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!

 

same park, same path, different heart

The day was not more or less beautiful. The park was not more or less packed.

The children played soccer under the same sun’s evening glow, the same moving mass of strangers ran in circles around the same lake, the same warmth burst out from the tips of trees and into the same cool, autumn air.

Everything about my run was the same, except that it was different.

I rounded the curve last night on the East side when it starts to slope down and I realized a smile had stretched across my face. It was a facial expression that defines stupid grin and it was amplified by my oogly eyes marveling at the sky. For the entire steady slope, I grinned and oogled the sky.

I smiled at all the strangers who had made me feel uneasy and emotional a few days before, but I thought my delight might be entertaining (if they create stories in their minds about strangers like I do). I befriended one lady, in a runner’s world kind of way. She was about my height with a similar stride and a purple headband. We ran comfortably side by side and I imagined her story until she sped on ahead around the south curve (confirming my prediction after seeing her serious running tight/skirt combo and determined arm swing).

Everything was the same, but my heart was different.

I was not afraid.

I felt like Kevin from Home Alone when he opens the front door to his empty home and yells to the Christmas darkness, “Hey! I’m not afraid anymore! Do you hear me? I’m not afraid anymore!”

To get empty of fear is liberating, but only if I am getting filled up with something else. Otherwise I’m just yelling at darkness and hoping my endorphins will keep pumping boldness into my blood. The emptiness has to be displaced – the fear has to be replaced by something strong enough to shove it beyond the bounds of influence.

Christ got empty. He emptied Himself so that we could be emptied of emptiness – emptied of that vacancy we feel when fear screams out from our insides.

My salvation has pushed emptiness out and fear with it. Hope has displaced strife and faith has removed worry. I am not afraid anymore because I believe the fullness of Christ is pushing against and spilling beyond my boundaries.

I am not afraid of missing out. I am not afraid of being a stranger. I am not afraid of hugging this city when it doesn’t hug me back. I am not afraid of being unknown. I am not afraid.

I am not afraid because Christ emptied my fear when He got empty.

why communion makes me weepy

I used to be ashamed at the tears squeezing out the corners of my eyes when I walked up to take communion. I used to think I was too much removed from those summer camp experiences where tears and emotions seemed more appropriate. I used to think getting teary-eyed at the communion table would reveal some of the messy layers of my life I try to keep hidden – the less tidy and more sinful layers.

Sometimes I still try to blink away the emotion. I’ll try to focus on something other than the weight of my eternal destiny and the Savior who stepped in to change my course. Tonight, I let the tears slip down as I walked up the aisle.

I sang along to “Jesus Paid it All” in a soft murmur, believing every word because sin had left a crimson stain but He washed it white as snow.

And that’s a miracle.

It’s okay to get emotional when unbelievable things happen and it’s okay to have that emotion on a weekly basis. Because my salvation doesn’t make any sense.

When I take the bread and drink the wine, proclaiming Christ’s death until He comes again, I am believing that His death was sufficient to cover my sin. I am believing Christ as my substitute and that He ransomed my soul from the pit of emptiness by putting Himself inside that pit.

Unbelievable.

It isn’t a long walk between the wooden pews to the front of the church, but it’s long enough. The upright bass, piano, and saxophones accompanied my reflection and the tears were persistent.

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

There’s no good reason for this weak child to find or be found, but God called my heart out of darkness into light. And so the short walk before I rip off the bread and drink the wine from the cup is full of ways I’m not worthy, ways I’m overwhelmed by God’s gift.

My tears may sound like nonsense, but I suppose to my heart it is the opposite. I am not sad for my salvation, just overwhelmed by it – by the bigness of it and the unlikeliness of it.

The walk back to my wooden pew after that little feast is always a beautiful celebration. I am always breathing deep sighs and lifting up my chin because as weighty as that communion dinner is, His grace is weightier still. Anything I may have brought up with me – shame or guilt or fear or doubt – He already covered in the sacrifice on the cross and I am free of it.

I get weepy at communion. It’s just a thing that happens every Sunday. Sometimes I try to hide it and blink it away, but other times I let those little tears roll because communion is a an emotional encounter.

You who are greater

I heard a sermon a couple weeks back and this little bit of Scripture in 1 John 3 keeps coming on back to steady my heart.

Because my heart sometimes feels pretty powerful – like it has the full force of Jeremiah 17:9 and that’s a scary danger.

“The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?”

I surely do not. Even when we think we are making unselfish sense, our heart still deceives and traps and tricks and we can still get buried in a place that is “beyond cure.” There is a place where cure can’t reach and that’s where you’ll find our hearts. Ouch.

