although we are weeping

Mouths filled with laughter and tongues loosed with joy, that would be ideal. It’s the kind of delight your lungs can’t handle.

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

Psalm 126 (Our Mouths They Were Filled)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

when God says “you are mine”

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

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

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

“You are Christ’s.”

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

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

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

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

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

But I am always His, because He said so.

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

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

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

This week, I will listen for God’s voice saying, “You are mine.”

slow motion holiday

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

That was yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a very long time.

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

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

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

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

a different kind of Christmas song

I love the melodies of this season. You might even catch me singing out of church calendar order. “O Come, Let us Adore Thee” always feels appropriate probably because adoration is always appropriate. We are welcome to approach the throne of grace in every season and adoration seems the proper thing to sing.

But, today there is a different melody … one that isn’t getting lost between The Christmas Song and Mariah Carey. The melody is not like the hallelujah chorus. It doesn’t feel like the candlelight service. This melody is different.

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

Can I sing sadness at Christmas?

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

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

He came quietly, like a whisper in the winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the Christmas song I am singing today.

living slowly, breaking ground

Slow does not seem to happen anymore.

Slow hangs like an abstract painting between more palatable pieces – between fast and lazy. This season is sick with fast and lazy, with running around shopping malls and with hiding under thick covers. Too much spending and too much rushing, too much pampering and too much justifying selfish pursuits. Too much. And the hustle is exhausting.

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

We forget to experience good things slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living slowly is about breaking ground for good things.

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

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

I shall not want

It happened yesterday in Prospect Park – when I was rounding the bend down the slope, right after I stopped to take a picture of the lake. The Saturday children’s soccer games were in the middle of playful competition on the fields, various groups clustered around pastel balloons for birthday parties, and there was a small gathering who had followed hand-painted wooden signs down a slight slope to celebrate a wedding.

The colors were turning, but soft like a whisper. The sun was making warm paths of light to reach the turning leaves on the opposite side of the lake.

I got emotional.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shall not want.

pray to the One I love

This Friday is passing without much ado about anything. I’m not sure if I’d prefer much ado about nothing. I think I’d prefer much ado, period.

But, Fridays and Tuesdays and Sundays are not about preference as much as they are about presence. So, I’m streaming the new Civil Wars album while I write reports and smiling about the next three weeks that are about to unfold in front of my face. I’m just jamming to this beauty and loving the Lord who gave us song.

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

Well, I take that back.

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

God is good, all the time.