let us never cease to wonder

If you’ve read this blog for more than a few months, you know I love to wonder. I love wide eyes and mysteries and the way my body gasps for air when I am in awe.

Some days, I fall into it naturally. Like when I bounced from table to table at the bar after church on Sunday night because I wanted to be with everyone all at once. And the way Grace and I skipped arm in arm ahead of the group when we all decided to end the night with pie and coffee. And the way Gordon walked with his own little swag, topping it off with a little sidewalk dance while we waited outside for our table. And the way we crowded in around to eat key lime and bourbon pecan and cherry pear crumble pies like we had been friends for years and years. Days like this past Sunday are the rumble in my gut that stretches out through my fingertips to say, “what a wonderful world!”

As cheesy as that sounds.

I looked over at Patrick several times throughout the night and said, “We are so blessed.” But words can never accurately describe wonder. Blessed is not enough. The joy I feel surrounded by this group of new friends cannot be planned or packaged. It is just very simply God’s unique grace to my soul. He promises abundance and then He delivers and it looks like 6 hours of “church” on Sunday, starting with choir practice and ending with key lime pie.

And I don’t get how it all works.

I don’t understand the science of wonder, I just know that it makes me feel very small and very humble and very grateful. I am nothing – just a little dot moving around in this crazy big expanse called the universe. But God knows the hairs on my head and He knows how much joy I feel when I skip and sing and celebrate over key lime pie. He knows those things because He knit me together inside my mom’s belly.

And I still don’t get how it all works. I just know that I cannot manipulate awe because wonder refuses to be manufactured.

Wonder is the surprise your soul feels when God pours out a unique grace – the kind your heart best understands.

Life does not have to be perfect to feel the joy of this grace. The ordinary, everyday real life in the flatlands is just as likely a place to feel this grace as the mountaintops. So, I try to train my heart to feel wonder – to live with wide eyes and to search out mysteries and to laugh uncontrollably while we sing Willy Wonka as we cross Broadway in Williamsburg.

“Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder is in the way, a very practical emotion. Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship and heartfelt thanksgiving. It will cause within you godly watchfulness; you will be afraid to sin against such a love as this.” Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings.

Godly watchfulness is how I’d like to wake up tomorrow. I want to feel the fear of sinning against such a love as this. I mean that in the best of ways. God’s grace is so good, so specific and so personal. I’d like to be so wrapped in wonder by God’s grace that can’t take my eyes away from Him – for fear that I will miss out. The more mystery I take in, the more there is. The more love I feel, the more He provides. The more grace I need, the more He gives.

Wonder gives birth to wonder and why would I ever go looking for something else?

’tis so sweet

If my theme for 2014 is to trust Jesus in the flatlands, my prayer is for grace to trust Him more. 

One moment won in the flatlands rolls over into another moment in danger of being defeated. But we trust and we savor and we hope with eyes fixed above the moments, on the author and perfector of our faith who holds the world together – the King who upholds us with his righteous right hand. And so we can walk in the flatlands while our hearts are upheld to the heavens.

Yesterday, I tornadoed into the apartment after work to arrange my new griddle and make pancake batter from scratch. I used to think Pancake Mondays had to fit inside pinched pennies, but then my pastor funded my first week of maple syrup and I won’t go back. Hosting a weekly pancake party is now a priority and Hungry Jack/Bisquick is just not good enough for friends and neighbors. Pancakes from scratch with blueberries, marshmallows, honey, syrup, and fruit jams straight from my Gram’s kitchen for toppings.

pancakes
Pancakes getting golden while the apartment door stays open!

In the middle of the mix, I made plans with my neighbor Yeun to host a terrarium party in January. She walked through the open door in her slippers because she lives down the hall and I made sure to have the bacon ready (her fave). We talked about the flower shop where she works and about plans to develop plots in our apartment courtyard and about a potential secret roof party.

The apartment wasn’t full or crowded, but there were people and pancakes and assurances that Pancake Mondays is not going away. Because it is so sweet to trust in Jesus and I am praying this year for grace to trust Him more in the flatlands.

