungle gyms and swing off monkey bars. It can be (and is probably too often) an escape where I go to sort out the tensions in my heart.

Why do you continue to write your blog? I suppose I continue to write my blog because it has become an inextricable part of my processing. The way I see the world and the way I engage with the world has a whole lot to do with the way I write the world. When I've thought something through and let it run out of my fingertips, I know it better... more fully. I know my weaknesses better and my fears and my vulnerabilities. I know my dreams and desires better. I know where I've let curiosity live and where I've let wonder roam, but I also know where I've hid light under a bushel and closed the doors on joy.

Maybe I don't know any of these things better because I blog, but it sure feels like I do. And that's why I keep blogging.

My mom called me from Iowa recently. She said, "Honey, I'm glad you finally blogged again." I was kind of surprised to hear that she knew I was in desperate need of some blog time. "Mom, how'd you know?" Maybe in my cross country move or my new job and new relationship the need is more obvious than I realize. But, not everyone assumes a person needs to blog. "Well, I just know that sometimes you need to blog in order to think," she told me.

Maybe that's really why I write my blog - because it makes me a better thinker.

*If you want to know more (and feel better about how often/not often you are awkward in social situations) check out this post on my very gauche life.

gauche

I saw you today

I haven't written a creative story in awhile, so this is a belated birthday gift to my creative self. I saw you today when the doors opened at the Rutland Rd stop on the 3 train. It was another new route, so I wasn't surprised. There are always new things - always new ways the sun reaches across the train tracks to wake up the city.

You walked across my view on the platform as the doors were closing. You didn't see me, sitting inside on the edge of the burnt orange seat and headed in the direction of New Lots Avenue. You were looking down, distracted slightly by your ipod and (I presume) a morning destination. Everyone has a destination in New York.

The dull ring of the bell sounded, followed by the friendly robotic message, "Stand clear of the closing doors." And just like that, you passed from my view.

I kept thinking about you, though - about the laughs we shared together and the campfires we gathered around. I thought about the way we schemed dreams together and made giggles contagious on your living room floor. I thought about the unlikely way we met and the ridiculous series of events that threaded our 'meeting' out into a friendship like a patchwork quilt.

I thought about all that on my way to Junius Street where I caught the L train en route to the J train at Broadway Junction. I took the J train to Crescent Street and then walked to work. But I only do that sometimes, which is why it was so strange to see you when the doors opened at Rutland Rd.

I wanted to say, how are you friend? I wanted to say a lot of things, but I think I wanted more for you to say something to me. It's been awhile since I've had a chance to listen to you.

But it was mostly strange because you do not live in New York and because our friendship has unraveled. It was strange because we haven't laughed in your living room in months. It was strange because I forgot about our scheming dreams.

It was strange because you weren't there at all.

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!

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/67673056]

free printable | JOY

Welcome to the newest addition to MIM: printables! I am SO excited to collaborate with my best friend from college Meghan French (freshPaige) for this new endeavor. I love her style and zeal for life that comes out when she laughs and mothers and encourages over the distance of three states.

We thought that we would take what we love and make something wonderful to share. I'll be giving Meg quotes from the blog and then she'll be transforming them into something people will want to frame, pin, post, and print. She works magic and I'm sure you'll agree. I'll be collecting the different printables in a tab up top, so check back for more in the coming weeks.

We're excited and we hope you are too! Make sure you check out Meg's stuff on freshPaige for all your custom invitation needs!

Here's our first collab, ENJOY!

joy is in full bloom

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

 

don't stop too soon

It is a brave soul that uncovers raw painto search for meaning in existence, that wearies and wars the shallows to dig the depths of sorrow’s persistence

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a brave soul that sheds skins and peels off veneers to find what truth is, that pulls hard against peril when layers reveal atrocities and ugly ruins

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a brave soul that opens eyes against the blinding light of the sun, that burns its heat and with fierce impression reminds from where it comes

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a braver soul who believes that Christ paid the ultimate cost, tortured Himself so the tortured soul would no longer be living lost

Don’t stop being brave too soon, and whatever your bravery may find, know that Christ Himself is brave for you and His victory is thine.

This is day 4 of my "every day in may" creative challenge - to write something (poem, story, note, thought) as a special blessing for someone. I won't share each day, but I wanted to share this poem from day 3.

