never stranded inside a miracle

They went to the tomb with good intentions. Even though Jesus had prepared them in every way for His death and resurrection, they still thought they would find his dead body three days old as if it was any other body. They went to the tomb with good intentions in their hearts and this is what the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7 ESV)

No need to fear, he says, for you are looking for the right thing. You are seeking Jesus and He will never leave you stranded in a miracle. You are headed in the right direction and God will honor your search! The angel was God’s grace to these ladies just like we experience God’s graces to us as we seek to worship, serve, and love well. He doesn’t leave us stranded at the empty tomb. He points us toward the person of Jesus, toward reunion and delight in His presence.

This is God’s grace – that He never leaves us stranded inside a miracle.

This is the truth I am believing today. I am inside the miracle of love and I believe God will be glorified in spite of all the crazy. He does not leave us stranded at the empty tomb, but points us to His presence. He is always faithfully walking ahead of us, preparing the way for our joy and proclaiming our resurrection.

He rose, just as He said.

He is a promise keeper, our God. And we are so excited to invite people to celebrate His promises while Patrick and I make promises to each other. His promises empower our promises!

I get to marry this man!

I get to marry this man!

this is the first day

“This is the first day.”

Sure, Sunday was the beginning of a new week and the beginning of the Easter season and the beginning of Spring. But it was not just that, not at all just that.

“This is the first day,” our pastor said at least five times in his sermon Sunday.

He said it like he was announcing a baby’s first breath or a rocket’s first flight, like there was a definite and precise time of origin and there was not anything like day before that day. Like, perhaps, when the first dawn broke the first day as God breathed life out of nothing.

When Christ rose from the dead, everything changed… forever. Everything, forever changed. History and future and eternity and the way the sunlight presently stretches across my morning routine. Sunday would have been the first day of a new work week for the Jewish people, but all work was different on this new “first” day, in light of the resurrection.

We are living in the light of an empty tomb – on the sky side of a conquered grave.

That is why we spread the feast table in Prospect Park on Sunday and gathered friends and broke bread and said grace and joyfully remembered together our redemption. We are on the sky side of a conquered grave with Jesus.

As if that wasn’t reason enough to celebrate on Sunday, Patrick decided it would be another first. He thought that Easter was the most appropriate time to make this special invitation because of the way every feast and marriage and celebration is wrapped up inside the immeasurable blessing of salvation.

At the end of a long day of celebrating, Patrick asked me to be his bride and it is making me the happiest little Midwestern Brooklyn girl you have ever seen.

It took a while for the shock to wear off (when I say I had no idea it was coming, I mean like you would be surprised if those big check people showed up at your door). Of course, I was hoping it would happen in the future, but I was not expecting it Sunday when we could share the joy with my brother and sister-in-law who were visiting… which is probably why our excitement turned into silly dancing in my living room.

And now, this.
I am engaged! I have a fiance! I am going to marry my best friend!

The sweet beauty of Easter just claimed a whole new piece of my heart. It’s like knowing the best secret that I can tell everyone and like my rib cage is warm like the best whiskey. It’s… sorry, words won’t do at all here. Words just won’t do to explain how wonderful it feels to step into love like this.

I’ll spare you my mushy babble for now. I will just say that it seemed the best way to start this part of the journey – remembering the Bridegroom we anticipate together and the marriage feast He has prepared.

For now, we will enjoy “every good gift” the Lord pours out and we will enjoy it with all the zany delight those gifts deserve.

 

not all at once

My arms are burnt toasty and my sunnies were still atop my adventure-tossled head at 9:30 last night. This weekend came straight out of the pages of grace, right up until the tea sipping, Sunday evening and right through the movie night. I’ve battled for and against a somber Lenten posture, but this weekend I tasted celebration in the 75 degree sunshine and in the picnics and in the ocean water and in the bike rides and in the conversation. This weekend I remembered that Lent is not forever.

I read this gem in my Saturday devotional from Journey to the Cross:

We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.

I would rather it “at once,” I think. I’d rather be rid of everything entangling in one swift, sanctifying motion and not have to think about the wayward rhythm of human existence.

But God would rather not rob me of the joy I experience in knowing the One who changes me.

God would rather I have more joy than less, and the way to joy is knowing Christ. And the way to knowing Christ is slow and suffering. There is nothing more basic than the source of joy and there are few things we do a better job at complicating. All those fears I listed out on the backside of this weekend, crying to a group of strangers on the B44 SBS bus? If I dig down to the gnarled roots, those fears reveal a desire for temporary things.