This is it – the everyday Mondays that everyone dreads and the inconsistencies of this city that keep anything from being regular. I will trust when it is awkward and when I am scared and when I would rather be inconsistent and illusive. And I’ll pray for grace to trust Him more.

photo

When the Rummikub game settled down and only a few people were left, we got stuck in conversation by the door. And when I finally closed the door to do the dishes, I remembered it is so sweet to trust in Jesus. It is so wonderful to take Him at His Word and rest upon His promises.

It is so sweet to be upheld by the word of the One whose words never fail. And so I’m praying for grace to trust Him more – with the little things like subways and the big things like my heart and the in between things like Pancake Mondays.

I’m praying for grace to believe that trusting Him will taste the sweetest even if everything else tastes sour.

Sing this song for the new year with me? Pray for grace to trust Him more so that we can live more extravagantly for His glory?

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Refrain

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

Refrain

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

Refrain

chin up, child

I had been looking out at the rain because I could not wait to wear my rain boots. I was supposed to do laundry but instead I spent yesterday drinking french press in oversized flannel, making pancake invitations by candlelight and trying to forget that Monday is a regular work day.

By the time I left the apartment for church, I had forgotten my umbrella and my sense of New York direction. A hundred puddles and one wet coat later, I found the familiar old church on 5th and Rodney.

And not even cold, winter rain could keep the delight out.

Because that’s what happens when you meet with Jesus. It may not always look like bright colored bits of NYE confetti in Times Square. It may never look like that, but God promised delight in the flatlands when He promised abundant life (John 10:10).

Today is a regular day and I would lie if I didn’t say it was hard to get dressed in this routine. This is the flatlands, but there is delight hidden here. I’m going to choose belief all day long, going to chase delight while I run on level ground. 

Things and people and plans seem slippery these days, but there is one thing I can confidently hold tightly. The tighter I hold Jesus – the more I purpose to know Him and find out what pleases Him – the greater I will experience the best delight.

God promises to sustain in ways we don’t know we need, to fill in places we don’t know are empty.

Delight is something I choose when I believe Jesus is my greatest treasure. It’s something that spills over when I can’t hold the abundance inside any longer. Delight is a face I wear on the subway and in the office and flipping pancakes in my apartment. It is what happens when God meets needs I didn’t know I had and fills places I didn’t know were empty.

Delight is dependent on one thing: God being a promise keeper.
And today, He is saying, “Chin up, child. There is delight in this day!

 

beware, a wakening God

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982

It is Monday and I am still sleeping as I write this blog on my morning commute. The weekend was rich with worship and this wisdom from Annie Dillard frames it in right perspective.

Because worship is not safe.

As we sat on the fire escape for a Saturday picnic of mostly locally scrounged grub, it felt like the right amount of whimsy – like the best way we could have appreciated the beautiful colors and the conversation.

But that fire escape plan had materialized only minutes before, on the bike ride back to the apartment after hanging out in our neighborhood for the morning. It was something we stepped inside on a whim and then wondered if it might have been prepared for us.

I’m still thinking about how differently a child responds to surprise. When there is a firework or a hot air balloon or an ice cream truck, children get big eyes- they get wonder-filled and adventure-ready. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t plan A or that it might be impossible.

They are always expecting the next adventure because it doesn’t matter whether or not they have shoes on or bare feet. They are just ready either way. Not because adventures are easy, but because it is easy for them to say yes when wonder hits them between the eyes.

It makes sense to follow a kite’s pattern across the sky and to cloud gaze and to chase grasshoppers. It makes sense to wonder and to be pulled into the wider story of worship – it makes sense that the chase might get mysterious and that they might run into danger. And they don’t need to dress up or pretend its any other way.

I want to live like this more.

I want to feel the fear being cast out because the wonder won’t let it stay. There isn’t room for both wonder and fear, because wonder is worship and it can happen inside danger and storm and drought. The right kind of wonder, anyway.