There are several people in my life going through difficult times right now, so I've been thinking about bravery. If we are brave enough to be exposed and vulnerable (great thoughts from recent TED talk on this), then we will most definitely step into a mess of pain. But if our bravery ends there, we will miss out. We must be brave enough to see the deepest and most vulnerable hurt to experience the deepest and most satisfying joy.

there is a peace

This last day of April stretched out long and I stretched out to test the seams of it - to try to be as patient as the moments that crept by so I could experience each one fully. It has been some time since one day has had so many slow moments and I was content to savor them all. Maybe it was the sun that slowed things down, begging me to look extra long at the city as I sped from place to place.

There is a peace.

Maybe it's irresponsible to be unafraid of the future and maybe it's naive to hope for impossible things. Maybe the illusive peace this world craves with groans is not a thing my soul can feel. But, maybe not.

By grace (o, mysterious grace!), we can say, "There is a peace" both with certainty and with hope. Our belief that God is Redeemer, Promise-Keeper, Defender, Lover, Savior, and Friend prompts our certainty and his faithfulness to be all those things prompts our hope. The grace empowered cycle of certainty and hope is a fountain that wells up and overflows in peace that covers all uncertain and desperate moments.

There is a peace to settle your soul. Well, it's settling mine anyway.

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What shall I do with a settled soul? How can I make sure the certain and hopeful moments are not wasted? Our memory verse (from Fighter Verses) for this week is Romans 12:11-13,

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

There is a gracious peace that has settled my soul and the Lord is calling me to make my peace productive. The same grace that allows me peace makes provision for good works (2 Corinthians 9:8) that have been prepared for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). As I savor the cycle of certainty and hope, God is breathing life into my bones so that I may live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28).

All this peace is for a purpose - that the Lord would be glorified in my dependence, my delight, and my diligence.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

There are many, many ways to serve our friends, family, and neighbors. This is May 1 and every May I try to accept the Every Day in May challenge. This year, I am going to use my love for creative writing to bless someone new each day. This might be through a story, card, special email, or clever joke. I may or may not post everything I do, but I might report some of the stories that happen as a result. I encourage you to take the challenge as well - for the month of May, choose to do something you love every day. My little addition is that you would use the "something you love" to bless others - that way you are both glorifying God with your gifts and blessing others with your offering!

Johnny Cash, heroes, Citizens, YRRC, and why love protects us

In honor of this surprise winter attack (seriously, weather people, how could you NOT see this coming?), I'm going to link you up like a blitzkrieg. Get ready for some serious THIS & THAT comin' atcha. Today, February 26th is Johnny Cash's birthday. Russell Moore has a great article, "Why Johnny Cash Still Matters," about the unique role Cash played in culture for those in and outside the church.

This article, "Real Men & Real Women: Tough & Tender" by Lore Ferguson, writer at Sayable, is so very spot on. I can't say it better than she did, so here is an excerpt,

One of the enemy’s favorite tactics is to take what God has not called ultimate and make it so. If he can confuse the Christians, get them to devour one another, well, he can call it a day. No need for the Crusades part deux, Jesus came to bring a sword, and by golly, the first people we’re gonna use it on is one another.

One particular area of glee the enemy is basking in these days is the division he’s bringing to the Church concerning gender roles. And he does it by making caricatures rampant.

I found this over at Mere Orthodoxy and really appreciated what it has to say about heroes. Our heroes reveal our vision of the good life. So, what does our culture say about our heroes and what do those heroes say about our vision of the good life? Read, "House of Cards: Kevin Spacey, Tolkien, and the Bible" to get the scoop.

"Love among Christians is a great protection against deception," Piper says in this post, "Two Reasons Why Love Protects Us From Deception" that expands on his sermon from the past Sunday at Bethlehem Baptist. What a beautiful truth - and Piper unpacks it from 2 John 1:5-7. Just a great meditation.

No big surprise here, but this research confirms that "Spiritual Maturity Comes Through Intentionality," according to Lifeway. I appreciate it because it's not some pastor's opinion on a soapbox.

I'm not sure why the CEO of Match.com's parent company had to pull Iowa into his single-and-40 confusion, but he did. And it's the opening to this post on "More Choices, Less Commitment." I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I appreciate it all the same.

This is just a great song by the band CITIZENS. It'll help get your dance on while the snow keeps falling outside.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/tWQ4thTS2kA]

shaken and stirred

Kris Orlowski is not in the indie/folk Nashville crowd I usually electronically network to mine for new melodies, but maybe that’s why I’m hooked to his arrangements. They are not simple - they didn’t just accidentally happen in someone’s garage (nothing against spontaneously inspired music in the middle of the night after friends reunite). These notes are artfully placed - pulled by strings and strums and voices and drums.