But God is patient as He leads in the decluttering process, making room in my heart to consider His sacrifice and making room in my heart to consider His joy. And this is not an all at once transformation. For our benefit, He invites us to watch Him work slowly.

This weekend was a grace-filled spoonful of sugar in that process, a taste of the celebration of the Easter feast and of the coming return of the Bridegroom.

This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.

This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.

because fears repeat

I made a list in the “Notes” part of my phone on the way to work yesterday.

I blush reading the words now, because they sound like a high schooler’s diary entry, or at least a college freshman. And that is embarrassing when you are 29, I think. I was grateful the strangers crowding my shoulders were strangers – because it would be inappropriate for them to point and laugh about things I should keep hidden. I was getting off at Fulton, anyway, so if they wanted to be inappropriate I wouldn’t have to know.

I am good at keeping fears secret. I publish my fears in blogposts (see here and here and here and here), but this week I realized electronic confessions keep a safe distance. After I write out all my wrestling, the fears feel “dealt with.”

Turns out, casting out fears (by way of perfect love) is more like turning away stray cats than some other more permanent banishment, like throwing heavy rocks in deep oceans. The fears keep showing up at my door and I keep telling them to go away, because truth says God’s love can do that (1 John 4:18).

I believe God’s word is true, which is why I end so many of my blogposts with paragraphs that preach back to the way I feel in the first lines. But knowing and believing truth sometimes (often) does not change the way you feel. Not always at least, not for me.

The fears will show up again even after the best, believing “casting out.” And when they do – when I open my door to find that same stray meow – my shock gives way to recognition and I start my internal scheming to get rid of it… again.

That’s why it feels like high school and college and 5th grade and right now. Because fears repeat. And no matter how many times I act surprised by the scratch at my door, I know I will recognize the meow on the other side.

So, I listed my fears on my phone and then fought back tears in the crowd of strangers trying not to look at me. Truth casted out fears (again) and truth made Friday life abundant.

But I am learning that fears are not “dealt with” … fears are lived through.

Believing perfect love casts out fear means looking up with the Israelites at that bronze serpent in the desert (Numbers 21) because God keeps His promises. There will always be serpents and stray cats, but there will also be God.

We are one week away from celebrating the way God raised up His Son on the cross so we could look up for an eternal casting out of every fear. This is the kind of freedom that doesn’t just “deal with” all the fear we have going on.

This freedom means you can live right through fears without being ruled by them.

preparing for Passover

I was distracted because my mom was on the phone. One of us was telling the other one of us updates about our equally crazy lives. She is pulling her classical friends Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven out of the cabinet archives in the music room in preparation for a wedding this weekend. Meanwhile, she is preparing students to sing in state contest on Saturday. Nbd. She organized a women’s ministry retreat last Saturday and the awesome train just keeps chugging along.

Anyway, between her telling me she will be playing piano in a literal zoo this weekend and me telling her about my Easter planning escapades, I got off at the wrong bus stop. I spent the next 27 minutes walking instead of riding to home group, navigating strollers and long black skirts and babies/boys/men with curls swirling out from under hats. I was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and I did not regret one minute in the nearly Spring sunshine.

Passover is coming.

The boxes in Williamsburg have overtaken the sidewalks for several weeks now. Aluminum pans and serving dishes and mountains of bags of potatoes are crowding pedestrians space. There are mobile trailer grocery stores outside the regular, freshly stocked Jewish grocery stores. I walked my purple pants past the bustling storefronts and smiled at all the similarly dressed children on unadulterated parade, riding scooters and trikes and other wheeled revelries.

Passover is coming and I felt a growing anticipation well up from somewhere my commute normally cannot touch.

Our Feast of the Resurrection will be a different kind of Passover celebration, but those sidewalks were pregnant with a very similar excitement. And all of a sudden, my excitement got multiplied by history. The same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the same God of Mary and Joseph and John the Baptist; the same God of Matthew and Moses is the God who sent His Son to be our forever Passover.

Are you ready to throw a party that is unlike any other party on your yearly calendar? Even if it is a small and simple gathering, are you ready to really supremely celebrate the way Jesus changed history?