Sounds impossible to cure a deceitful heart, doesn’t it? So, I must believe God for impossible things. I must believe in this moment through to the next that He is a promise keeper, that He knows everything, and that He is greater than my heart.

Though my heart is deceitful and fickle and incurable and fret-filled, God is greater than my heart. When my heart runs circles around the narrow path where my feet tread with doubts and taunts, I must remember who made my heart.

He that formed my heart calls me “child” and is always faithful to be greater than my fears.

He is always greater, always. God knows everything – there’s nothing about the darkest part of our hearts that surprises Him – and He is still greater than those secrets. In 1 John 3, we read that our salvation means confidence, that even the most fickle and incurable heart issues we have must bend to the One who abides in us.

I am not afraid of my dangerous heart. I believe that God is greater.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:18-24, ESV)

When I believe God to be greater than my heart, I trust that fear is replaced with obedience. I am not afraid of my dangerous heart because I believe God can overcome it and help me pursue holiness. I am not afraid because He has authored miracles that I can act out by living a life of love. I am not afraid because I know, in Christ, what it means to abide. Because of His grace, I am not afraid.

 

sweaty mess and sci-fi

Sometimes there is no way around it – my legs stick to the driver seat, my hair twists around in a knot atop my head, and a pool of sweat collects on my lower back.

#summer

But, I’m gonna be real honest right now: I feel like I’m lost in a sci-fi film. Every other moment I’m drowning and in the opposite moment I’m waking up like a child. I guess you could describe the whole disturbing scene stretching out these days as exciting, but I’m just barely hanging on.

Turns out, all that talk of preaching to myself better be more than blog posts, better be more than resolutions and more than my typical free-spirited whimsy. It better be more, because it’s getting serious. Every other moment (the drowning ones) require serious rescue and lip service won’t do the trick, ever.

Believing moment by moment is a catchy concept and one I can get behind – trusting that God is providing and will provide the strength to go on in His future grace.

We are banking on the overflow of future storehouses and you’ll always find me saying “Amen” to that.

But riding around in my car with kids I love so much it tears my heart out, that’s not a concept. Having to say goodbye to these kids is not a concept I can either agree or disagree with, it’s just going to happen. Looking at my bank accounts is not conceptual – the numbers are like Shakira’s hips, they don’t lie. Trying to sell my car Eddie, trying to juggle transition, trying to get hired… those are not concepts.

This is my reality. I’m not sitting in a church pew, throwing out “amens” when the pastor is on point and scribbling my sermon doodles about theological connections.

Believing is not a concept, it is reality. It has to be, or I sank a long time ago.

Every other moment (the drowning ones), I reach out for the reality of future grace. I have to believe with my mind, praying all unbelief into captivity (2 Corinthians 10:5) because otherwise I would be paralyzed with fears that everything won’t work out. I have to believe with my heart, trusting God’s protection and that He will complete the work He has started (Philippians 1:6). I have to believe with my soul, hoping with certainty in what God has promised for the future (Psalm 42:11). I have to believe with my strength, convinced that acting out of this belief is the best thing to do (Hebrews 12:14).

I try not to flail about, but I do very few things gracefully and getting rescued is not one of them. I scramble and scurry, but every inch of me knows that believing conceptually is not life-saving.

Real believing is a sweaty mess, a gasping-for-air ordeal that can make a person extremely unattractive in all the near-drowning desperation. But believing is also the only thing that will make us beautiful, as we become more and more like Christ.

Then there are those glorious every other moments (the waking up ones) when I slip into childlike skin and the believing is less work. These are great gifts and I cherish them, sandwiched between near drownings. God’s preservation of our childlike-ness is a very beautiful thing.

This is the little sci-fi memoir I’m living at the moment, making my life a sweaty mess. It’s probably just this heat getting to me.

preach it [to yourself]

We hear a lot of words throughout the day – our morning to midnight is filled with them. Words to wake up to, to sing to, to argue with, to persuade, entice, battle, and play.

So many words.

But even if you didn’t have a single conversation, your day would still be full of words. Even if you were a hermit, words would wiggle inside. Because we’re all listening to sermons in our heads – words that motivate and teach and correct and guide.

My soul is speaking constantly and sometimes it sounds like a worldly sermon. It sounds like more questions than statements, more fear than courage, and more pride than humility. Sometimes it sounds like sin. But it is not a matter of making my soul mute, because that’s not possible. We are created with eternity in our hearts and my soul’s constant conversation is evidence of that. 

In conversations with friends and in reflection about my own inner conversations lately, I’m reminded again that if the message coming from our souls is not Truth, we need to find a different preacher (and I don’t mean at church).