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Maybe I’m just in that kind of place where music has more sway, maybe I am vulnerable to greater affection. Maybe. But maybe we are designed for such affections to stir us awake. Maybe we are far too easily pleased with the aesthetic menu of the top 40.

I think it’s more than maybe.

I know, not everyone feels a shift in his or her soul at the same sound, it would be silly to expect such a thing in a world with so many glorious differences. But, I do think we were created with a soul that senses beauty and greatness and … well, the fingerprints of the Creator in this created world.

When we have those moments of sight or sound or touch, I think our soul is shaken out of the far too easily pleased rut to desire more of the best the Creator offers. The beauty and earthly glory in music is a signpost that awakens my heart and points to what is most beautiful. Lesser things start to sound flat and dull and pale.

My musical preferences may not be for everyone, but I do believe God is inviting my soul into wakefulness to appreciate what He has made beautiful when the world settles for far lesser things.

This past weekend, I heard the acoustic version of this new song by Leeland and the story of how the song came about. The original words were penned by Lawrence Tribble in the 1700s after he was inspired by the famous preacher George Whitefield (more here) who preached revival during America's Great Awakening with Jonathan Edwards.

Are we ready to be awake again?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Mj8I1chdB0]

Here are some of my new favorites, shaking my soul from its “too easily pleased” stupor.

Kris Orlowski – All My People Myles O’Mainnian – Incandescently Happy Cody Fry – Underground Sea Wolf – Old Friend

What music shakes YOUR soul into wakefulness?

sing to be grounded, sing to be free

Sometimes, just the song will do.Sometimes, singing, "whoa" is the perfect kind of melody. Sometimes, freedom looks like harmonies.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/50352538]

Enjoy this little gem, friends! You can get it free on Noisetrade right now, so share away! I'm probably (hopefully) on a plane right now singing along to this song, too.

let LOVE fly like cRazY

what the Lord requires

Nobody told these birds to dance.Nobody orchestrated their motions into something wonderful.

They did it all on their own.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/58291553]

The music they heard was not a symphony or a rousing indie anthem but the wind rushing underneath, giving power and form to their soaring.

Why?

It seems silly that these birds would make such a display just because - that they would cause such a great, choreographed spectacle in the sky caught on camera by chance.

It seems silly.

Tonight, I'm headed to the city of brotherly love to conference with a crowd of thousands to hear people like Eugene Cho and Leroy Barber and Dr. John Perkins talk about justice.

I'm not going because it's hip to believe in something, because it is. I'm not going because I think I'm some big deal - some gift to the cause of justice, because I'm not.

I'm going because I want to learn what to do with the awe I feel when I see birds dance for an audience of One. I'm going because God created this world to reflect Him and there is a whole lot that doesn't. I'm going because part of loving and treasuring Christ means putting one foot of faith in front of the other in my everyday. Because believing in His promises means I think sin and injustice can be overthrown.

I'm going because I know God's heart for the lost and the suffering and the outcast, but sometimes I don't know how to make my knowing come out my fingertips.

If God's grace allows the birds to dance in glorious display of His creativity, then His grace allows me to treasure Him in the dance of justice seeking, with the wind of His power and pleasure beneath me.

It is not mine to win or gain or give, justice that is. God alone is sovereign in how His plan is carried out, but I can walk in obedience and in the footsteps of Jesus. I can do that. And I think what the Lord requires - doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly - might look like a dance.

Pray with me that God would work on my clumsy heart?

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/58116060]

the Christmas story

I love stories.

And this story is the greatest of all - the narrative all other stories envy. This is a magical story because it is also true. No amount of singing loud for all to hear would make a bearded man fly in a sleigh, but this story of God being born as a child happened. This is impossible, outrageous, and absolutely true.

Jesus came to the earth He created so that His children could be redeemed and He could be glorified. The King left His throne to be born in a barn.

The whole thing whispers magic in a way that makes me shiver and giggle and cheer. This is not a magic of darkness or a mystery that thrills by fear. This is a magic that God authored - one that we don't have words to describe because our efforts  try to tame the mystery.

Jesus came and this is no fairy tale.

And to hear it told through children invites us to stand in awe of the mystery.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWq60oyrHVQ&feature=related]

let LOVE fly like cRaZy