We are too safe. We dress up and act proper and we are never prepared for what a waking God might do with his limitless power and grace. We are not looking for it like children who hunt grasshoppers with hard hats. We aren’t prepared to be surprised and we are not ready enough to be wonder-filled.

I want to worship with a hard hat – to worship in a way that expects wonder and danger and is prepared for both.

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

the foxes in the vineyard

This Monday morning is a fox in the vineyard.

Things “begin” on Monday morning – the week, the work, the schedule – but we all know nothing ended on Friday. We just pushed pause so we could smile and forget for two days. At least that seems to be what everyone hopes our weekly system is set up to do: work for five days, forget about work for two days, and then start work again.

I have never had a job where that cycle is successful. Because working with people means working inside relationships and I would do very poor work if I severed relationships on a weekly basis.

So, this morning I woke out of a dream thinking about the court hearing at 8 am and about the meetings in the afternoon because they had been on my mind all weekend. These aren’t appointments, they are people and that feels heavy.

The antidote for anxiety is not reason, though many well-meaning people have lectured me on boundaries and work/life balance.

The antidote for anxiety is the promises of God. It is a medicine that doesn’t take away the illness, but overcomes it. The promises of God are trustworthy and they follow us. I cannot go to a place where God’s promises cannot reach. He is here, inside this Monday and He knows about the foxes. He knows about all the evil plans to steal my joy.

He knows about my anxiety and He knows His promises can overcome it. He is good to me. In His sovereign will, He is good and can only be good to me.

Today is about believing God is good when the foxes are in the vineyard.

This song by Audrey Assad sings the overflow of goodness and it will be my reminder all day long.

I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise
and I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I’m bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name
and the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

because You are good to me, good to me

I lift my eyes to the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night–raise my head up and hear the sound
Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God
and the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

because You are good to me, good to me
Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
all my lifeI will trust in Your promise
© 2013 Audrey Assad Inc (BMI)

something worth bleeding out

Last night, Brandi Carlile invited The Lone Bellow back up on stage in the middle of her set, backlit by a lazy summer sun at the Simon Estes Amphitheater in Des Moines. They were the opening act, these brilliant three, but they were the reason my sister and I paid the big bucks to sprawl out on a blanket by the river with expensive drinks (the kind they make you buy inside after making you dump your waters at the door).

Something clicked when they sang this song. It’ll get unhinged soon enough. I’ll forget and I’ll fret and I’ll fury. But something about those few minutes was bound to break my blog silence.

Vacation was too good to me. It swallowed up my bones in bliss and I was happy there, really happy. Every clockless morning and every unplanned afternoon, every impromptu tennis match and every adventurous trip down to the beach, every late night campfire-lit conversation, every slice through the water in the kayak, every forest run, every conversation – everything.

Vacation swallowed up my bones in bliss.

I didn’t really know how to shake myself out of it – how does bliss make sense with clocks and schedules and plans and expectations? How do you get un-swallowed? How do you not wish yourself back in those blissful moments when you’re in moments that feel so regular?

Then The Lone Bellow started to sing and I started to sway with all my hippy hair, belting out this brilliant tune.

Yes, I lost myself a little bit and I’m not worried about your judgment.

I was probably 1 of 10 concert-goers who had heard of The Lone Bellow, so I was definitely one of few singing along. But, I belted it anyway – like the ba-ba-da was something inside me fighting to find air.

There is a reason life isn’t endless vacation.

And that reason made sense as I swayed to this tune,

“Breathing in, breathing out, the salt in my mouth
gives me hope that I’ll bleed something worth bleeding out”

It might not shake vacation dust off your feet, but it did mine. This is an anthem that says our hands should get dirty and calloused and worn, an anthem that reminds us that respite gives fuel for our daily fight against the lies we can sometimes escape on vacation.

“All the buildings, they lean and they smile down on us
And they shout from their rooftops words we can’t trust
Like you’re dead, you are tired, you’re ruined, you’re dust
Oh, you won’t ‘mount to nothing, like thanks full of rust”

These are the lies of life, the weary and rugged and cumbersome kind that sneak into kitchens and coffeeshops and haunt our closet space. These are the lies that try to make our lives less redeemed. But, in Christ, there is no more or less saved. There is no scale to our redemption.