If you are in the area, I would suggest a walk around Williamsburg to get you in the right spirit. I might get off at the wrong bus stop a few more times this week…

rain & sadness

The drip, drip, drop little April showers are finally ushering in a Spring that will stay in the city – I think. I don’t mind pulling on my rain boots in the morning or carrying around an umbrella. I don’t mind at all because there are bird chirps in the morning and sun shines behind the clouds. I don’t mind because last night I wore a dress without tights for date night and lingered over coffee on the Lower East Side with my favorite human after going to an event with only tourists in attendance. I don’t mind that the rain started when we walked home because he covered me with his coat.

Rain is also the most fitting backdrop to this week of lament, nestled inside the forty day reflection of Lent. I have a hard time knowing where to store all the sadness that weighs like literal weight on my soul. I am sad for my own sin, heaped on the back of my Savior. I am sad because my sin makes the cross a necessity. But heaped upon those heaps is a sadness for whitewashed Christian fellowship.

Christ went to the cross for that, too – for all the ways we fail at Christian community, all the ways we do not trust and obey.

I’ve been thinking about Christian fellowship quite a bit lately and then I read this today in my devotional.

The way of Christian fellowship is empathy, which means we must not assume that everyone around us is fine. In our conversations, we must listen for complaints and cries and help them become laments. In our gathered worship, we must acknowledge the hurting and leave room for struggle and silence. In our counsel, we must pray with and over and for the hurting. This is essential to authentic Christian faith: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

We are not fine, that’s why Christ had to die. In his death and resurrection, He secured our freedom but we will not be truly “fine” until we meet Him in eternity. There is struggle here and the Christian community is not a place to hide that struggle, but instead a place to share it.

And, maybe, it is our ability to bear one another’s burdens well that looks different to the world. Maybe our joyful suffering together is the kind of testimony to the suffering of the cross that this generation would understand.

miracles trump excuses

The morning is waking up and there are horns bleating outside the front window. Every several days, someone blocks the one-way road and the traffic behind that someone alerts the whole neighborhood of the inconvenience. But I’m inside listening to William Fitzsimmons so that somehow makes me immune to early morning annoyance.

It is Friday and there are Iowans invading NYC to see the Mayor and his team play tonight at Madison Square Garden, Spring keeps promising to be around the corner, and the work day will be short because other work days this week have been long. Today is good because it is today, because there is provision in sunshine and life and breath and being. Today is already good before it begins.

But today, I am still percolating a Monday conversation – still stewing about what it means to consider others’ needs ahead of mine in the context of city life and neighbor life and human life. How do I walk with Jesus to the cross as He made himself nothing in service to others? How do I forsake all else so that the love of Christ might be known?

There are excuses and legitimate ones, like exhaustion and safety and schedules and mental stability. We put ourselves first because we are too overwhelmed by lights and noise and commotion to do anything else. But, I am taking the legitimate excuses of city living and raising them a miracle. If excuses played poker, I think they might always go “all in” but they would definitely lose against miracles.

Miracles trump excuses.

I can always put myself next because miracles trump excuses and the keeper of miracles has called me His child. I am not invincible – I require sleep and quiet time and sunlight. I am not invincible, but God is and His portion is big enough to overflow mine.

I need to learn how to love others when it is inconvenient and when it is not self advancing and when it is painful and when it does not make sense – not because I am trying to be superhuman, but because I believe that miracles trump excuses. God provides the energy and wisdom and abundance and joy and this miracle overcomes every excuse like a tidal wave. We are freed from the striving that would be losing, so that we can share the burdens of others.

The weekend is dawning and I am already looking to the coconut cornmeal pancakes I will make for the next Pancake Mondays. I will probably still be percolating this community idea when the neighbor crowd gathers around the toppings to talk about city living.

What are your thoughts, friends?

Why is it so hard to put ourselves second or third or fourth (with joyful hearts)?

Christian talk should sound different

I caught a glimpse of my face in the glass of the subway last week. I picture my subway face as expressionless, but my furrowed eyebrows and set jaw were full of an expression that made me jump inside my skin. I didn’t recognize the round winter silence or the way my eyes determined not to look at anyone.

But, last night after the pancake guests left, the apartment living room was the city on a hill and I imagine my face looked much different. We talked about the city darkness and we talked about the light inside us. We shared Scripture and spoke encouragement and prayed with intention.

We were not at home group or Bible study or church or a special prayer gathering. We were just regular believers, huddled around the common experience of big city commotion trying to understand what it means to take a genuine interest in the welfare of others.

