choosing Love

photo (1)

Something about leaving my dentist appointment in Chinatown to wait impatiently for the J train at Canal Street with my large Starbucks and NY Times made me feel especially New York this morning.

It’s all a miracle – the dentist in Chinatown, the daily subway navigation, the insurance coverage, the dreamy roommate situation, and the two avenues between Patrick and me. These are all daily, mysterious miracles from a gracious God who sees me in the middle of all these city lights.

But, I have also felt especially Austin and especially Chicago and especially Tegucigalpa  and especially Ames and especially Des Moines in the recent string of years and God’s grace has pursued me in every location with daily, mysterious miracles. I have not found God to be less wonderful or faithful or beautiful in any of these locations, but more so.

My pastor recently shared a story about the first time he saw the mountains. After a long road trip with friends, he finally saw the sharp peaks stretch out into the sky and they were all overwhelmed with emotion. Words didn’t seem to fit the new beauty standing like stone giants in front of them.

And then my pastor asked if we should have a similar response as we step into a crowded morning subway car. We all laughed because that’s ridiculous, but then we all got silent.

Because if we really believe humanity is as special as God claims – that He breathes life into our bones and thought into our brains and movement into our muscles to give Him glory in a way the rest of creation cannot – then every human is marvelous.

People ask me, “How do you like New York?” And I promise I’m not copping out when I say, “I choose to love it.”

I’m not saying something between the lines or hinting something inside those five words. I am just saying that loving New York is a choice and I am honest about choosing it.

I choose to love the crazy crowds of people and the commute (a fight I lose on the regular) and the millions of possibilities for social plans and the red hot ambition of artists and entrepreneurs and Wall Street analysts. I choose to love my neighbors and my strangers and my friends. I choose to love the sunlight through my third floor window and our little house plants and the guys who smoke weed in our stairwells.

But, I am learning about choosing love and about miracles and about all that makes creation marvelous.

Because my arms have not been twisted into this love and my days are not full of resignation, though my writing might read that way. I wish you could stand in the kitchen with me on a Monday night or sit at my desk with me during a crowded lunch period or sing next to me in Williamsburg during Sunday morning church or stumble up the subway steps at Winthrop on my way back home – then you would know what a joy it is to choose to love this place, full of marvelous people God created with great intention and care.

I choose to love NYC because this city is lovely. Depraved and thoughtful and broken and inspired and lost and scarred and… lovely. Love here (and everywhere) is not an emotion I can muster from my heart or an action I can force from my hands. It is what happens when you stand in front of a breathtaking miracle (and a crowded subway of them) and let awe seep out of your soul.

Choosing to love is believing all that God has said about humanity, and then believing Christ (on the cross) overcame my every desire to live like the opposite.

real life is in the flatlands

(I wrote this in the Chicago airport but the complimentary Wifi ran out before I could publish it. So, here I am at 1 am back in my Brooklyn apartment posting my last Christmas entry.)

Real life is not vacation.

It’s not the slow, beautiful weeks spent in between months of regular workdays. Real life is both I guess, but today I go back to the flatlands because there is nothing mountaintoppy about living regular life.

I’m making pancake monday plans and texting all the folks I need to meet up with and brunch in with and dream big with. I’m dreaming up new chalkboard designs for the business owner down the street and I’m summoning courage to fight regular fights.

Because real life is in the flatlands.

I read that phrase in my advent devotional yesterday and I’m convinced it will be my theme this year. Jesus was born a baby to no pomp and circumstance – certainly not to all the ceremony we give to this time of year – but then he grew up regular. He lived life in the flatlands. He worked and walked and greeted neighbors. He sat down to dinner and learned how to work an anvil in the woodshop. He participated in traditions and went to family reunions and walked through the markets and had sleepless nights.

I’ve noticed that on vacations and at family gatherings, conversations always seem to circle around to bigger questions about purpose and calling and hope. There is a herd of elephants in the room inside questions like, “Is this it?”

Because being engineers and doctors and teachers and ministry leaders and salesmen and bankers and non-profit workers and hourly wage earners… well, that’s something. But it is certainly not “it” or there wouldn’t be so many elephants. We all know that no matter how successful or stagnant our lives feel, we can’t ever win a bigger prize than what has already been offered to us.

That prize already happened. He was born in a manger and we just celebrated His birth. And He is holding all things together until we walk into eternity by His side. He is why life in the regular means anything and why it means everything. Christ holds life together (Colossians 1:17), all the ordinary everyday-ness of it, so that His glory is proclaimed.

Christ is with me now in the flatlands of real life because He has already lived the flatlands before.

I’m headed back to Brooklyn with a lot of questions. Every regular day in the flatlands is not exciting. Sometimes (most times) my days are just regular and I know God loves to make His name great in mangers and woodshops and plain, crowded city streets.

find us faithful and find us ready

Simple prayers are the best because my words get in the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is what makes this season glorious.

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

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

when the cold creeps in your bones

The cold wind is sneaky in this city. 

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

mmm soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

breathing in the history of my salvation

Today is one of those days, sandwiched in between beauty and beauty.