Our sin entangles with all kinds of cruel efficiency and the dull hum-drum of everyday life is its favorite booby trap. But a sliding scale salvation would strip God of the power to make it complete, and we are not capable of making Him any less glorious than He is.

Thank God. Thank God He did not leave us as exiles from the kingdom of God, banished from forever beauty and bliss.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)

Thank God, in His grace, the blood coursing through our veins is more than mostly water. In Christ, this blood we carry around is something worth bleeding out. It is not nothing. It’s this blood, keeping us alive to proclaim that we’ve been redeemed and redemption is free by the grace of God and the cost of Christ. It is the blood by which we can sing the next lines,

But we scream back at them from below on the street
All in unison we sing, our time’s been redeemed
We are all of the beauty that has not been seen
We are full of the color that’s never been dreamed

Because nothing we need ever dies. Isn’t that so? Our needs – physical and otherwise are slippery things, but we get parched and desperate for them. We beg and plead for them, our needs. And those needs never die.

But there is one need that trumps all other needs and it’s what started beating like hope in my chest when I heard this song. There is a reason life isn’t endless vacation and it is because there is work to do. There is toil and sweat and there is work to do. My blood is worth something because Christ’s blood was shed on my behalf.

O, precious HOPE that redeems us in the bliss of vacation and in the dull hum-drum of Monday-afters. I’m still swaying to this precious hope that my life in the regulars and the weekday sways and sweats for a greater story.

Even if I was lonely, even if I was broke
Even if all the dogs in the pound left me notes
Sayin’ it’s never over, it never ends
Grab my heart and the fire, let us descend

To the darkest of prisons, break their defense
We will rattle the cages, rules will be bent
Oh, remind us our days are all numbered, not spent
And peace it comes easy like mist on a ridge

Chorus
Breathing in, breathing out, the salt in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll bleed something worth bleeding out

All the horoscopes tell us to break all our ties
To our families and loved ones we leave when we fly
To the cities we think we need in our lives
Oh, you Manhattan jungle, you tangle our pride

Chorus

All the buildings, they lean and they smile down on us
And they shout from their rooftops words we can’t trust
Like you’re dead, you are tired, you’re ruined, you’re dust
Oh, you won’t ‘mount to nothing, like thanks full of rust

But we scream back at them from below on the street
All in unison we sing, our time’s been redeemed
We are all of the beauty that has not been seen
We are full of the color that’s never been dreamed

Where nothing we need ever dies
Where nothing we need ever dies

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.

Your words, my sight

There is a mother bird feeding her baby birds outside our front window as the owl down the street sings his morning song. I don’t have a song to contribute, but I do have one to share. This song by Kye Kye is called, “My Sight” and it’s exactly the kind of seeing I need to do today. It reminds me of Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.”

The Word can become to us a joy and the delight of our hearts! Through the Truth of the Word we can believe fully, trust deeply, love fiercely – because in the Word we see the One whose grace empowers us and sustains us and loves us with a sanctifying love.

If the song isn’t your style, at least read the lyrics today and be encouraged as God shows Himself faithful in His Word to be your sight.

Lyrics:
Thoughts of cloth that lay on stone (Jon.20:6-7)(Ro.6:10-11, 8:6 ,12:2)
I am watching a cross that bled
alone to be the only valley of trust and hope we know (Ro.5:2)
we envision that place then watch it flow through us (Ro.15:4 &8:24-25)

Your words
Are my sight (2Cor.5:7)

Trails we walk then see them glow (Heb.11:1)
we are watching a church that builds
and grows to be a lovely picture with frames that hold so close
(Eph.4:12-13) (1Cor.12:12-13)
we imagine that place and watch it flow from us (1Jo.3:2)(Ro.8:29 & 12:2)(Eph.4:15)

 

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.

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
blessings, stamped and ready for sending