Because talk is not Christian simply because Christians are talking. No, what makes the fellowship of believers different is the content – the words on top of words that uplift and encourage and inspire because Christ is central. This difference is what draws outsiders in, nearer to the abundance that has set us apart.

We talk a lot and the city talks back and it all sounds like noise. Chatter about the closest trains and apartment sizes and the weather. Chatter about prayer requests and work schedules and stressful roommates. Chatter about chatter and it all sounds like noise.

But Christian talk should sound different. 

And the sound of it last night refreshed my soul. Praying out loud and hearing prayers out loud affirms the power and presence of our Savior and I am aware that I have neglected this conversation.

We prayed to be filled with an abundance that could be poured out into the lives of others and the energy to seek out those lives needing to be filled.

a series of unfortunate events & my favorite human

Do you have a favorite human?

Before you all say, “Jesus” in the spirit of Lent… let me give you spiritual immunity to choose someone else. Favorites have always been really difficult for me – if you ask for my favorite musical artist, I would ask you in what genre. If you ask for my favorite food, I would ask you baked or cooked. If you ask for my favorite season, I would ask in what location.

Favorites are hard, but my favorite human is becoming an easier question to answer. I still have many favorite people, but there is some significance in being able to say there is one person who is my favorit-est.

Last night, I walked in to my apartment feeling very defeated after two weeks of restless/little sleep, a frenzied work and social schedule, and all my life packed away in separate and sealed plastic bags. I have been keeping this nitty-gritty life news off the blog because it’s embarrassing and because it didn’t seem appropriate to publicize my misfortune. Now that (it seems) my apartment is in the clear, I will cautiously share the series of unfortunate events that led to my confident conclusion that Patrick Kolts is my favorite human.

You might remember that for the last couple weeks we have been hosting Pancake Mondays at Patrick’s apartment (which is conveniently and miraculously 2 avenues from mine). Previously, I had been inviting the neighbors in my building via handwritten postcards taped to their doors. I also invited folks who lived in the neighborhood, the security guard at my school, my coworkers, church friends, and really anyone who was curious. And they came. And it was beautiful. Some nights, we had a full crowd of folks who stayed for board games after all the pancakes were passed around. Other nights, we had more intimate gatherings around our little table.

Every Monday on the other side of our open apartment door, there were pancakes and toppings and bacon. Patrick came over to fry the bacon and share hosting duties and my roommates were unbelievably gracious with all the shenanigans. Tam orchestrated the tiny bowls that held all the toppings and Elise whipped up vegan pancakes on several occasions. We didn’t have much to offer, but the bacon smell wafting through the open door was enough to draw them in and the conversation was enough to keep them.

We did not apologize for all the things we couldn’t offer our guests and instead offered everything we had with the biggest neighborly smiles.

Then, about a month ago, I was writing a blog in my bed when I looked down to find a bug on my shirt. Bed bugs. My New York initiation continues. Apartment hunting, root canal, commuting woes, and now what most natives call the apartment dweller’s worst nightmare. The next morning the bug was confirmed and over the next 48 hours I heard stories from plenty of folks who told me my life would be literally and figuratively turned upside down to get rid of those little devils. Awesome.

The worst of it, among drying every item of clothing at high heat and stuffing every belonging into sealed plastic bags, was that my favorite part of living in the city (hosting) would not happen for awhile. Well, it was a lot of worst, honestly. The time it took to dig through multiple plastic bags every morning for something presentable to wear to work, the skeptical stares of people who kept their distance because they knew my “situation,” the paranoia about every piece of fuzz and every person in the subway… all of it was worst, but God is gracious.

The exterminator came and went the first time with a list of instructions several pages long and additional instructions to complete before he came a second time. And life did not stop. I didn’t tell people because I felt ashamed and awkward. We just kept trying to keep up with the city pace – work, outings, and winter hibernation. I slept on the loveseat and on air mattresses that never seemed to stay inflated. And I faked it a lot. These are the times when you claim the joy you cannot feel. These are the times you test the full commitment of your dependence. Mine failed often, but God’s grace held me up.

In the middle of all this, my pastor asked the Pancake Mondays crew to host a pancake feast at the church before Lent started and we did. We flipped pancakes for around 130 people and they smeared fresh whipped cream, jams, coconut, chocolate chips, and syrup all over the tops. It felt crazy, but it also felt really good. Long tables with vases of flowers and crayons, filled with people fellowshipping over a pancake feast. It felt perfect, actually.