A few years back, I read The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk by Shelly Beach and (in addition to the title’s brilliant alliteration) it brought a new awareness of the words my soul speaks constantly to my heart. More recently, after reading Joe Thorn’s book Note to Self (heavily influenced and inspired by Martin Lloyd Jones) I became even more intentional about using Scripture to guide those conversations.

My scripture memory verse this week is speaking the right words to my soul. I love reading the statement, “Hope in God” right after the psalmist has just probed for answers for his depression. That statement, “Hope in God” is an affirmation of who God is, a declaration of His worthiness, and a pronouncement of His grace to give such hope. I love that.

Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

This morning, I had an interview for a job in NYC and before/during/afterward my soul heard those words: Hope in God. Though I don’t have a downcast soul right now, I do often ask my soul about worry and fear and worth. And to these questions this morning, I preached: Hope in God.

He is trustworthy.
He is good.
He is faithful.

And I am satisfied in Him. I shall again praise Him – with or without a job. He is my hope!

what keeps my bones revived

I’m not sure if Smalltown Poets were ever cool when I was growing up, but their CD got major airplay in my little room with slanted ceilings. I’m sure they inspired some of the sappy journal writing I did or at least accompanied it. One of their songs came to mind recently when I was taking communion, the chorus of “Trust” reads,

Take this bread,
Drink this cup,
Know this price has pardoned you
From all that’s hardened you,
But it’s going to take some trust

When the bread passed by me in the pew, I pulled off a good-sized chunk (thanks to Kevin DeYoung, whose message on sanctification and communion inspired me to peel off enough bread to “feel the weight of it”) and stared at it in my hand. Jesus instructed us to take the bread and drink the cup, for as often as we take the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (see 1 Corinthians 11:26). So, I weighed the good-sized chunk in my hand while I considered what it proclaimed. This price has pardoned me from all that’s hardened me.

Oh, boy. That was the price my hardening required – a pardon that looked like a broken body and spilled blood?

Yes. That is just exactly the kind of price. Even the good-sized chunk of bread couldn’t help me imagine the weight of my dead bones before Christ revived me. But feeling the weight of the bread during communion is something different than guilt and nothing like condemnation. The weight of my good-sized chunk of communion bread felt like freedom. 

But the challenge with communion, for me, is not believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection happened or that it is the event that brought life to my dead bones. I am redeemed and a child of the King, of that I am sure.

The challenge with communion is believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection is currently keeping my bones revived.

When a slave is granted freedom, we do not say that freedom existed for the one moment when his chains fell. Freedom is also every moment after the shackles break; salvation is happening in our lives as believers as much as it happened when we first believed. 

What Jesus accomplished on the cross was not millions of salvation moments, but rather millions of salvation stories.

Yes, Smalltown Poets, this is “going to take some trust.” We are freed to obey, freed to believe, and freed to trust that this Savior who secured my freedom is faithful to keep securing my freedom.

This is what I proclaim in the bread and the cup: trust that God pardoned me and He is keeping me pardoned.

That means I am freed from greed and fear and worry. I am freed from anxiety and pain and jealousy. I am freed from pride and guilt and shame. I am freed from sin and death and given a way out from temptation. I am freed and Christ is keeping me freed.

This is starting to sound like a broken record. I’m not sure that’s so bad.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

O the deep, deep love

The words and bars and notes and very standard rhythm all drifted bigger into the center until the hymn swam in front of me last Sunday.

And now, mid-week, I’m remembering the blurry words all over again. I read this devotional from John Piper, “When Will I Be Satisfied?” because it was one of many emails waiting when I got back from vacation. I finally got around to it today and I think it goes deeper into the question I posed Monday night about bliss. It’s all tangled together, actually – the joy and the work and the sweat and the bliss. Vacations give time and space for these kinds of questions, I guess.

Piper reflects on John 17:26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” in these powerful statements:

If God’s pleasure in the Son becomes our pleasure, then the object of our pleasure, Jesus, will be inexhaustible in personal worth. He will never become boring or disappointing or frustrating. No greater treasure can be conceived than the Son of God.

Did you follow that? If God’s pleasure (Jesus) becomes our pleasure, then our pleasure can NEVER BE EXHAUSTED.

Joy doesn’t end (vacation or otherwise) because Jesus doesn’t end. Isn’t that magnificent? You will never want more joy than is available, because the pleasure you find in Jesus is inexhaustible.

The joy is INSIDE Jesus and He is INSIDE us.

This is the greater depth I needed to plumb! When I came up and got un-swallowed from vacation bliss, I was revived to work with redeemed blood coursing through my veins. But that didn’t necessarily solve the joy question. Was my bliss sequestered in vacation – is it only there that joy can live?

