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.

 

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.

calvary’s hill on the horizon

It snuck up on me, in between all the Thanksgiving plans and while I concern myself with living in the moment. The season of strung lights and sleigh bell music and egg nog descended on this city before I could clear away the thanksgiving plates.

Last night at small group, someone shared a prayer request against distractions in this season – that she would be able to focus with her family on celebrating the simple message of Christ coming to earth. New York City does a really great job of distracting even without the help of a consumer-driven season of overspending and dress up parties. So, I’m trying to take it slow. I’m trying to let the Advent readings marinate and linger so I’m anticipating the right things – the best things – and not the hollow things of empty boxes and returned sweaters. And this morning that anticipation led me to Calvary.

“There’s a place for focusing on the stable, the shepherds, and the wonder of the incarnation, but to appreciate the depth of what is happening here, we must keep Calvary’s hill on the horizon.” – David Mathis in “Let a Little Lent into your Advent”

Because this season is not waiting for a baby. We are not anticipating the coming of a birth, not merely anyway. Jesus came to earth in a miracle of miracles, but then he lived life full through and ended up at the cross. That God knew all of this before sending His son, and even ordained it, is part of what makes this season magical.

God inserted Himself into his very ugly and and desperate creation so that He might be our redemption.

Christ’s birth is beautiful because it is the earthly beginning of the story of salvation on the shoulders of the God-man. Everything about the birth is as unbelievable today as it was when the angels declared it to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds in the fields. Still crazy, still beautiful, still miraculous. But, what makes Christ’s birth ever deep is that his life culminated in Calvary – that He died a shameful death on a cross and then rose again to conquer death altogether and purchase pardon for sinners.

The salvation story is not seasonal.

As we anticipate the coming of the Savior King this Christmas, may it be inside the wonder of a greater miracle. How wide can our eyes be to fully take it in? How deep can our joy reach to fully revel in it? How far can our laughter roll to feel the weight of it?

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and live the life of a Messiah. Come and purchase our pardon and come to set us free. Come and do for creation what only You can do. Come and be magnified by the miracle of salvation. Come.

Come to this earth with Calvary on the horizon.

wait, with great expectation

Waiting with anticipation sounds like a funny thing to do.

Because it is hard to wait actively and hard to anticipate passively. And that’s exactly the miracle of Advent.

There is nothing passive about the days leading up to Christ’s birth into the world – the longing for a Messiah is almost palpable throughout the Old Testament. Even as hundreds of years passed, the people of Israel (and beyond) waited with great expectation for the Savior King to come to earth. They were waiting, but they were not resigned to indifference. They read and re-read the prophecies and the promises and then they said, “Come.”

Hundreds and hundreds of years of “Come, Lord Jesus.” I imagine it maintaining the same intensity, though some generations must have faltered. Still, generation after generation waited actively with the words, “Come.”

The incarnation was never meant to happen to us, like witnessing an act of charity on the subway by chance. The incarnation of our Lord was planned from the very beginning, even the stars thrown into the sky were set on a trajectory to proclaim His coming. 

And we are invited to take part in His coming, to anticipate the arrival of the Savior and the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise. Christ coming to earth is reason to celebrate salvation for our future, but it is also a reason to celebrate God’s salvation in our present. Because He is a faithful promise keeper … and that translates to Tuesdays. The incarnation is about Tuesday morning devotions and Tuesday afternoon meetings. The incarnation is about financial difficulties and health concerns. The incarnation is about family and brokenness.

The incarnation is about God being a faithful promise keeper when He sent Jesus as a baby into a dark world to be the light.

And the incarnation is not something we let “happen” to us. It is something we invite to transform our Tuesdays and our lives.

Come, thou long expected Jesus. Come.

about hope

Hope is hard, sometimes.

But hope is what pulls our heads up from pillows and hope is what makes our footsteps to follow. It is what motivates us toward good things and what fills those things with joy.

The crazy hard thing about hope is it confirms that we are in some way lacking.

To hope for something means you do not have it and life will be better if/when you do. Every time we hope for something, we are aware again of our deficiencies. Hope means we are not self-sufficient, that we cannot manipulate the remedy of our lacking.

I am hoping for a lot of things, but today is the first day of Advent so I am thinking of just one. Because I am dreadfully lacking in every way – desperately in need for all the ways I fail as a human and for all the ways my willpower can’t fix those failures. Today, I am taking deep December breaths as my deficiencies rumble unsettled somewhere in my gut.

Jesus is my hope – a sure and steadfast anchor for my unsteady soul. He is the promise that remedies what I lack, my present and future hope.

Join me in singing advent songs as we hope for Christ’s coming, remembering again the miracle of the incarnation. We simply cannot remember it enough. Our hope is like watchmen waiting for the morning – expecting and anticipating so much so that the first rays are the highest delight.

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Psalm 130 ESV
5,6 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

7,8 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

dawn and dusk

My favorite time of day changes as the day wakes up and walks with me. Generally, just after lunch has never received the title and perhaps also late morning, but I can’t tell you for certain. I just know that there are moments when I glance up from whatever I’m doing – walking, reading, working, thinking – and I’m hit between the eyes with wonder.

Dawn and dusk are regular wonder hits in my life.

When the blue-grey morning sky gives way to pink-peach tones, the fuzzy coming together on the horizon makes me want to set my day’s destination to “first star on the right and straight on ’til morning” with Peter Pan.

Do you know the feeling? The feeling of wonder?