The very next night, we shifted Pancake Mondays over to Patrick’s apartment and had an unbelievable turnout from his building. They loved his handmade invitations and the pancakes and the conversation around his coffee table. And so it has gone for the past three weeks – every week has blessed us in new ways. New neighbors, new friends, new conversation and inspiration and new encouragement to our weary spiritual bones. I guess I can just speak for myself, but all these things are more true than the words I am writing.

The exterminator came and went the second time and told us we could start moving our belongings back on Thursday. We held our breath for signs of the bed bugs that would prevent any unpacking of plastic. No signs.

Meanwhile, I slept little and spent even less time in my room because the sight of piled plastic bags and a deflated air mattress was more than my spirit could bear. That brings me to last night, when I staggered into the apartment after work around 7 pm, carrying several bags of groceries for my early Friday morning staff appreciation event.

My roommates were mid-giggle when they suggested I go in to my room. There, I found my old bed replaced with a new bed, a new carpet, lamp, and bathmat. And I just stood there weeping with my coat still on and my bags still in hand. I was so tired I could only think about crawling into that new bed and sleeping for two days.

Patrick had asked me that morning what he could do to help and I told him I wished I knew what I needed. Well, it was that bed. I needed to sleep and I didn’t realize how much I needed it until I almost made a puddle of tears on the floor, where all the plastic bags still sat. He knew what I needed even when I didn’t know how to ask for it.

“This man,” I thought, “He is my favorite human.”

As it turns out, this whole ordeal is not just an exercise in willpower and stamina. It is not just another in series of unfortunate events that have initiated me into New York City. It is not just something I had to “get through” in full survival mode.

The Lord is good. He is gracious and He is faithful.

The Lord reminds me often that He is the best host. He is the best at throwing parties and loving neighbors and giving things away. He wrote the book on hospitality and His well is so deep that it is never empty. There is always pancakes and always bacon and always conversation and always love in His house. His pockets are deep.

God does not depend on the circumstances to be just right. When you own everything, the circumstances are always just right.

It was never my apartment or my idea or my food or my doorway or my energy. He is the provider with access to all provision and He never withholds any good thing from His children. All the abundance of blessings that have come in the three weeks of bed bug-induced mayhem are overwhelming and each one had everything to do with God’s hosting abilities and nothing to do with mine. Inside this series of unfortunate, new-to-the-Big-Apple events God never withheld a single good thing from me. 

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. Psalm 84:11

He protects and blesses and sustains and cheers with an abundance that made me weep at the sight of a new bed last night. And these are growing pains, in a spiritual sense. I will never learn His provision completely or depend on Him perfectly and that is okay.

He is the best host and we are always invited in to His house to learn this lesson over again.

#callingmeout

Oh, hey Lent devotional on the first day of Spring. #callingmeout

Our consumerism is rooted in a lack of faith. We are worried about what others think because we are not convinced that God delights in us (Psalm 149:4). We are anxious because we do not believe God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:32). We vie for attention because we do not think God rewards what is done in secret (Matthew 6:6). We compare ourselves to others because we forget that Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). A consumer is self-seeking because he is preoccupied with building his own kingdom in order to meet his own needs. During Lent, Jesus especially calls us to re-right our lives, to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)

Spring is here, officially. That’s what the calendar says, anyway. I want so badly for winter to be over – to emerge from all the caves we’ve been hiding inside. But when I read this paragraph this morning, I realized winter cannot be the scapegoat for a wayward heart.

I am a worried, anxious, attention-seeking, comparison complexing, self-seeking consumer. I can blame it on winter, but I would be wrong. Because I can lack faith in the middle of the best blooming Spring the same way I can lack faith in the wake of a forever winter.

This is the beauty of Lent, in the “re-righting” of our lives, God invites us to believe that He is full of miracles to overflow every season. Every season, miracles. Every season, faithfulness. Every season, provision. Every season, righteousness. Every season, abundance.

Every season, always joy.

I may not feel like pastel colors and singing in the rain, but God’s offer of abundance is not based on my feelings or my willingness to accept it. God’s offer of abundance is based on His goodness and I am missing out to believe in anything else. I am missing out because nothing else will fill me up and nothing else will give an overflow I can pour out in service to others.

The grace of God turns us into servants. Instead of demanding that we be served, we joyfully lay down our rights and seek to serve God and others.

*Excerpts from this Lent Devotional, Journey to the Cross.