a simple, pressing whisper

I lost it in church yesterday.

Classic, on-the-way-to-communion breakdown. It had something to do with Ephesians 2 and the sermon turning over soil I had let harden in my soul. It had something to do with Taryn singing “Although we are weeping, Lord help us keep sowing the seeds of Your kingdom…” It had something to do with remembering what it is to be human, I guess. Mostly that.

God has been pursuing me these weeks while I hide in crowded subway cars and underneath early winter layers. He has been pursuing me with a simple, pressing whisper, “I am still holding things together.”

It is a hard whisper to hear with winter creeping in, painting everything in greys beyond the concrete that already colors this city. It is a hard whisper to hear in grief. But, God has been pursuing me in these weeks with this whisper to consider that He is still in the middle of making all things new.

Even if I close my eyes against it, God is still making beautiful things.

I keep coming back to Colossians 1, where it says of Christ,

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17 ESV)

All things were created through him and for him. Every new life and every mustard seed breaking the earth’s surface and every wave crashing the coast, all these are confirmations that He is still creating and He still has good plans.

Sometimes, like now, I have to gulp that down with two word prayers for more belief. O, God. Are you? Is this? Please come. Be here. Show me. Still me. Show yourself.

But I can’t blink it away.

He is actively holding all things together because His design is good. He persists in holding us together as we persist in breaking things apart or as we get broken apart. He persists and does not abandon His creation, but not for pity. He persists because He will always be about the work of restoring creation to its original dignity.

That’s what our pastor talked about in church yesterday – that God persisted and pursued when we thought brokenness was the end of our story, the defining moment.  But He doesn’t rescue us out of our brokenness. He does the opposite. He holds us together inside of it.

near to Jesus

Somewhere in the middle of our discussion on Matthew 24:15-28 last night, I realized how different it feels to be near to Jesus in Lent.

In Epiphany, I was jostling with the crowds to get nearer the miracle. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the disciples, trying to decipher the beauty and mystery of the God man. In Epiphany, I wanted to be near when Jesus touched lepers and saved harlots and spoke beauty and explained Truth. I wanted to be near Him like I wanted to be near beauty and like a magnet He pulled my soul closer.

In Lent, being near Jesus feels different because it means walking with Him to death.

He is no less beautiful or miraculous or True, but it feels somber to be beside Him as we go. I know it is for me that we’re on this journey – for my sin and hard heartedness that He has to set his eyes like flint on Jerusalem.

But I still want to be next to Him and I only want to be next to Him.

That is the repeat phrase I heard myself say after we finished prayers and I started off toward home last night. All those street preachers are right, at least partially: there is an end to this world and it is serious business. And in the end, I want to be found next to Christ – tucked under His provision and snuggled right up to His beauty when all that is somber thunders down.

If Christ is the most beautiful thing when the world folds in on its own desires, then He is definitely the most beautiful thing about this Wednesday morning.

all the rightness I am not

The ash on his thumb was black and wet and when he rubbed it across my forehead I really did feel like I came from dust. The priest’s words, “From dust you came and from dust you shall return” felt like a confirmation of something I try to forget on the regular.

I was working late Ash Wednesday night, so I went with a coworker to the noon service at the local Catholic church. She knew all the right hand motions, so I just followed close behind. No one seemed to think it was weird to have a blonde-haired, non-Catholic stranger visiting their bilingual service.

And so the Lent season began.
Now, here we are in the middle and I am tempted to rush these 40 days.

If I am honest, I feel ripe for a celebration and that doesn’t fit with this somber, Lenten attitude. I crammed introspection into commutes leading up to Wednesday because I didn’t want to be hasty or thoughtless about this season. I fought for brain space between subway rappers and social media distractions because I wanted to be the right kind of prepared.

I don’t know if I accomplished all the necessary Lent preparations. I had some conversations, made some pancakes, heard some sermons, and sang some songs. But then that priest told me I was dust and I knew he was right.

And I knew I could never be the right kind of prepared, at least I don’t think so. God is just calling me to say “Yes” to all His rightness. My heart looks like my apartment right now – boxes and disorder and confusion – but I don’t need to get right in these 40 days or in preparation for them.

I need to believe Christ is all the rightness I am not.

