amid the cold of winter

The weather outside is legitimately frightful.

I stuck my frozen toes inside the warmed oven several times because there is a north wind creeping through all the farmhouse cracks around kitchen windows. And, obviously, the kitchen can’t be avoided with Christmas baking and coffee making and cookie decorating to be done. The winter struggle is real and it’s about to get more frozen when we go Christmas caroling in a few hours.

There are perks to living in an apartment in Brooklyn – and one of those perks is that the heat is regulated for the whole building and always cranked high. But we find other ways to keep warm here – like chasing caped superheroes, putting out pretend fires, and running from sock hand monsters. There is a lot of commotion, but it’s all the good kind covered in giggles and belly laughs.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and we’ve switched up all our traditions this year because of sibling schedules. We are foregoing the three ingredient potato soup that we’ve had every Christmas Eve since I can remember and we already opened gifts yesterday while one of the little ones took a nap.

And, well, some traditions are not as important as Tevye’s deep, throaty voice belting out rolled Rs in Fiddler on the Roof. Some traditions are like frosting or gravy or jam – not the main dish. Today’s deep breaths are about holding on to the main thing – God’s great tradition of peace.

“We are invited to know the peace God extends to his favored ones, those established in a relationship with him through Jesus Christ. This is the soul-satisfying peace of God.” Joann Jung, from The Advent Project

This soul satisfying peace doesn’t look like a certain Christmas schedule or a table spread a particular way. This peace is way, way bigger than that. This peace is about identity – our identity that gets wrapped up into the splendor of a baby King who would later invite us into adoption, as co-heirs of his inheritance.

Identity has been more of a fight lately, which maybe surprises me more than anyone else. I am not timid or insecure or self-conscious, at least that has never before been the case. I’m not too concerned about thrifted fashions and keeping up appearances, but NYC is a sneaky devil about these things.

I have noticed a crack in my armor – a little voice that makes me doubt old shoes and my non-profit destiny. The subway stares and coffee shop conversations are a slow fade and Iowa is different enough to make all the colors clear. I would like to give more gifts to more people. And I would like to look more put together and I would like to have more established things to say about my career.

I guess I would like to have a better identity and maybe that’s the root of it all. That’s the sneaky devil and the crack in my armor, because there is not a better identity to be had.

This Savior I am anticipating and celebrating is my identity. God speaks worth and life into my fumbling limbs the same way He spoke life into His Son’s. Not only that, but my future is tied up in the glory of the Son of God, who lived and died and rose again to secure my redemption.

Pardon me, I’ve got to go warm up my vocalizer so I can match the alto pitches on these Christmas carols. The cold really does bite into a good harmony and I’ve got to be prepared.

winter wanderers

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is not heavy enough – not urgent or eager enough. But those words will have to do.

I still think it’s okay to get sad and broken about all the undone things – all the world-weary, winter wanderers who do not know God has come to earth or do not believe it was for them.

There is a kind of rejoicing that can swallow up mourning. But mourning never disappears. It will not until the day when faith is made sight and eternity stretches before us like a promise fulfilled.

We anticipate the Savior and we anticipate His coming again, when peace will rule and reign forever. My cousin Amanda really says it best in her post, Why Advent is Breaking my Heart.”

Sweet, sweet words.

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.

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.

getting comfortable with being ordinary

The oatmeal wheat dough is raising in the oven and I’m on my 13th cup of tea.

It feels like someone just boxed my ears and if I knew who it was, I might just let loose some Scrooge on them. But, I don’t and that’s probably better. The upside of this whole sick thing (because there is always an upside) is that there is bread dough in the warm oven and I’m on my 13th cup of tea.

Making bread is a big commitment and probably why bread machines and bakeries and sliced situations are so popular. Who has hours to linger around a warming oven and who has patience to knead a ball of dough for 6-8 minutes? Few people.

And it might be easy to make assumptions about those few people with that kind of time on their hands – that they are smaller or less important or less interesting. Those ordinary folks with rugged hands and simple lives.

I’d like to be that kind of simple folk – just ordinary, you know.

I’m not saying I don’t want to be great or that I don’t want to pursue the passions buried in my gut or that I don’t want to marvel and chase dreams. I’m not saying that.

I just never want to make life more complicated than it was when God sent a celestial choir to a group of simple folks hanging out in the fields. These were the kinds of folks who spent long hours doing ordinary things and these were the kinds of folks God wanted to tell about the Savior’s birth. These were the folks who heard it first, in a glorious arrangement of God’s best choir.

Anyway, there are a lot of lights here – buildings and shops and trees lit up for the holidays. But the lights are always on and people are always working, always getting ahead and afraid of falling behind. The lights are always on and people are always looking for something other than ordinary.

I know I get sucked in just like everyone else. I want people to know me and like me and appreciate my creativity. But there is wisdom inside this slow day. And wisdom in an ordinary life, the most ordinary there is, that can point more easily to a Savior who makes all things glorious.

It was not the shepherds – their stature or accomplishments or reputation – that made that middle of the night song so superb. It was the Lord who sent the host of angels, the Lord who made the starry night display, the Lord who wrote the music and the Lord who directed the song.

Maybe if we can get comfortable with being ordinary, we’ll be more prepared to hear and listen and participate in what God is orchestrating in these days.

I’m going to go pour another cup of tea and see if I need to punch down the dough.

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.