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.

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.