I need to follow Christ into the desert, to fast from distractions and feast on the Word, because He is all the rightness I am not. He is all the order I cannot muster and all the beauty I cannot duplicate.

I was truly unprepared in every way for these Lent feelings. I am the wet, black ash smeared across my forehead and there is nothing I can do to get more right. But God, in His grace is all the rightness I am not. He makes a way for me to feast as I fast. He makes a way for the lowly and the weak to praise His name.

Whoa. whoa. whoa.

I can stretch into that kind of praise, with a heart that looks like a hurricane and a house that looks haphazard. I can sing this song with a full heart and know that the God who formed me from dust hears my humble song!

the message of presence is not worn out

Every week of Epiphany season, I need to hear that Jesus is present – inside today and inside me and inside sunshine, storms, and celebrations. I need to believe He is present.

But belief is tricky.

Our “Yes, Lord” gets tangled up with our “Why, Lord” in a mess of circumstances. Even if life has leveled out and we feel good about our daily routine, career status, and financial situation – even if our questions and doubts are less about hardships and more about boredom or purpose.

Belief is slippery when things are going “well” and when things are not.

In whatever circumstance we find ourselves balancing our “Yes, Lord” and our “Why, Lord” – we will always have to answer the question of belief. Do we believe Jesus is present in the midst of it, whatever it is? I’d like to always answer yes. I would even say I am willing to fight for that yes – to fight for belief when I am downcast and when I am filled with delight.

Because belief is slippery, but God is not.

This morning, we read the passage from Matthew 14:22-33. You may know the story. The disciples get caught in a doozy of a storm, in the middle of the night, with no rescue in sight. Jesus had just sent them off in the boat hours earlier while he dismissed the crowds and prayed in the mountains. The storm raged the waves and the storm raged the little boat, but still Jesus did not come. In the fourth watch of night, Jesus appeared on the water and His presence terrified the disciples. Jesus announced Himself by saying,

“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

I love, love, love this. Because I am afraid often, in or outside of storms. I am afraid of taxes and of falling in front of subways and of wasting moments. I am afraid often. This morning, I learned that the most common command in Scripture is against fear.

I love that we are commanded not to fear by the One who casts fear out by His presence.

And Peter believes. He watches Jesus walking on top of the evil deeps and says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” This is belief. He believed that the words of Jesus held power over fear and over the deeps and over the doozy of a storm. He is not free of doubt, but He believes in the power of Jesus’ word above all else.

Jesus said, “Come” and so Peter got out. Just like that. He put one leg over the edge and then the other. Or maybe he jumped. But, I love how simple we read the words. When Jesus said, “Come,” Peter physically moved from feet-on-the-boat to feet-on-the-water. This is belief!

What does it mean to believe Jesus is present?

>>It means I believe He is sovereign.
His presence – forever before and forever after this moment – is a proclamation of His sovereignty. When Peter stepped out there on the rumbly waves, he was saying that He believed Jesus had control over the wind and the waves and his life.

Life is ripe for adventure – for all the crazy, troubling, exciting ways Christ is saying, “Come.” When we believe He is strong over little and big evils, over little and big joys, we believe His sovereignty is more important than our feelings about circumstances. And we believe that strength is exactly where we are – here, present with us.

>>It means I believe He will hold me up.
Okay, so Peter was not perfect at believing, but Christ held him up. When the waves splashed at his ankles and when he started to wobble, Christ held him up. Peter believed in Christ enough to get his legs over the edge. He believed Christ cared for Him deeply and would keep His word.

I want to be held up and I want to need to be held up, because then I can know a more full God. I can know a little more of His power that I would never know if I stayed in the boat. It is good to be willfully in a place of need so God is praised for provision. In this case, the provision was life and Peter believed Jesus was able.

>>It means I will move toward Him.
I love to look at the movement in the gospels. The crowds come to Jesus, the disciples follow Jesus, and Jesus calls people to Himself. There is a movement of drawing near in the good news of the gospel and there is a movement in this life when we believe Jesus is present. As I believe Jesus is sovereign and able and good, I am always moving to be nearer to Him.