Praise God the answer is “No!” He is not only my redemption, but my joy. The kind of joy that makes me dance on the beach and makes me dance in my car and makes me dance with my co-workers and makes me dance with the children on my caseload. THIS is the joy of salvation that David wanted to be restored to him – the joy that makes us dance through the work and sweat and troublesome weekdays.

The love of Christ is that deep.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

trying to rightly rejoice

My cheeks hurt like madness this morning and my sides a little bit, too.
And it feels like bliss.

Oh, I guess I don’t know what to call it. But have you ever looked around and wondered how things got so good? How did I find myself here – smack dab in the middle of a world of blessing? How did I end up with such joyful creases across my face and such painful aches across my abs. Several hours of straight smiles and laughter, I guess.

Last night, I felt the fullest kind of content… so much that I had trouble counting them out to the Lord in thanks. I hoped He could hear my heartbeat because that seemed to be making the most sense. After a LONG day of work, I sat with the greatest laughing companions and the scene-making followed us all night.

I forgot we were in a public place because our laughter was busting out the doors. From the restaurant to the frozen custard stand to our eclectic living room to the bike paths around Gray’s Lake – I kept wanting more of whatever was bubbling up inside of me. It wasn’t a wanting that came from lack, but a wanting that came from a glorious abundance.

Is bliss a Biblical concept? Is this the longing that C.S. Lewis spoke so fondly about in Surprised by Joy? Whatever it is that is churning inside my heart, it’s not of this world. I’ll tell you that. This contented, blissful, beauty is not something you can calculate, coordinate or capture.

I slept very little but very soundly last night after a day that stretched beyond the normal limit. I am (clearly) overwhelmed as I consider the beauty making itself known like the 4th of July in my life. I’ll be spending the next week “oohing” and “ahhing” at all the ways the Lord loves – all the beautiful, blissful ways that we can be content in Him and His glorious abundance.

I say all this gobbledigook because I am trying to righty rejoice. I am trying to breathe in the blessings slowly and then be a blessing with all the magic bliss brings. I am trying to rightly rejoice in the Giver of these good gifts.

Maybe sometimes right rejoicing sounds like smiles and laughter and contented feelings in my soul. 

home chased and caught me

Home is not where I get chased to or chased from because home is chasing me. I know because it chased me across these five calendar days, begging for me to abide.

It had a little bit to do with the anxiety of job applications and a little bit to do with odd working hours and a little bit to do with prioritizing phone conversations. But, I can tell you it had everything to do with my heart being homesick.

I met a friend for a near-sunrise breakfast this week and I asked about the past weekend with her parents. She had one of those contented smiles on her face – the ones we wear when words won’t suffice – and she said, “Good. It was just so good.” And I knew just what she meant.

Home is that feeling you get when you are abiding under someone else’s roof.

But my parents’ home was not chasing me this week (although it is a wonderful place to abide – a place I don’t have to check the mail or arrange a social calendar or clear the dust mites from the corners of the closets). And to be honest, the “home feeling” has a time limit when it’s confined to a location.

I’ve called a lot of places home. After 6 months in Des Moines, “home” definitely describes my little street and the corner meat store and the running path to Gray’s Lake. I don’t have a hard time settling into new homes or missing them dearly when I uproot and transplant, but none of them were chasing me this week either. Because there is a limit to our earthly contentedness, an impenetrable obstacle to our earthly abiding even in the most home-ly of places.

This week the home that chased me was the one from John 15 and Psalm 23:6 and Exodus 36:4. It caught up with me mid-morning when I realized the ache in my gut wasn’t heartburn or indigestion or hormones. My heart missed home.

When the rain started to fall in the park, it struck me all of a sudden that my sloppy schedule and mishandled time management had cost me precious time with my Savior. I was doing things, some good and some just things, and somehow my silly feet had wandered from my true home.

I skipped my morning devotions.
I prayed mostly in transit.

I laughed and moped and chatted and filled all the space of the day. And then, I shook away the nudge to be still. I drank more coffee and went on longer rollerblading runs. I scribbled notes and made lists. I pushed down the prick of conviction and today it pushed back.

When I read this devotion today from Solid Joys, I remembered why it is good to be at home with the Lord, abiding in His presence. I remembered why my Savior’s shelter is the best place to abide. Because home is not where you run to when your vagabond shoes have holes and home is not where you run from in a dry season of discontent. 

Home is the forever love of the Father, who pursues us so our souls can best abide.

His is the home that never changes, never wearies, never rusts, and never tires. His is the home my heart gets sick for and the shelter that best covers my soul. His is the space where I want to abide.

Home chased me this week and caught me today. And as I abide out this Friday, His kindness is leading me to repentance.