I am caught in a funny paralysis, the kind that prevents me from Christmas gift splurging and the kind that prevents me from making my own Christmas wish list. I am stuck in a funny corner where I’m frustrated at my love affair with things (the giving and the getting) but I realize the elephant in the room is my love affair with things (the giving and the getting).

We’ve been studying the women in the lineage of Jesus on Sundays and in home group. Yes, a slightly different sermon series than most churches choose during this time of year, but it has swelled my soul. As we have read between the lines in the lives of Tamar and Bathsheba the past two weeks, the scandal of my Savior’s messy heritage has been… refreshing.

Scandal is not too strong a word, either.

The women named in Matthew 1, in the lineage of Christ, lived messy, scandalous lives but Jesus never conveniently forgot them from the family tree. God chose to send His only begotten Son by way of a family overwhelmed by strife and conflict and sexual sin. Jesus came from a long line of wayward souls.

Tamar (in Genesis 38) was forgotten and discarded after two husbands passed away, Judah was desperate and afraid, and God was faithful. He was faithful to care for Tamar, though her desperation drove her to search for righteousness on her own. He was faithful to Judah, whose fear led him to doubt God’s plan and provision. God’s faithfulness to both these wayward souls (Jesus’ ancestors) in all their scandal is a soothing medicine to my paralyzed heart.

Because honestly, I don’t know what is best – how to give and get things in a way that honors the Lord. I don’t know how many toy drives to join and how many gifts to forgo in an effort to support organizations living out the gospel. I don’t know what those numbers look like and I don’t know how my checkbook should look in light of them.

But I know I don’t want to be paralyzed. I want to believe that God has called us into marvelous light this Christmas, the kind that helps us hold things loosely. I know that the beauty of the salvation story has a whole lot to do with the way God wanted a family of wayward souls to be the heritage of the Son of God.

The beauty of our Savior’s life is that not a thousand scandals could mess up his reputation, because he took every wayward weakness upon himself. He lived the most scandalous story when he came as a baby and when he died on the cross. There has never been anyone more vulnerable than our Savior.

So, today is sandwiched between beauty and beauty, and I am thinking of bigger things. I am breathing in the history of my salvation and the way my Savior chose to come, chose to die, and chose to redeem the wayward.

I still don’t get it – how the details are supposed to work out or what I’m supposed to wrap and send and buy for underneath the tree. Maybe that’s okay.

and the darkness will not overcome it

One cannot overdue the season of Advent.

It’s not like the seasonal aisles at the supermarket or the display in the center of town. And that’s why each of these winter city days inside the Advent season seems to burst with joy and sadness and meaning and hope. This Christ child, coming to earth and stepping into humanity, is not a lesson learned or a party theme.

Every messy government would rest on this baby’s shoulders and he would hold every messy heart in his hands.

Unbelievable. This marvelous mystery has a way of reordering my heart. And as I struggle through Christmas lists and life inside a culture of excess, a season full of reordering is not even enough. I need daily, supernatural reminders that Christ is the light that pierces darkness, the good news to a world in despair, the hope in a city of drawn faces on crowded subway cars.

His is the light that cannot be overcome.

No matter how many times I choose selfish gain over sacrifice or silence over truth-telling… No matter how many times we get distracted by shiny things and new gadgets and passing pleasures… Christ is the light that cannot be overcome.

And this light came cloaked in the humble darkness of a barnhouse to speak our salvation into human words and die our salvation nailed to a rugged tree. Christ is the light that was not overcome by the grave, but rose above it and Christ is the light that will come again.

Some days, it is okay to admit that the world is dark. Some days it is okay to admit that our hearts are dark, too. But one cannot overdue the season of Advent, because every day is a day to declare that Christ is the light that darkness cannot overcome.

This, from the Book of Common Prayer, reminds my dark heart and this dark world about light.

ALMIGHTY GOD, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

Continue following along with The Advent Project, a devotional from Biola University.

triumph at play

When God sent Jesus into the strife and struggle of mortality, He was not nervous like a parent on the first day of kindergarten. He was not uncertain about how Jesus would do when faced with bullies or empty bellies.

God did not take the ultimate risk in sending His Son because He sent Christ in ultimate triumph.

Never was there ever a question about the endgame; never a question about how things would shake out when the heat got hot. God never considered Satan a formidable foe. Never.

“The curse on the serpent teaches us to expect an all-out war against sin and death, but we forget that war only wears a grim face when total victory is in doubt. When God himself entered the fray and took upon himself our frail frame, it was not an act of daring; it was triumph at play.”  – Diane Vincent, Associate Professor of Torrey Honors Institute (from The Advent Project)

God was not sending Christ into the mortal game as a last resort or as a “Hail, Mary” play to the endzone because Christ was always central to the salvation story, always the plan for redemption. Always.

“…we forget that war only wears a grim face when total victory is in doubt.”

Consider what it would feel like to go to battle knowing you were already victorious. The fear and anxiety of battle vanish. The uncertainty and the sleepless nights and the silent pep talks – everything you might feel in a evenly matched battled – vanishes. As we walk in the shadow of Christ’s coming, we take on his sure victory.

He stepped into our weakness so we could step into His triumph, so that we could dance upon injustice and delight in His promise keeping.

We need not wear a grim face in this fight, for it is already won.