This morning in the sermon, my pastor talked about all Jesus’ miracles really being about the presence of Jesus. And I can see the beauty and weight of that statement when I think of the gospel moving today. Nearer still, my heart cries. Believe He is sovereign, believe He will hold me up, and believe He is calling, “Come.”

These are my Sunday thoughts, drenched in rare February sunshine and spread out over the full length of this Sabbath. The message of presence in the season of Epiphany is not worn out. It will never because we will never run out of Jesus.

love at the end

Remember all those days I thought commuting was beautiful? All those days I fought the NYC face and left early in defiance of minute crunching? Remember when I arrived to work in time to write a blog before the day began?

Well, anyway, I guess six months will do it. No more leaving early and no more new routes, but I don’t need another reason to talk about commuting. Train lines pretty much start and end every conversation – trains to live by, trains to get places, trains under construction, trains delayed, and trains full of “showtime, showtime, showtime.”

But it is okay to savor minutes in my apartment in the morning. It is okay to be quiet and sit still before the day begins. It is okay to declare Sabbath daily before chaos and maybe I should do it more often. Because, gosh, it is busy here.

When I first moved to NYC, I had two things on my mind: love this man and find beauty. I did not move to make it in this city as an actress or a business lady or to struggle up abstract creative ladders. Somehow, knowing that was like saying, “I’m not like the rest of this concrete madness. I value minutes and sunshine and neighboring.” I was different.

Six months later, I still value minutes and sunshine and neighboring, but I am desperate for Sabbath rest. I am like every other commuter in the morning, fighting crowds and sounds and shoulders. I am like every other apartment dweller, fighting for quiet minutes and then fighting to fill them. And now I am desperate for Sabbath rest.

My pastor talked about Sabbath rest on Sunday, right after I wrote about it unfolding slowly. Gathered around the weekly spread of cheese, crackers, fruits, and sweets last night, we revisited the passage in Matthew 12 where Jesus heals the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath.

It’s funny, living here. Because there is nothing we don’t work for. The act of striving is kind of the moving gears of this city. Commuting is work, work is work, plans are work, friends are work, keeping up appearances is work. We work for everything; we strive hard to believe “everything” is important to work for.

But rest. 

We can not work for rest, regardless of the comp hours we accumulate or the vacation/sick/personal days we are allowed. We cannot gain rest for our souls by living better, though we believe with the Pharisees that somehow we can.

Christ accomplished our rest.

It’s a different kind of Sabbath because Christ fought for and won our rest on the cross. I do not know how to make this more of my rhythm, but I want to learn what it means to rest in the middle of moving gears. I want to learn how to rest while hosting, neighboring, friendshipping, loving, and being.

I need to learn better how to rest.

I don’t know what your Sabbath soundtrack would sound like, but mine has John Mark McMillan’s new song, “Love at the End.” If you have a minute to listen and read the lyrics, do it.

this tornado loves you

I have to give credit to Neko.

Her song “this tornado loves you” was the inspiration for all the surprise birthday party craziness. Well, her and Patrick’s obsession with surprises. I wanted the whole night to feel like a tornado – the surprises, the plans, and the people. But, the best kind of tornado – the reason why Helen Hunt was one of those storm chasers in the movie Twister. Because there is something exciting about getting swept up in that spinning motion; there is something really thrilling about the energy in the air that can lift things off the ground.

That’s the kind of feeling I wanted to create.

The surprise-keeping was torture. Last night, after he walked in and looked like this:

photos courtesy of Chris!
photos courtesy of Chris!

…after that I started breathing again. Why was it so important for him to walk into a room full of people celebrating him unexpectedly? Because he loves surprises and I love him. 

All the weeks of knotted up insides and half-truth schemes and several versions of party themes… all of it was worth the look on his face when he realized his friends in this city will do crazy things to make him feel special.

He didn’t make it easy, though. He wanted to come over yesterday to help me deep clean my apartment (from the terrarium party the week before). After I had hidden the morning’s baked goods and refrigerated the first of many bacon treats and covered the rum bacon ice cream, I relented. He brought over fresh doughnuts and his Swiffer (the good kind that sprays) and immediately handy-manned a lamp we’ve been needing to fix. Then he spent a good 20 minutes beating my area rug on the fire escape before we cleaned all the floors. He almost insisted on carrying my laundry down, but I wiggled out of that one (because the laundry was a ruse to get him out for a few hours, but I legitimately need to do laundry desperately).