Dawn and dusk have that effect on me, so this morning I took a good, long pause to watch the warm colors bloom into the grey. I watched them fuzz together and then the gray get swallowed up. And as I squinted at the sun on my morning walk, I delighted in its fuzzy beginnings hours earlier. I smiled at the way the sun had introduced itself to this day quietly and then quickly took over the sky with bold rays.

I hope I can keep this feeling of wonder until dusk when it happens in reverse. Maybe it will help to reflect on this devotional from Solid Joys, “Christ is Like Sunlight” where John Piper explains Hebrews 1:3,

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

Piper writes, “Jesus relates to God the way radiance relates to glory, or the way the rays of sunlight relate to the sun.” And so, it is this relationship that is inspiring wonder in my favorite times of day.

if my heart wrote my soul a telegram

This is, ahem, very personal. If that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to read something else today.

Remember in the Sound of Music when Leisl tells Rolfe about the telegram she would write him as they exchange teenage love declarations in the gazebo? She started with, “Dear Rolfe (stop)” and then he called her a baby.

If my heart wrote my soul a telegram yesterday, it went something like this:

I have two fears (stop)

I wasn’t prepared to feel what I felt or to feel it so intensely. But, the telegram didn’t get sorted until about 11:00 pm last night when I finally stopped the repetitive rhythm.

Yesterday, Patrick and I trekked up to the INHABIT conference on the Upper West Side, sponsored by the International Arts Movement. We listened to plenary speakers and attended breakout sessions with several hundred other folks from across the country who care about the ways art intersects with faith and how that translates into culture care.

And in the middle of all the note-scrawling and introductions and processing, I realized I had never invited someone into this space before. This very metaphysical, very precious and precarious space I had tucked deep away where it couldn’t get broken.

Maybe it’s what a comic book junkie feels at a comic book convention or what a car enthusiast feels at a car show or a musician feels about the symphony. I know I’m not the only one who feels uniquely at home in a very unhome-like space because I am surrounded by people who speak the same language.

This is what I feel when I pack my notebooks and pens, when I check in at registration, when I listen to the philosophical implications of architectural structures and the words communicated through a brick used in its traditional function or adapted for a new purpose. This is what I feel when I am around people asking questions about beauty and meaning and longing – people who wrestle and wander and wonder because it feels right to do so.

Eric Liddell’s painful conclusion in “Chariots of Fire” paints well the picture of this affection and deep delight, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

I’m not sure how exactly God made me – I am not fast like Eric Liddell, nor am I particularly brilliant in a profession, nor am I an established or even struggling artist.

I just know that when I work the muscles in my brain and respond with the muscles in my heart and typing fingertips, I feel His pleasure. I feel His pleasure in a strange and not altogether happy way, but in a way that I do not feel anywhere else. There is a familial comfort in knowing that other people want to use the same language, to plumb the same depths, to wrestle the same lions – believing it is a worthy pursuit and even a pursuit that reflects and delights our Creator.

These types of gatherings have been home to me for years and there are few people who share the same affinity. But that’s never mattered before. I do not expect people to understand this language and I’ve learned to filter my excitement and my conclusions and my muddled processing.

But yesterday, the fear-filled telegrams pushed up behind my eyes. I felt a bit like my self-confident exterior got cracked like an egg and all my fear dripped out. So, I have two fears.

I am afraid of being misunderstood.
I am also afraid of being dull.

I am afraid that my love for beauty and questions and doubts and language and words (and all those things I have hidden in a precious and precarious place) will not make sense to the person I love the most. I am afraid words won’t come and when they do, that they will tumble out incoherently.

I am also afraid that my rambling and circular processing and childilke chasing will make my favorite person bored. I am afraid he will not enjoy the moment in a superlative way and that his lesser enjoying will be my fault.

I am not saying this is rational, I am just saying this was the telegram that I was finally able to communicate to Patrick last night after we rode his motorcycle out of Manhattan. Between sighs and frequent pauses in our late night, neighborhood pizza joint, I tried to explain that I didn’t need him to love what I love or to understand why this language feels like home. I explained that I didn’t need him to be someone who loves conferences and note-taking and the cultural implications of the functionally changing purpose of bricks.

I just don’t want to feel crazy.

I just want so much for him to experience the superlative delight I feel when I’m around this language. Whatever that is for him, I want to say yes to it. Part of what pained me yesterday was thinking that I had asked him to live less in the full delight God prepared.

In his typical and patient way, he told me I wasn’t crazy. He really said a lot more, but I think I just needed to hear that I wasn’t crazy and that I hadn’t ruined his day by making mine great.

I didn’t expect to learn this lesson along the way of love. I really didn’t expect to struggle so sincerely, but I guess I didn’t know how precious or precarious this language was to me.

And in this lesson learning, I am bending to the beauty of Christ’s love. Alone, I can hide things and keep them safely hidden. Alone, I can pretend my vulnerabilities are transparent and my guard is appropriate. But in love, I can see how tenderly Christ completes my affections – how perfectly he understands my needs and how patiently he provides.

I did not know my soul required this kind of care and I was overwhelmed yesterday when I realized Christ has been caring for me in this way all along.

As I receive love (by way of opening up my hidden spaces), I can boldly believe it casts out fears.

Two fears is too few, but it was the number needing cast out yesterday and I believe Christ is able. Not only that He is able, but that He promised to be the One who casts out. I believe that.

I am so thankful for these hard lessons, for these painful purgings of what I didn’t know was hidden.

My uncle sent me the above song today, a song I have returned to when I need a reminder of Christ’s sufficiency. Today was a beautiful day to be reminded.