When he left, my party planners (and the best friends ever) arrived and we set the tornado in motion.

And then I changed our dinner plans so many times that he became very hangry. He got so frustrated (to be fair, we had planned to eat at 6:30 and I didn’t tell him where to meet us until 7:30). Instead of being suspicious, he was just a really severe combination of hungry and angry. I can thank his stomach for helping to keep the surprise, I guess. But I felt horrible. When he opened the door and I was dressed up, he still didn’t think anything of it. He was mostly still hangry.

But then he turned the corner and a room full of people sang to celebrate him. And that whole scene made me so happy!

People brought magnets (one of Patrick’s random favorite things) and wrote memories down on tornado cards. There was bacon ice cream and bacon wrapped dates and candied bacon and nutty bacon chocolate bark and chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake. And there was laughter.

Midway through the party, Patrick read one of the tornado cards that said “this surprise has wheels.” And everyone grabbed coats in time to make the B43 a party bus (the driver even said Happy Birthday, Pat over the microphone when we got off). We caught a sweet concert that our friend Rebecka rocked out, where we met more friends and ANOTHER surprise cake. From there we headed to one of our favorite spots to close out the night with some multi-colored disco lights and some of Pat’s best dance moves. It was all so good, it almost felt like I  was the one unwrapping gifts all night.

But after all that, after all the party planning and party having and party traveling, my favorite part was this morning. It didn’t have anything to do with the party last night, but it was the most special thing.

We were sitting in church with big grins across our faces. We greeted our friends we had seen just hours before and we passed the peace to friends we hadn’t seen in awhile. We worshipped in song and through prayer and with full hearts as the sun reached through stain glass to warm the tops of our heads. And as we stood in line for communion, we heard “Jesus Paid It All” circling over our heads.

This was my favorite part. There is a bigger tornado of love that swallows up any we can create. It’s heavy and light and mysterious and reckless. And it happened this morning when I heard about Jesus healing the paralytic.

As much as we love surprises – giving and receiving and sharing – God must love them most. He made us to have that face we have when we walk into a roomful of people who want to celebrate us. He made us with insides that knot together in nervous excitement when we don’t want to spoil the story. He made us and we reflect Him. So He must love surprises. I wonder what face He wore when He surprised creation with His love.

I wonder what His delight looks like when we are surprised by His joy and grace every day.

let us never cease to wonder

If you’ve read this blog for more than a few months, you know I love to wonder. I love wide eyes and mysteries and the way my body gasps for air when I am in awe.

Some days, I fall into it naturally. Like when I bounced from table to table at the bar after church on Sunday night because I wanted to be with everyone all at once. And the way Grace and I skipped arm in arm ahead of the group when we all decided to end the night with pie and coffee. And the way Gordon walked with his own little swag, topping it off with a little sidewalk dance while we waited outside for our table. And the way we crowded in around to eat key lime and bourbon pecan and cherry pear crumble pies like we had been friends for years and years. Days like this past Sunday are the rumble in my gut that stretches out through my fingertips to say, “what a wonderful world!”

As cheesy as that sounds.

I looked over at Patrick several times throughout the night and said, “We are so blessed.” But words can never accurately describe wonder. Blessed is not enough. The joy I feel surrounded by this group of new friends cannot be planned or packaged. It is just very simply God’s unique grace to my soul. He promises abundance and then He delivers and it looks like 6 hours of “church” on Sunday, starting with choir practice and ending with key lime pie.

And I don’t get how it all works.

I don’t understand the science of wonder, I just know that it makes me feel very small and very humble and very grateful. I am nothing – just a little dot moving around in this crazy big expanse called the universe. But God knows the hairs on my head and He knows how much joy I feel when I skip and sing and celebrate over key lime pie. He knows those things because He knit me together inside my mom’s belly.

And I still don’t get how it all works. I just know that I cannot manipulate awe because wonder refuses to be manufactured.

Wonder is the surprise your soul feels when God pours out a unique grace – the kind your heart best understands.

Life does not have to be perfect to feel the joy of this grace. The ordinary, everyday real life in the flatlands is just as likely a place to feel this grace as the mountaintops. So, I try to train my heart to feel wonder – to live with wide eyes and to search out mysteries and to laugh uncontrollably while we sing Willy Wonka as we cross Broadway in Williamsburg.

“Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder is in the way, a very practical emotion. Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship and heartfelt thanksgiving. It will cause within you godly watchfulness; you will be afraid to sin against such a love as this.” Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings.

Godly watchfulness is how I’d like to wake up tomorrow. I want to feel the fear of sinning against such a love as this. I mean that in the best of ways. God’s grace is so good, so specific and so personal. I’d like to be so wrapped in wonder by God’s grace that can’t take my eyes away from Him – for fear that I will miss out. The more mystery I take in, the more there is. The more love I feel, the more He provides. The more grace I need, the more He gives.

Wonder gives birth to wonder and why would I ever go looking for something else?

The Feast of the Resurrection

It’s not a thing, yet.

Easter usually looks like pastel outfits, higher church attendance, and some version of ham taking center stage at the Sunday dinner table. At least that has been my observation of Easter in mainstream Christianity over the years. And even in more serious circles, Easter is always situated on a Sunday so that means less paid time off to reflect on deeper things.

The Feast of the Resurrection is not a thing, yet. But it will be this year, April 18-20 in my Brooklyn apartment, and you are invited. This is something Patrick has talked about for years – he believes Easter should be bigger than Christmas and certainly bigger than Thanksgiving. And I am all in. Regardless of what traditions or work schedules tell us, we know Easter is about death dying.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the course of our earthly and eternal lives. This seems like it deserves more than pastel colors, festive ham and a theatrical production on Sunday morning where a faux tomb is rolled away.

Enter the plans for The Feast of the Resurrection, a three day event with meals and Scripture and music and laughter. Slow mornings and lively afternoons and precious times gathered around a table to break bread, drink wine, and remember the life we were given when Christ conquered death on the cross.

If there was ever something to celebrate, it would be this gift. If there was ever a reason to cancel all plans to throw a big party, it would be to remember this event.

And so, it is happening. The first annual Feast of the Resurrection and I am already giddy with anticipation. I hope my preparations in Lent this year will look a little different, with this celebration in view. I am excited to see this vision of community and fellowship and joy spill over into a new tradition.

It’s not a thing, yet… but it is about to be and you are invited!

when you’re in an earthquake, sing

God provides.

Sometimes, He provides less than what we ask because He wants to give more than what we think.

That’s what happened tonight, anyway. My new roommate and I plodded our way to the 5 pm service, weary of apartment hunting and feeling like the persistent widow at the Lord’s door. “Please, Lord, provide!” We thought we were asking for His provision of an apartment today. We thought that was the only way His provision would happen.

And He did provide, but we’re still without an apartment. Instead He gave us Himself. We sat and drank in the words of the sermon from Psalm 77 and then we broke bread and drank the wine of communion.

He provided Himself and we got filled up.

He provides always, because He is a Provider. It is not in His nature to do anything else. Today His provision was Himself – which is not technically an apartment – but is more than abundant to meet our needs.

This is the firm foundation I can sing upon when there is an earthquake underfoot.

conductor and composer

The birds are singing again this morning. I’m not sure where they hid when weary winter came for a surprising May visit. I saw many of them fluttering about in confusion, but this morning they are singing again.

And I know who is sustaining them.

I know the One who is holding things together so the birds can sing their song to heaven for a morning audience. I know Him.

The birds are singing and how can I not sing with them? I get overwhelmed at the song creation sings because I know there is always a place for me in the choir. As God does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3), He is pleased to hold things together (Colossians 1:17) and invite us into His joy.

The birds do not sing to say thank you as God holds them together and writes the music for their song. They do not sing to exchange beauty for beauty.

The birds sing because God gave them a song.

Who has given a gift to God that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. (Romans 11:35–36)

The birds sing because God receives glory when creation steps into His joy and He wrote the music for just such a celebration. He is the conductor as much as He is the composer of creation’s song and there is a part for me to sing today.

May God be praised as I sing the song hidden in my heart in praise of His glorious grace!